1. Adam Miller, RHP
2. Wes Hodges, 3B
3. Beau Mills, 1B
4. Chuck Lofgren, LHP
5. Nick Weglarz, LF
6. Aaron Laffey, LHP
7. Jensen Lewis, RHP
8. Josh Rodriguez, SS
9. Jordan Brown, 1B
10. Trevor Crowe, OF
11. David Huff, LHP
Year In Review: The top prospect in the system dominated early and was in line for a big league callup before going on the shelf with separate elbow and finger issues, the second time in three years that Miller has missed significant time due to inury.
The Good: When Miller is healthy and pitching, he remains awfully impressive. His low-to-mid 90s fastball can touch 98, and he backs it up with a low 90s sinker and plus slider. All three pitches can grade out above-average at times, and his changeup is solid.
The Bad: The biggest concern for Miller at this point is his health. He should be in the big leagues by now, but he can’t stay healthy enough to put the polishing touches on his game to get there. Despite a big frame and smooth mechanics, some wonder if he wouldn’t be better off in the bullpen in order to preserve his availability.
Fun Fact: With the bases empty, opposing batters hit .204/.269/.279 against Miller, but with runners on hitters became instant All-Stars, tattooing him for a .345/.411/.445 mark.
Perfect World Projection: Miller has the stuff to be a number two starter, and if he’s switched to relief, he could develop into a quality closer.
Timetable: Miller is making up for some lost time by pitching in the Arizona Fall League, and he’s set to begin 2008 back in Triple-A. He’ll remain a starter for now, and he should be in line for a big league debut at some point in the season, provided that he can stay on the mound.
Year In Review: Last year’s second-round pick impressed in his pro debut, flirting with .300 much of the year at High-A, and showing a late-season power surge by hitting seven of his 15 home runs coming in August.
The Good: Hodges is a highly-polished offensive player. He has a mature approach, laces line drives to all fields, and features plus power–he’s already showing a knack for turning on inner-edge fastballs. He’s a solid third baseman with soft hands and good arm strength.
The Bad: Hodges chases pitches at times, leading to a high strikeout rate. He’s a tick below average as a runner, and while he’s fundamentally sound at the hot corner, some question his range there. There is a difference of opinion among scouts as to whether Hodges is quietly intense or just a low-energy player.
Fun Fact: Hodges hit just one home run as a senior in high school, but he had an excuse–he broke a bone in his left hand, and could only hit from the left side, the only time he’s done so in his baseball career. Even with that handicap, he hit .430.
Perfect World Projection: A third baseman who hits in the middle of the lineup.
Timetable: Just two years since being drafted, Hodges will begin 2008 at Double-A, and Andy Marte is no longer the roadblock to Hodges’ future he once was.
3. Beau Mills, 1B
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Lewis and Clark State
2007 Stats: .179/.303/.250 at Short-season (8 G); .271/.333/.435 at Low-A (44 G); .275/.375/.500 at High-A (10 G)
Year In Review: The 13th overall pick in the draft had a historic (.458/.556/1.033) season at the NAIA powerhouse, and moved up three levels after signing.
The Good: Plus-plus left-handed power is a highly desirable commodity, and Mills has it. Big, broad-shouldered, and strong, Mills attacks balls in the strike zone, and coming off of his bat, the ball gets plenty of loft and backspin. He shows solid pitch recognition, works hard to improve, and takes well to coaching.
The Bad: Mills is a below-average athlete and poor defender, already moving from third to first base since signing. He’s not much better there, and some feel he’ll be more of a DH in the end. His swing is not without holes, and his power-only approach could work against him at the upper levels.
Fun Fact: The son of Red Sox coach Brad Mills, Boston drafted Beau in the 44th round of the 2004 draft.
Perfect World Projection: Decent average, a good number of walks, and 30-40 home runs annually.
Timetable: Mills will likely begin 2008 where he ended last year, at High-A Kinston. If he excels there, he could be in Ryan Garko‘s rear-view mirror in short order.
Year In Review: One of the top lefties in the minors was surprisingly hittable at Double-A, but was still impressive at times, firing seven no-hit innings in May, and delivery quality starts in seven of his final 11 outings.
The Good: Lofgren’s low-90s fastball grades up a bit for its movement and location, and his changeup baffles opposing hitters and is arguably the best in the system. His curveball can be plus at times, and is more of a slow, rolling breaker. He’s big, extremely athletic, and still offers plenty of projection.
The Bad: Opinions vary widely as to why Lofgren struggled this year. Some point to him losing the feel on his curveball and abandoning it at times, others say he lived too much on the outside half of the plate and needs to be more aggressive.
Fun Fact: One of the top high schools in the country in terms of athletics, Serra alumni include Barry Bonds and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Perfect World Projection: A third starter in a rotation.
