Sunday, March 30, 2014

Goodyear Notebook on a Lazy Sunday

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
Another fantastic trip to Goodyear, Arizona is in my rear-view mirror, and the start of the season is upon us. This was my 4th consecutive trip to the desert for spring training, and every year it gets better and better. If you love baseball, you owe it to yourself to make the trip at least once in your lifetime. Between work-outs, minor league games, B games and big league games, you can watch over 10 hours of baseball a day in 80+ degree weather. And if that gets boring, there’s plenty of golf, bars/restaurants and other fun stuff to keep you occupied. Did I mention it is 85 degrees and sunny down there this time of year? Enough of my gloating, let me get into what you really came here for. These are some of my observations from spending six days in Indians camp this year, primarily on the minor league fields.

  • Tony Wolters, converted from middle infield to catcher around this time last year, has made enormous strides behind the plate. He looks like he’s been catching his entire life. His hands are strong, and he’s doing a great job receiving. He still has a ball go off his mitt for a passed ball every once in a while, but the strides he’s made in just one year of catching are remarkable. Some of the credit goes to Dave Wallace, Wolters’ manager in Carolina last year and a fantastic defensive catcher during his playing days. Wallace will move up to AA Akron this season, and so will Wolters, moves that work quite nicely together.
  • Dillon Howard and Jake Sisco have retired. Howard is 21, and was the Indians 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft, a pick that was widely praised outside of the organization at the time. He went 1-7 with a 7.90 ERA for the AZL Indians in 2012, never pitching outside of the complex leagues. Sisco, 22, was the Indians 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft. He went a combined 7-21 with a 4.98 ERA over three seasons between the AZL Indians, Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Lake County Captains. Good thing they got Lindor in the 1st round that year.
Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
  • Francisco Mejia…wow. I ranked Mejia as the organization’s #4 overall prospect this offseason despite never having seen him play. Now that I have seen him in action, I feel like that might have been a spot too low. Mejia is just 18 years old, and won’t turn 19 until after the 2014 season. He has extremely strong hands/wrists, and generates plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. His swing is a little long, and his hands are very loud with almost a Sheffield-level bat twitch before loading his hands high and deep. He’s extremely aggressive at the plate, swinging at nearly anything around the strike zone and frequently attacking the first pitch of the AB. He makes it all work, as he reached base 7 times in the 9 AB’s I saw him take this spring in game action (5 hits and 2 BB). Both of the walks he took were on four pitches nowhere near the strike zone, and Mejia actually seemed disgusted by the fact that he had to take a walk rather than hit.
  • Mejia’s arm gets its own bullet point. Poems will be written about Francisco Mejia’s arm. We’ll tell our grandchildren about the times we saw Mejia throw down to second base. Singers will sing of it long after all of us are gone from this Earth. I didn’t see Mejia catch in the first couple of days because he was dealing with a minor elbow issue. Thankfully, that cleared up in time for me to watch him behind the plate my last couple of days in camp. I’ve watched a lot of baseball over the years, and never in my life have I heard fans and players ooh and ahh over a throw down to 2B between innings. But that’s exactly what happened nearly every time Mejia fired a ball to second. He never popped more than 1.9, and I had him in the 1.7 range a couple of times. I cannot possibly do it justice with the written word. You have to see it in action for yourself. He’s still a little raw as a receiver, but the tools are there for Mejia to be a Gold Glove catcher in the major leagues someday. That’s high praise for an 18-year old who’s never played in a full-season league, but that’s how impressed I was by Francisco Mejia.
  • Francisco Lindor looks pretty much ready. He’s added a little bit of muscle to his frame, but not enough to slow him down at SS. Defensively, he could play in the major leagues right now. He only has 91 plate appearances above high-A, so it’s tough to say that his bat is ready, but it wouldn’t be valueless. SSS alarms and ST alarms both blaring, Lindor did hit .316/.350/.579 with a HR, 2 2B and 5 RBI in 19 AB with the big club in spring training this year. I see growth at the plate from last year to this year, and he’ll continue to improve as he gets experience against top-flight competition. In 10 swings in BP, I saw him hit 6 HR; three from each side of the plate. His bat is going to have value on its own, and when you combine it with his Gold Glove potential in the field, Francisco Lindor is going to be a star. He’s going to start the season back in AA Akron, but you’d better get out and see him there while you can, because he could easily finish the 2014 season at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
  • 3B Gio Urshela has added some size and strength to his frame, and is showing off more power than in previous years. He showcased excellent pull side power in BP, and in one of the games I was watching he did a nice job extending his arms on a pitch on the outer half and driving it off the right-centerfield fence for a long double. He’s an elite defender at 3B, and if he can hit even a little, he has a major league future.
  • I saw one Cody Anderson start, and he was solid if unspectacular. The fastball sat between 90-92, and he was locating it well. He mixed in a slider hat was between 81-84, a curve that was 76-78 and an occasional change at around 78. The slider was more consistent than his curveball. The curve flashed plus, as he broke off a couple of really nice ones, but it was inconsistent. He bounced a couple of curves and really hung one, and looked like he was having a little trouble finding the release point on the pitch.
Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
  • LeVon Washington was dealing with some minor injury issues early in camp, but was back on the field by the time I got down there. When he’s healthy, #WASHTIME is productive. He’s got a solid approach at the plate, and feasts on fastballs up in the zone. He struggles with quality breaking balls, and needs to stay healthy and on the field so he can simply see more pitches to improve his pitch recognition/selection skills. He’s slated to open the 2014 season as a Carolina Mudcat, and at this point I’m just hoping that he can play 100+ games this year for the first time in his professional career.
  • It took some people (myself included) a little bit by surprise when Erik Gonzalez was added to the 40-man roster, but I have to say that I now see why the Indians made the move. Gonzalez is a big, athletic kid who still moves well enough to play an outstanding shortstop. His bat has been lagging behind his defense, but the Indians hitting coaches have been working with him to shorten his stride and lower his big, high leg lift that he’d been using to help with his timing. The big leg kick (almost Ruben Sierra level) made it difficult for Gonzalez to adjust and forced him to commit to his swing before he was able to recognize what pitch was being thrown and whether or not it was a strike. Reducing the stride and kick should help him with balance as well as pitch recognition/selection. I don’t expect him to become a Silver Slugger or anything, but the bat shouldn’t hold back his overall game as much as it did last season.
