Monday, March 19, 2012

Cleveland Indians Prospect Countdown: #25-21

As we move into the top half of the organizational rankings, it gets a little harder to slot who goes where. It's tough
Nealenough to rank some of these guys based on talent alone, but when you have to offset talent with the ability to stay healthy, we really move into a gray area that I'm not particuarly qualified to operate in. As Bill Belichick often said when pressed for his opinion on whether or not a player would be on the field on sunday, "I'm not a doctor." The man has a way with words, what can I say. So let's take a look at an OF we stole from San Fran in a trade that already seems lopsided to me, a boom-or-bust righty with a big arm and big problems staying healthy, a catcher who underperformed last season, a high draft pick from 2011 and the oft-forgotten "4th player" in the C.C. Sabathia trade.
25. Thomas Neal, OF
DOB: 8/17/1987
Height/Weight: 6-2/225
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: In exchange for Orlando Cabrera in 2011. Originally a 36th round pick of the Giants in 2005.
2011 Stats: .289/.343/.391 with 2 HR and 26 RBI in 70 games for AAA Fresno and AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: Neal is a well-regarded OF who came over from San Francisco last year in exchange for Orlando Cabrera. Drafted in the 36th round out of a California high school on 2005, Neal has had an up and down minor league career so far and has yet to appear in the major leagues. Neal’s best season came in 2009, when he went for a line of .337/.431/.571 with 22 HR and 90 RBI in the California League for San Jose as a 21 year old. Since then, Neal has never been able to match that 1.010 OPS…in fact, he’s never come within 200 points of it. The Cal League can do that for a player, so it’s on Neal to prove that season was for real and not an aberration from playing in a hitter’s league. Neal was ranked as the #96 overall prospect in the game by Baseball America after the 2009 season, but has not appeared on the list since then.
Neal is kind of a jack of all trades, master of none as a prospect. All of his tools are average, but none really stick out as plus. He has a solid hit tool and a quick bat, but will never really hit for a high average. He has a little pop, but isn’t really a big power threat. He runs well, but won’t steal a ton of bases. He has a strong arm, but is limited to either LF or RF because he doesn’t have the range to cover CF. Coaches and teammates consistently praise his work ethic, as he’s a guy who always gives 100% whether it’s on the playing field or in practice. Neal struggled to stay healthy last year, missing some time with hand and shoulder injuries and only playing in 70 games all season. Neal tried to play through the hand injury at first, and it likely sapped him of much of his power. If he can come back healthy this year, it’s possible he can regain some of that 2009 form and become an option at the big league level. He’s a very well-rounded player, and should at least turn into a 4th OF.
Neal was in Cleveland this offseason as part of the Indians Winter Development Program, a program that helps players learn to deal with the media, adjust to the pressures of professional baseball etc. It’s a good sign that the Indians see Neal as part of their future. He’s a righthanded batter, something the Indians badly need in the lineup this year. The Grady Sizemore injury really opens the door for someone like Neal to get an opportunity that he may not have had this year. Even if Neal doesn’t make the team out of Goodyear, keep an eye on his stats for AAA Columbus. There’s a chance that the righthanded stick the Indians have been looking for in leftfield is closer than we might think.
Glass Half-Full: A corner OF with a little less pop than you’d like
Glass Half-Empty: A solid 4th OF
Knapp3 800x66124. Jason Knapp, RHP
DOB: 8/31/1990
Height/Weight: 6-3/235
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: Part of the Cliff Lee deal in 2009; originally a 2nd round pick of the Phillies in 2008
2011 Stats: DNP
Scouting Report: My 2011 scouting report on Knapp is pretty much still applicable here. Unfortunately, the young fireballer did not throw a competitive pitch in 2011 due to arm issues, the second straight season he’s been dealing with shoulder problems. Knapp was throwing in extended spring training in 2011 when he started feeling discomfort in his surgically repaired right shoulder, and after consulting with the Indians medical staff as well as doctors outside the organization, he ended up having a procedure designed to tighten up the anterior of his shoulder last June. After the procedure and several weeks of rehab, the Indians decided there was no sense in rushing the 21-year old back into game action, and while he threw some in instructs he never pitched against opponents outside the organization.