Timetable: Despite his occasional struggles, there is no need for Lofgren to repeat the level. He’ll begin 2008 in the Triple-A rotation, and his performance will dictate things from there. Most talent evaluators are predicting a turnaround.
5. Nick Weglarz, LF
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, Lakeshore Catholic HS (ON)
2007 Stats: .276/.395/.497 at Low-A (125 G); .143/.250/.571 at High-A (2 G)
Year In Review: After missing nearly all of 2006 due to injury, Canadian slugger had a breakout campaign with 24 home runs and 83 walks–and he doesn’t turn 20 until December.
The Good: Built more like a linebacker, Weglarz has as much raw power as anyone in the system, and unlike many Canadian prospects, his hitting skills are not raw. He’s a very patient hitter who works the count and waits on fastballs he can drive.
The Bad: Weglarz’ swing has a natural uppercut, and while it works for him, it will always limit his pure contact ability. He’s a slow runner, and his play in left field was a bit of an adventure at times; his arm is nothing special. He could lose more speed and end up at first base, but no matter where he ends up on the diamond, his bat is what will need to carry him to the big leagues.
Fun Fact: Weglarz was born and raised in the small town of Stevensville, Ontario, also the birthplace of James Kraft, the inventor of processed cheese.
Perfect World Projection: Not a great batting average, but tons of power and walks; sounds like a fifth-slot hitter to me.
Timetable: Despite the missed year in 2006, Weglarz is still at–if not slightly ahead of–his expected pace, because he was just 17 when drafted. He’ll begin 2008 as a 20-year-old slugger in High-A.
6. Aaron Laffey, LHP
Drafted: 16th round, 2003, Allegany HS (MD)
2007 Stats: 2.31 ERA at Double-A (35-29-7-24); 3.08 ERA at Triple-A (96.1-89-23-75); 4.56 ERA at MLB (49.1-54-12-25)
Year In Review: After receiving fourth-round money to sign four years ago, Laffey finally paid dividends by shooting through the upper levels of the system and earning a position on Cleveland’s postseason roster, where he pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings in his only appearance.
The Good: Laffey’s fastball has average velocity for a lefty, but he commands it effortlessly, and it features heavy, late sink. His slider and changeup are both solid offerings, and like his fastball, he locates them well. He studies his opponents, pitches without fear, and is generally seen as greater than the sum of his parts.
The Bad: On a pure scouting level, Laffey doesn’t blow anyone away. He’s on the smallish side for a pitcher, and he’s likely fulfilled any projection he had.
Fun Fact: While Allegany High School in Maryland isn’t known for its baseball pedigree, it did graduate one of the best actors of our generation, William H. Macy.
Perfect World Projection: Laffey has everything it takes to be a successful back-of-the-rotation starter.
Timetable: Laffey is lined up to spend all of 2008 in the big leagues, with his spring training performance playing a major factor in the determination of his immediate role.
7. Jensen Lewis, RHP
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, Vanderbilt
2007 Stats: 1.85 ERA at Double-A (39-27-13-49); 1.38 ERA at Triple-A (13-5-4-12); 2.15 ERA at MLB (29.1-26-10-34)
Year In Review: Moved to the bullpen in spring training, Jensen became a dominant force as a reliever, shooting through the upper levels and ending up as one of the Tribe’s most dependable relievers down the stretch.
The Good: Jensen’s best pitch is his changeup, a true plus offering that he sets up with a 89-92 mph fastball and a slurvy breaking pitch that serves him well. The reason Jensen is so effective is in his deceptive delivery. He hides the ball extremely well, and some batters have a nearly impossible time trying to pick it up coming out of Jensen’s hand.
The Bad: It’s hard to define Jensen’s exact role. As good as he’s been, he just doesn’t have the stuff normally associated with late-inning relievers, and to put him in that role might be a risk.
Fun Fact: During his brief stint at Triple-A Buffalo, left-handed hitters went 1-for-19 with eight strikeouts against Lewis.
Perfect World Projection: In a perfect world, the Indians give him the chance to stick in a set-up role, and he succeeds.
Timetable: Jensen will open the year in Cleveland’s bullpen; just slightly more than two years after being drafted, he’s all but a finished product.
Year In Review: After a disappointing junior season dropped him out of the first round in 2006, Rodriguez got off to a slow start at High-A Kinston in his full-season debut, but he finished with a bang, smacking 10 home runs in August.
The Good: Rodriguez has both the hand-eye coordination and the bat speed to hit for average and power in the big leagues. He makes good contact, uses all fields, and is patient in his approach. In the field, he turns to doubleplay well and has an above-average arm.
