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.