10. Luigi Rodriguez, CF
Acquired: International Free Agent in 2010
2011 Stats: .304/.356/.441 with 3 HR, 19 RBI and 18 SB in 59 games between Rookie league AZ and low-A Lake County.
Scouting Report: A converted 2B, Rodriguez’s calling card is his game-changing speed. He profiles as a true top of the order hitter who can get on base and then be a do some damage once he gets there, almost in the mold of a Kenny Lofton. Despite still learning how to read pitchers and get good jumps, Rodriguez has stolen an impressive 49 bases in his 122 career games. He doesn’t have much power, and really never profiles to hit even double-digit home runs regularly in the upper levels, but leadoff men like him are not easy to find. He has a quick, line-drive bat and can spray line drives all over the park. For his age and experience, he has a solid approach and knows how to take a walk. As an 18-year old in low-A Lake County last year, Rodriguez walked 14 times while striking out 36 in 148 at bats. Not a great ratio, but not bad for an 18-year old in his first taste of full-season ball.
Rodriguez is still learning the intricacies of outfield defense, and still needs to improve his reads and jumps on balls hit his way. His speed allows him to outrun his mistakes in the lower levels, but that’s not going to last forever. He is already a decent defender who projects to be plus once he gets some experience. He has a good arm, but not spectacular. No single tool other than his speed is really elite, but no tool other than power projects to be below average. When you put it all together, he’s an intriguing prospect with the potential to be a solid player at the big league level. Leadoff-hitting center fielders don’t grow on trees, and Rodriguez could potential be just that. He will likely play all of 2012 as a Lake County Captain, and will be one of the many players that makes that team a lot of fun to watch this year.
Glass Half-Full: An everyday CF who gets on base and disrupts the game with his speed
Glass Half-Empty: Zeke Carrera
9. Chen-Chang Lee, RHP
Acquired: International Free Agent in 2008
2011 Stats: 6-1, 1 SV, 2.40 ERA, 99 K, 23 BB in 71 1/3 IP between AA and AAA
Scouting Report: Lee has been one of the more dominant relievers in the system over the past few years, posting gaudy strikeout numbers across several levels of the minor leagues. In 227 1/3 career innings pitched, Lee has struck out an impressive 278 hitters. That averages out to an eye-popping 11 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. He’s given up just 0.6 HR/9 in his career, and has a 3.81 K/BB ratio. This isn’t a Cory Burns situation where he’s dominating minor league hitters with a deceptive motion; Lee has outstanding stuff to match those gaudy numbers.
Despite being less than 6 feet tall, Lee gets his fastball up to as high as 97 MPH, and sits comfortably between 92-94. He comes at hitters from a variety of arm angles, throwing anywhere from ¾ to a low sidearm slot. Because of this, his fastball can move in a variety of different ways depending on arm angle and grip. All of this, and his fastball isn’t even his best pitch. That would be his plus slider that has outstanding tilt and is almost unfair to righthanded batters. The pitch can buckle the knees of righties, and has made hitters look awfully foolish over the years.
In addition to the fastball and slider, Lee throws a sinker and a forkball/changeup. The change has good down action when he uses it, but isn’t as effective of a pitch as the slider. Lee is an alumni of the Taiwanese national team, starting for them from 2004-2008. His best start was a dominant outing against international powerhouse Cuba in 2006, going 8 1/3 innings, striking out 6 and allowing just 2 hits in a victory. Since coming stateside, Lee has pretty much exclusively been a reliever as 5’11” righties don’t typically get much of a chance to start. It’s working out well, as his stuff plays up in his relief role and the Indians have a great RP prospect in the pipeline.
Lee might have some trouble breaking in to a crowded Cleveland bullpen, and will likely start the season in AAA Columbus. But he’s the best righthanded reliever in the system, and should be the first guy called up in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the big league bullpen. Either way, he’s one of my favorite pitchers to watch, especially when he’s facing righthanded batters.
Glass Half-Full: A dominant backend reliever
Glass Half-Empty: A solid backend reliever
8. LeVon Washington, OF
Acquired: 2nd round pick in 2010
2011 Stats: .225/.340/.319 with 4 HR, 23 RBI and 16 SB in 307 AB in Rookie AZ and low-A
Scouting Report: Washington was a first round pick for Tampa Bay in 2009, but they couldn’t come to terms and he went back to college and ended up getting paid 1st round money to sign after the Indians took him in the 2nd round in 2010. Washington is an elite athlete, with outstanding speed and quick hands. He projects to have an above-average hit tool and at least gap power. He has a good feel for the strike zone, a solid approach and should be able to draw at least his share of walks. Coming out of college, he was garnering comparisons to Carl Crawford. Well, both he and Carl Crawford had similar seasons in 2011, and that’s not a good thing.
Both Crawford and Washington struggled with injuries and their swings in 2011. Both came into the season with high expectations, and neither managed to produce very much. Some scouts saw some issues with Washington’s swing, and it’s almost understandable that he struggled to find consistency in his first year using wood bats, especially considering all of the injuries. The tools are still there, but of course at some point the performance has to match up to the scouting reports and that just isn’t something that happened last year.
