Hello all, and welcome to a new weekly feature here at Cubs Insider!
We all spend loads of time thinking, writing, and tweeting about the Cubs' farm system, but occasionally we lose sight of the bigger minor league picture - there are only so many hours in the day, and I already spend four of them watching Javier Baez highlights. To help us understand how other teams' farm systems are faring, we're contacting writers who cover their team's prospects as vigorously as we follow the Cubs'.
To start off the series, we're going to take a look at the Cleveland Indians' farm system, whose Class A affiliate, the Lake County Captains, visits Kane County this weekend. Talking with us today about the prospects you'll be seeing this weekend is Stephanie Metzger (follow her on Twitter at @7thInningSteph) of Indians Baseball Insider.
Tommy: What is the overall trajectory of the Indians' system going into 2014?
Stephanie: The system has its share of weak spots, but the middle-infield remains the system’s most promising line of prospects. Obviously Lindor is the prime piece of the org’s real estate, but Paulino, Rodriguez, Ramirez and Urshela all remain intriguing options. Overall, though, the trajectory remains underwhelming. Lindor and Frasier are the two studs, but the remaining names are relatively obscure in the land of prospects. When thinking of arms, no true studs come to mind -- Cody Anderson is now the top starting prospect (besides Bauer, of course), but Anderson certainly isn’t a stud name. Depth remains, but unless those guys progress, I don’t see the system’s ranking advancing much.
TC: What kind of confidence do you and most Indians fans have in the team's scouting, draft, and development process? Do the organizational success stories of Masterson, Kipnis, Brantley, and Ubaldo's 2013 give you hope for Trevor Bauer?
SM: It’s tough to really speak on behalf of the fans, but it seems like the general consensus is that there are some motivating prospects, but the farm isn’t exactly a powerhouse of studs. Masterson, Brantley and Ubaldo weren’t Cleveland farm products, but I think most would agree they turned out to be the positive components of their trades.
It’s also tough to compare Bauer’s story to those other guys, except to say that the guys acquired via trade have so far worked out in the Indians’ favor -- even Ubaldo if one considers the tail end of 2013. The success of those guys is certainly motivating when considering Bauer, and I think a lot of fans hold pitching coach Mickey Calloway to high regard. Some believe he “fixed” Ubaldo and Scott Kazmir. This is debatable, but there’s certainly hope that Calloway can work some magic on Bauer -- and Bauer’s start on April 9 was certainly a step in the right direction.
TC: Given the current strength of the Tigers, the Royals, and the Twins' farm, do you believe the Indians have enough firepower in their system to compete in the coming years?
SM: Opponent farm systems are certainly shinier and prettier than the Indians. On paper, it’s easy to argue that Cleveland simply doesn’t have any comparisons to the Byron Buxtons, but I wouldn’t make the claim that a feeble farm system counts the team out in years to come. The team made a playoff push in 2013 with a short list of fully home-grown guys.
TC: Much like elite SS prospect Javier Baez is blocked by Starlin Castro, elite SS prospect Francisco Lindor is somewhat blocked by Asdrubal Cabrera. Unlike Baez, though, Lindor can't easily be moved to a different position as he's clearly most valuable as a shortstop. How do you see the Indians resolving their long-term shortstop situation?
SM: It seems that Cabrera’s days are numbered. He’s a free agent after this season, so many believe a trade is imminent. That said, Lindor isn’t ready to be a big leaguer yet. His glove is there, but his bat hasn’t quite caught up. Cabrera’s talents seem to have regressed. Many Cleveland fans have soured on him and feel Mike Aviles could serve as the shortstop until Lindor is ready.
TC: The Lake County Captains are in the Chicago suburbs this weekend - who on that roster should we be heading to the ballpark to see?
SM: The starting rotation has some incredibly intriguing guys -- my personal favorite to look out for is Adam Plutko, but Luis Lugo may arguably be the highest prospect among the rotation. I saw Jordan Milbrath pitch last week and he was also impressive. As far as position players go, Dorssys Paulino is the one to watch if you’re a fan of sweet swings.
TC: The Cougars are likely to face three of Caleb Hamrick, Adam Plutko, Jordan Milbrath, and Mitch Brown - what kind of stuff will Cougars hitters be up against and are any of these arms worth following in the long term?
SM: As I just mentioned, I’d follow all of these arms. Brown was expected to be a big name last year, though he didn’t quite live up to the high expectations. Plutko doesn’t throw hard, but he’s polished and commands his fastball well. Milbrath baffled the Lansing Lugnuts lineup last weekend and Hamrick’s a guy who will attack hitters with his fastball and seat them with his slider.
TC: I know that I (and many other prospect enthusiasts) were really looking forward to seeing Clint Frazier this weekend, but he isn't in Lake County yet. Were you surprised that he wasn't in full-season ball to start the season?
SM: I wasn’t surprised to hear Frazier remains in extended [spring training], simply because he’s hurt -- word on the street is he may be joining the Captains when they return to Eastlake for the next homestand. He reportedly suffered a hamstring injury, but I’ve also heard word that he’s been running at full speed, which is a good sign.
TC: What was wrong with Dorssys Paulino last year, and do you think he can turn it around in 2014?
SM: I think part of Paulino’s problem was that he was young and hadn’t seen the kind of experience and exposure players get playing pro ball. Defense was Paulino’s screaming issue, considering he led the league in errors, but Paulino’s hype has always been about his bat. Speaking of, Paulino’s swing is stellar. Opposing pitchers last weekend tried to get Paulino forward and off balance to no avail. I think a second year in Lake County will serve him well and will provide him a solid opportunity to materialize his talent.
TC: Is there any chance Fancisco Mejia plays his way to Lake County this season?
SM: I sure hope so, but there’s a bit of a backlog at the catching position in the system now. Eric Haase, Lake County’s prime catching prospect, should probably be in Carolina right now, but up in Akron, there’s Tony Wolters, Alex Lavisky and Jake Lowery, though Lowery’s spending some time playing first. Ahead of Haase in Carolina are Charlie Valerio, Jeremy Lucas and Alex Monsalve. Mejia’s still young, so placing him in short-season Mahoning Valley wouldn’t be detrimental to him. Selfishly though, I want to see him in Lake County.
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