The Cleveland Indians organization has amassed an intriguing collection of talent, although many of the key prospects have come via trades with other organizations. The club has drafted some interesting college players – while continuing to dabble in international signings.
Matt LaPorta was the key ingredient in the C.C. Sabathia trade, from Cleveland’s perspective. The former first-round draft pick has been an offensive force in pro ball, although he was slowed by a concussion last season, which led to a dip in his overall numbers. LaPorta was moved from first base to left field by the Brewers organization, but he could very well slide back to his original position before eventually assuming the role of the club’s designated hitter. He is a stretch to be average in the outfield. The 24-year-old posted a .288 ISO at Double-A for Cleveland after coming over in the trade. LaPorta also showed a willingness to take a free pass with a walk rate of 13.0 BB%. He should be in Cleveland by the end of the summer.
Obtained in a deal with the Dodgers for the aging Casey Blake, Carlos Santana, 22, was an absolute steal. The offensive-minded catcher had a breakthrough 2008 and hit more than .330 in two High-A stops. He also scored 122 runs and drove in 115. Santana showed solid plate awareness too, by walking more than he stuck out (89/85). The Dominican native is still rough around the edges defensively, but he has enough arm and athleticism to remain behind the dish. With Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach currently catching for the big club, Santana has plenty of time to work on his defense.
Middle infielder Luis Valbuena was obtained from Seattle in the three-team J.J. Putz deal, which cost the Indians Franklin Gutierrez. The 23-year-old had the best season of his pro career in 2008, thanks in part to an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts. He hit more than .300 while splitting the year between Double-A and Triple-A. Valbuena also has the potential to steal 15-20 bases.
Wes Hodges has been quite consistent in the past two seasons, since signing as a second round draft pick out of Georgia Tech in 2006. In his two seasons in pro ball, at High-A and Double-A, the third baseman has hit .288/.367/.473 and .290/.354/.466. Hodges is still learning to tap into his power and he currently projects to hit 15-20 home runs per season.
Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe are two outfield prospects that are borderline everyday players. Brantley was obtained in the Sabathia trade and has an exciting mix of plate discipline and speed. Unfortunately his defensive skills are average. The 21-year-old hit .319/.395/.398 at Double-A and he walked 50 times compared to just 27 strikeouts in 420 at-bats. Crowe always seems to take one step forward and two steps back. His numbers have been inconsistent and he got stuck in Double-A for parts of three seasons, before appearing in 34 Triple-A games in 2008, where he hit .274/.350/.486.
Kevin de la Cruz, 20, is a hard-throwing southpaw. Despite iffy control, he dominated A-ball in 2008 and allowed just 71 hits in 95.2 innings. He posted rates of 3.20 BB/9 and 9.03 K/9 before playing briefly in High-A and Double-A. De la Cruz will likely open 2009 in High-A ball. He can touch 95 mph with his fastball, and also has a curveball, sinker and change-up.
David Huff is another southpaw but he is a soft-tosser. The former first-round pick is almost MLB ready, although he may top out as a No. 3 starter. Huff has a four-pitch mix, which includes a high-80s fastball (that can touch 92 mph), a plus change-up, a slider and a curveball. He posted solid numbers in 2008 while splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A. At the senior level, Huff allowed just 68 hits in 80.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 1.67 BB/9 (obviously he has solid command/control) and 9.04 K/9.
Perennial prospect Adam Miller was yet again slowed by injuries in 2008 and has already been battling them this spring. Realistically speaking, his days as a starting pitcher are likely over, although he could develop into a dominating late-game reliever with two plus pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a slider. Miller appeared in just eight games in 2008 but posted a 1.88 ERA and allowed 26 hits in 28.2 Triple-A innings.
Slugger Nick Weglarz has taken some time to develop but it’s been worth it for the Indians. The Canadian has massive power potential even though he hit just 10 home runs in 375 High-A at-bats. Weglarz has walked 154 times in the past two seasons (232 games). Defensively, he has been playing left field but is better suited to first base or designated hitter.
Beau Mills is another slugger well on his way to Cleveland, although he was acquired from a college program, not out of high school like Weglarz. Mills unfortunately is yet another player whose best position is first base or designated hitter. He slugged 21 home runs in 2008 at High-A ball and hit .293, although he is less likely to hit for a high average in the Majors.
Carlos Rivera is an offensive-minded shortstop, not unlike Jhonny Peralta. Scouts rave about Rivera’s power potential but he hit just eight dingers in 2008 at High-A ball. The 20-year-old posted a line of .282/.342/.411 in 411 at-bats. Defensively, he has a strong arm but Rivera’s range is average at best.
Right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon had a breakout season in 2008, while pitching in High-A ball. He allowed 130 hits in 145 innings, while posting rates of 2.61 BB/9 and 9.00 K/9. Rondon has a fastball that can hit 95 mph, as well as two developing secondary pitches: a curveball and a change-up.
Lonnie Chisenhall was the club’s No. 1 draft pick in 2008 despite questions surrounding his make-up after some legal trouble while in school. The 20-year-old shortstop had a nice pro debut last year and hit .290/.355/.438 in 276 at-bats. Chisenhall has solid power pontential, which will make his eventual move to third base less troubling. He could move quickly for such a young player.
Up Next: The San Francisco Giants
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.