  • One of the coolest things I got to see in spring training this year was the AAA Columbus infield practice during BP. Lindor, Ronny Rodriguez, Jose Ramirez and Joey Wendle rotated between 2B/SS with Travis Fryman hitting them groundballs. The four athletic middle infielders competed to try and turn the most acrobatic double plays, with Fryman assigning grades after each turn. This went on for at least 20 min, and getting to see those guys (especially Lindor!) showcasing their entire range of defensive skills was a lot of fun. Fryman challenged them with a little bit of everything, hitting balls up the middle, deep in the hole, choppers, soft rollers and rockets. That display alone was worth the price of the hotel in Goodyear last week.
  • I got to see Austin Adams pitch twice, and he did Austin Adams things. He’s a pretty known quantity at this point, as he’s going to challenge hitters with a 97-99 MPH fastball, mixing in the occasional bat-breaking slider or curveball. He’s ready to pitch in the major leagues right now, and will be one of the first arms (along with C.C. Lee) that the Indians call on from Columbus in the event of injury or ineffectiveness in the 2014 version of the Bullpen Mafia.
  • Carlos Melo was a guy that I had zero background on, but seeing him hit 96 on his first pitch made me do a little research. Melo was released by the Rangers last year, and the Indians picked him up on the cheap. He’s 23 years old, although that figure was in dispute at one time and caused Melo some visa problems while he was in the Rangers org. He’s never pitched above A ball, and has struck out 283 hitters in 243 innings of work. He’s also walked 163. He sits comfortably in the high-90’s with his fastball, and has touched triple digits in the past. Unfortunately, he has poor command and no breaking ball to speak of. I’m not counting on getting anything out of Melo, but the pure velocity in his arm makes him worth keeping an eye on.
Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
  • I got to see lefty Kyle Crockett in action for the first time, and he came as advertised. He’s going to be awfully tough on lefties, coming at the hitter from a variety of arm angles with a lot of deception in his delivery. It was really tough to pick up the ball on Crockett, something that helps his average velocity play up. He’s going to pound the strike zone, attack hitters and induce a lot of weak contact. He could be a big-league bullpen piece as soon as this year (although there's no reason to rush him), and I think he can have success against hitters from both sides of the plate.
  • At every level of their organization, from low-A to the big leagues, the Indians do a fun and interesting game during batting practice. In the last round for each group of hitters, they play a game where ghost runners start on 1st and 2nd with no outs, and each hitter gets an “at-bat” until 3 outs are made. The hitting coach is the sole decider of whether a ball goes for a hit or an out. It makes for a fun competition, some lively debates between hitter and coach, and a lot of ribbing from teammates based on final scores. The day I watched ML BP, Swisher and Kipnis’ group stuck around in the dugout after they hit, yelling at the other groups as they tried to match their score. It’s clearly a lot of fun for the players and coaches, and was pretty cool to watch up close.
  • I finally got to see left-handed starter Luis Lugo pitch, and he was okay. Nothing incredible, but showed a feel for pitching and broke off a couple of nice breaking balls. His fastball sat between 88-91 MPH. He definitely has a projectable body, as he’s already every bit of his listed 6’5” and 200lbs. It’s possible there’s more velocity in there that Lugo will pick up as he continues to add strength to his frame. He just turned 20 earlier this month, so there’s still quite a bit of time on the developmental curve.
  • Another big lefty from Venezuela, Elvis Araujo, showcased a bump in velocity of his own. Araujo sat between 93-95 MPH, touching 97 once. His slider was around 85, and flashed above-average although still needs consistency. At this point, the Indians are just looking for a healthy season from the 6’6” southpaw, as he was only able to throw 9 2/3 innings in 2013.
Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
  • Mitch Brown flashed the impressive stuff that caused the Indians to pick him in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. His fastball was sitting between 93-95, touching as high as 97. He was moving the ball around in the strike zone, and gave hitters trouble with his big, 77-79 MPH curveball. He threw a couple of really impressive changeups as well, but also left one up in the zone against Emmanuel Tapia that Tapia deposited over the right field fence. The raw stuff is impressive, he just needs to refine his secondary stuff and improve his fastball command.
  •  One of the guys that I didn’t get to see in action was last year’s 1st round draft pick, Clint Frazier. Frazier was dealing with a minor hamstring issue, and the organization is understandably playing it slow with the talented young outfielder. Frazier did some base coaching, some light running and could be frequently spotted running his fingers through his luxurious red hair. I’m guessing he’ll start off the season in extended spring training before moving up to low-A Lake County after the weather warms up a little bit. Cleveland area fans will still get to see Frazier’s ginger afro patrolling the shores of Lake Erie this season, it’ll just be a little later than anticipated.
  • Jordan Cooper is back on the mound after “minor” offseason surgery (if surgery on a pitcher’s arm can ever be considered minor) to clean up some loose bodies in his arm. He looked like the Coop of old, attacking hitters with a variety of quality offspeed stuff and inducing soft contact. He’s a tough guy to square up, and someone I think can have success eating innings in the back end of a major league rotation.
Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
  • Venezuelan OF Anthony Santander added significant weight this offseason, and profiles best in LF moving forward. He had some at-bats in AA/AAA games against guys like Aaron Harang and held his own, showing an impressive approach for a kid his age. I think the bat will play, but the defensive profile limits his overall prospect ceiling a little bit.
  • Eric Haase continues to impress every time I see him. He’s at least a backup catcher in the majors for me, and has a chance to be more. He does a nice job handling a pitching staff, calls his own game and really takes charge of the diamond from behind the plate. His bat is solid, and it seems like he gets two hits in every game I watch. He does a really nice job staying back on the baseball and using all fields. I’ve seen him turn on balls on the inner half and rip them down the 3B line for extra bases, and stay back on a breaking ball on the outer half and shoot it past the 2B for a single. I love the approach, the attitude and the work ethic behind the plate.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lazy Sunday with the President, v. 2014

For the second year in a row, Indians team president Mark Shapiro was kind enough to take an hour out of his very busy spring training schedule and sit down for an interview with me in beautiful Goodyear, Arizona. Here’s a link to last year’s interview in case you missed it. We covered a wide variety of topics, including the difference in the 2013 and 2014 free agent market, Yan Gomes, ticket pricing, promotions, Francisco Lindor and of course, Justin Masterson and the breakdown in his long-term contract negotiations. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation this past Friday.

