There is Hope on the Horizon in Cleveland

It took a little longer than expected, but the Cleveland Indians finally recalled prized offensive prospect Matt LaPorta on Wednesday. The first-baseman-turned-outfielder received a brief taste of the Majors back in May but he hit just .190/.286/.286 in 42 at-bats. Sent back down to triple-A, the 24-year-old former No. 1 draft pick (by Milwaukee) hit .299/.388/.530 with 17 homers in 338 at-bats. Prior to his recall, LaPorta was hitting .333 with four homers and eight walks in his past 10 games.

With the trade-deadline deal that sent Ryan Garko to San Francisco, as well as the continued shoulder woes plaguing Travis Hafner, there are plenty of at-bats available for LaPorta if Cleveland wishes to plug him in at first base or designated hitter. The club also currently has just three outfielders on the big league roster – including LaPorta, whose third best position is probably left field (behind DH and 1B). With the club’s playoff hopes non-existent, there should be lots of time for LaPorta to audition for a regular gig in 2010, which he deserves regardless of how well he hits in the final five weeks of the season. Despite his earlier MLB troubles, LaPorta projects to be an offensive force in the Majors with the potential to hit 25-30 homers.

Given the state of the big-league club in 2009, Cleveland fans will probably have to endure a rebuilding effort in 2010. The club lacks the veteran presence on the roster to make a significant playoff push next year and the organization does not have the money needed to bring in high-priced free agent talent (not that a lot of it is available this winter). On the plus side, though, the team brought in a lot of young, affordable talent at the trade deadline and now quite possibly has one of the top three minor league systems in all of baseball.

Some of the prospects that should be ready to contribute in 2010 include: catchers Carlos Santana and Lou Marson, infielders Wes Hodges and Jason Donald, outfielder Michael Brantley, and pitchers Hector Rondon, Carlos Carrasco, and perhaps Scott Barnes. The 2011 season should see another wave of key prospects reach the Majors, such as third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, as well as pitchers Nick Hagadone, Bryan Price, and Jeanmar Gomez. The 2009 season has been a disappointing one, and 2010 will probably be equally as tough, but the future is bright for the Indians.

And one final thought: Free Jordan Brown.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

25 Responses to “There is Hope on the Horizon in Cleveland”

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  1. gnomez says:

    Hagadone looks closer than 2011. I could see him making a run at a rotation spot as early as next year.

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  2. tribescribe says:

    Amen on Jordan Brown, brother! He may not hit enough to hold down a corner but he can rake! Who wouldn’t want a LH bat like his off the bench? Profiles a lot like Mark Grace, no?

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    • scott says:

      A bench bat profiling like Mark Grace? The Indians would be lucky to have a bench bat profiling like Mark Loretta at this point…

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      • tribescribe says:

        Allow me to clarify.

        Brown (AA) Age 23 – .333/.421/.484, 36 2B, 2 3B, 11 HR
        Grace (AA) Age 23 – .333/???/.545, 29 2B, 8(!) 3B, 17 HR

        If Jordan Brown’s upside is Mark Grace, he’d take it happily. But as an underpowered OBP guy whose only positions are 1B/LF/DH, he’s probably better suited to the bench.

        Maybe he’s more like Pat Tabler.

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      • Philabuster says:

        Actually, I believe the Mark you were looking for to complete that punchline was Mark Bellhorn.

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  3. tribescribe says:

    gnomez: don’t know how the Tribe could ask Hagadone, with only 68 IP in the pros and one surgery, to step into the rotation next year. Let’s let this one mature a bit, shall we?

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  4. aj says:

    Plus Anthoney Reyes should return next year.

