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January 16, 2007

Future Shock

Cleveland Indians Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Adam Miller, rhp
Very Good Prospects
2. Chuck Lofgren, lhp
3. Trevor Crowe, cf
Good Prospects
4. John Drennen, cf
5. Brian Barton, cf
6. Tony Sipp, lhp
Average Prospects
7. Wes Hodges, 3b
8. Brad Snyder, rf
9. Rafael Perez, lhp
10. Scott Lewis, lhp

1. Adam Miller, rhp
DOB: 11/26/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 2.75 ERA at AA (153.2-129-43-157); 5.79 ERA at AAA (4.2-4-3-4)
The Good: Miller's rebound from 2005 arm troubles started slow, but by the end of the year he had firmly re-established himself among the top righty prospects in the game. Loss of arm strength forced him to focus on control and secondary pitches, and when his fastball returned he was a much more well-rounded pitcher with a low-to-mid 90s sinking fastball, hard slider, and changeup that gives him a full three-pitch arsenal.
The Bad: While Miller flashed a plus slider and changeup at times during the 2006 season, they weren't there every time out. He can get into a habit of overthrowing the slider, causing it to lose second-plane break, and he would often lose feel on the changeup.
The Irrelevant: As good as his Double-A numbers are, it actually took him a little while to get going. In his last 10 starts for Akron, Miller went 8-1, 0.97 with 70 strikeouts in 64.2 innings while allowing just 45 hits and 17 walks.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: All the stuff is there for Miller to be an ace if he can find greater consistency.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Miller will begin the year at Triple-
A, but the Indians expect him to force a big league decision as early as the All-Star break.

2. Chuck Lofgren, lhp
DOB: 1/29/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 4th round, 2004, California HS
What he did in 2006: 2.32 ERA at High A (139.2-108-54-125)
The Good: Power lefthander showed three plus offerings in 2006 with 91-95 mph fastball, hard-breaking curve and deceptive change up. All pitches graded up on basis of excellent command.
The Bad: Lofgren needs to work more in the lower half of the strike zone, as his fly ball tendencies could hurt him at more advanced levels. While strongly built, there are some stamina concerns, as Lofgren would often lose a tick or two on his fastball after the first time through the lineup.
The Irrelevant: Lofgren was nine strikeouts and four innings by teammate Scott Lewis short of the Carolina League pitching Triple Crown. Unlike the major leagues, the minor league inning minimum for rate stats is 0.8 innings per game, as opposed to an even one per contest. So Lewis and his 115.2 innings just barely qualified.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. After a breakout 2006 campaign, things don't get any easier for Lofgren as he faces the big jump to Double-A.

3. Trevor Crowe, cf
DOB: 11/17/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, University of Arizona
What he did in 2006: .000/.000/.000 at Low A (5 PA); .329/.449/.470 at High A (273 PA); .234/.318/.325 at AA (176 PA)
The Good: Quintessential leadoff man has every skill it takes to bat at the top of the order, including compact line-drive stroke and good contact skills, a patient approach, and fantastic base running skills. Understands his role and plays within himself to go along with top-of-the-line makeup and fundamentals.
The Bad: Crowe has limited range in centerfield, leaving most scouts to project a move to left. His power is limited, and while his skill set fits well for the 1980s version of the position, it doesn't profile will as the modern corner outfielder.
The Irrelevant: Trevor's father David was once a professional golfer, and Trevor himself was nationally ranked as a teenager in racquetball.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A leadoff man capable of scoring 100+ runs annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - An ill-conceived and short-lived move to second base, as well as a strained oblique limited Crowe during his first exposure to Double-A pitching, but he'll get a chance for redemption there in 2007. With Grady Sizemore providing MVP-level production in center, a pure leadoff man in left is the kind of non-standard decision the Indians can afford to make.