If he’s healthy, Knapp could be a dominant, front of the rotation starter. He’s an intimidating physical presence with an arsenal to match. He has a power fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, and has reached triple digits. In addition to the fastball, he has a plus slider that is a true swing-and-miss offering, one that helped him to strike out an impressive 208 hitters in 156 1/3 innings of work. He’s allowed just 4 HR in his limited career, and has posted a 3.63 ERA. No one in their right mind doubts Knapp’s undeniable physical talent. He’s the rare player with true ace potential, but he of course needs to stay on the mound in order to fulfill his almost unlimited promise.
The Indians spent the latter half of the 2009 season cleaning up Knapp’s delivery, and feel like his motion is now much more smooth and will put less stress on his shoulder. In his limited action in 2010, he was still just as dominant with the new motion, striking out 47 in 28 1/3 innings pitched. But whatever changes that were made apparently didn’t reduce the stress on the shoulder enough, as Knapp ended up having the previously-mentioned procedure.
Not to overstate the obvious, but everything in 2012 and beyond hinges on Knapp’s health. If the 2011 surgery was his last, Knapp is still young enough to remain a starting pitcher, and potentially a dominant one. If the Indians decide his fragile right arm is better served working in short stints out of the bullpen, Knapp could be one of the best closers in the game. He’ll likely begin 2012 again in extended spring training, with hopes of joining one of the full season affiliates once his shoulder proves it can take the strain of throwing a baseball. If he makes it through 2012 healthy, he could be at the top of this list this time next year. If he needs to go under the knife again, he could be off the list entirely. He’s the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect, and so he’s really a tough guy to rank. To steal a line from Bill Bellichick, “I’m not a doctor,” so I really can’t offer any sort of insightful thoughts on his future medical condition. Like there rest of you, I’ll be crossing my fingers and hoping he can make it through at least some of this season healthy.
Glass Half-Full: A dominant starter or closer
Glass Half-Empty: Injured and out of baseball
23. Alex Lavisky, CLavisky 6_800x748
DOB: 1/13/1991
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 8th round pick in 2010
2011 Stats: .203/.264/.349 with 13 HR and 52 RBI in 122 games between short season Mahoning Valley and low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: A high-profile pick in 2010 because of his hometown roots and big signing bonus, St. Edwards product Alex Lavisky struggled in his first season of professional baseball. The Indians chose to give the youngster an aggressive assignment out of spring training last year, assigning him straight to low-A Lake County in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Despite coming straight out of high school, Lavisky was a physically-mature 20-year old heading into opening day last season, so the organization felt that he could handle the assignment. Unfortunately, Lavisky got off to a slow start and never recovered, playing in 49 games for the Captains and putting up a line of just .207/.251/.391. Lavisky did show a little pop with 8 HR, but had a lot of trouble with pitch recognition and selection, striking out 66 times while walking just 9 in 198 at bats.
After those rough 49 games, the Indians decided to move Lavisky down to the short-season New York-Penn League to play for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Surprisingly, the move had no real effect on Lavisky’s production, and if anything it got worse. In 68 games for the Scrappers, Lavisky went for a .201/.276/.328 line with 5 HR. The struggles with his approach continued as well to the tune of 71 K and 20 BB in 286 at bats.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that the raw tools that the Indians saw when they selected him in the 8th round of the 2010 draft is still there, and one bad season doesn’t take away the tremendous potential that Lavisky has. Scouts see plus raw power potential lurking within the young backstop, and a potential plus defender as well. He has a strong arm, moves well behind the plate and is an advanced receiver for his level of experience. It helps that in high school, one of Lavisky’s teammates was Pittsburgh Pirates 2010 2nd round draft pick Stetson Allie, who throws a fastball approaching triple digits. So Lavisky got plenty of experience catching big-league stuff long before he was ever drafted. His hit tool doesn’t project to be any better than average, and more than anything he needs to work on his approach. If he can quit chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and start swinging at pitches that he can drive, things should turn around in a big way for the talented 21-year old catcher.