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  5. JoeyO says:

    @ tribescribe

    Actually, Brown doesn’t really compare to Grace that well. Grace had an amazing eye in the minors, with a truly sickening BB/K rate that topped 2/1 in both of his full seasons. He basically never struck out, with 28 Ks over 465 AB in 86 (Single-A) as a 22 YO, and 24 Ks over 453 AB in 87 (Double-A) at the age of 23. Really, that’s like Juan Pierre with twice the Walks and of course, he had about twice the power to go with it. Specifically, the percentages are

    22 Grace, 11.4% BB, 6.4% K, 2.14 BB/K, 94% CT, .178 ISO (Straight-A)
    23 Grace, 9.6% BB, 5.6% K, 2.00 BB/K, 95% CT, .212 ISO (Double-A)

    22 Brown, 9.7% BB, 14.3% K, .86 BB/K, 88% CT, .179 ISO (High-A)
    23 Brown, 11.5% BB, 13.1% K, 1.13 BB/K, 85% CT, .151 ISO (Double-A)
    24 Brown, 7.7% BB, 19.0% K, .52 BB/K, 84% CT, .136 ISO (Triple-A)
    25 Brown, 6.5% BB, 17.7% K, .46 BB/K, 85% CT, .195 ISO (Triple-A)

    Your second name might be a little better comparison

    23 Tabler, 12.1% BB, 18.3% K, .89 BB/K, 85% CT, .213 ISO (Double-A)
    24 Tabler, 11.5% BB, 26.1% K, .63 BB/K, 79% CT, .199 ISO (Triple-A)
    25 Tabler, 16.2% BB, 16.2% K, 1.15 BB/K, 83% CT, .238 ISO (Triple-A)

    You can see Tabler had more patience and power, but its at least closer.

    The absolute best comparison I can come up with might not be encouraging for you since you are an Indian Fan and probably remember the guy. This is the two-year AAA Run of your once super-prospect Mark Lewis over ages 23-24 verses the two-year AAA Run by Brown at 24-25.

    Lewis, 4.6% BB, 17.4%K, .56 BB/K, 85% CT, .157 ISO (835 AB)
    Brown, 7.2% BB, 18.4% K, .50 BB/K, 84% CT, .163 ISO (779 AB)

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    • JoeyO says:

      Sorry, screwed that up slightly somehow. Here are the corrected the Lewis/Brown lines

      Lewis, 7.6% BB, 14.9% K, .56 BB/K, 85% CT, 157 ISO (835 AB)
      Brown, 7.2% BB, 15.5% K, .50 BB/K, 84% CT, 163 ISO (779 AB)

      And had a flaw in the K% above making them slightly higher then they should have been, but they are close and the differntial stands.

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      • tribescribe says:

        @ JoeyO

        Thanks for the comparisons. Where did you get Grace’s full minor-league stats? Do you have a source online?

        And yikes, best comp is Mark Lewis? Not too promising when you’re a 1b/of who hits like a middle infielder.

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      • JoeyO says:

        @ tribescribe

        no problem. The full stats can be found on BBCube – or if you don’t know the site. They even sometimes have college stats, so it’s a great place to keep bookmarked incase it ever comes in handy.

        And yes, I kept looking and looking for a comparable BB, K and ISO guy, and he was the closest thing I could find.

        Here are the actual slash lines and counting stats to give you another comparison

        .274/.330/.431/.761, .295 BAbip, 229 H, 46 2B, 5 3B, 25 HR (835 AB)

        .304/.355/.467/.822, .338 BAbip, 237 H, 62 2B, 4 3B, 19 HR (779 AB)

        Then if you factor the slash line on both to an equal BAbip (.295 to match Lewis) you see this

        .268/.322/.431/.753 for Brown

        .274/.330/.431/.761 for Lewis.

        You can see that is amazingly close.

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  6. DocBrown says:

    Wes Hodges? Jordan Brown? How about Weglarz?

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  7. Marc says:

    Weglarz has nice potential… probably late 2010, or 2011 because of the contact issues.

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  8. While LaPorta gets much of the glamor and is a better “athlete” then Weglarz, I don’t think it should come as a surprise to see Nick become the superior Major Leaguer. Keep in mind that Weglarz came from a VERY small town in Southern Ontario where the majority of kids are playing hockey 3 days a week in the summer. Weglarz, for all intents and purposes, lines up nicely with fellow Canadian, Justin Morneau, and we see how his development took a fairly radical and unexpected turn as he continued to “learn” baseball. Jason Bay is in a similar boat. So I think once we see a normalized BABIP for Weglarz, he will be thought of in the same breath – if not slightly superior – to LaPorta.

