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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

State of the Farm - AL Central

Wild on Sports
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State of the Farm - AL Central
 By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: AL Central...

Cleveland Indians:
OVERALL: Cleveland’s farm system hasn’t been strong since mid-2011 when they graduated several infielders and traded two successive first-round picks for Ubaldo Jimenez. However, they are finally restocking the lower levels, mostly with intriguing bats from Latin America, and their impressive cache of shortstops could allow them to trade Asdrubal Cabrera to fill other holes, while still remaining contenders.

GRADUATIONS: Yan Gomes has done very well as a part-time catcher, slugging over .600 in a decent sample size. Cody Allen is already their best relief pitcher. Trevor Bauer could be their second-best starter…but control issues have held him back, and he’s gone back and forth so far this year between major league spot starts and AAA.

TOP PROSPECT:
Francisco Lindor, ss, has excellent plate discipline and blooming gap power, to go with his fine speed and defense. He’s only 19 and is flourishing with high-A Carolina, his .306/.375/.427 line impressing despite a recent slump. He’s got the Elvis Andrus tool-kit, and that’s a guy who’s now making $100 million in the big leagues.

BIGGEST RISER: Danny Salazar, rhp, began the year as an interesting thrower with Tommy John surgery in the past, but he’s since improved his stock to the point where he now looks like he could be an above average starter, and soon. Between AA-AAA, Salazar’s strikeout rate has jumped up from 7.8 K/9 to 12.3, and he has a 2.51 ERA in 46.2 IP. He’s still been limited to shorter stints so if he reaches the majors this year, it will probably be in the bullpen.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Dorssys Paulino, ss, was supposed to follow in Lindor’s footsteps as a premium up-the-middle-prospect, but he hasn’t lived up to his potential at all, hitting a week .229 with 7 SB for low-A Lake County. He has no Home Runs yet this year but he did hit 6 in the Arizona League last year, so there’s some strength here. But, even at age 18, his struggles have been so bad that he might be due to return to rookie-ball when the NY Penn League begins later this month.

Kansas City Royals:
OVERALL: The Royals farm system took a big hit when they traded for James Shields, but also new rules about spending in the draft means they weren’t able to money on top talents who fell due to signing demands, which is how they acquired the likes of Wil Myers and Bryan Brickhouse. Kansas City has had to use dollars to make up for poor development of pitchers, many of whom have been injured or ineffective.

GRADUATIONS: Nobody, which is pretty shocking considering their offensive needs. But they thought they had better players on hand, gambling on the myth of Jeff Francoeur despite years of data that prove he’ll never ever live up to his athleticism. That’s a mistake which will cost them for many years in the future as Wil Myers contends for Home Run titles in Tampa.

TOP PROSPECT: Yordano Ventura, rhp, throws hard with a plus curve, and he’s the closest pitching prospect to the big leagues for Kansas City. So far this year Ventura has a 2.34 ERA in 11 starts with 74 K in 57.2 IP for AA-Northwest Arkansas. He’s particularly adept at suppressing Home Runs (just 3 so far this year).

BIGGEST RISER: Kyle Smith, rhp, has done the best of a group of intriguing arms in A-ball for Kansas City who have put up big numbers this year. Smith is the only one who has advanced up to high-A Wilmington, however. At age 20, Smith has a 2.00 ERA and 58 K in 54 IP (ten starts). Smith’s fastball is only slightly above average (if that) but he impresses as a polished future mid-rotation anchor.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
Bubba Starling, of, raised questions about his game last year when he struck out 70 times in 200 at-bats. This year, his approach has really affected his hitting. He’s put up a .206/.284/.366 line for low-A Lexington. His strikeouts have remained constant (30% of his PA) but his walks, power, and batting average on balls in play have all done way down. He will have to change his batting style to be a real prospect again.


Detroit Tigers
OVERALL:
Their farm system is bad, but who cares? The first-place Tigers have not had a first-round draft pick since 2009, and even that player, rhp Jacob Turner, is now a Miami Marlin. They’ve preferred to build their team through free agency and astute trades. Their expensive stars and lack of depth make them a top-heavy team who nevertheless won’t look to stock the farm until the winning comes to a halt in Detroit.

GRADUATIONS: Bruce Rondon was supposed to be their closer but he had a bad spring and has been limited to 2 big-league innings so far this year. The Tigers management has a curious affinity for outfielder Avisail Garcia, a hacking outfielder who was rushed to the big leagues. Garcia has rewarded their faith with a .293 OBP in 41 plate appearances, not much of a surprise.

TOP PROSPECT: Nick Castellanos, of, could be a future batting champion, and Detroit wisely has let him work on his plate discipline at AAA rather than throwing him in the fire immediately. His .279/.353/.456 line at AAA-Toledo is more impressive than it looks on paper since he is one of the youngest players in the league at age 21, and he has indeed become more selective (his walk-rate has more than doubled since his time in AA last year). He could help Detroit soon, but there’s still no rush.

