Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the 'lost' prospects - early thoughts

Yeah, I thought early retirement would bring lots of trips to Indians' spring training.   Two years in and with kids still at home  it hasn't worked out that way.   Since the only way I see spring break in Arizona happening would be the unthinkable of California falling into the Pacific and Phoenix becoming the new San Diego, I can only watch from afar and ask some questions.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a prospect guy. So I thought today we would talk about the 'lost' prospects.   That is, guys who have the potential for becoming good prospects but who have been derailed by injuries or poor performance but who still have a chance.

So here are some guys to keep an eye on as the minor league spring training camp opens.   Any or all of these guys could break out this year as they have the pedigrees to do much more than they have done previously. 

Luke Wakamatsu - Non-Latin middle infield prospects are a rarity.  Wakamatsu grades out as a plus defender.   Drafted in 2015 he spent most of last year injured and so has lots to make up this year, although he did get some ABs at MV last year.   If he is healthy, he could start to make some waves this year.  The Indians tend to aggressively push their prospects so while he is likely to stay in extended spring training for a while, starting out the season at Lake County is not out of the question.

Jonas Wyatt - A 6th round pick in 2015, he had TJ surgery last June and so is likely to spend the spring in extended spring training.   TJ surgery is bad anytime as it sets back a player's development for a year, but his timetable is actually perfect to start his playing season in June with the AZL Indians.  It will be interesting to see if he can advance to Mahoning Valley during the season or if he needs the whole summer to get his pitching back on track. 

Ka'ai Tom - Didn't play much last year due to injury but clearly is on the Indians radar.  He may just be a good career minor leaguer but he has some upside.  Think somewhere between Greg Allen and Gabriel Mejia.  He should start the season with Lynchburg this year as the Indians push him to catch up with his draft class and, if he starts strong, look for a promotion to Akron in the second half of the season.   I see him as no more than a potential ML 4th outfielder now but he still has at least that upside to me.

Dace Kime - Realizing that he might not even make it out of spring training this year without getting cut, Kime is a guy who still intrigues me as a reliever.   He has been dangerously wild, almost to the point that you can't believe he actually pitched at a major college (Louisville) let alone effectively.  He has regressed almost each year since he was drafted in 2013.   The Indians may have made a mistake putting him in the rotation when they could have easily fast-tracked him to the majors as a reliever.  His professional baseball career may be over but, for me, he is still one helluva intriguing prospect if he can ever put it all together.

Justin Garza - The 2015 version drafted out of Cal State Fullerton.   He was a top 100 college prospect entering his junior year at Fullerton but hurt his elbow and had TJ surgery late in the year, allowing the Indians to 'steal' him in the 8th round.   The Indians have a history of rehabbing college pitches they steal in the draft (see Vinnie Pestano for example).   Garza dipped his toe in the water last year with the AZL Indians.   He was a little wild which is typical of the first post-TJ surgery year.   This year his is poised to pitch on a full season team although the Indians may hold him in extended spring training for a month or so until the weather warms up.   Either way, he is one of my picks as a breakout prospect this year.   His stuff and experience tells me that, if healthy, he should dominate at Lake County or hold his own at Lynchburg.   Either way he should open some eyes and get into the top 30 Indians' prospects this coming winter.   It might also mean that we could have to invoke his middle initial to distinguish Justin C. Garza from the Indians other Justin Garza, who would then be known as, well, just Justin Garza.   The later Justin Garza pitched relatively effectively at Lynchburg last year so it is likely that both Justin Garzas will play this year. 

