Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Cleveland

Part of me wants to criticize the Indians process for procuring prospects, if only because they were so dogmatic in the 2009 draft: their first 10 picks were four-year college players. While process has been a clear aspect of each organization’s analysis in this series, I struggle to put a lot of weight in it here, if only because the Indians’ young talent is so bountiful. And as a proponent of college baseball, and a backer of many players in the Indians system, I just don’t have a lot of criticism. But even if you want to ascribe some penalty for the amateur scouting department’s obvious leaning, give credit where it’s due: the Indians scout the minor leagues better than any team in baseball.

Mark Shapiro makes a lot of trades. He realizes when they can’t compete that trading veterans for something, anything, is worth it. And, given their market share, the Indians often aren’t able to keep their stars, so before losing them in free agency, Shapiro adds much by flipping them. He does this because they are the right moves, but also because of a faith that the people his team tell him to acquire are very good at their job. It’s a trust that has been earned. Recognize (I’m cherry-picking off the top, but I think that’s excusable given how one-sided these are):

June 30, 2006: Indians trade Eduardo Perez to Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera.
July 26, 2006: Indians trade Ben Broussard to Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo, Shawn Nottingham.
July 26, 2008: Indians trade Casey Blake to Dodgers for Carlos Santana, Jon Meloan.

The insignificance the Indians traded away here isn’t worth the increase of my word count, but the ability to recognize Cabrera, Choo and Santana is such a credit to this organization. Yes, Cabrera needs to find the plus defense of his minor league days, and Choo might be a platoon player, but who cares? There’s also Santana, a converted catcher, who wasn’t a top 20 Pioneer League prospect for me in 2006, but is now a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball. It was the heist of all heists, and it sure makes you wonder about Connor Graham, Scott Barnes, and Yohan Pino, the three pitchers Shapiro acquired last year for Rafael Betancourt, Ryan Garko and Carl Pavano, respectively.

Then, there’s the big trades. The Sabathia trade, where I could point out the team chose Michael Brantley as the player to be named later, who could lead off for this team down the line. That’s if the prize of the trade, Matt LaPorta, isn’t in his way. You have the Cliff Lee trade, which should net four Major Leaguers, including one of the team’s better pitching prospects in Jason Knapp. And I can’t say enough about getting value for Victor Martinez, because you all probably know about my long-standing affinity for Justin Masterson. To add Nick Hagadone on top, another highly rated pitching prospect, is icing on the cake. I haven’t even mentioned the Mark DeRosa haul, if only to spare myself from Erik Manning’s groans.

This is all to say nothing of the team’s homegrown talent, which is impressive itself. I see the best of this amateur scouting department in the 2008 draft, when the team found Lonnie Chisenhall at a junior college (after he was kicked off the South Carolina college team), took a chance on high school arms Trey Haley and T.J. House, and paid decent dollars to college guys like Zach Putnam, Cord Phelps and Tim Fedroff. The team left no stone unturned, and snagged quite a bit, as I think Chisenhall is their future third baseman. Putnam and House, meanwhile, are among an embarrassment of pitching prospect riches. The quality minor league arms include the names I’ve mentioned here, but also: Alex White, T.J. McFarland, Jess Todd, Clayton Cook, Hector Rondon, Chris Jones, Steven Wright and others.

All in all, Cleveland has put themselves in a really good position to succeed starting in a year or two. This isn’t a division where they’ll be drastically outspent, so as you see, good scouting helps a team rise to the top. While the Indians don’t do things in the traditional sense, the way they do it is working. And, ultimately, that’s what this whole series is about.



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Hot Dog
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Hot Dog

Choo’s a platoon player?!? He had the 10th highest wOBA in the AL last year. He sports a solid .275/.361/.450 career line against lefties (262 AB) and an outstanding .315/.408/.528 career line against righties (655 AB). Overall a nice piece, but Choo’s an all-star talent not a platoon player.

Bryan Smith
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Bryan Smith

I might be guilty of reverting to minor league scouting reports, there. It was an off-hand comment, though, to prove the point that acquiring him was a great move.

rotofan
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rotofan

Nice piece, Bryan, I found a link to an article when the Choo trade went down and the belief, then, was that he could pound right-handers but was not proven against lefties. Choo was acquired to be platooned. He has obviously shown since that he hits lefties too.

The other interesting about the linked article was the Broussard was raking at the time, hitting hit .321 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 88 games, while Choo was the 7th ranked prospect in Seattle by BA and was hitting well in AAA. So it’s not as if Shapiro and his scouts found Choo before his talent was appreciated; it seems instead that Shapiro took advantage of a hot start by Broussard to peddle him for a good prospect.

The same might be said of the Santana trade. While Santana may have been unknown in 2006, he as a top prospect when the Dodgers traded him (the Dodgers were roundly criticized for the trade). This time Shapiro took advantage of the Dodger’s desperation to land Blake.

Two examples don’t make a trend but it’s interesting to me that taken alone they show Shapiro not so much as a master judge of talent but instead a master of exploiting market inefficiencies — GM who over-values the talent they got from the Indians.

Bryan Smith
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Bryan Smith

rotofan: Thanks for the Choo validation. I do see the point you’re making. And yes, Santana was a better prospect at the time of the trade than I let on here.

But while Shapiro’s ability to exploit fellow GM’s into bad trades is clearly at work here (a point I make in the article), there is still a choice to be made for the Indians: what player to pick. And this is what I think the Indians do such a great job at. The M’s had better players to give away than Asdrubal, probably, but the Indians made the right choice.

Or a better example is Michael Brantley. I believe the PTBNL part of that deal leaked to the press, and we knew it was either Brantley or Taylor Green (might have been one more, too). But, ultimately, the Indians chose the guy that is bound for the most success. This is the value added I see this scouting department bringing over their competitors.

rotofan
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rotofan

Brantley will be an interesting case. I suspect many were down on him as a prospect because he is a below average fielder who can’t play center and who has no power and teams are reluctant to commit to such a player in a corner outfielder. The Indians have above-average power in center, decent power in right, and potential power at first (and when Santana comes up) at catcher, so perhaps they can live with his weaknesses in exchange for a good table setter in the lineup.

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