TDG’s Triple Play: Cleveland Indians!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Pitcher: James Karinchak, Age: 24, Position: RP
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Karinchak to the Future
I am going to bend the rules here and go with someone who is still technically a prospect and was sent down to Triple-A on March 26- more on that later. The Indians had plenty to choose from in the pitching department; Bieber and Clevinger have had a ton of attention, I wrote about Carrasco in our Starting Pitcher rankings, and the back half of the rotation has Civale, Plesac and Plutko in the mix. I went the bullpen route because I have a thing for setup men who are closers in waiting. Most of my leagues are Holds leagues, but setup men still have value in straight Saves leagues, especially when they strike out 82 batters in 36.1 innings.
Two interesting arms are waiting behind current closer Brad Hand, whose contract expires at the end of 2020 (club option for 2021), Emmanuel Clase, and James Karinchak. Drafted in the 9th round in 2017, Karinchak was a starter in college and debuted in short-season ball as a starter as well. He was very successful in college but played for a small NEC school at Bryant University. His sophomore season was excellent as the Friday night starter setting school records in Wins with 12 (fifth nationally) and strikeouts with 112. There was a great deal of excitement leading up to his Junior season, but arm trouble cut down his innings and likely caused him to slide down in the draft.
Karinchak to Square One
Control issues were an issue for Karinchak and as he continued to climb the ranks in the minors it was clear that he was going to be a two-pitch pitcher. In 2018 the Indians shifted him to the pen, and he took a big step forward, striking out 81 hitters across three levels, topping out in Double-A. It was enough to land him in the 12th slot of the Indians prospect rankings in the 2019 BP Futures Guide. 2019 saw another huge leap forward, improving his walks from 36 in 48.2 2018 innings (2.25 SO/K) to just 18 in 2019. The improvement was likely the last step that Karinchak needed to make before landing in the Cleveland bullpen for good. He debuted in September of 2019 and struck out eight batters while walking just one in 5.1 innings.
So why was he sent down? The Indians sent several players down on March 26th that most considered locks for the majors. It looks like it was a service time issue as MLB had decided that if the season was canceled all players on the major league roster would accrue a year of service time. When or if the 2020 season begins, I would expect Karinchak and Civale to be recalled.
The 2020 season is almost impossible to analyze; in a full season, I would think that there would be a decent chance that Hand would be traded at the break if the Indians were out of the playoff race. As it stands now, with a shortened season all but guaranteed, it’s difficult to speculate on the opportunities Karinchak may get. Clase was injured in late February which gave Karinchak the leg up on 2020 but Clase is already throwing bullpens and his 2-3 month timeline to return may put him in line for the open of the season. For dynasty, I love the long-term outlook for Karinchak, he’s a reliever so the cost should be minimal in drafts for now, but it will skyrocket in 2021 if he continues to progress the way he has the last two seasons, he’s a buy for me and I drafted him where I could this year.
Hitter: Franmil Reyes, Age: 24, Position: OF
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
The Making of The Franimal
Franmil Reyes arrived in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at the age of 16 in the J2 2011 period, signing with the San Diego Padres, an organization he stayed with until the trade deadline of the 2019 season. If there were two words that described Reyes’s years as an up-and-coming prospect, those were “Raw Power”. Reyes’s Future Value at Fangraphs overall was a 40 entering the 2018 season, in part due to a low hit tool with a lot of swing and misses, and some shaky defense in the outfield. However, 70 Raw Power is what it is, and while his Game Power was in the 50 range, Reyes’s time in the Bigs so far has been mostly reflective of his prospect profile. 53 home runs over 755 major league at-bats combined with the lowest contact percentage in the league in 2019. At 24-years-old, there are plenty of opportunities for growth.
Plan Ahead for the Sluggers
There are so many juicy details when looking at Reyes’s underlying numbers over the course of the 2019 season. A 51.0% hard-hit rate on Statcast ranks fifth in all of baseball, which is consistent with the 4th highest exit velocity (93.3), behind Judge, Cruz, and Sano in both. The 14.8% Barrel-rate on balls-in-play is 15th in the league. Reyes had a .022 discrepancy between his wOBA (.338) and expected WOBA (.360), as well as a .279 BABIP in 2019, both of which imply his luck should improve over the long term.
That being said, Reyes is uber streaky and patience is key to have him in your lineup each week. By month, his batting average fluctuated as follows: .232/.271/.237/.284/.228/.247. While a 30.6% career HR/FB rate could be considered a cause for concern, I feel that it’s safe to put him in the “no-doubter home run distance” class, where I wouldn’t expect much regression. That 30.6% over the past two years is flanked on each side by Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo, and those are the type of players Reyes continues to show up with on Statcast.
When I’m building a roto team, I try as best I can to protect my batting average early because I know I’m going to ruin it later. When I see those huge slugger names as I approach the middle rounds, I can’t help myself. When that guy finally hits 50, I’ve got to have him. Joey Gallo was that guy until his price got too high this year. Max Muncy, Miguel Sano, Kyle Schwarber all qualify. Nelson Cruz does not qualify since he actually helps your average but God forbid you need to put him in your Utility spot. While “pairing” comes up in starting pitching quite a bit to mitigate the high ratio/high K starters, it can be used with two hitters as well and is why I love to pick around the turn. Michael Brantley and his .309 and .311 average the last two years, respectively, is the perfect complement to some of the aforementioned players. 2020 drafts have Brantley at an ADP of 124 and Franmil at 127 (110 since 3/1/20). Those players combined would’ve given you a .283 BA, 59 HR, 171 RBI, and 157 runs in 2019. Pair them together on a turn, and hope that Reyes’s .264 expected average on Statcast comes to fruition.