Grant Hockin - Hockin was drafted in 2014, had TJ surgery and didn't play in 2015 and didn't play last year.  He was on the instructional league roster last fall so maybe his re-debut will be this year.  I thought I heard he had considered retirement but I couldn't verify if he was still with the Indians.   Given his pedigree (2nd round pick, related to Harmon Killebrew), if he is still playing and healthy he is a potential breakout prospect this year and, given his time off and his assignment to the instructional league last year, is a dark horse candidate to make the Lake County roster out of spring training.  Hockin just getting in a complete, healthy season will be a big plus. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

OK, we're in February, but that won't stop me...first look at how the season might go

Tito has already been quoted as saying the season could go two ways.   Make that 250 ways, Mr. manager.

He knows that, we all know that, but the point is clear as is the question: what will last year do to this year.

Using the Cavs as an example, they rode Kevin Love's and Kyrie Irving's injury to the NBA finals in 2015, actually and unlikely, winning two games from the Warriors.     Did they use that in 2016 when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the whole thing?  I think so.   Don't know so but I think so.  

If the Indians do the same thing it will be a very powerful force this year.   It will be that way for two reasons:

1. Because no team is without injuries.   St. Louis has already lost probably the brightest pitching prospect and a guy who likely would have slotted into #3 in their rotation, Alex Reyes, to TJ surgery before the first full team workout.    Injuries happen and most teams can't stockpile enough talent to totally overcome those injuries.    The Indians learned last year that they can win without their entire team being healthy and, given how frequently injuries happen, that was a good lesson. 

2. The Indians are thin offensively but, nevertheless, strong on paper in their starting lineup.   If Brantley comes back at full strength, playing like he did before the shoulder injury, this should make the team feel even better about itself.   Winning games isn't all about pitching or all about hitting or all about defense.  The Indians have the combination of talent to win with pitching one night and hitting the next.   That will be important if we have pitching injuries and have to rely on young guys.

3. The season is a grind.   As LeBron and company are finding out, you have to find different ways to win depending on your team situation that day.   Different guys have to step up.   The Indians are set to be able to do that.   They really need only two things: a shut down righthanded reliever now, and a 3B or OF bat in July.   They could get hurt if they have a lot of injuries but this team is set to compete over the season in a situation where the season would become a grind.

4.  Some fans are worried about a let down after last year or that it was just a mirage that can't be sustained.   Such is true with the bookies, as well.   What no one is talking about is that there are likely to be guys who break out this year.    I would love to see guys like Trevor Bauer and Bradley Zimmer break out and Yan Gomes return to his form of a few years ago.  I would love to add Brantley's bat back to this lineup.   As we look at this season we can't be thinking that we are talking about the WS team plus Carrasco and Salazar and substituting Encarnacion for Napoli and Davis.   I think it could be much more than that and, in my heart, I feel it will be much more than that.    

5. The ONLY thing I see going wrong with the Indians this season is post-season cockiness.   What do I mean by that?  I think the 1996 Indians were a perfect example.   I don't think they thought they could be beaten in the AL playoffs but they were.   If we make it to the playoffs is where we have to turn up the heat.   Again, using the Cavaliers example, they know that losing some regular season games happens but that they are really preparing for the playoffs.    The Indians need to adopt that mentality.   They have to battle through the regular season and focus on turning it up in the playoffs.  No post-season cockiness, please!   I don't see that happening with this group but, to me, it is the biggest fear I have going into the Indians' season.   I am counting on Tito to take care of preparing his team for both the regular season and, if we get there, the playoffs, too.

So, my bet is for Tito to do what he does and manage this team to win no matter what the cards are that he is dealt.   I think they make the playoffs again and if things fall right for them they make it back to the WS again.   Once you get to the Series it is how things break for you.  I believe in Tito and I believe in this team and I believe they can win the series this year.    Let's go Tribe!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Spring training 2017

A couple of thoughts as we start spring training:

1. The Indians have 5 solid starting pitchers and 4 solid prospects (5, counting Cooney) who will start the year at AAA.   That gives them impressive quality and depth.  Which means, of course, starting pitching will be a weakness this year :-)

