The minor league season is coming to a close. Yesterday, we looked at the Cleveland prospects who raised their stock the most in 2017. Of course, there are always two sides to the coin. Now, we evaluate the players whose 2017 performance hurt their prospect status the most.
Position: Starting Pitcher
2017 level: AA
Once upon a time, Kaminsky was regarded as a Top-100 prospect. That was back in early 2015, when he was still a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and posting a 2.09 ERA and 2.51 FIP as a 21-year-old in High-A. Then, the former first round pick was traded to the Indians for Brandon Moss…and hasn’t really been the same ever since.
After he dealt with back injuries in 2015 and 2016, Kaminsky only pitched 5 innings with Akron in 2017 before being shut down due to issues with his throwing arm. The Indians never announced what the injury was, but the fact that he missed the entirety of the season with an arm injury isn’t good news.
Perhaps there would be more optimism around Kaminsky if his recent performance had been strong when he was healthy. His ERA of 3.28 in 137 innings in AA during the 2016 season looked good, but a 3.91 FIP and a 4.01 xFIP pointed to a bleaker picture. His struggles came primary from issues missing bats and so-so command – he was only striking out six hitters every nine innings, while walking three – not a great recipe for success. The lack of strikeouts is likely related to a loss in velocity – once siting in the low-90’s, and Kaminsky had been sitting in 87-90, likely due to fatigue/health issues.
Entering 2017, Eric Longehagen ranked Kaminsky as the Tribe’s #14 prospect, citing his plus curveball – one of the few things Kaminsky still has going for him. It’s impossible to say where Kaminsky stands now, but based off his struggles with durability, he looks like a bullpen piece at this point, rather than the #3 or #4 starter some thought he could be.
Position: Starting Pitcher
2017 level: Low-A
Like Kaminsky, Aiken is southpaw who was originally drafted in the first round. His decline as a prospect is even more dramatic than Kaminsky’s, considering he was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Out of high school, Aiken was considered a future ace.
Aiken’s story has been well-documented: after the Astros selected him at #1, they found a red flag in his medicals, and low-balled their signing bonus offer. Aiken declined the offer, and promptly blew out his elbow in his first start with IMG Academy. The Indians drafted Aiken #17 overall in 2015, hoping that Tommy John surgery would bring Aiken back to full strength.
Now almost three years removed from surgery, the Indians are still hoping. Firstly, Aiken never rediscovered the mid-90’s fastball that had scouts drooling back in 2014. Instead, his velocity has been in the 87-89 range. To make matters worse, he’s had major command problems, averaging almost seven walks every nine innings. Naturally, his results with Lake County this season were poor, posting a sub-par 4.77 ERA with a much worse 5.76 FIP.
Aiken was always a high-risk, high-reward prospect, and while Aiken is still only 21, it looks like the risk didn’t pan out well for Cleveland.
2017 level: AA
There was a good bit of momentum building for Krieger at the beginning of 2017. After being drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft, he posted a strong .794 OPS between Lake County and Lynchburg in 2016. Then, he performed well in a small sample for Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Things were looking good for Krieger, and he appeared on most Cleveland top-30 lists before the season, including #15 in MinorLeagueBall.com’s rankings.
However, a poor 2017 showing in AA put a halt on all of Krieger’s momentum as a prospect. He was well below-average with Akron at the plate, putting up a 77 wRC+ in 119 games. Krieger’s biggest issue was a lack of any power – he managed just a .112 ISO and a .337 slugging percentage. Combined with a mediocre 8.8% walk rate, there wasn’t a ton of room for offensive production.
Sub-par production at the plate really hurts Krieger as a prospect, as he isn’t especially known for his glove or athletic ability. While he displayed potential to be an impact hitter in 2015 and 2016, this season raises real concerns on whether Krieger can develop into an MLB contributor.
2017 level: AA
Mathias and Krieger have been tied together since entering the Indians’ organization. Mathias was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft, while Krieger was taken in the fourth. They both were bat-first, college infielders, coming off labrum injuries. Both looked good in 2016 in Lynchburg, and were regarded as top-30 prospects in Cleveland’s system. Upon reaching Akron, both struggled heavily.
Really, just about everything that was said for Krieger above applies to Mathias. His status as a higher draft pick coupled with his strong performance in 2016 made him an intriguing prospect entering the season, but the competition at AA really slowed him down. Like Krieger, Mathias demonstrated a severe lack of power in 2017, with just a .096 ISO and a .308 slugging percentage. Further, Mathias really struggled with making contact, posting a 27.2% strikeout rate – much too high for a player with almost no power. As a result, he only managed an 82 wRC+ in 2017.
Continuing the parallels between the two prospect, Mathias doesn’t have defense and athleticism to fall back on. He always needed to hit in order to advance to the MLB, and his 2017 showing really puts his offensive potential in doubt. It’s safe to say that Mathias (and Krieger) won’t be regarded as Top-30 prospects going forward.