Al Ciammaichella: This offseason was much quieter/different than last offseason. Were the moves you made last year looking forward to this year’s free agent class where you signed guys like Swisher and Bourn knowing this offseason would be quieter?

Mark Shapiro: We always have to take an opportunistic lens when it comes to free agency. When we look at free agency, if we’re dependent upon it to build our team, then we’re in a very difficult, if not impossible, spot. The reality is that we’re either looking for where the value is in the market or looking to be opportunistic. Last offseason there happened to be two guys that fit multiple year, positional needs for us at values we thought we could afford and who have some other special attributes, especially in the case of Swish, but really Bourne too, as a leader as well. They filled gaps we had in our system, where we felt like we didn’t have anyone coming up at all. And we also knew that this offseason there was a lot national TV money coming into the system and a lot less guys, so there were going to be more resources available, greater demand and less supply. So while it’s already a tough market, that was going to make it nearly an impossible market. So I look at last year as our chance to make a bigger splash in free agency, and this year was going to be “are there little things we can do?” I think we studied David Murphy, who I think is a good pick up for us. He’s going to improve both the defense, and give us a really good platoon and depth in the outfield.

AC: We talked a lot about levers last year, which became one of my new favorite buzzwords. How did you decide what levers to pull this year, with Murphy, and how did you decide which not to pull, with not bringing back guys like Ubaldo and Kazmir?

MS: Those decisions are never as simple as “do you want the player or not?” I think that the fan tends to look at it as “you didn’t want the guy.” We loved what Kaz did for us, we wanted him, but the level of risk involved with multiple years and the level of risk involved with those dollars just didn’t fit our payroll parameters this year with the natural, built in escalation of contracts. I think with Ubaldo, same thing. It ended up being a good deal for us, particularly in light of what we gave up, but it wasn’t the right fit for us this year. When you talk about levers, I think the neat things to think about from last spring to this spring are the evolution of a guy like Yan Gomes. Where all of a sudden, you look at Gomes and there’s a guy who leverages his ability to impact a game at more than just his position because of what he means defensively, what he means for his passion for making pitchers better, for helping to call a game. So I always like to think about, “where are the guys that can impact a game beyond objective statistics? Beyond just their own performance?” And Gomes is a guy who when he started to catch last year, I think that was one of the keys to our team really taking off.

AC: So when you traded for Gomes, and I could sit here all day and talk to you about Gomes, but when you traded for him, did you have any idea he’d be that much of an impact defensively? I’ve talked to some Blue Jays guys, and they were of the opinion that he was maybe a 3rd catcher while he was with the Jays.

MS: Any GM or front office guy who tells you he knows exactly what he was getting when he traded for a guy is just pounding his own chest. What you do is you try and find something you like, a defined attribute that you like about a guy. Even when we traded for Asdrubal or Shin-Soo Choo, there were always questions. We never thought they’d both be as good as they were, never. So when we traded for Yan Gomes, we thought that maybe he could catch, but really what he was, was right handed power, and a guy who could play multiple positions. That’s what we thought. When we got him, I think we did a smart thing, similar to when we traded for Justin Masterson. We didn’t know Masterson could start, but we knew he could be a dominant bullpen guy. But in our situation it’s important to maximize the value because we can’t go out and buy those things. So we put Yan back there, and right away Tito and the staff said “this guy’s got pretty special hands, he’s got some strength behind the plate.” When you go back and look at his career, whether it’s in Tennessee (in college) or in the Toronto system, he played behind Arrencebia both places, and they had D’Arnaud there as well. So he was behind two of the best young catchers in the game and he never got to catch much. He just took right to it. He got better and better. He’s a worker, he’s smart, he’s tough, he has a lot of the attributes you look for in a catcher.

AC: It’s nice having guys like Sandy (Alomar) and Wally (AA manager Dave Wallace) around who can help young catchers develop. I’m sure they spent a decent amount of time with him.

MS: Yeah, and he’s a sponge too. He wants more.

AC: You can tell. Just the framing metrics, things that were probably previously proprietary stats that are now out in the public showing just how many runs a catcher can save just by framing pitches helps show why he’s so valuable.

MS: Yeah, like Molina. I think there are just some things that you can’t measure, like his game calling and the way pitchers feel about him being a student of the advanced (scouting) report.

AC: And we haven’t even talked about his bat yet.

MS: Yeah, he’s got right-handed pop, which was the one thing we thought when we got him. He’s got right-handed power, which is hard to find.

AC: Last September was great experience, but such a roller coaster, winning 10 in a row to claim the 1st Wild Card and having it all end in just one day against the Rays. What was that like?

MS: Backing off the emotion, and looking at it from a more intellectual level, my take on that game in general was, we had just won ten in a row, and the nature of regressing to the mean was that we actually played a decent game. I thought we had more hard-hit balls than Tampa had. We could’ve won that game. But the odds just reversed on us. We had won ten in a row, and the time came for us not to have balls fall in. Two hard-hit balls right at people, and our ten game streak came to an end. It just happened to come to an end in a time where we were playing a single-elimination game. My thoughts, bigger picture reflecting were, “hey, I was on the committee that put that structure in place.” I was a little reluctant to go to a one-game playoff, but the managers lobbied hard for it in the intent to make it more difficult for a Wild Card team to advance. My takeaway was that it is definitely more difficult for a Wild Card team to advance.

AC: Right, a couple of years ago, you’re planning for the Red Sox as the Wild Card team. That had to creep into the back of your mind a little bit.

MS: A little bit. In the end, I still think it’s better for us and better for the game that more teams are involved in the playoffs, but yeah, what an abrupt halt to an incredible run. A little bit of an improbable run, so just to get in and play playoff baseball again in Progressive Field was pretty cool.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
AC: Last year you had guys like Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber really step up to fill big question marks in the rotation. Can you talk about how important those guys were, and who do you see being those guys this year? Whether it’s a starting pitcher, position player or bullpen arm, someone who can step up and fill a question mark going into the 2014 season.