2. The big question marks this year will among the position players.   Will Brantley be healthy?  Is Jose Ramirez for real?  Will Tyler Naquin be the regular season Tyler Naquin or the post-season Tyler Naquin?  Plus, where will our depth come from if we lose a starting position player?   Along those lines, will Bradley Zimmer or Yandy Diaz contribute this year?  So, we still have some position player questions.  But here are some more questions:

3. Will we get another bullpen arm?  We need one and, as of this writing, Joe Blanton is still available as are a number of other guys (e.g, Carlos Villenueva) who could be had on a minor league deal.   There is also Travis Wood, who would be great in the bullpen and as our #1 depth starter.  Plus, with Andrew Miller playing in the WBC, it might be a good thing for the Indians to protect that investment by adding Wood.   While we can wait to add a bat until July, we need to add a bullpen arm now.  So Wood (preferably) or Blanton, but someone now. 

4. What will happen to Kyle Crockett and Hoby Milner this spring training?  Now that we have Boone Logan and given that both Crockett and Milner need to be kept on the roster or exposed to waivers, does either have a shot?   Crockett is out of options and the other two guys who were going into ST without options and without a definite spot on the ML team were Austin Adams and Jesus Aguilar and we saw how that turned out.   Obviously Milner is a Rule 5 pickup so we either have to keep him on the roster or send him back. 

5. When will we get the extra bat we need?   Face it, this teams needs a good hitter who can either play 3B or OF.  They don't need it now but will need him by playoff time.    So when will get that player?   Obviously we should and will wait until July.   For a change I am anxious for the trade deadline to get here so I can see who we add as compared to who we get rid of...but I get ahead of myself!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

One down, one to go

Besides the obvious Napoli or Napoli replacement, the Indians absolutely needed to do two things this offseason, in my opnion:

1. Sign a LOOGY.

2. Sign a reliable RH setup guy who can close, if necessary.

Both of these moves are designed to save Miller, Allen and Shaw over the course of a season. 

We are now halfway there if Boone Logan signs as expected.   Again, as expected, his salary will be about $6 million, counting the buyout for next year.  That's pretty much the cost of a good, non-closer reliever in free agency this year.

It is costly but it is only for one year if we want to limit the spending for 2018.

Is this a good signing?  Who knows.   Back in the day relievers would go through cycles of a couple of good years, a bad year, a good year, a bad year and two good years, etc.   So, you are hoping you are getting Logan in a good year but, really, who knows.   It is as good a signing as you could have for what you were looking for.  I like it...as much as I could like a signing like this.

Now, to the setup man.   With Greg Holland gone (along with a lot of other RH relievers with closing experience) my next target is some like (not necessarily exactly) Joe Blanton.  

As I have said, probably ad nauseum to regular readers of this blog, we need a reliable setup man, someone who is a significant upgrade over Jeff Manship, someone who can even give us good innings if we make the post-season.   Someone who doesn't make us so scared that we won't use him in the post-season in anything but mop-up/inning eating situations.  

Again, I can not say this strongly enough.   Having another setup man who can close is NOT a luxury.   It is a necessity for this team to save our bullpen.  Yes, we might be able to make the playoffs with one or two of the big three not available.  However, in the playoffs, it would be like LeBron trying to beat Golden State all by himself...and we know how that went two years ago!

So, we are batting .667.   However, to make this offseason successful, we need to bat 1.000.

Then, in July, we need to get another bat, either at 3B or in the OF.   But that is a discussion for a MUCH later date.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Updated prospect list

