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February 4, 2009

Future Shock

Indians Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Matt LaPorta, LF
2. Carlos Santana, C
Four-Star Prospects
3. Nick Weglarz, LF
Three-Star Prospects
4. Adam Miller, RHP
5. Beau Mills, 1B
6. Hector Rondon, RHP
7. David Huff, LHP
8. Trevor Crowe, OF
9. Carlos Rivero, SS
10. Lonnie Chisenhall, SS
11. Michael Brantley, CF/1B

Just Missed: Kelvin De La Cruz, LHP; Wes Hodges, 3B; Luis Valbuena, 2B

Ranking Challenges: The upper half of the list was made up of a pretty clear-cut group of players, though many had different orders in mind. While the Indians don't have many wow-level guys, what they do have is impressive depth. Keep in mind that many team's lists hit the two-star prospects level within their Top 11, but with Cleveland it wouldn't show up until around the 20th player, and one official admitted that, even internally, you could ask seven people in the organization to rank the eighth- through 11th-best prospects and get back seven very different responses.

1. Matt LaPorta, LF
DOB: 1/8/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, University of Florida (Brewers)
2008 Stats: .288/.402/.576, .295 EqA at Double-A (84 G); .233/.299/.350, .209 EqA at Double-A (17 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1 (Brewers)

Year in Review: One of the top offensive forces in the minors, he got off to a great start at Double-A Hunstville in '08, but then struggled after coming to Cleveland as a key part of the CC Sabathia deal.
The Good: LaPorta projects as a classic high on-base/high-slugging middle-of-the-order presence. He has a very advanced understanding of the strike zone, with a quick, powerful swing that produces plus-plus power to all fields. Originally seen as a first base-only prospect as a position player, he's made admirable progress in left field, and has a solid enough arm for the position.
The Bad: Because of his bat, simply being acceptable in left will be enough, and there's no expectation of more than that due to his below-average speed. His power has a good amount of swing-and-miss in it, and sliders from right-handers give him fits. The post-trade performance was a small red flag, but Indians officials believe that he was simply out of gas after all of the attention from the trade and his participation in the Olympic games.
Fun Fact: By returning for his senior year of college after a disappointing junior campaign, LaPorta became the first two-time SEC Player of the Year in conference history.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future cleanup hitter on a championship-level team.
Glass Half Empty: Too many strikeouts limit his potential as a true impact bat, but he's still very valuable due to his power and patience.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Indians have only placeholders at both left field and first base, and no long-term solutions.
Timetable: LaPorta will try to get back on track at Cleveland's new Triple-A affiliate in Columbus. He should get a big-league look at some point during the season.

2. Carlos Santana, C
DOB: 4/8/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004 (Dodgers)
2008 Stats: .323/.431/.563, .293 EqA at High-A (99 G, Dodgers); .352/.452/.590, .301 EqA at High-A (29 G, Indians); .125/.125/.500, .197 EqA at Double-A (2 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The breakout player in the Dodgers' system moved to Cleveland in the Casey Blake trade in what could prove to be a monster acquisition for the Tribe.
The Good: Santana's offensive ability for the position borders on elite. He works the count well, and has a rare combination of both contact ability and average to plus-grade power, leading scouts to easily project him as a player with big numbers in all three triple-slash categories. He has good athleticism and a 60 arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale).
The Bad: Much of Santana's upside is dependent on his ability to stay behind the plate. He certainly has the tools to stick there, but he needs to work on his footwork and blocking skills. He also needs to become more comfortable with the field generalship aspect of the job, a skill that Cleveland may lean on more than most other organizations, as they prefer that their pitchers focus solely on delivering the pitches as called, leaving all game-management to the catcher.
Fun Fact: With each of the the three teams he played for in 2008, he hit in every spot of the lineup except first and ninth.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an offense-oriented catcher in the mold of Victor Martinez.
Glass Half Empty: Few have any qualms about Santana offensively, and if the catching doesn't work out, he still has the skills to move to third base a la Todd Zeile.
Path to the Big Leagues: Victor Martinez is coming off of the worst year of his career, but the Indians are currently set at catcher.
Timetable: Santana will begin the year at Double-A, where the Tribe will continue to evaluate how close his bat is and how far away he is defensively.

