One of my personal favorite prospects will be highlighted in today's installment of the prospect countdown. I'll give you a hint; he plays a position that starts with "C" and ends with an "R." In addition to another backstop with a bright future, we'll look at a 2012 draft pick who grew up in Alaska and is trying to buck the trend and play professional baseball, a player who missed all of 2012 due to injury, another power righthanded reliever and a 3B-turned-OF who has one of the prettiest swings in the entire organization, non-Chisenhall division.
25. Dylan Baker, SP
Height/Weight: 6-2/215 lbs
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2012 draft
2012 Stats: 0-1 with a 4.12 ERA, 30 K and 15 BB in 24 IP for Rookie Arizona
Scouting Report: Baker was drafted in the 5th round in last year’s draft out of Western Nevada College. With Western Nevada his 2nd year, Baker went 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA, striking out 126 in 84 2/3 IP. For his efforts in college, Baker was named as the Senic West Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. He grew up in the baseball hotbed of Juneau, Alaska, and led his high school team to a pair of state titles. He signed early enough to get some time with the Rookie League Arizona Indians, starting eight games and striking out 11.2 batters per 9 innings pitched. Baker’s favorite baseball movie growing up was Major League, so he and the Indians seem meant to be.
Coming out of college last year, Baker was seen as one of the top junior college arms available. He’s a big, strong kid with above-average velocity with a fastball that sits consistently between 91-94 MPH and has touched 97. He throws from high, over the top arm angle and the pitch has nice plane and sink. His best secondary offering is a hammer 12-6 curveball that really falls of the table as it comes in on hitters. In addition to the curve, he throws a changeup that still needs work but has flashed plus with excellent fade down and away from righthanded hitters. If the change can become more consistent, Baker will have a much better chance to stick in the starting rotation long-term. If not, then he’s likely headed to the bullpen as a power two-pitch reliever.
Baker is one of very few baseball players to come out of Alaska, and he actually walked on to his junior college baseball team in 2011. Going from a JuCo walk-on to a 5th round draft pick in a single season is pretty remarkable, and shows how hard Baker is willing to work to get to the next level. Some experts had him getting drafted as early as the 2nd round, so the Indians were happy to have an opportunity to select him as late as they did last year. He should start out 2013 in the Lake County rotation, so Northeast Ohio fans will have an opportunity to get an up close and personal look at the powerful righthander.
Glass half-full: A solid #3 starter in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: A 2-pitch power reliever
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2009 draft
2012 Stats: DNP
Scouting Report: Adams ranked as the #4 prospect on this list last season, but suffered a shoulder injury and was unable to pitch in 2012. Prior to the injury, Adams had a triple-digit arm, touching 100 MPH when he really reached back for something extra. His fastball sat comfortable in the mid-90’s, as well as a plus slider, a curveball and a changeup. He had a starter’s arsenal, and when he was commanding his fastball and not walking hitters he looked like a potential #2 starter in a major league rotation.
Adams had shoulder surgery last spring, and wasn’t able to throw a single competitive pitch in 2012. He has worked hard to rehab and come back from the injury, but shoulder injuries are particularly tough to predict. If Adams had Tommy John surgery, I’d be much more comfortable with his potential in 2013 and down the road. But shoulder injuries have a lower track record of success than the more tried and true TJ surgery. Adams is doing everything he can to work his way back to health, but sometimes things are just beyond a players control.
Adams is an excellent athlete, having played shortstop in addition to pitching while he was playing for NAIA Faulkner College. He uses his lower half well to generate velocity, so hopefully he can use his legs to take some of the stress off of his shoulder. If Adams is back to his old self, he’s a top-10 prospect in the organization with a chance to pitch in the Indians rotation. If not, hopefully he can at least salvage a role in the bullpen. I really have no idea what to expect out of Adams this season, so this ranking is more of a guess than anything else. Hopefully he can overcome the shoulder injury and his velocity can bounce back to pre-2012 levels.
