Sunday, February 7, 2010

TEAM #2 – Cleveland Indians

Santana appears poised to take on full-time duties in 2010

Our 2010 Prospect eGuide is only two days away. If you have enjoyed this series, then check out the details here: .

With the Cleveland Indians coming in at #2, at least for those of you paying attention, it makes #1 fairly obvious as well. So what’s the difference between the Top Two teams? Essentially it boils down to upside. While the Indians have tremendous organizational depth, primarily brought on through trades over the last two seasons, there is far more high-floor players in the organization than there are high-ceilings. That is the perfect recipe for long-term mediocrity—a direction that I believe the Indians have already set out on. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that you’ll find we are as high on their top three players as just about anyone. Additionally, unlike many organizations, the Indians have a number of players on the list (i.e. Santana, Rondon, Brantley, Weglarz, Carrasco, Marson, Todd, Brown, Donald, etc) that could very easily find their way to Cleveland this season. Their AAA affiliate in Columbus should be absolutely loaded. But you have to search hard to find anyone, outside of the top three prospects, that really stands out as a difference maker. There is tremendous depth here though, as there are more than twenty players on this list that would be in consideration for a Top Ten ranking in most organizations. And it’s a depth that extends throughout the system, as we will actually ‘rank’ more players in this system than any other. The problem that we have, is that although the Indians come in at #2 in our rankings, we are not tremendously optimistic about their future. Yes, the Indians have an expected Major League opening day roster that is likely to only contain three players older than 27yo on it, but how many of them project to be above average Major League players? Three? Four? The problem is systemic, and all points back to a philosophy—spearheaded by Mark Shapiro, of high-floor, but low-ceiling, players. If you go back through the 2005 draft, in what is supposed to be your main pipeline of Minor League talent, only 6 players that were selected between 2005-2007 are among the 25 player that earned a grade of ‘C+’ or better, or have exhausted their Minor League eligibility: Trevor Crowe (ML), Nick Weglarz (#6) and Jordan Brown (#23) from the 2005 class; David Huff(ML) and Matt McBride (#22) from the 2006 class; and Beau Mills (#15) from the 2007 class. To make matters worse, what was once one of baseball’s best Latin American efforts that has produced the likes of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Hector Rondon, Alex Perez, Carlos Rivero, Jeanmar Gomez and Abner Abreu has basically fallen silent the last couple of seasons. The Indians top two LatinAmerican signings this past summer (Jairo Kelly and Angel Hernandez) didn’t even rate among our top 30 available players. While we don’t expect the Indians to get significantly worse, it may be a long time before they break out of the .500 range.

Grade A

1) Carlos Santana, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 64; Speed38)

The Indians acquired Santana from the Dodgers in a trade for Casey Blake that still has us scratching our heads, as Santana was just blossoming with his new backstop duties, after being converted from third base. Since the trade, Santana has not only posted the Top Performance Score in the Carolina League (CAR) in 2008, and the #4 Score in the ESL this past season, he has improved his defense enough to where he is actually considered an asset behind the plate. A switch-hitter, Santana shows plus power potential, contact skills, and plate disciple skills—for any position on the diamond. As a catcher, these allow him to profile as a potentially all-star backstop for years. While not a speedster, Santana is rather athletic and should never be a base-clogger either. This Winter Santana broke the hamate bone in his right wrist. As we have written before, this injury, while not having long lasting impacts, can take as long as 12-18 months to completely heal—so don’t be surprised if Santana gets off to a slow start this season. He has only been catching for three seasons now and Cleveland isn’t going anywhere this season, so he can use some additional seasoning. Nonetheless, he will be Cleveland’s everyday backstop at some point in 2010.

2) Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 34; Discipline 55; Speed 39)

Heading into the 2007 College Baseball season, the South Carolina Gamecocks had 4 future Major Leaguers, including the Justin Smoak, James Darnell, and Reese Havens, but it was Chisenhall that was garnering the most attention, named by Baseball America as the pre-season Freshman of the year. Although Chisenhall was dismissed from the team and played at tiny Pitt C. C., it really should have come as no surprise when the Indians selected him toward the end of the first round in 2008, nor that he would blossom into a legitimate offensive force. Chisenhall posted the #3 Performance Score in the NYP in his 2008 debut, and followed it up with the #5 score in the CAR in 2009, before struggling in his late season promotion to the ESL. A converted shortstop, Chisenhall moves well for a third baseman, and has a solid arm. Offensively, he shows at least average power and solid plate discipline. Our only criticism is that he isn’t as patient as we would like, and, if he could learn to take a few more walks, he may develop into a premium third base bat. With the ceiling of an above average Major League third baseman, Chisenhall will return to AA to open up the 2010 season, and could be looking at a starting Big League job early in 2011.