MS: I think that Tomlin is an interesting guy to keep an eye on, Tomlin or Carrasco. I was really excited about Carlos coming in because of some of the changes he made this offseason, but the reality is that we’re going to need starters to step up. Carlos has got probably the highest ceiling and the most weapons and really has worked hard on some delivery changes that have shown extremely well early in camp. Obviously he’s struggled the last two times out. Josh is a guy that you’ve followed a little bit…I love the guy. Getting back to my earlier comments to you, looking for things you know about a guy? I know he competes. I know he’s an athlete, I know he throws strikes. I know he’s going to make you beat him. He is an extra infielder there in the infield, and you can’t run on him. Look at the numbers, you just cannot run on him. Is he going to give up some homers? Yeah, he’s going to give up some homers, but this spring there’s been some swing and miss with him, he’s had some more weapons. He’s a good guy to bet on, a good guy to win or lose with. And Carlos is a guy who is one step away from everything clicking, and you don’t want to give up on that. I think that can come from those guys. The bullpen…it’s hard to say. We’ve got some depth there. C.C. Lee is a guy that we feel strongly about, that he can have an impact soon.

AC: Austin Adams is another guy…

MS: Yeah, a good guy, a battler, competitor, hard thrower. Yesterday he was 97-98.

AC: Since we’re talking about pitching, let’s talk about Mickey Callaway. What a lever that guy has been, effecting the whole organization from top to bottom. You see what he was able to do with Ubaldo, and what he’s done with a lot of the young kids on the way up in Lake County, Carolina. How important is he to the club, and can he work his magic on other talented guys like Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, those high-ceiling, high talent guys who haven’t quite made that last step yet?

MS: One of the things to think about with Trevor is that he’s only 23 years old. So he’s still so young, but his path was almost artificially sped up just because of where he was drafted. Ross Atkins did a marvelous job in identifying Mickey, and hiring Mickey, and knowing that he had something special when he hired him. I remember vividly Ross telling me when he hired him. I’ve always told every farm director we’ve had, from John Farrell, Neil Huntington, Ross Atkins, all of the guys who’ve followed me in that job, “every time a job comes open, you need to think that pitching coach you’re hiring, that could be the next major league pitching coach.” You can’t just fill the job. You’ve got to look for impact guys, and Ross did that with Mickey, obviously, but he’s done that with numerous guys that he’s hired. But what makes Mickey special is his ability to communicate, and his openness to adapt to whoever he’s teaching. It’s not that he has some sort of sage insight into pitching mechanics or crazy proprietary philosophies, it’s more of the ability to connect, communicate, and individualize instruction. Develop trust and respect and help guys get better. Ensure that they know that he’s there for them. Mickey does that at a really elite level. His magic secret is his ability to communicate that other guys don’t have, and his ability to be selfless and really be there for the player.

AC: Positional flexibility is something that this team has, and not Garko in the outfield type of flexibility. But Santanta at 3B/1B/C, Raburn pretty much anywhere on the field, Swish 1B/OF, Aviles can play anywhere. How important is that to Tito and the club?

MS: I think that we look at having a nimble roster, having the ability to withstand the fact that not all guys can play 162 (games) as being important. One of the separators for us was having a bench with Raburn and Aviles on it last year. You look at a guy like Elliott Johnson, having a good camp, extremely versatile, a guy who can play all three outfield positions in addition to two or three infield positions, he’s another guy like that. So having good big-league players who are also versatile helps you in the endurance test of a 162 game season. And it may give you an opportunity to make up some ground on some higher revenue teams with superstar type players. It’s inevitable that most players are not going to play all 162.

AC: The Qualifying Offer. You’ve been on both sides of the Qualifying Offer now. Last year you were able to get a couple of guys who had that QO, with maybe a little less interest in a guy like Bourn than if he had not been under the QO protection. Then this year, with Ubaldo, getting an extra first round pick back after losing him. What are your feelings on the QO? Do you think that’s a positive aspect of the current CBA?

MS: I think it’s worked in the way that clubs have hoped it would work. It provides some compensation for losing a free agent, and I think we have a better understanding of the value of what those picks are worth now, and we can put a cash value on that. We factor that in to a free agent offer and we determine whether to offer the player something beyond the Qualifying Offer or not. To hear people on the other side diminish the value of the QO…we offered those guys $14.1 million for a one-year deal. That’s a whole lot of money. So it’s hard to feel like anyone is being take advantage of. They make the decision that they’ve earned the right to make, whether to accept it or not.

AC: So talking about whether or not to make that very large financial commitment, did you consider extending a QO to Kazmir?

MS: We never take anything lightly, and we walk very carefully through everything.

AC: So 2005 and 2007, the last two really great years of Cleveland baseball, the next years after 
those, in 2006 and 2008 the team started pretty slow out of the gate, being forced to trade C.C. in 2008 because you were out of it before the all-star break. Is there anything that the 2014 team can or has learned from that to try not to backslide?

MS: I wouldn’t say that we learned much from that, other than just how fragile it is which I think we already knew. I think we all understand that there’s still some good fortune that has to factor in to us being that team. Last spring training we were trying to figure out who three of our starters were. Now we’re agonizing over three or four good choices for one spot, our last spot. But we may end up worse this year than last year, starting pitching wise. Some things really hit for us last year, with Ubaldo and Scotty Kazmir. In our situation, we’re never going to build the perfect team. We’re always going to have some question marks heading in. Our job is to reduce the number of “ifs.” If this happens, if that happens…have as few of those “ifs” as possible heading into the season. And I think this year’s team has less “ifs” than last year’s team. The question is whether we can build off of what we did last year. Not, can we improve? Because 92 wins is pretty tough, but to build off of that and play good baseball. Part of the way we got to 92 wins was by winning ten in a row at the end. I don’t want to have to do that again.

AC: Going 4-15 against the Tigers last year essentially killed your chances to win the division. Other than having better luck, what can you do to close that gap specifically against the Tigers this year?

MS: That’s true. They’re objectively the best team in baseball, so I’m not sure that we were able to close the gap on them. I just think we need to focus on being as good as we can be. I think we’re going to be better than 4-15 against them this year. But the reality is the Royals are going to be better, and regardless of how good they’re going to be both the White Sox and the Twins are going to be better than they were last year. It’s a hard division, and the Tigers are still objectively either #1 or #2 in all of major league baseball. And they should be, with the resources they’ve got. So we’re going to have a challenge, a real battle. It wasn’t easy last year. You could argue that Kansas City, down the stretch, was the best team we played in September last year. They beat us more than anyone else beat us in September.

