While the title to this article may seem insulting to a 25 year old man who has been working hard his whole life to make it to the Major Leagues, but it is a legitimate query. The minor leagues are filled with players who at one point had great expectations, but somehow remain in the minors during the prime of their career. While some of these MiLB vets, like the Twins' Sam Deduno who became an MLB starter for the first time at 28, eventually carve out a decent career, most never come near the big leagues.
Starting with the 2007 draft and going back in time, the Indians have had quite a few of these top prospect flops in recent seasons. Beau Mills, Wes Hodges, Nick Weglarz, Brad Snyder and Michael Aubrey were all high draft picks that made it to the upper levels of the minors before burning out and never making it at the Major League level. While the chances of an MLB career are long gone for those other players listed, Carlos Moncrief still has one chance left to make it big.
Moncrief was drafted by the Indians in 2008 in the 14th round as a relief pitcher, but was changed into an outfielder in 2010 after giving up more than one run per appearance during his first two seasons. In 2010, as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers starting right fielder, Moncrief burst onto the scene with 20 extra base hits in 66 games. He advanced to Advanced A Kinston by the end of the season and stuck on in Lake County for 2011. At 22, he was one of the older players in single A, but he was behind in his development as well, due to his lost first two seasons.
For the Captains, Moncrief stepped up his power stroke, knocking out 16 home runs and knocking in 53. He posted almost identical numbers (15 home runs and 53 RBI) the following season for the Mudcats and jumped to Akron in 2013. Along with Jesus Aguilar, Moncrief turned the Aeros into a power show. Moncrief's part of the equation was 17 home runs, 26 doubles and 75 RBI, pushing him into the front line of Indians prospects.
Next season, Moncrief will be 25 and should be the AAA starting right fielder at the beginning of the season. With quite a few spots opening (Tim Fedroff, Jeremy Hermida and others will be gone from the roster), it shouldn't be difficult for this to happen. His success at every level brings confidence that he will be able to perform as well. While he has generally been a very low average hitter, especially for a low level minor leaguer, Moncrief has increased both his average and OPS in every single season since becoming a hitter. If he can continue this improvement and hit something near .290/.360/.475, he would be a fairly strong September call-up in 2014 along with Francisco Lindor and Jesus Aguilar.
Moncrief's slow progression through the minors will likely make him a more mature hitter when he finally does make it to the pros, but that doesn't mean he will be successful. Assuming he finally makes the team for good at the beginning of 2015, he will be 26 years old, with most players prime coming between that period and their age 29 season. This could lead to a few decent seasons before an extremely sharp decline or it could mean his body won't be worn out as early and he will be able to play strong through his 30's.
Compared to other recent successful outfielders brought up by the Indians, Michael Brantley was 22 years old and Grady Sizemore was 21. Of course, these players are of a different style. As a power hitter, he will come into his prime a little later than those speed players and doesn't have to worry about losing his speed (although he has stolen 57 bases in the past three seasons). The question here is more of, how long will he be successful in the Majors, rather than can he make it at all.
The Indians are certainly rooting for him to do so. He is one of two decent power threats in the entire upper minor league system (along with Aguilar) and is the only power hitting outfielder. The Indians are also weak in power on the Major League level and weak in right fielders. While David Murphy is signed through 2015, he is more of a fourth outfielder who could complement a right handed starter. In the entire system, the only outfielders who have a real chance at Major League stardom are the recent first round draft picks Tyler Naquin and Clint Frazier and they could be years away. From the years 2015 through 2017, Moncrief is the best chance the Indians have.
It's impossible to say for sure what Moncrief will do in his career at this point. The best hope is that the Indians will give him a real chance next season where he can prove himself. At this point he shouldn't be looked at as a long term solution in right field, but should last long enough for the next generation to arrive. With the best possible outcome, Moncrief could be the next coming of Albert Belle, if even for a few short years. The worst case (and more likely) scenario: he will burn out in AAA like so many before him and never see the light of the Major Leagues.
Carlos Moncrief will be circling the bases for years, but will it be in Cleveland or Columbus?