Glass half-full: Adams overcomes the injury and pitches in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: The injury saps Adams of his velocity and he’s unable to make it to The Show
Height/Weight: 6-2/210 lbs
Acquired: 18th round pick in the 2011 draft
2012 Stats: 2-3, 4 saves with a 1.60 ERA, 78 K and 37 BB in 67 2/3 IP between Lake County, Carolina and Akron
Scouting Report: Armstrong only threw two innings in 2011, striking out a pair and allowing one hit in 2 IP for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The Indians started the power righthander in Lake County last year, but that was a brief stop as he made a pair of scoreless appearances, striking out 4 in 3 2/3 IP. Armstrong spent most of 2012 terrorizing Carolina League hitters, as he made 26 appearances with the Mudcats. In 43 2/3 IP with Carolina, he posted a 2.06 ERA and recorded 52 K while walking 23. Promoted to the AA Akron Aeros for the stretch run to the playoffs, Armstrong somehow got better, going 1-0 with 3 saves while putting up a miniscule 0.89 ERA in 20 1/3 IP for the Eastern League Champion Aeros. Oh, and in 69 2/3 career innings pitched, Armstrong has yet to allow a single HR. Impressed yet?
Armstrong’s arsenal is simple but effective. He sets up hitters with his fastball, a plus offering that sits consistently in the mid-90’s. Once he has hitters thinking fastball, he puts them away with his plus slider, a wipeout pitch with outstanding late life that can really make righthanded hitters look silly. He’s a true power reliever who doesn’t mess around; he goes right after hitters with his best stuff and if they hit it, they hit it. More often than not though, the opposing batters slink back to the dugout in failure, hoping that by their next turn at the dish Armstrong has been replaced by someone else on the bump.
Armstrong is a good athlete and has smooth, easily repeatable mechanics. When he’s locating his fastball well, Armstrong is next to impossible to hit. The Indians sent him to the elite Arizona Fall League following the 2012 season, and while he didn’t get a lot of work he was effective when he did pitch. In 5 appearances, Armstrong allowed just two hits and no runs in 5 2/3 innings of work, walking 4 and striking out 3. He should begin the 2013 season in either Akron or Columbus, and has himself set up for a shot at the Indians bullpen as early as this season. He has the stuff to be a closer down the road, and at the very least should be a backend reliever in a major league bullpen.
Glass half-full: A power backend reliever
Glass half-empty: It’s tough to envision a world in which Armstrong isn’t a power backend reliever
Height/Weight: 6-4/205 lbs
Acquired: 9th round pick in the 2011 draft
2012 Stats: .316/.367/.453 with 9 HR and 74 RBI in 116 games for Lake County
Scouting Report: Smith was selected in the 9th round of the 2011 draft out of Division II St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, Minnesota. There aren’t many Division II players drafted in the top-10 rounds of the MLB draft, and even fewer played their college ball in Minnesota. But Smith’s bat is special, so he’s an exception to that rule. He signed quickly and had an impressive debut in 2011 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, hitting an even .300 and putting up a .794 OPS in his first season as a professional. Smith followed that up with an even better 2012, finishing 2nd in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League in hitting, 6th in RBI and 9th in the league in OPS.
Smith has a pretty, smooth swing from the left side of the plate, not unlike Indians 3B Lonnie Chisenhall. It’s a level, line-drive swing that doesn’t put a lot of backspin on the ball but provides gap power for Smith. He has the size and frame to put on some additional bulk, which should help turn some of those doubles into HR down the road. Smith struggled against lefties in 2012, but was much better last season. He hit .317/.365/.478 with 8 HR in 360 AB against righties and .315/.375/.370 with 1 HR in 108 AB against southpaws. While it would be nice to see some more power against same-siders, the overall line is extremely encouraging and shows a lot of growth in one offseason for the young OF.