AC: We talked a little about TV money last year, and again today already. When you saw the contract that Kershaw got (7 years, $215 million), what was the first thing that flashed through your mind?

MS: First thing that flashed through my mind is that is one of the most special, most unique players and people that exists in the game. And if we were in similar circumstances, we would probably do the same thing. He represents not just a talent, but a man of character and work ethic, and I think those things factor in when you stretch and make big decisions. That being said, if you scale revenue and the resources to our market, that offer in our market gets a lot smaller.

AC: The season ticket base is not at the level that you want it right now.

MS: Our single biggest challenge.

AC: Still, revenue did go up last year. Is that from dynamic pricing?

MS: It’s a factor of more efficient pricing in general. I think we got ourselves into a position because of reflexively discounting and promoting for a period of years, which is pretty standard sports marketing, instead of focusing and understanding where the most important fans are and how we effectively price and what we’re doing to our business by just discounting year after year. The ultimate challenge is, and I always tell people this, is the concert analogy. If Pearl Jam is playing in Boston, they’re getting paid the same thing as if they were playing in Cleveland. But they can charge a lot more for the tickets in Boston. The talent in baseball gets paid no matter what city it plays in, but tickets cost a lot more in cities other than they do in Cleveland. That’s because of the size of the market and the wealth of the market. So we’re in a tough spot. But I think that what we need to do, more than raise prices, is just to get people to buy in advance. That’s the most important thing for us. Try to change behaviors. Any more in today’s world, when you have a ballpark in a downtown where there are only 170,000 people working downtown, if the decision is left up to the last minute then weather is a significant variable. Really the home TV product is a significant variable. You’re tired at the end of your day, you didn’t buy already and make that decision already, it’s not so bad to sit down on the couch and watch with your surround sound on your 60” screen. I think our fans are out there. It’s just, how do we make it more compelling to come to the ballpark, and how do we shift that behavior to buy in advance, to commit earlier.

AC: Talking about enticing people to come to the ballpark, you’ve got a lot of really neat promotions this year, new food items, cheaper beer…what are you most excited about on that front?

MS: I’m actually most excited about one that we haven’t announced yet, one that we’re going to announce after opening day. We’ve got a big technology driven one that we’re really excited about.

AC: Free iPad day at the ballpark?

MS: Haha, exactly, right. I do think it will be a platform for us to do a lot more technologically at our ballpark.

Photo Credit: Colorado Rockies
AC: Coors Field has a rooftop deck in the stands, something that they came out withthis year. Is that something that Cleveland would ever entertain?

MS: We’ve been looking at concepts a lot like that, not that exact same one. But I think, as you and I talked about last year, we’re very intensely involved in the evolution of our ballpark in two levels. One, it’s 20 years old, so there’s just infrastructure that we have to think about. Second, is how do we help the ballpark without ever violating the incredible architectural integrity of it, how do we help it evolve for the next generation of fans, the next 20 years. Because we do have some things that are outdated, some things that don’t fit our market or fit today’s fans. So how do we make it a compelling entertainment environment. We are quietly working on those things, very closely, and I think when we get to the point where we have firm plans you’ll start to see us roll those out. It could be as soon as this year, we’re getting closer on some of those things. It’s a lot of work.

AC: Last year we talked a little bit about the draft, and you stressed how important it was going to be with a top-5 pick to hit on a star. Do you think you hit on that guy with Clint Frazier?

MS: Well, we hit on a guy with big-time pop, big-time power who loves to play the game of baseball and who is still learning to play his position defensively. When you take a high school position player, one that has a pretty good profile, pretty good pedigree, there’s upside there. You have the chance to have a star. But the draft business in general is highly speculative, so for me to say we hit on that…we have a talent. Now we have to help make him a talented professional player. Because it’s difficult for any 19-year old to come into this environment…this is not the right environment for everyone. For a guy like Francisco Lindor, he’s a baseball rat, he was made to play baseball. It’s what he’s always thinking about, it’s what he wants to do, he’s very at ease in this environment. I’ve seen other 18-year old kids come in and it’s just uncomfortable for them from day one.

AC: Two of your top starting pitching prospects, Cody Anderson and Dace Kime, were relievers in college. Is that an under-exploited market? Are college RP a new market inefficiency?

MS: We haven’t looked at it that way. We have some very specific things we’re looking for as we’ve evolved in our amateur scouting, and really our pitching scouting in general. We have a checklist of things we think about, and those guys were guys who happened to not be starting based on what their college coaches saw that we think have the capability to be starters. When we look at college relievers, some of them are relievers for a reason. Some of them are guys like Cody Allen that we’ll bring in here and put in the bullpen because we feel like that’s the right role for them because of either arm action or pitch development. Other guys we think can maybe start, and we’ll give them a chance to start.

AC: Two big rule changes this year with expanded instant replay and catcher collisions rule. I refuse to call it a ban on homeplate collisions, because it isn’t that.

MS: Not this year, no. Hopefully next year it will be.

AC: You’re in favor of that one then, obviously.

MS: I’m in favor of it. I’m not sure I’m in favor of the incremental step, but that was part of the negotiation 
with the union. I think the rule has worked pretty efficiently and pretty effectively at the NCAA level. When we talked to those umpires and those coaches, they were surprised at how quickly it was adapted to. But the union had some concerns, understandably, that these guys have been away from that for so long that it could be a big adjustment, so they put an incremental step in place with the intent of having it go all the way next year, so we’ll see how that works.

AC: And with replay, I saw you hired a replay coordinator, a former coach (Gregg Langbehn), a guy who really knows the game and will be able to help out on what calls should be challenged. Do you see replay as being a big thing this year?

MS: I love the fact that we’re moving in that direction. I think that it was positioned extremely appropriately, that it’s going to be a learning process, that there’s no way, as (Braves Team President) John Schuerholz said, that we’re going to be able to peel all the layers back from the onion. We’re going to have to adjust as we go. I think that admitting that up front, that saying that we expect that within three years we’ll have a more perfect system but that it’s going to be a work in progress. I see some issues that might need some adjustment pretty quickly, but that’ll bear out and we’ll adjust as time goes on. I think that in the end, it’s a step in the right direction. We can’t have people in the stands watching it on their hand held devices, their phones and tablets, watching it and saying “how could that happen?” Sooner or later that’s going to happen in a World Series game or a pennant stretch game, and that would be a bad thing for the industry to not have the ability to reverse that call.