4. John Drennen, cf
DOB: 8/26/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, California HS
What he did in 2006: .321/.409/.471 at Low A (277 PA); .239/.328/.327 at High A (128 PA)
The Good: Sweet-swinging outfielder combined very good pitch recognition with a compact stroke to put up nice numbers in his full-season debut. Burgeoning power should provide 15-25 home runs annually down the road.
The Bad: Drennen is a little undersized, leaving many to wonder if he'll develop enough power to play every day in left field, as he probably lacks the range in center, and definitely lacks the arm for right. He's an average runner at best.
The Irrelevant: Drennen was the sixth graduate of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego to be drafted in the first round, five of which have been selected since 2000.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting big league left fielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Drennen struggled after a move to the Carolina League late in the season, but it was mostly attributed to a tired player in his first full season. He'll return there in 2007.

5. Brian Barton, cf
DOB: 4/25/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/187
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: NDFA, 2004
What he did in 2006: .308/.410/.515 at High A (359 PA); .351/.415/.503 at AA (171 PA)
The Good: Undrafted out of college, Barton has proven to be quite a find, meeting every challenge presented him. Excellent athlete has plus raw power and speed, and is an above-average centerfielder.
The Bad: Barton's Double-A showing was a strange one, as his power, walk and strikeout rates all dropped dramatically as he hit .351 in 151 at-bats. He's always been old for his level and many scouts see him as a mistake hitter and minor league performer as opposed to a player with long-term major league value.
The Irrelevant: In a world where nearly every "student athlete" majors in something like communications or sports management, Barton actually took the 'student' part seriously, majoring in aerospace engineering and serving an internship with Boeing.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A multi-faceted starting outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - despite only having two months of experience above A-ball, Barton turns 25 in April and the Indians can't afford to take it slowly with him. He'll likely start the year in Triple-A and should make his big league debut at some point during the season.

6. Tony Sipp, lhp
DOB: 7/12/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 45th round, 2004, Clemson University
What he did in 2006: 3.13 ERA at AA (60.1-44-21-80)
The Good: Late-round steal continued to excel in the minors, handling both the jump to Double-A and the transition to a bullpen role with aplomb. Electric fastball/slider combination is effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters thanks to above-average velocity and movement as well as a delivery that gives batters trouble picking up the ball out of his hand.
The Bad: Sipp has consistency issues, as 19 of the 23 Double-A runs he allowed came in just seven appearances. Scouts like his stuff, but find it to be a little short of closer-worthy.
The Irrelevant: During a brief Arizona Fall League stint, lefthanders facing Sipp went 1-for-18 with 10 strikeouts.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A bat-missing left-hander who gets you those all-important bridge outs to the closer while picking up a few saves here and there himself.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Sipp is much more than just a future LOOGY; he's more of a late-innings stopper who just happens to come at it from the left side. He'll begin the year in Triple-A, but should get a look at some point in what is a fluid Cleveland bullpen situation.

7. Wes Hodges, 3b
DOB: 9/14/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, Georgia Tech
What he did in 2006: Signed a 2007 deal that included a $1 million bonus.
The Good: Polished college player combines patient approach with quick, quiet swing. Uses all fields and does a good job in letting his average-to-slightly-above power work for him, as opposed to trying to muscle balls out of the yard.
The Bad: Below average athlete, specifically in the speed department. Needs to improve his foot work defensively both in receiving balls and setting up for throws. Thick and compactly built, conditioning could become an issue down the road.
The Irrelevant: While Hodges hit .430 his senior year in high school, he hit just one home run all year. Mitigating factor: Hodges was batting from the left side for the first time in his life after breaking a bone in his hand.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An offensive-minded third baseman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Hodges has yet to make his pro debut, spending the summer and fall recovering from a minor fracture in his leg. He'll begin 2007 in a full-season league, with the goal of being ready for Double-A in 2008.

