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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.