AC: This offseason, you guys hired (Baseball Prospectus reporter and author) MaxMarchi, who literally wrote the book on baseball analytics? How big of a hire is that for you guys?

MS: Mike or Chris would probably be better to talk about that, but he’s a guy who we’ve been very aware of for a long period of time, obviously his work, like you, and respect it, and we feel like as we continue to grow and evolve analytically that he has a chance to make an impact for us. I think it’s an area where we continue to grow in.

AC: Looking down south in Atlanta, John Hart gets hired and you see them start buying out a slew of arbitration and free agent years for their young guys. That can’t be a coincidence.

MS: (Smiling broadly) I just got off the phone with him an hour ago. Multi-year deals. When I talked to him today, I said, “hey, Scott Scudder, Dave Otto, sign ‘em all up!” (laughing). John is an incredible influence in my career, an incredibly wise guy, an astute evaluator of talent and a strong leader. John Schuerholz knows that, I think he’s also probably John’s best friend. So John Schuerholz is going to clearly take advantage of John Hart’s wisdom, as is Frank Wren, and one of those things is probably that philosophy, although not the same parameters, not the same operating conditions with the insurance industry being different, still has its advantages, particularly in the first generation of contracts.

AC: So how has your perspective, your approach to contracts evolved since those Scott Scudder and Dave Otto contracts?

MS: It’s just a much harder, more finite window on the multi-year contract process. Trying to find that value, where the shared risk aligns. It’s just a lot more difficult.  

AC: When looking at contracts, do you ever factor in WAR/$ (Wins Over Replacement)?
That’s certainly something that goes in…we’re looking at measuring the value of the player. The replacement value of the player and what that costs. So absolutely, we factor that in. I’m not saying that’s the only stat we use, we have our own proprietary stats. But we are making clear valuations on the player, and cash is the easiest way to measure that value.

AC: So, I have to ask about Justin Masterson. Obviously, he’s a very important part of the ballclub, and it was reported last night that talks on a multi-year deal broke down. Any thoughts on Masty’s future in Cleveland?

MS: We make it a habit not to negotiate in public. That’s never constructive, it’s never respectful for the other side and it never results in a good outcome. The things that I will say about Masty are that we appreciate him, we like him as a player, we respect him as a person and we want to keep him here. That’s never the question. The question is, can we do it at a level and still effectively build a team around him. So that’s more the challenge for us, when you look at a guy who has accomplished as much as he has accomplished and is staring free agency in the face.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
AC: I can’t leave without asking about Francisco Lindor. I know we talked about him a little bit, but every time I watch him I come away more and more impressed. I watched him in BP yesterday, and he hit 3 HR from each side of the plate in two rounds of BP. And defense is his calling card! How excited are you for him to play in Cleveland?

MS: I try to temper that, putting my player development hat on and just knowing that, and Ross and I have talked about this, that he (Lindor) needs to focus on his clock ticking. Using every single at bat, every single ground ball and every single inning in the minor leagues as a pearl that’s going to be going away pretty quickly. So we need to make sure he’s as prepared as he can humanly be when he comes up and gets a chance to play up here. So I’m trying to put that aside to get him to focus on not where he’s going, but where he is. And the best thing for his major league career is going to be for him to focus on those limited opportunities he has in those minor league at bats where he’s not going to get overly scrutinized, or hurt his earning potential, and focus on getting developmentally squared away so that his foundation is strong when he gets to the big leagues. That’s kind of where I’m trying to stay, where all of us are trying to stay right now.

AC: So Swisher’s “Unfinished Business” t-shirts…do you have one? Is that something the organization is really getting behind?

MS: I do…but it took me a while to get one! Limited edition (laughs). I’m going to have to tweet out here, I have a couple to give a couple away, I managed to get ahold of some extras.

AC: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with me, I know how busy you are this time of year.

MS: Any time, I enjoyed it!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Lazy Sunday: Indians Prospects #5-1

On this Lazy Sunday, we've finally reached the end of the 2014 version of the Indians prospect countdown. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. In the top five, we're going to look at a 1st round OF who made big strides last year, a young catcher with tantalizing upside, a pitcher who's undergone some major mechanical changes, and the Indians first round picks from 2011 and 2013.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
5. Tyler Naquin, OF
DOB: 4/24/1991
Height/Weight: 6-2/175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2012 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .269/.334/.405 with 10 HR and 48 RBI in 126 games between high-A Carolina and AA Akron

Scouting Report: Going into the 2013 season, Naquin didn’t have many fans in the scouting/prospecting industry. He was coming off of an uninspiring run in the NYPL, posting a .758 OPS for the Scrappers without hitting a single HR in 2012. For a college OF who was billed as having an advanced hit tool, observers both in and outside of the organization were expecting more. He was pegged as having a 4th OF ceiling by some scouts. Not a 4th OF realistic role, but ceiling. That’s not what Indians fans were hoping for out of a first round draft pick, to say the least. He took a big step forward in 2013 though, as although the numbers aren’t eye-popping, the scouting reports got much more optimistic regarding his eventual role at the major league level.

Naquin has above-average bat to ball ability from the left side of the plate. He does a nice job barreling the baseball, and makes consistent contact even while that contact is not particularly powerful. He worked hard to eliminate a hitch in his swing that he had in college, and doing so took what little loft he had out of his swing and robbed him of some of his power. Still, he was able to hit 9 HR in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League (and one for AA Akron) in addition to 27 doubles (3 more in AA). You don’t hear the “future batting champ” tag being thrown around the way you did after he was drafted, but the bat will not be valueless.

Naquin’s best tool is his arm, which is a (rare) legit 7+. He has an absolute cannon, and it is incredibly accurate from the OF. He recorded 11 OF assists with Carolina last year, a number that would’ve been far higher if runners had dared to test him more often. But word travels fast in an 8-team league, and opposing baserunners knew better than to try and stretch a single into a double with Naquin in CF. This offseason, Baseball Prospectus called Naquin’s arm the best in all of minor league baseball. That’s a pretty bold statement, and shows just how much of a weapon Naquin’s arm will be in CF. His route running and reads on balls in the OF improved as well, and scouts now believe that Naquin can stay in CF long-term. That’s important for Naquin’s prospect standing, as a move to an OF corner would be tough to justify due to his power profile at the plate. He has above-average speed, but was thrown out 10 times in 25 SB attempts last year.