3. Nick Weglarz, LF
DOB: 12/16/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/245
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Lakeshore Catholic HS (ON)
2008 Stats: .272/.396/.432, .248 EqA at High-A (106 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: This big-time power prospect was beginning to recover from a slow start at High-A Kinston last season before playing for the Canadian Olympic team.
The Good: As a Canadian-raised product who missed nearly all of 2006 with a broken hamate bone, scouts see a young, raw player who has already produced at High-A and has tremendous room for growth. Despite his inexperience, his pitch recognition is among the best in the organization, and he has well above-average power potential that began to show after coaches toned down a pronounced trigger in his swing; the fix also led to more consistent contact overall. He gets high marks for both his makeup and work ethic.
The Bad: While Weglarz offers plenty in the way of power and patience, they also form the sum of his abilities. He's a massive kid with below-average speed, and many believe that he'll quickly grow out of the outfield and be forced to first base in the end.
Fun Fact: Weglarz' birthplace of Stevensville, Ontario is a small, agricultural town just north of Lake Erie that is most famous for being the birthplace of James L. Kraft, the inventor of processed cheese food.
Perfect World Projection: He's good for 100 walks and 100 RBI in the middle of the order.
Glass Half Empty: All of the above, but not as valuable after moving to first base.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like LaPorta, Weglarz' two logical positions, left field and first base, do not feature any massive roadblocks within the organization.
Timetable: He'll get his first taste of the upper levels in 2009 by beginning the year at Double-A Akron.

4. Adam Miller, RHP
DOB: 11/26/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2003, McKinney HS (TX)
2008 Stats: 1.88 ERA at Triple-A (28.2-26-12-20), 3.58 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The perennial pitching prospect delivered his brand of the usual last season, showing very impressive stuff whenever he was pitching, the problem being that it was once again a rare occurrence.
The Good: Miller's stuff this winter in the Dominican Winter League was nearly as good as it's ever been, and toward the end of the year he was sitting at 95-96 mph with his fastball, touching 98, and maintaining his signature natural sink. His slider is another wipeout offering that sits in the upper 80s without losing any bite. Scouts felt that his aggressive, fearless demeanor served him well in a bullpen role.
The Bad: Miller has pitched 70 innings or less in three of the last four years due to a non-stop cavalcade of injuries, including finger problems that have hampered him in each of the last two years. At this point, many believe that his only future is as a reliever, and that limiting his innings is the only way to keep him healthy.
Fun Fact: During his brief time at Triple-A Buffalo in 2008, all of his earned runs were allowed during the daytime; he had a perfect 0.00 ERA in 19 innings under the lights.
Perfect World Projection: Coming out of the bullpen, he has closer-level stuff, but the Indians still aren't ruling out a return to the rotation down the road.
Glass Half Empty: The injury track record is downright disturbing, though he's yet to have any major surgery.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cleveland's bullpen is crowded, but Miller's stuff may be too hard to ignore.
Timetable: He'll remain a reliever for now, with much of the decision resting on the hope that he might stay healthy for a full year in that role. He'll compete for a bullpen role in the spring, and team officials hope that free-agent acquisition Kerry Wood, another hard-throwing Texan with an injury-riddled history as a starter, will serve as a role model for Miller as he adjusts to his new responsibilities.

5. Beau Mills, 1B
DOB: 8/15/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Lewis-Clark State College
2008 Stats: .293/.373/.506, .251 EqA at High-A (125 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This 2007 first-round pick won MVP honors in his full-season debut, finishing among the Carolina League's top five in hits, extra-base hits, home runs, and slugging.
The Good: Mills gives the Indians another high-ceiling offensive talent. He's a great natural hitter who makes hard contact, hits to all fields, and projects for a high batting average with plus power in the big leagues. The son of a former big-leaguer and pro coach, he's been around the game his entire life and has good baseball instincts. A third baseman in college, he has good hands at first base, and solid range.
The Bad: Mills is a below-average athlete who doesn't run well, and while he's arguably a better pure hitter then either LaPorta or Weglarz, he can't match their power potential or plate discipline.
Fun Fact: His statistics at NAIA Lewis-Clark are truly something out of a video game; he hit .458/.556/1.033 his junior year, with 100 runs, 123 RBI, and 248 total bases in just 62 games.
Perfect World Projection: Yet another middle-of-the-order presence.
Glass Half Empty: He has to turn into a major league masher or he's not going to work out, as it's everyday first baseman or bust.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Indians are not exactly lacking in big-time offensive prospects with defensive limitations, and along with LaPorta and Weglarz, one or more of them need to do something to separate themselves from the pack-to at least make the decisions regarding their future a bit easier.
Timetable: Mills will spend the year at Double-A Akron.