3) Hector Rondon, RHP (2009 – Dominance 67; Stamina 69; HRrate 52; Control 74)
We have been following Rondon since he posted the #3 Performance Score in the DSL in 2005. The amazing thing to us is that he followed that up with the #2 score in the GCL in 2006, and the #6 score in the SAL in 2007, but it wasn’t until he posted the #3 score in the CAR in 2008 before people began to take him seriously as a prospect. This past season, he posted the #2 Performance Score in the ESL, and followed that up with the #6 score in the International League (INT)—despite a failed bullpen experiment that hurt his overall numbers. Oh…by the way…he won’t turn 22yo until the end of February. The knock against Rondon is that his only true weapon is a low-90s fastball, that may be a mid-90s offering by the time he finishes filling out. While his change is an average offering, he really doesn’t yet have a Major League caliber breaking pitch. This leads many to believe that he is destined for a bullpen role. Having followed Rondon closely for nearly five years, we can tell you his fastball is a plus-offering with tons of movement, and the even more impressive aspect is his plus-plus control. He has all the makings of a solid #2/#3 starter in the Big Leagues, and could get an opportunity in Cleveland sometime in 2010. In the meantime, he’ll open the year back in AAA.

Grade B+

4) Alex White, RHP -

White entered the 2009 college season as the third best player in the coming draft. However, an inconsistent season at North Carolina caused his stock to fall a bit. We still had him #6 on our draft board, and certainly believe he was a solid pick when the Indians tabbed him at #15. While White was inconsistent during the 2009 college season, his pure ‘stuff’ remained in evidence. This consists of a four-pitch repertoire that features a low- to mid-90s fastball and a plus sinker. He should be difficult to take out of the park. On the downside, White disappointed us this year with the ‘pitchability’ aspects of his game, often appearing disinterested on the mound. His command showed the lack of interest, as it was spotty at best. Cleveland had talked of converting him to a bullpen role, and that would certainly hurt his value, as he has front of the rotation potential. He’ll make his pro debut in the CAR in 2010, and we’ll have a lot more understanding of where he’ll end up by this time next year.

5) Michael Brantley, OF (2009 – Power 36; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 76; Speed 80)

Another prospect that the scouting community was late to arrive on, Brantley was a seventh round pick by the Brewers in the 2005 draft. The main knock against him is that he lacks the power to be an everyday corner OF, and the defense to excel as an everyday CF. Our take is that Brantley is an on-base machine, with plus contact, strike zone management and speed skills, who plays adequate defense in center or above average defense in left. When you couple that with a high baseball IQ, he can/should find an every day job in somebody’s outfield, and at the very worst, he could be an exceptional 4th outfielder type. Brantley will go to spring training hoping to win the starting LF job in Cleveland.

6) Nick Weglarz, LF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 41; Speed 36)

The Indians third round pick in 2005, Weglarz has had a solid, if unspectacular career. Since 2007 he has posted the #7 Performance Score in the SAL, the #3 Performance Score in the CAR, and the #10 Score in the ESL last season. At 6’3”, 245lbs, Weglarz possesses plus power and above average contact skills. While a patient hitter, he still strikes out more than we would like. Defensively, he doesn’t move exceptionally well and is limited to LF or 1B. But perhaps the biggest knock against Weglarz is his inability to remain healthy, as he has averaged only 260 ABs over his five professional seasons. Weglarz has the potential to become an above average offensive left fielder. Look for him to begin 2010 in AAA.

7) Jason Kipnis,2B/CF (2009 – Power 59; First Base Rate 72; Discipline 71; Speed 40)

In what is an obvious Indian trend, Kipnis is another of those players that doesn’t receive a lot of love from the scouting community. The main knock against him is that he isn’t likely fast enough for center field, and likely lacks the power for left. The Indians think they may have solved the problem, by preparing Kipnis for a job at second base, where his low-ceiling for an outfielder, would instantly become a solid ceiling as an above average offensive second baseman. What we know for sure is that Kipnis can make contact and get on base. He finished with the #9 Performance Score among draft eligible college players this spring, and we had him rated #30 on draft day, before the Indians selected him in the second round. While Kipnis does little exceptional, he is a hard-nosed, high instincts, player with average or above skills across the board. If he can stay at second base, it wouldn’t surprise us to see him in an all-star game or two. Expect Kipnis to begin the year in the CAR, and he could move rapidly.