Let the Big Man Eat
Reyes certainly has a long way to go as a hitter, specifically with his contact rate. For qualified players (502+ PAs), Reyes ranked dead last with a 65.4% Contact% in 2019. Moving that down to 400+ PAs, and he’s fifth behind Mondesi, Sano, Alfaro, Judge. Those are some names that are “strong…to quite strong”. Provided that other aspects of the game are making up for it, whether that be power, speed, or defense, there’s a place for low contact rates in today’s game of baseball.
The Indians enter the 2020 Season That Might Be with an expected lineup starting with: Lindor, Mercado, Santana, Ramirez, Reyes. RBI opportunities should be a-plenty. Also, with the addition of Domingo Santana, the hope is that Reyes could split time between corner outfield and designated hitter, to alleviate some defensive concerns and hopefully keep the plate appearances high. I’m ready to buy Franmil Reyes in 2020. He may not quite be a top-100 pick in dynasty or redraft, but I think he’ll take the Joey Gallo path and be there soon enough.
Prospect: George Valera, Age: 19, Position: OF, Level: Low-A
Analysis by: Greg Gibbons
My name is George. I’m unemployed and live with my parents.
Let’s not play any games here. George Valera is a hot name amongst dynasty prospects, and if there is any chance you don’t know about him you need to keep reading. Signed by the Indians for a cool $1.3 million as part of a loaded 2017 international class that included Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez, and Kristian Robinson, Valera has quickly made a name for himself and is firmly ranked within the Top 100 prospects across the industry. The 5’10’’ lefty is known for his smooth swing and approach, garnering comps to Robinson Cano and Juan Soto, which has inflated expectations and hype, along with his rankings. The comps and hype surrounding Valera are driven by the advanced bat to ball skills he’s shown in limited action thus far, coupled with projections of what his upside may look like assuming he physically fills out and the profile all comes together. Those who have seen him live agree the teenager has all the raw skills of a future top prospect. Valera is young and has only about 200 professional at-bats to his name and while nothing about his statistics will jump off the page at you yet, he has already made it to full-season ball as an 18-year-old and more than held his own.
George is getting upset!
He’s not really upset, but if you’re not rostering Valera, maybe you should be. George opened the 2019 season in extended spring training before being assigned to short-season ball in June. While at Mahoning Valley he slugged 8 home runs over 46 games with a .356 on-base percentage. He earned a promotion to Low-A Lake County at the end of the season, getting his feet wet where he likely will begin the 2020 season. Although brief, Valera’s 2019 season highlighted both his upside and accompanying risks.
Playing versus advanced competition shows the maturity in his game and demonstrates how much the Indians believe in his potential. Scouts compliment his approach at the plate, and he backed it up by posting a 15.5% walk rate leading up to his promotion. Further, Valera saw 4.15 pitches per plate appearance during 2019, impressive for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old. Comparatively, Juan Soto had a 16.4% walk rate and saw 4.23 pitches per plate appearance during his 2019 season with the Nationals. While it’s a high-level comparison, it’s easy to see the similarities in approach to one of the games best hitters. He’s also flashed his 60-grade raw power already and with the ability to use to all fields he has the potential to be a high power and high average middle-of-the-order hitter.
On the flip side, Valera struck out at a much higher rate, exposing both his inexperience and potentially some platoon issues. Noting that 48 at-bats is an extremely small sample, versus left-handed pitching Valera had zero home runs and batted only .158 with a 30% strikeout rate. This has scouts proceeding with a little caution this offseason, leaving some curious as to whether he will be able to handle pitching in the upper minors. While it’s certainly too early in his career to conclude or even speculate on his splits, it’s worth monitoring once we get into games this season. Further, evaluations of Valera’s speed continue to trend in the wrong direction, as we didn’t see much on the base paths swiping only six bases all season, and he’s expected to slow as he adds weight during his twenties. Valera played mostly center field this past season but is expected to end up moving to left fielder due to his average speed and average arm.
Fangraphs is expecting big things for Valera, though, tagging him with grades of 50 hit and 55 game power, both of which he hasn’t consistently tapped into yet.
I proclaim this, the summer of George!
As a testament to how the Indians feel about Valera, he was invited to spring training this year in what will be his age-19 season. In his lone appearance, he hit a solo home run and walked twice, leaving fantasy owners drooling for more. You should be trying to acquire Valera in all your leagues, but you’ll need to gauge his current owner to avoid overpaying considering the lofty comparisons he receives. Since arriving stateside, his 2018 season was cut short by injury, and his 2019 season was brief due to his assignment to short-season ball so there isn’t much statistically to show. If you have an inpatient or contending owner in your league that could be willing to cut Valera loose for a reasonable price, you should be buying. Valera is expected to begin the 2020 season in Low-A Lake County and has the upside of a top 20 prospect by the end of the season. His ETA is generally 2022-23, so if you’re a rebuilder get an offer out today.
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