8. Brad Snyder, rf
DOB: 5/25/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Ball State
What he did in 2006: .270/.351/.446 at AA (594 PA)
The Good: Arguably the best all-around package of size and athleticism in the system. Plus-plus raw power and above-average speed, to go along with good fly-chasing skills and a true right-field arm.
The Bad: Despite one of the prettiest swings around, Snyder still has extreme problems with making contact, as evidenced by 158 whiffs in 523 at-bats last year. Despite a patient approach, Snyder's pitch recognition abilities are lacking - he's prone to chasing breaking balls in the dirt or turning himself into a guess hitter who is behind on good fastballs.
The Irrelevant: If Snyder can put together even a short career, he should have a shot at the all-time home run mark for Ball State alumni, currently held by Merv Rettenmund at 66.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A right-fielder with power, speed and strikeouts in the mold of Jeromy Burnitz maybe?
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Higher than it should be - Snyder's development has been slow, and at this point, expectations need to be tempered because of the lack of progress in reducing his enormous strikeout rate. He'll try to cut it once again at Triple-A.

9. Rafael Perez, lhp
DOB: 5/15/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Signed: 2002, Dominican Republic
What he did in 2006: 2.81 ERA at AA (67.1-53-22-53); 2.63 ERA at AAA (27.1-20-8-33); 4.38 ERA at AAA (12.1-10-6-15)
The Good: Tall, lanky southpaw excelled in a move to the bullpen and pitched well in brief major league stint. 91-93 mph power sinker misses plenty of bats and tends to get hammered into the ground when contact is made, as evidenced by a 2.6-to-1 ground ball ratio. Slider gives him a second plus offering.
The Bad: While Perez is anything but a LOOGY, the Indians would still like to see him refine his changeup in order to have more weapons against right-handed batters. He has a tendency to elevate his secondary pitches at times.
The Irrelevant: Lefthanded batters facing Perez in the minors went 12-for-88 (.136) with 47 ground ball outs.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An effective bullpen arm, with particular value when runners are on base.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Perez has a shot at an Opening Day bullpen job with a good spring training.

10. Scott Lewis, lhp
DOB: 9/26/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2004, Ohio State University
What he did in 2006: 1.48 ERA at High A (115.2-84-28-123).
The Good: Fringy lefthander led the minor leagues in ERA thanks to an excellent curveball and laser-like precision with his fastball. Never falls behind in the count and effortlessly works all four corners of the strike zone.
The Bad: Using a radar gun to measure Lewis' fastball is a waste of modern technology. At 84-86 mph, it scares nobody, and offers zero margin for error. Lewis pitched just 21 innings in his first 1.5 seasons as a pro, and never went even six frames in all of 2006 while under a strict pitch count, so stamina remains an unanswered question.
The Irrelevant: Sixty-eight batters faced Lewis in 2006 with runners on base and two outs. Six drew a walk, four got hits.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A late-career Terry Mulholland-style swingman who does yeoman's work in delivering quality innings where they are needed.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Lewis will face a pair of major tests in 2007 with both an assignment to Double-A and a more realistic workload.

The Sleeper

Signed off the Taiwanese National Team, righthander Sung-Wei Tseng comes stateside featuring a nice slider and a low-90s fastball that becomes a splitter when he takes a little bit off. He could make some noise in the bullpen within a couple of years.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Grady Sizemore, cf
2. Adam Miller, rhp
3. Jeremy Sowers, lhp
4. Andy Marte, 3b
5. Josh Barfield, 2b
6. Jhonny Peralta, ss
7. Chuck Lofgren, lhp
8. Trevor Crowe, cf
9. Shin-Soo Choo, cf/rf
10. Fernando Cabrera, rhp

Wowsa. Most of these extra lists have had 1-3 candidates for inclusion, while the Indians added seven, and an eighth, righthander Fausto Carmona, who the club still has strong faith in, would rank 11th. The 3-6 rankings here included some difficult decisions that will be covered in an upcoming Unfiltered post.

The Indians minor league system is a deep one, if not an especially strong one. The good news is that there is so much young talent already contributing at the big league level.

Next: The American League Champion Detroit Tigers.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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