BIGGEST RISER: Daniel Fields, of, signed for $1.6 million in 2009, was rushed to the high-A Florida State League, and has floundered since…until this year, where the tools have finally come alive in a big way. Fields is hitting .281/.375/.495 with 6 HR and 11 SB in 49 games for AA-Erie. That triple slash line represents career highs across the board, and he’s already set a career-high in doubles (17). His strikeout numbers are pretty high (53), but so is his ceiling…at long last!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
Casey Crosby, lhp, has pitched better lately, but he’s slowly gone from a top prospect to more of a tweener, battling through injuries and control problems in his minor league career. He made three terrible starts last year for Detroit and this year has been ho-hum for AAA-Toledo, with a 4.47 ERA and 5.2 BB/9 dampening the promise of his 9.2 K/9. Right now, he looks more like a possible swingman or long reliever in the majors.


Minnesota Twins:
OVERALL: Even with graduations, the Twins might have the most impressive collection of high-ceiling prospects in baseball. They almost certainly have the best pair of prospects in outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, both of whom are destroying a-ball pitching. Meanwhile, trades and better drafting has finally added some pitching depth to a farm system that in the recent past has had a major problem finding quality starters. There is a lot to like about the Twin’s future.

GRADUATIONS: A pair of rookie outfielders, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia, have been playing full-time for the Twins, with varying results. Hicks is still recovering from a miserable 3-for-52 start to his season, and although he only hit .202 in May, that was nearly DOUBLE his April batting average (.118). Right now he’s up to .173/.245/.335 with 6 HR. Arcia has done much better, showing good power and holding his own, although eventually one might hope that his .255 batting average rises significantly. Among pitchers, only Rule 5 draftee Ryan Pressley has made an impression, with some solid long relief work, although his 1.29 ERA is a fluke.

TOP PROSPECT: Byron Buxton, of, is doing his best Mike Trout impression for low-A Cedar Rapids, batting .333/.435/.545 with 7 HR and 26 SB so far this season. He was considered the best athlete in last year’s draft but as indicated by his OBP, he’s shown a much more advanced feel for hitting than scouts expected. There is a good chance he is baseball’s top prospect by the end of the year.

BIGGEST RISER:
DJ Baxendale, rhp, is the best among the type of pitching prospect the Twins seem to produce in spades: mediocre fastball, some secondary pitches and deception, superior control. He was no match for a-ball hitters, going 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in his first 9 starts with 48 K and just 11 BB in 57.2 IP. His first start for AA-New Britain did not go as well, and that will be the real test for his stuff. His ceiling is something along the lines of a Kevin Slowey-type, which is a great find in the tenth round of the draft.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: None of their major prospects have disappointed this year, but Adrian Salcedo, rhp, has not yet recovered from his 2012 injuries and is pitching to a disappointing 5.25 ERA for high-A Fort Myers. His 10.1 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 indicate a better pitcher…but just the fact that he’s been forced to move to relief full-time is a disappointment for someone who looked like a potential impact starter two years ago.


Chicago White Sox:
OVERALL: It’s a disaster. The White Sox have long ignored their farm system, either bringing prospects up quickly (Gordan Beckham) or trading them for established veterans (Jake Peavy). They’ve been cheap in the draft, uninvolved in the International market, and after some interesting performances last year, nearly all of their prospects have struggled or underperformed so far in 2013. It’s probably the worst farm system in baseball, and definitely has the lowest number of impact prospects.

GRADUATIONS: Conor Gillaspie, inf, has been a nice surprise, picked up on the cheap from San Francisco over the winter. He’s hit .272 filling in for Beckham and Jeff Keppinger around the infield. Pitcher Dylan Axelrod has a 4.04 ERA and looks like capable innings eater/back-of-the-rotation starter, although his window is narrow and he’s already 27.

TOP PROSECT: Micah Johnson, 2b??? I throw up those question marks because before the season began, he was nowhere near the top of the White Sox prospect list. But a lot of those guys have really really struggled. Johnson was a ninth-round pick with a solid but unspectacular debut in rookie-ball under his belt, and profiled as a future utility guy, if that. This year, although he’s old for the league at 22, Johnson is having a strong season for low-a Kannapolis. He leads pro baseball with 47 SB and is hitting .320/.408/.481 with good gap power (20 XBH). He needs to move up to high-A so the White Sox can better assess his future. His stock is way up.

BIGGEST RISER: Other than Johnson, Josh Phegley, c, is knocking on the door. Although already 25, Phegley is off to a great start with AAA-Charlotte, batting .321/.375/.618 with 11 HR. Before this year he’s shown a little power but has mostly been a glove-first catcher, without much of a ceiling. This could be the best two months of his career…but in Chicago, Tyler Flowers isn’t exactly establishing himself long-term.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
How can I pick just one? Let’s start with Courtney Hawkins, of, Chicago’s first-round pick last year who was rushed at just age 19 all the way up to high-A Winston-Salem. He’s hit .189 with an incredible 50 K in just 90 AB, although he has hit 8 HR. The year before that, Keenyn Walker, of, was Chicago’s top pick (2nd round), and is currently batting a punchless .195 for AA-Birmingham, with strikeout issues himself, although at least he’s stealing bases. Other familiar names are similarly depressing. Carlos Hernandez? “Slugging” .286 in AAA. Andre Rienzo? A 6.71 ERA. Yuck yuck yuck yuck.

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