As we approach spring training, here is my updated prospect list.  Note that Anthony Santander is not on this list but I have added Hoby Milner, to reflect the results of the Rule 5 draft.  Obviously this will change if Santander comes back and Milner doesn't make the team.  Note that none of Trevor Frank, Nick Maronde, Grant Sides or Jon Fitzsimmons, all lost in the Rule 5 draft, had made my off-season list nor would they have made this list.  Obviously this is really early and trades, players being cut, etc. could change this list going forward but this is a good snapshot of how I think the organization's talent looks right now.    As far as the overall talent in the Indians' farm system I rank it as somewhere between the 14th and 16th strongest among major league organizations.   Most of the prospects appear to be complimentary players or impact players with huge question marks (holes in their games or a long way away from the majors).  So there is lots of potential there but very few players who even come close to being sure things to impact the 2017 Cleveland Indians.   Even Bradley Zimmer doesn't appear to be a guy who has star quality...at least he hasn't shown it yet as his hitting and defense still not a lot of polishing.    In any case, enjoy the list.  I will update it after spring training to account for changes in roster status and injuries.

1. Triston McKenzie
2. Nolan Jones
3. Francisco Mejia
4. Brady Aiken
5. Bradley Zimmer
6. Bobby Bradley
7. Erik Gonzalez
8. Yandy Diaz
9. Adam Plutko
10. Yu Cheng Chang
11. Ryan Merritt
12. Will Benson
13. Shawn Morimando
14. Greg Allen
15. Andrew Calica
16. Connor Marabell
17. Mark Mathias
18. Joseph Colon
19. Rob Kaminsky
20. Aaron Civale
21. Shane Bieber
22. Cameron Hill
23.  Mike Papi
24. Willi Castro
25. Juan Hillman
26. Nellie Rodriguez
27. Tyler Krieger
28. Matt Esparza
29. Shawn Armstrong
30. Connor Capel
31. Logan Ice
32. Taylor Murphy
33. Ben Krauth
34. Julian Merryweather
35. Gabriel Mejia
36. Ulysses Cantu
37. Marco Gonzalez
38. Samad Taylor
39. Luis Oviedo
40. Jorma Rodriguea
41. Oscar Gonzalez
42. Thomas Pannone
43. Nick Pasquale
44. Casey Shane
45. Andrew Lantrip
46. Zach Plesac
47. Louis Head
48. Perci Garner
59. Hoby Milner
50. Jonas Wyatt
51. Luke Watkamatsu
52. Justin Garza (2015 draftee)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Greg Holland

I think the Indians should have extended themselves and signed Greg Holland.  

His $6 million base salary couldn't have been too rich for the Indians, despite where they are in payroll.   His $1 million buyout next year couldn't have been that debilitating, either.  Now, maybe he wouldn't sign with us because of our bullpen as it might make it harder for him to get a big payday next year if he had to share setup or closer roles.  But still...

Look, I see this as clearly as can be seen.   Miller, Shaw and Allen have been worked to death.   If we do our job we easily win the AL Central...but we have to do our job.   I can see things going south and us having to overuse Miller, Shaw and Allen to just win the division, really similar to the Cavs having to overuse LeBron this season.    This after Miller, Shaw and Allen were burned out by Francona in the playoffs.  

If the Indians go into the season with the current bullpen they are seriously rolling the dice and putting all the money they are spending on salary in serious jeopardy.  

To me, we look good right now but the key to this year's success will be finding a shutdown righty and a good LOOGY to take the pressure off the big 3 in the bullpen.  If we have to go into the season with our current bullpen I don't think we stand a chance getting through the playoffs without a serious or season-ending injury to one of those guys...and that means well above the average chance in baseball for that to happen.

That hasn't happened and, to me, this is a huge problem for the Indians.   I hope they find these two guys as, with them, the season looks really good and without them, this team becomes a house of cards with the season being in jeopardy with even a mild gust of wind. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Condolences

to the families of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura.

Both will be missed in baseball.   Both had their ups and downs but both brought moments that fans will remember. 

It is truly a sad day for baseball.

p.s., there may be an other ML and minor league alums who passed away recently who are not mentioned here or in articles about Marte and Ventura.    Sometimes those passings are only found in small, local articles in the areas in which those former players/managers/staff and umpires lived or from the teams they worked for.  My condolences go out to their families, as well