|Trevor Bauer wore out his welcome in Arizona, but he could be critical to Cleveland's success in 2013. (US Presswire)|
Before the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
Cleveland swooped in with a few unexpected free-agent signings, and all of a sudden the Indians have an outside shot at competing for an AL Central crown. They probably still need a few players to compete from out of nowhere to challenge the Tigers
2013 impact player
Bauer wore out his welcome in Arizona very quickly -- disturbingly quickly for a third-overall pick, as Bauer was in 2011 -- but the Diamondbacks' loss could be the Indians' gain. Although Bauer was awful in his first foray into the majors last season -- he gave up a 6.06 ERA and walked 13 batters in 16 1/3 innings covering four starts -- there's far too much life in his right arm to give up on his ability this early.
Bauer's control has been iffy at every level -- he has a 4.2 BB/9 in his 29 minor-league starts -- but minor-league hitters have had no chance against him. He has 200 strikeouts in just 156 minor-league innings, and his ability to keep the ball in the yard in 2012 (just 0.6 HR/9) led to a sharp 2.42 ERA over 22 starts. It's not that Bauer's fastball is blazing, but like Tim Lincecum before him, his delivery makes a 92.2 MPH average fastball play like it's at 95 MPH. Add a sharp curveball to the mix, and minor-league hitters have no chance. The question for 2013 is if he can find the control and command necessary to use those pitches on hitters at the highest level in the world.
Lindor, the eighth pick in the 2011 draft, is the clear crown jewel of this system. He began the 2012 season as Baseball America's 37th-ranked prospect and has moved up to 28th entering this season. He's just 19 years old, is still a few years away from the majors and his first foray into full-season ball didn't produce terribly impressive statistics -- he hit .257/.352/.355 in the High-A Midwest League. But given his age and his tools, nobody should be concerned.
Lindor earned both Best Strike Zone Discipline and Best Defensive Infielder from Baseball America this season. Even if the bat never fully develops -- and we're a long way from worrying about this possibility -- Lindor should be able to make a major-league impact on his glove ability alone. As hard as it is to find shortstops at the major-league level, it can be equally difficult to find impressive shortstop prospects as well. So the Indians should be ecstatic to call Lindor their own.
Allen had a solid major-league debut in 2012. He appeared in 27 relief games, threw 29 innings and recorded a 3.72 ERA (106 ERA+) with 27 strikeouts against 15 walks. Allen was dominant across three levels in 2012 -- he allowed a 1.87 ERA in 43 1/3 innings split among High-A, Double-A and Triple-A and struck out 53 batters against just nine walks. If he can begin to carry that over in to the majors, Cleveland could have the perfect guy to put behind Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano in their bullpen.
Allen, a right-hander, can touch 98 with his fastball and has the typical right-hander slider to go along with it. At just 24 years old this season, there's a good chance that we see him closing in Cleveland down the line. For now, the relievers sent to Arizona in the Bauer trade should give Allen an opportunity in Cleveland in 2012.
If Cleveland is going to compete ahead of schedule this season, they'll need contributions from their young players -- Bauer and Allen as well as players like Lonnie Chisenhall and Zach McAllister who have graduated from the prospect ranks. Still, the best of the talent is yet to come, in the shape of Lindor and players like Tyler Naquin and Dorssys Paulino. If Cleveland's core -- specifically the free agent acquisitions Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn -- can stay healthy through the next two or three seasons, that might be when Cleveland is really ready to strike.