Lavisky was given $1 million to sign, so despite the disappointing 2010 season he’ll be given every shot to succeed in the organization. He’ll likely start 2012 right where he began 2011; back in a Lake County Captains uniform. Hopefully this time around he’ll find a lot more success than last year. Catchers are the leaders of the team on the field, so this will be a good chance to get a look at Lavisky’s intangibles. We’ll see how mentally tough he is if he bounces back from a poor 2011 with a better showing in 2012. My bet is he does, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Glass Half-Full: He could still be a Jason Varitek type in the show
Glass Half-Empty: He might never make it to AAA
22. Jake Sisco, RHP
DOB: 12/9/1991
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in 2011
2011 Stats: 2-4, 5.24 ERA, 31 K and 17 BB in 34 1/3 IP
Scouting Report: Coming out of Merced Junior College, Sisco was one of the more impressive JuCo pitchers available in the 2011 draft. He led all JuCo pitchers in strikeouts, wins, and innings during the 2011 season, going 11-1 with a 1.66 ERA with 124 K in 108 IP. He sets everything up with his fastball, which sits consistently between 92-95 MPH. In addition to the fastball, he throws a curve, slider and changeup. None of the pitches really grade as plus, but all have flashed above-average at one time or another. He’s got to work on one of those pitches to have a go-to secondary pitch, something to rely on outside of the fastball.
Sisco signed quickly after he was drafted last June and managed to get in a decent amount of game action in the Arizona Summer League. He was roughed up a little, posting a 5.24 ERA in 34 1/3 innings of work. He did strike out 31, but struggled with his control, walking 17. When you add in all of his work with Merced, it was by far the longest season of Sisco’s life, so I’m not ready to cast him aside after 30+ subpar innings. He has a good chance to open 2012 in the rotation for low-A Lake County, where we’ll get a chance to see his development first hand. If he can improve his secondary stuff, his deep arsenal offers him a good chance to be a middle of the rotation starter. If not, his stuff should play up in short stints and allow him to be a solid relief arm.
Glass Half-Full: A middle of the rotation starter
Glass Half-Empty: A useful bullpen arm
21. Rob Bryson, RHPbryson mugshot
DOB: 12/11/1987
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: As part of the C.C. Sabathia trade in 2008. Originally a 31st round pick of the Brewers in 2006
2011 Stats: 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA, 48 K and 16 BB in 39 1/3 IP between low-A, high-A and AA
Scouting Report: Bryson was a guy who I was really expecting big things out of in 2011. He had worked his way up to AA Akron in 2010 where he posted a 1.80 ERA with 21 K in 20 IP for the Aeros. I thought he’d start out back in Akron in 2011 and quickly work his way up to AAA Columbus, with an outside shot at pitching in the major leagues. Unfortunately for Bryson and the Indians, he suffered a freak injury just before spring training, breaking a bone in his foot while running poles after a throwing session in the offseason. Bryson was unable to pitch until the season was already several months underway, and only managed to log 39 1/3 innings by the time the season ended. He worked his way back up to AA Akron, throwing 21 1/3 innings and posting a 2.95 ERA while striking out 23 and walking 12. Bryson logged 13 innings in the Venezuelan winter league, but that only gave him a total of 52 1/3 innings pitched in 2011. So while it wasn’t a completely lost season for the power righty, it sure wasn’t the breakthrough I was hoping for. The only good news with respect to the injury was that it wasn’t to his surgically repaired right shoulder. In fact, he made it through the season with no arm issues at all, a great sign that the repairs to his labrum and rotator cuff are holding strong. The foot injury actually helped to limit his innings a little and help keep the arm healthy.
Bryson came over as part of the C.C. Sabathia deal in 2008, and has a powerful, live right arm. He has a clean, easily repeatable delivery that sees him really use his lower half well to generate a lot of arm speed. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90’s, and has touched 98 He sets up everything with his fastball, and when he’s commanding it well within the zone he’s awfully tough to hit. In addition to the fastball, Bryson has a wipeout slider with outstanding movement and tilt. It’s a true swing and miss pitch, and when both the slider and fastball are on, it’s almost unfair on hitters. He also has a changeup that is more of a “show” pitch to change speeds on hitters, but his bread and butter is his fastball/slider combo. He’s a big strikeout guy, recording 287 of them in 217 professional innings pitched. He’s the only player in the Sabathia deal who has yet to play in the major leagues, but if he can finally stay healthy, that’s not going to last long. He will likely open 2012 back in Akron, but should be in Columbus before the all-star break. He’s behind guys like C.C. Lee and Nick Hagadone on the track to Cleveland, but is right there in that next wave with Tyler Sturdevant and Bryce Stowell.
Glass Half-Full: A dominant, backend reliever
Glass Half-Empty: He never gets over his injury issues and can’t get over the hump to the big league level

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