The Bad: Most agree that Rodriguez lacks the athleticism to play shortstop at the major league level. He’s an average runner. His skill set is probably better suited to second base in the end, which wastes his arm a bit.
Fun Fact: While Rodriguez hit just .190 in the first inning of games, he nonetheless drew 15 walks against 63 at-bats for a .346 on-base percentage.
Perfect World Projection: An offense-oriented second baseman.
Timetable: Rodriguez is on a bit of a fast track, and will begin his second full season already at the Double-A level. The good news/bad news is that there is no obvious opening for him once he’s ready.
Year In Review: The 2006 Carolina League MVP followed that up by improving across the board and earning the same honor in the Eastern League.
The Good: Brown is the definition of the term ‘professional hitter.’ He works the count exceedingly well while still being aggressive, and he can hit any pitch anywhere in the strike zone, while adding gap power to the mix. He’s an average defender at first base.
The Bad: Thick and slow, Brown is limited to first base, where his offensive profile doesn’t really match. His level swing and contact-oriented approach is not conducive to much power. At 24, he’s not exactly young and filled with untapped potential.
Fun Fact: Brown hit exactly .333 against both lefties and righties in 2007.
Perfect World Projection: The next Lyle Overbay?
Timetable: Because of what he is, Brown will have to prove himself at every level. The upside is that he’ll start the year at Triple-A, so the proving process is almost complete.
Year In Review: Entering the year as one of the better leadoff prospects around, Crowe struggled to get his average above the Mendoza line until midseason, but he found his swing after the All-Star break, batting .314/.384/.428 in the second half.
The Good: Crowe has top of the order skills, beginning with an ability to draw walks and a line-drive bat that makes solid contact from both sides of the plate. He has gap power and the speed to turn singles into doubles. He’s a
very good base stealer who reads pitchers well and gets excellent jumps.
The Bad: Crowe got into bad habits early in the year, tinkering with his swing instead of trusting his talent. He can be too patient at times, putting himself behind in the count by laying off pitches he should swing at. Despite his speed, he’s a bit fringy in center field, with some criticizing his jumps and routes.
Fun Fact: Crowe hit .297 when playing center in 2007, but just .128 starting elsewhere, and not in a small sample (15-for-117).
Perfect World Projection: A guy with enough on-base skills to justify an everyday job; if not, he’s a valuable reserve outfielder, one worth giving 200-300 PA to annually.
Timetable: Crowe’s spring training showing and the numbers game will determine if he starts 2008 at Double- or Triple-A.
Year In Review: The polished left-hander was pitching very well at High-A before getting shut down at the end of May with a sore elbow.
The Good: Huff is a command-and-control lefty who lives off of his changeup, which features outstanding arm-action and late fade. His fastball doesn’t light up radar guns at 87-89 mph, but it’s more than enough to keep batters off balance when looking for his change. He works quickly and commands the strike zone exceedingly well.
The Bad: Huff’s future might rely on how much progress he can make with his breaking ball, which currently doesn’t break very much. His projection ends at big leaguer, as opposed to star.
Fun Fact: While Huff gave up five runs in his final start before being shut down, he began the season with 10 consecutive starts of allowing two or fewer earned runs.
Perfect World Projection: A solid fourth or fifth starter.
Timetable: Huff’s elbow healed with rest instead of surgery, and he’s now healthy and pitching well in the Arizona Fall League, lining himself up for a Double-A assignment next year.
The Sleeper: Many were surprised that high school left-hander T.J. McFarland was still around in the fourth round. He’s a tall, skinny, projectable southpaw whose heat already sits in the low 90s, but he needs to work on his secondary offerings.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25
Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Fausto Carmona, RHP
2. Adam Miller, RHP
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS/2B
4. Wes Hodges, 3B
5. Beau Mills, 1B
6. Jeremy Sowers, LHP
7. Andy Marte, 3B
8. Chuck Lofgren, LHP
9. Nick Weglarz, LF
10. Aaron Laffey, LHP
While lacking elite-level talent, the Indians do have depth, as well as a young, talented big league team that has already reaped the rewards of their player development system. The best development was that they decided to stop trying to turn Carmona into something he’s not, and in response, his performance finally matched his always-glowing scouting reports. As for Sowers, don’t give up on him yet. He was hit hard for the first time in his career, and he stopped trusting his stuff and starting nibbling, which put him behind in the count far more often than a pitcher with his kind of stuff can afford; he still profiles as a solid back-end starter.
Cabrera came over in a highway-robbery deal with Seattle last year, and will start in the middle of the team’s infield next year. He can hit, he can draw walks, he’s the best defensive infielder on the team, and his instincts for the game are excellent. Ranking Marte on this list is the equivalent of a dart throw; you can find scouts who still have faith in his ability, and you can find some that have completely written him off.
Next up: the Detroit Tigers.