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  9. MPC says:

    Wes Hodges is a prospect? 25 (in a few weeks) y.o. and he can’t hit AAA pitching?

    Maybe it’s small sample size noise (252 AB) but he hasn’t performed very well at all. Not walking, striking out a ton. Not good signs.

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    • JoeyO says:

      He’s in his age 24 season, and is currently in just his 3rd year of professional baseball since he was a college draftee. He seems to be on the same pace as Garko, who was in the bigs by the end of his age 25 season. (which would be 2010 for Hodges)

      Also, it looks as though he missed about a month and a half due to some type of injury this season. That could be the reason for his lower numbers.

      Anyone know what the injury was?

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      • MPC says:

        So it probably just is the sample size. Thanks for the info.

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      • Tom says:

        Yeah, Hodges is a prospect. The bat is for real- performed very well in his first two years at Hi-A and AA. He does seem a bit injury prone though, had a stress fracture in his leg in his last college season and has suffered through hamstring and ankle problems in the past. This year it was his hand and shoulder (extended DL time) , so that probably explains the disappointing numbers. Not too sure he’ll be able to stay at 3B though, another 1B/DH bat to add to the Tribe’s stockpile!

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  10. Jay says:

    Jordan Brown is not a prospect, he’s just a poster boy for batting average enthusiasts, i.e., luddites. Sackmann has his OPS-MLE at 790, and hey, how’d you like a first baseman who can’t even hit 20 HR in the minors? Hey, you know what, I wouldn’t.

    Brandon (hey dude) is dead-on about Weglarz.

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  11. JoeyO says:

    You know, why is no mention of Beau Mills anywhere?

    I know he isnt having a fantastic season at AA this year, but he is projected to be a fairly bigtime slugger as far as I remember. And who knows if this years apparent struggles are more the result of a teaching philosophy. Ie. having him focus on breaking balls. The big difference in his performance this season seems to stem from a huge drop in LD% and subsequent jump in IF/FB.

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  12. MLBfan says:

    This should be a weekly/daily article…”Hope on the Horizon ___” for whatever rebuilding teams at the moment like Indians, O’s A’s, Royals,pirates etc. Teams with loaded farm systems that ccould see improvement into the next couple yrs

    Any thoughts on the A”s upcoming players? We’ve seen Anderson, Cahill, Mazzaro, Bailey, GIo etc. On the way, Wallace, Carter, Cardenas, Brown, Desme, Doolittle, Weeks, DOnaldson, Spencer, Green, etc for the next wave of players

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  13. Jay says:

    JoeyO, Mills was (or is) expected to be a very good hitter, but not a big power guy like LaPorta or Weglarz. I don’t really understand what you mean by a “failure of teaching philosophy” — if he can’t hit big-league breaking balls, he can’t be a major leaguer or even a good high minors hitter, just like a thousand toosly hitting prospects before him. It’s funny how you overlook the most obvious and likely cause of his drop-off — he’s facing better pitchers than ever before, and so far, he has not adjusted.

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    • JoeyO says:

      I didnt say “failure of teaching philosophy”, I said a “result of a teaching philosophy”. If he is swinging almost exclusively at breaking pitches, his numbers will look lower then they should be but it would not be indicative of what he can do against superior pitching – just show what he can do against breaking balls specifically. He had a rather large drop in both BB and K %, so it sure looks like he is trying to make more contract. But that contract is resulting in a large number of pop-ups, with his LD% destroyed. It sure seems like there is a change in his approach, not a difficulty hitting harder pitching as you claim is the likely reason.

      I dont care either way, my only interest lies in the fact that a team I was possibly making a deal with in my full-minors keeper league has him on his roster. But, to me, looking at the dropping K% says something other then better pitchers is probably going on.

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