6. Hector Rondon, RHP
DOB: 2/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2004
2008 Stats: 3.60 ERA at High-A (145-130-42-145), 5.76 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The biggest breakout player in the system last year, Rondon received raves from scouts by his improving throughout the year, finishing second in the Carolina League in strikeouts and eighth in ERA.
The Good: Rondon's youth, frame, and "now" stuff give him as much projection as any starter in the system. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph, touches 96, and many believe there will be a few more up-ticks to come as his body matures. He throws a hard curveball which shows signs of being a plus offering, and Cleveland loves his aggressiveness and the way he attacks hitters in the strike zone.
The Bad: Much of his future lies in the continued development of his secondary pitches. His curve is inconsistent and often flat, while his changeup is still a work in progress. Both need improvement, and he also needs to learn how to use the pitches to prevent an over-reliance on the heater.
Fun Fact: A big fan of home cooking, Rondon has a 1.42 ERA in 12 home starts for Kinston, while limiting Carolina League hitters in those outings to a .154 batting average.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a third starter, and perhaps a bit more.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being a set-up man out of the pen.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Indians have a lot of starting pitchers, but not many with his kind of stuff, so he could leapfrog them if he continues to develop.
Timetable: Rondon will begin the year at Double-A Akron, and he's likely at least two years away from the big leagues.

7. David Huff, LHP
DOB: 8/22/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, UCLA
2008 Stats: 1.92 ERA at Double-A (65.2-44-14-62), 3.14 DERA; 3.01 ERA at Triple-A (80.2-68-15-81), 4.07 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 11

Year in Review: This polished college product made major progress in 2008 by dominating the Eastern League and pitching well enough at Triple-A to put him in the mix for a major league job this spring.
The Good: As a left-hander with outstanding command and control, Huff is often mislabeled as a pure finesse pitcher, but his stuff is also solid. He gained velocity throughout the year and was sitting at 90-92 mph in August while touching 94 with his fastball, which he locates with the precision of a surgeon. His best secondary offering is a very good changeup that features both deception and fade, and he also mixes in both a slider and a curveball to change the batters' eye level.
The Bad: While he's much more than just another lefty finesse pitcher, Huff is nonetheless far from overpowering, and his style of pitching does not offer much room for error. He's essentially a finished product at this point, with little room for improvement.
Fun Fact: Huff was a 31st-round pick in 2003 by the Angels out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California-the same school that graduated Jeff Kent as well as rock vocalist/drug addict Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.
Perfect World Projection: He should be a fourth starter, maybe even a third.
Glass Half Empty: Huff will be more of a back-of-the-rotation type, or maybe a swingman.
Path to the Big Leagues: The back of the Indians' rotation is in flux.
Timetable: Huff will compete for the fifth starter's slot this spring. If he doesn't win it, he'll return to Triple-A and will likely be the top option for a call-up should the need arise.

8. Trevor Crowe, OF
DOB: 11/17/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, University of Arizona
2008 Stats: .323/.404/.485, .267 EqA at Double-A (49 G); .274/.350/.486, .269 EqA at Triple-A (35 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: The on-again, off-again performer was on again in 2008, putting up solid numbers at both upper-level teams in the system.
The Good: Indians officials liken Crowe to a Coco Crisp-like talent with more on-base ability. He has the approach of a leadoff man, a knack for rifling balls into the gaps, and he can occasionally crush mistakes. He's an above-average runner and a solid outfielder who can play all three positions.
The Bad: Crowe has solid tools across the board except for his so-so arm, but none of them are in the 'wow' category, leading many to wonder whether he's really an everyday player or just more of a fourth outfielder.
Fun Fact: Crowe has been the member of US National Teams in two sports; besides his baseball skills, he's also an accomplished racquetball player who was the World Singles runner-up and doubles champion in his age division as a 12-year-old.
Perfect World Projection: He won't be a massive impact player, but he should be a solid everyday leadoff hitter.
Glass Half Empty: He's another nice bench outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Cleveland outfield is a crowded one, but...
Timetable: Crowe might be a perfect fit, due to his ability to plays all three positions. He'll get a close look this spring.