Washington’s defense projects to be solid, but never really plus. He has great speed and does a nice job running down balls in the outfield, but has had shoulder issues that will prevent him from ever having even an average arm. Because of that, he’ll never really have a chance to be an impact defender.
One of the complaints about Washington coming out of college is that he had a very relaxed attitude on the field, almost disinterested. To his credit, Washington has exhibited a great attitude his entire time with the Indians, and worked hard to rehab from his various injuries. Anyone with a twitter account is well aware that Washington is a bit of a showman, as his all caps tweets of #WASHITIME dominate our timelines. He even designed his own line of #WASHTIME t-shirts, had them made up and sent to some of his fans, all on his own dime. Interestingly though, Washington’s twitter account has been dark since his arrival in Goodyear in late January. It looks like he’s buckling down and doing everything he can to get ready for the upcoming season. He’s a potential breakout player in the system, as the talent is definitely there. He just needs a healthy year to put it all together, and I can’t wait to see what WASHTIME does in 2012. He’s fallen out of pretty much everyone’s organizational top-10 lists, but I’m going to keep him at #9 because I believe in the tools.
Glass Half-Full: 2010 Carl Crawford
Glass Half-Empty: 2011 Carl Crawford
7. Nick Hagadone, LHP
Acquired: As part of the Victor Martinez deal in 2009. Originally a 1st round sandwich pick of the Red Sox in 2007
2011 Stats: 11 IP, 11 K, 6 BB, 4.09 ERA at MLB, 71/77/22 2.79 between AA and AAA
Scouting Report: Hagadone is a big, strong, power lefty that has electric stuff. He’s drawn comparisons to Billy Wagner, only taller. That’s some pretty high praise. He worked his way from AA Akron all the way to the majors last year, featuring a plus fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90’s and has touched 99. He pitches primarily off the fastball, and uses it to attack hitters and get ahead in the count. Then he can goes to his above-average to plus slider, a power pitch with sharp, late life. When Hagadone was still a starter, he was working on a changeup, but it’s a pitch that he only has to show on occasion to keep hitters honest not that he’s working exclusively out of the bullpen.
Hagadone was finally healthy last season, and it was his first season as a fulltime reliever. Now that he has some more experience pitching out of the bullpen and is sure of his role going forward, I expect big things out of Hagadone. He made huge strides in his command, going from 6.6 walks per 9 innings in 2010 all the way down to 2.8 in 2011. Hagadone of course had Tommy John surgery in 2008, so it seems like it just took a little while for his command and control to come all the way back to pre-surgery levels. If he can improve his slider command a little, it will go a long ways towards making Hagadone a dominant reliever at the major league level.
Hagadone should be one of three lefties in the bullpen mafia at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario this year, and by the end of the season he could end up being the most dominant of the three. While many people this offseason were suggesting that closer Chris Perez could be traded because Pestano would be ready to step in at closer, it might actually be Hagadone that projects to that role in the long-term.
Glass Half-Full: Hagadone ends up as a dominant closer in the majors
Glass Half-Empty: Hagadone ends up as a solid back-end reliever in the majors
6. Ronny Rodriguez, SS
Height/Weight: 6’/170 lbs
Acquired: International Free Agent in 2010
2011 Stats: .246/.274/.449 with 11 HR, 42 RBI and 10 SB in 98 games for low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: When looking at Rodriguez’s batting line from 2011, you’re probably not blown away. In fact, you may be wondering why he’s ranked this high. Well, first, consider that Rodriguez put up that line in the difficult hitting environment of the Midwest League. Then consider that he did it as a 19-year old. Then bear in mind that he playing professional baseball for the first time ever. Now take another look at that line, especially the power, and understand that this is a kid with the defensive chops to stick at SS. Are you a little more impressed now?
Rodriguez has above-average raw power, and it’s already showing up in games with his 10 HR last year. He has extremely strong wrists and does a good job barreling the baseball on pitches in the zone. He needs to work on pitch recognition (as the .274 OBP indicates), but if he can refine his approach and lay off pitches outside the strike zone, he could become a scary-good hitter. Rodriguez walked just 13 times while striking out 83 in 370 AB last year, numbers that have to improve if he’s going to rise through the system. But again, this is a teenager who was getting his first taste of organized baseball and his first experience with professional pitching, so I’m confident he can adjust and improve.
Like his offense, Rodriguez’s defensive game is imperfect but promising. He has a cannon for an arm and made some spectacular plays at short last year, but still needs to work on the little things like properly circling behind the baseball to make on balance throws, and getting more consistent on the routine plays. He did make 38 errors in his 97 games at SS for the Captains. More than anything, Rodriguez just needs reps, as he’s as raw of a player as you will find in the system. He’ll likely play most of 2012 in high-A Carolina, another difficult league for hitters. A repeat of his 2011 stats with an improvement in the OBP would be a step in the right direction for the raw, toolsy youngster. He has the ability to be an all-star shortstop someday, but that is a long, long ways off.
Glass Half-Full: An all-star shortstop
Glass Half-Empty: He never plays above AA