Naquin doesn’t have the ultimate ceiling of any of the guys ahead of him on this list, but he definitely has a projection of a major league regular. He’s probably going to top out as a 2nd-divison starter in CF, but he should be able to stick up the middle. I could see him posting regular stat lines of .280/.350/.410 with 15 HR and 15 SB, and when you combine that with his defensive potential in CF, that’s a pretty useful player. Naquin should begin the 2014 season with AA Akron, but could advance to AAA Columbus depending on which veterans the Indians keep around on the AAA taxi squad. He’ll be ready for a big league debut in 2015, and will move up based more on organizational need than anything he does on the diamond.

Glass half-full: Michael Brantley with a (much) better arm, and the ability to stick in CF
Glass half-empty: Michael Brantley lite with a (much) better arm, only in RF

4. Francisco Mejia, C
DOB: 10/27/1995
Height/Weight: 5-10/175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2012
2013 Stats: .305/.348/.524 with 4 HR and 24 RBI in 30 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: I’m breaking all sorts of rules I’ve imposed on myself here. I’m ranking a player in the top-5 of the organization who I’ve never seen play. A player who has yet to play outside of the complex leagues since coming stateside. A player who will play the entire 2014 season as an 18-year old, and who plays a position that traditionally takes the longest to develop into a major leaguer. But Mejia’s tools are just too enticing to have him any lower on this list than #4. Those tools are a long way from playing at the major league level, though. He’s got the greatest gap between current ability and ultimate ceiling of anyone in the organization, more so even than Clint Frazier. But those tools…wow.

Mejia has the potential to feature 6+ hit AND 6+ power from both sides of the plate. He has outstanding strength and bat speed, with a bat to ball ability rarely seen from teenage prospects out of the Dominican. He had 14 XBH in 105 AB last year (as a 17-year old!), good for a .524 SLG and .872 OPS. He had just one fewer HR than Frazier in 86 fewer plate appearances. He only drew 5 walks, but also struck out just 18 times. He has an aggressive approach that is going to need to be refined as he moves up the organizational ladder, but the tools are there for a potential impact bat behind the plate.

Defensively, Mejia is even more raw. Scouts put a 7+ grade on his arm, but it doesn’t play at that level yet as his footwork and actions lag behind the arm strength at this point in his development. But the arm itself is extremely impressive, limiting the opposition’s running game by sheer intimidation. As one of the Indians minor league pitchers put it when I talked to him this offseason, “he provides peace of mind with runners on base.” His receiving needs work, which is something you can say about pretty much every 18-year old catching prospect, ever. So while that’s something to monitor, it’s not a huge concern of mine at this point. With guys like Sandy Alomar and Dave Wallace in the organization helping with catcher development, it’s only a matter of time before Mejia receives (pun) the instruction necessary to improve his overall defense by leaps and bounds. The only thing that can’t be taught is arm strength, and that’s something Mejia already has. Personally, I think the Indians should put Mejia in Roberto Perez’s pocket (figuratively, not literally) for as much of spring training as possible.

I’m more excited to see Mejia in Goodyear this spring than anyone else in the organization, Frazier included. He’s got at least another season in the complex leagues ahead of him, so Cleveland-area fans won’t get a glimpse of him until 2015 at the earliest. I’ve always been somewhat of a catcher honk, so I’m probably more excited about Mejia than anyone who doesn’t draw a paycheck from the Indians. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in Arizona, and look for plenty of thoughts on him in my Goodyear notebook when I finally get to watch the youngster in action.

Glass half-full: His ultimate ceiling is that of an all-star catcher
Glass half-empty: He might never play above AA

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
3. Trevor Bauer, SP
DOB: 1/17/1991
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: Via trade from Arizona in a three-team deal involving Shin Soo-Choo
2013 Stats: 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA, 11 K and 16 BB in 17 IP for Cleveland; 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA, 106 K and 73 BB in 121 1/3 IP for AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: Those are some pretty ugly numbers that Bauer posted in 2013, so I can understand if you’re scratching your head a little at his place on this list. Bauer posted a career high ERA, walk rate and WHIP last year, and a career low strikeout rate and SO/BB ratio. His walk rate jumped to 5.4 per 9 innings pitched, which is difficult to live with even for a big strikeout guy. But when you combine that with a strikeout rate of just 7.9 per 9 IP (previous low was 10.8/9 in 2012), that really spells bad news for a pitcher. Bauer had a terrible 2013 season no matter how you look at it, and Indians fans were left wondering why the club gave up OF Shin Soo-Choo in a deal with Bauer as the centerpiece.

Bauer still has plus stuff. He throws a 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, slider and changeup (which he can also cut). He mixes in an occasional splitter, and even thrown a “reverse slider” in the past, which has action similar to a screwball when it works properly. It’s a deep and impressive arsenal, and Bauer is constantly tweaking factors like grip, arm speed and arm angle to get the most out of his many pitches. The fastball sits in the mid-90’s with arm-side run, and can set up the hitter for his collection of secondary offerings. The curveball is his best offspeed pitch, a mid-80’s hammer that falls off a table as it reaches the plate. The rest of his offerings range from slightly below average to plus, and he feels comfortable going to nearly any pitch in any situation.

Bauer has been accused in the past of being both a nibbler and a tinkerer, both trends that can lead to a higher than ideal walk rate. He tries to rack up as many strikeouts as possible rather than trusting his stuff in the strike zone and the defense behind him, and that can lead to a base on balls as he tries to be too fine on the outer edges of the strike zone. Bauer and the Indians have been making minor mechanical adjustments to his high-effort delivery ever since he came over from Arizona, and those changes can be difficult to adjust to on the fly during a season. For comparison’s sake, how many of you have tried to adjust your golf swing in the middle of a round? It usually results in over-thinking and under-performing as you try to get your body to adjust to a completely new motion from the muscle memory you’ve been ingraining into yourself for many, many years. A pitching motion is similar to a golf swing in this case. Making even subtle changes can throw the whole thing off, and it takes time to incorporate these changes into the overall package. To Bauer’s credit, he took the Indians changes in stride, knowing that while they could result in a temporary setback in 2013, they were designed to make him a better and more durable pitcher moving forward.

