Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #14 Luke Wakamatsu

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #14 Luke Wakamatsu

A surprise addition to the organization in 2015, young shortstop Luke Wakamatsu comes in at Number 14 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Luke Wakamatsu?

Wakamatsu was draft by the Tribe in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB draft out of Keller High School in Texas (interesting to note, they are the “Indians” as well). Since he was drafted outside of the first ten rounds his “max” signing bonus was $100,000. Despite being a top 100 draft prospect, he was deemed unsignable by most resulting in his drop in the draft.  However, the Indians upped their offer to $290,000 and were able to get the then 18-year-old to forego a strong commitment to play ball at Rice University.

Now 19, the switch-hitting shortstop stands 6’3” and weighs about 185 pounds.  He’s the son of former big leaguer (player and manager) and current Kansas City Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu. The young Wakamatsu saw his first professional action with the Tribe’s rookie affiliate in Arizona this past summer and got a brief taste of big-league camp this spring.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Unlike most teenagers, Wakamatsu has a great feel for the game.  He’s been around the game thanks to his father and it shows in how he plays.  He’s a natural shortstop who shows good instincts and range at the position. Throw in his plus arm and he projects to stick at the position and be an above average defender there even as his frame fills out.  He was even named the best defensive player in the Tribe’s 2016 draft class by Baseball America. He also has some above average speed, which helps both on the bases and in the field. 

At the plate Wakamatsu, the switch-hitter shows a good feel from both sides of the plate. One knock on his game is his lack of power but being just 19 he still has time to fill out that nice 6’3” frame of his.  He made a great first impression with the Tribe’s Arizona Rookie affiliate this past summer, hitting .267 with a .339 OBP and 116 wRC+ (weighted runs created). He had ten extra-base hits in 27 games, including a home run, five doubles, and three triples.  His plate discipline, which scouts have talked up, showed up at times with his 9.2% walk rate; however, he did strike out a third of the time as well. It was, however, a small sample size plus a high school kid getting his first taste of professional ball so it’s not something I’d concern myself with at this stage.

I wouldn’t go as far to call Wakamatsu a “five-tool” player (as said, power is lacking) but he does everything else very well and it’s not a stretch to think he could develop into somewhat of a five-tool guy.  There aren’t a lot of holes in his game at this point but he’s got a lot of big tests ahead of him. Some may think this is way too aggressive a ranking for Wakamatsu given his inexperience, but I love the upside here.  Combine that with the baseball IQ and he’s a kid I can see moving into the top 10 by next season. He’s my top Indians minor league shortstop, which is impressive given how stacked the position is in the system.

Where Does He Go From Here?

Given his advanced feel for the game, a case can be made that Wakamatsu could jump straight to full-season ball in 2016 and open with the Class-A Lake County Captains. While I wouldn’t rule anything out, I think the more likely course for Wakamatsu is some extended spring training followed by a trip to Short-Season Mahoning Valley. Not a knock on Wakamatsu, but rather a product of the depth at shortstop the Indians have in their system. If you recall, Tyler Krieger and Willi Castro are a pair of Tribe shortstops who likely will be at Lake County to begin the 2016 season.  I can’t see the Indians putting all three of them at Lake County, but maybe Krieger gets an early bump to Lynchburg clearing things up.

No matter where Wakamatsu begins in 2016, he’s a long ways off from being seen in Cleveland. While there’s a lot to love about his game, he’s still got a lot of growing to do as a player, particularly at the plate. He’s a kid to dream big on but those dreams shouldn’t begin before 2019 or 2020 at the earliest.  That said, he’s my top Indians minor league shortstop, which is impressive given how stacked the position is in the system. I truly feel the sky is the limit for this kid.