When he was drafted, Smith was primarily a third baseman. After appearing in 45 games at the hot corner and just 19 in the OF in 2011, Smith was converted to a full-time OF in 2012. Every game Smith played in the field last year was in RF, and in 96 games there he committed 3 errors and recorded 6 outfield assists. Smith has a strong arm and is an average runner, so with additional repetitions he should be able to handle RF just fine. Transitioning from the infield to the outfield isn’t quite as smooth as some would make it out to be, but Smith is a good athlete and should be able to make the move.
Smith is a fun guy to watch hit, as even though he’s not pounding balls over the fence in BP his swing really is a thing of beauty. He has a smooth, clean path to the ball and consistently drills line drives all over the ballpark. I saw him hit a HR in Lake County last year and I doubt the ball ever got more than 20 feet off the ground; it was just a perfectly hit line-drive that didn’t come down until it was over the fence. Smith will likely be the everyday RF for the Carolina Mudcats this season, and it will be interesting to see if he’s been able to add strength to his frame over the offseason and if he can start turning some of those doubles into HR’s. If so, he’s got a chance to make a big leap as a prospect this year.
Glass half-full: A .290/.380/.480 RF with 20-25 HR per season
Glass half-empty: A .280/.360/.430 RF with 10-15 HR per season; more of a 4th OF
Height/Weight: 5-10/180 lbs
Acquired: 7th round pick in the 2011 draft
2012 Stats: .263/.298/.474 with 3 HR and 22 RBI in 31 games between Rookie Arizona and Mahoning Valley
Scouting Report: This is probably a lot higher than most of the experts are going to have Haase, but I don’t care. I was able to see quite a bit of the young catcher last year in Goodyear, and came away extremely impressed. Haase was a 7th round pick out of a Michigan high school in the 2011 draft, and the Indians ponied up with a $580,000 bonus to sign him away from his college of choice. What college was Haase, who was awarded the title of “Mr. Baseball” in Michigan his senior year, committed to attend? None other than The Ohio State University, of course.
Haase has above-average raw tools across the board. With the bat, he’s got a plus hit tool and plus raw power. His senior year in high school, his team had graduated most of the star players that propelled them to a state championship in Haase’s junior year, so he was by far the best player on the team as a senior. Teams consistently pitched around Haase, so he took that as an opportunity to learn to be a better opposite-field hitter. Whatever the reason, it worked, as I saw Haase pound several balls off of and over the RF fence in batting practice last year in Spring Training. He’s got a simple, smooth swing that keeps the bat in the hitting zone as long as possible. In addition to the opposite field power, he has extremely quick wrists that afford him the opportunity to turn on inside fastballs with ease. Haase really can hit the ball wherever it is pitched, a skill not typically associated with players of his experience level.
Behind the plate, Haase has a cannon arm and quick actions. He pitched in high school, and his fastball was clocked in the mid-90’s so arm strength will not be an issue for him behind the dish. He moves well and does a nice job blocking pitches in the dirt. He has all of the tools to be an above-average catcher defensively, and just needs more repetitions and experience handling a professional pitching staff.
Haase actually hit leadoff for his high school team his senior year, and is an above-average runner. For a catcher, he has downright blinding speed. Not sure how long that will last with all of the stress on his lower body that will occur behind the plate, but for now at least his legs are good for his 5th above-average tool.
Haase is a tireless worker behind the plate and a natural leader. He’s a friendly kid who is a pleasure to talk to, and has all of the intangibles you’d look for in a catcher. Carolina Mudcats manager and minor league catching coordinator Dave Wallace had nothing but great things to say about Haase last year when I spoke with him, and that’s always a great sign for a young player. Haase put up an .826 OPS with 3 HR and 22 RBI for the Rookie League Indians last year, and went 1-12 in a brief 3-game audition with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see where the Indians start the 20-year old backstop this year, as I think he’s ready for his full-season debut in Lake County but they may hold him out until the NYPL starts up in June. Either way, Haase has a bright future in the organization despite being somewhat of an under-the-radar player so far in his brief career.
Glass half-full: A 5-tool catcher, which is pretty darn rare
Glass half-empty: Long way to go between the Scrappers and the Indians