9. Carlos Rivero, SS
DOB: 5/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2005
2008 Stats: .282/.342/.411, .221 EqA at High-A (108 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The high-ceiling shortstop began to live up to his potential last season by hitting .300/.371/.474 during the second half of the year.
The Good: Rivero's breakthrough was the result of him abandoning his power-centric approach and focusing instead on using the entire field and letting his natural strength work for him. He has a fast bat and average power, with some expecting even more than that down the road. His best defensive tool is a very good arm that provides both velocity and accuracy.
The Bad: Rivero expands his strike zone at times, and he can be prone to chasing pitches. He's a big-bodied shortstop who is still growing, and no more than an average runner, leaving many to predict a move to third base down the road.
Fun Fact: Rivero hit just .229/.275/.341 with the bases empty for Kinston last year, but .335/.404/.481 with runners on base.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an average defensive shortstop who hits 15-20 home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: He's a third baseman with enough offense to be an average producer at the position.
Path to the Big Leagues: The left side of the infield is heavy on experience, and it's doubtful that either Peralta or Mark DeRosa will still be at their current positions by the time Rivero is ready.
Timetable: Rivero will stay at shortstop until his play forces a move, and he'll begin the year at Double-A Akron.

10. Lonnie Chisenhall, SS
DOB: 10/4/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Pitt CC
2008 Stats: .290/.355/.438 at Short-season (68 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Indians surprised some by taking the top junior college player in the country with their first-round pick, and the reviews from his pro debut in '08 were impressive.
The Good: Chisenhall is a highly advanced hitter who has a decent approach and makes consistent contact to all fields, with gap power and the possibility of more in his future. He's a surprisingly adept fielder as well, with good instincts and an above-average arm at shortstop.
The Bad: Many see him sliding across the diamond to second or third base eventually, though his New York-Penn League manager, former big-league star Travis Fryman, was impressed with his defense, and many in the organization think he has an outside chance of sticking at shortstop. He's a tick below-average as a baserunner, and some wonder if he'll have enough power should he be forced to move to third base.
Fun Fact: Yet another one to get away from the Pirates, Chisenhall was a two-time All-State player at West Carteret High School in North Carolina, and an 11th-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2005, who he spurned in order to go to South Carolina.
Perfect World Projection: He's an offense-oriented middle infielder.
Glass Half Empty: He's a solid but unspectacular third baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: The system is extremely short on up-the-middle players, but for now he's behind Rivero on the depth chart.
Timetable: Chisenhall will make his full-season debut at Low-A Lake County.

11. Michael Brantley, CF
DOB: 5/15/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2005, Fort Pierce Central HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .319/.395/.398, .254 EqA at Double-A (106 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The son of Mickey Brantley, he continued his path as an on-base/speed type at Double-A for the Brewers last year, before ending up as the player to be named later in the Sabathia deal.
The Good: Brantley brings plenty of tools to the game. He has a fantastic approach at the plate, rarely swings at bad pitches and slaps balls all over the field. He's a well above-average runner and an excellent basestealer.
The Bad: While Brantley has size and shows the ability to drive balls in batting practice, his power rarely shows up in games; he's hit just six career home runs in 383 career games. He has the speed for center field, but his routes and jumps both need work in order for him to stick there.
Fun Fact: Brantley was the first player in 27 years to be drafted out of Fort Pierce High, with the last being former Mets backup catcher Ed Hearn, a fourth-round pick by the Phillies in 1978.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a leadoff player who develops enough pop to be dangerous.
Glass Half Empty: He's a bench outfielder who offers on-base skills from the left side.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's blocked for now by a crowded and complicated outfield picture in Cleveland.
Timetable: Brantley will begin the year at Triple-A Columbus, and should be in-line for at least a September call-up.

The Sleeper: After missing all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery, reliever Tony Sipp returned at the midpoint of 2008 and showed late-inning stuff from the left side.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Fausto Carmona, RHP
2. Matt LaPorta, LF
3. Carlos Santana, C
4. Nick Weglarz, LF
5. Adam Miller, RHP
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS
7. Beau Mills, 1B
8. Aaron Laffey, RHP
9. Hector Rondon, RHP
10. David Huff, LHP

The Indians have a lot of young talent, but there are many questions about just how good they are. I still believe in Carmona as a front-line starter, and my faith in Asdrubal Cabrera's talent remains high as well, with the hope that his strong second half in 2008 could lead to a 2009 breakout. Laffey is a solid back-end starter, but I'd rather have Huff than middle-of-the-road relievers like Jensen Lewis and Joe Smith. And yes, I'm pretty much done with Jeremy Sowers and Andy Marte.

Summary: The Indians system is short of up-the-middle-players and toolsy athletes, but they do provide considerable depth that should be able to fill the team's needs as they arrive to compete for AL Central titles over the next few years.


Up next: the Detroit Tigers.

---

Will Carroll sits down with John Mirabelli, Assistant GM of the Indians, as he talks about several of the club's prospects and how the Indians run their organization.


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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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