Time will tell whether Bauer’s 2013 was merely a blip on the radar of an otherwise successfully big league career or a harbinger of more struggles ahead. Talent-wise, Bauer is one of the three best pitchers in the entire organization. If he really has incorporated pitching guru Mickey Callaway’s instruction into his approach and delivery, I think we’re going to see very good things from Bauer in 2014 and forward. He’s going to have a shot at the 5th starter role coming out of Goodyear this spring, although Carlos Carrasco’s lack of options will likely see Cookie breaking camp in that role. But Bauer will be the first arm called on in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the rotation, something that is sure to take place at some point in 2014. If he can get off to a hot start for AAA Columbus, it’d be a very good sign that the 23-year old has turned a corner and is back on track to be a #1 or #2 starting pitcher at the major league level. I still believe in Bauer, and think he’s a big part of the Indians plans going forward.

Glass half-full: Still a front of the rotation, dominant starting pitcher.
Glass half-empty: Basically, his 2013 season. If last year was the beginning of a trend rather than an aberration, Bauer will never become a consistent starter in a major league rotation.

Photo Credit: Tony Dejak/AP
2. Clint Frazier, OF
DOB: 09/06/1994
Height/Weight: 6’1”/190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right    
Acquired: 1st round draft pick in 2013
2013 Stats: .297/.362/.506 with 5 HR and 28 RBI in 44 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: The 2013 Gatorade National HS Player of the Year, Frazier was the 2nd prep player and 2nd position player selected in last June’s draft. He signed in time to play nearly a full season in the AZ league, and blasted a mammoth HR over the CF fence in his first professional AB. He finished 6th in the AZL in HR and 4th in the league with his .868 OPS. He also finished 2nd in the league with 61 K (in 196 PA), so we got to see both the best and the worst of Frazier in his initial professional season.

Frazier has the potential to be a legit five-tool player at the major league level. He could develop into a 7 power/6 hit guy at the plate, and is already a 6+ runner with a 5+ arm. Early reviews on his OF defense and eventual position are mixed, but the potential for above-average defense in CF is there. It’s possible he outgrows the position and ends up in a corner, but even if that happens, the bat will play. He’s an outstanding athlete who had the best bat-speed in the entire 2013 draft. He has the potential to be a monster in CF, a slightly slower version of Grady Sizemore with a better arm and a ginger afro. Is that something you might be interested in?

Frazier has a higher ceiling than anyone in the organization, Lindor included. He’s not as likely to reach his ultimate ceiling as Lindor, which is why he’s ranked a spot below him. But he’d be the top prospect in many organizations around baseball, and is an easy top-50 overall guy in the game right now. He’ll likely begin the 2014 season in Lake County, where the difficult hitting environment of the Midwest League will challenge the Georgia native. Frazier has a ways to go in his development, and likely won’t sniff the major leagues until 2017. But he’s got a change to be an impact talent when he gets there, a CF who hits 3rd in a first-division major league lineup. Those don’t come along too often, and it’ll be a lot of fun watching Frazier develop.

Glass half-full: Healthy Grady Sizemore with a better arm
Glass half-empty: A RF with power who hits for low average

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
1. Francisco Lindor, SS
DOB: 11/14/1993
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .303/.380/.407 with 2 HR, 34 RBI and 25 SB in 104 games between high-A Carolina and AA Akron.

Scouting Report: Lindor is the best prospect in the Indians organization, and one of the top-10 prospects in all of baseball. He’s done nothing but succeed since being drafted 8th overall in the 2011 draft, posting a .279/.367/.377 line in 231 games in the Indians organization. While that line doesn’t jump off the page at you, consider that he did it as a teenager, always one of the younger players in whatever league he was playing in. And then consider that his bat isn’t his best tool, as his Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium defensive position is what really makes scouts drool over Lindor. When you look at the total package, it’s easy to see why Lindor is the envy of scouting directors and GM’s around baseball.

Lindor began the 2013 season with high-A Carolina in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. He hit a solid .306/.373.410 with one HR and 20 SB in 83 games with the Mudcats. Bumped up to AA Akron, he got off to a sizzling start with the Aeros. He hit .327/.448/.455 in 15 July games, including a homer, a triple, two doubles and 7 RBI. Most impressively, he drew 11 walks against just 3 strikeouts against the advanced AA pitching in the Eastern League. That’s pretty impressive for a 19-year old in his first taste of AA. Lindor managed just three hits in 6 August contests before being shut down for the season in the middle of the month with back problems. The back problems are not expected to bother him moving forward, but it’s something worth monitoring in 2014. Hopefully this is the last we hear about it during a long and productive career on the North Coast.

This offseason, Baseball Prospectus ran a list of the “top tools” in the minors. Lindor was selected as being the best infield defender (no big surprise) in all of minor league baseball, which is a tremendous statement and honor. He was also selected as having the “best makeup” in minor league baseball. I’ll briefly quote from the BP article here, because I think it’s important to read their exact words on Lindor:

What often seems to slide under the radar is Lindor’s exceptional makeup. It can be argued that his work ethic is second to none in the minor leagues, which allows scouts to be aggressive in projecting his tool development. When combined with his on-field attitude, generally unflappable nature, and overall confidence, Lindor owns the very definition of what excellent makeup signifies in a professional baseball player.
Lindor is a toolshed, with only his power tool grading out below average. He’s a potential 7 defender with a 6+ arm, 6+ hit tool and is a 5 runner whose speed plays up due to his instincts and baseball intelligence. His ultimate power ceiling likely tops out at 4, as his season HR totals could crack the double digits, but I’d be surprised if he ever hit more than 20 in a single campaign. But the switch-hitting Lindor does a great job of getting the bat on the ball, and should be able to hit for a high average to help offset for the relative lack of pop. He’s a leader on and off the field, works as hard as anyone in minor league baseball and is always going to get the most out of his tools. Lindor is not a guy who’s going to show up out of shape to spring training and use the season to play his way into shape. He’s a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, and is extremely advanced for his age. There’s a good chance that he gets a taste of major league action this year (as a 20 year old!), and will almost certainly take over as the full-time shortstop in 2015 after Asdrubal Cabrera departs as a free agent.

Glass half-full: A Gold Glove shortstop that makes multiple all-star teams
Glass half-empty: A very, very good defensive shortstop who hits near the bottom of a major league lineup for a long time