8) Jason Knapp, RHP (2009 – Dominance 76; Stamina 63; HRrate 69; Control 29)

The Phillies second round pick in 2008, Knapp was in the midst of a breakout 2009 season when he was shut down with an arm injury midway through the season, before making four late season starts after being acquired by the Indians in the Cliff Lee deal. He also missed significant time due to injury during his 2008 debut, and had minor shoulder surgery this fall. Through all of this he did post the #3 Performance Score in the SAL this past season. With a mid-90s fastball and a curve that has plus potential, Knapp possesses two-thirds of what could be front of the rotation stuff. At 6’5”, 215lbs and only 19yo, there is still upside projection left. However, his change appears to be a fringe-average offering, his control is below average on a good day, and his injury questions are not insignificant. We believe that the combination may eventually necessitate a back of the bullpen role. Knapp will begin 2010 in the CAR, looking to put together a healthy season.

9) Nick Hagadone, LHP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 37; HRrate 78; Control 29)

Hagadone was part of the bounty that the Indians received in the Victor Martinez trade. A sandwich pick in 2007, Hagadaone has pitched only 79 innings over three professional seasons, which has already included a Tommy John surgery. When healthy, he uses a mid-90s fastball to setup what is possibly a plus-plus slider. Although he has a change that shows promise, he has yet to use it much. He also does a great job at pitching down in the zone, allowing but one home run thus far in his career. On the downside, Hagadone has always struggled with his control, and 2009 was no exception. While he has the ceiling of a front of the rotation stud, he may profile better as a lights out closer. Now 24yo, Hagadone will begin 2010 in the CAR, but, if he can stay healthy, he should move rapidly.

Grade B

10) Carlos Carrasco, RHP (2009 – Dominance 67; Stamina 72; HRrate 36; Control 61)

We have never been as high on Carrasco, as have some, mainly because we see him as a fastball/change pitcher, with fringy breaking stuff and spotty control. In the seven stops where he has pitched enough innings to qualify he has posted Performance Scores of #6, #28, #3, #11, #23, #6 and #7—solid numbers, but certainly not representative of his sometimes lofty ‘rankings’. While his control was solid in 2009, it has ranged from the average to the abysmal in the past. While he certainly possesses Major League potential, it isn’t likely any higher than mid-rotation level—and his floor could very well be that of a middle reliever. The Indians will give Carrasco every opportunity to earn a rotation spot this spring—we just feel they have better long-term options, so Carrasco could be on the move once again.

11) Carlos Rivero, SS (2009 – Power 40; First Base Rate 48; Discipline 68; Speed 37)

After posting the #12 Performance Score in the CAR, with a breakout performance in 2008, Rivero regressed a bit last season, as he got off to a horrific start and posted the #20 Performance score in the ESL. His second half was markedly better—as was his performance in the AZFL this fall. Defensively, Rivero has the arm, instincts and hands to stay at shortstop, but already at 6’3”, 210lbs, he may have to move off of the position. This would be no insignificant move, as his potentially average bat skills at shortstop would have difficulty holding down a full-time job at another position. So while he may have the ceiling of an average everyday Major League short stop, the floor is not significantly high. Look for Rivero to return to the ESL to open 2010, but he is likely to be in AAA before the season’s end.

12) Jeanmar Gomez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 52; Stamina 72; HRrate 43; Control 64)

Gomez had posted Performance Scores of #3, #12 and #7 in the previous three seasons, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a shock as it apparently did when he threw a perfect game this past season—one that seemed to awaken the prospect world to his existence. In the end he finished with the #9 Performance Score in the ESL. Gomez has a three-pitch repertoire that features a low-90s fastball, and potentially average secondary offerings. While he commands his pitches well, none of them are punch-out offerings. Not a pitcher with tremendous upside, Gomez could have a solid career as a back of the rotation starter. Likely to open the 2010 season as a barely 22yo in AAA, increases the ‘certainty’ of making that happen.

13) Alex Perez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 60; Stamina 65; HRrate 43; Control 58)

Perez jumped on our radar screen with a #13 Performance score in the DSL in 2007. Since coming to the states, he posted a #15 Performance Score in the GCL in his 2008, and the #21 score in the SAL this past season. At 20yo, and 6’2”, 155lbs, there is reason to believe he could add another tick or two to his high-80s fastball and make it a playable offering. With a plus curve and potentially above average change, there is also reason to believe that he could develop into a #3/#4 starter with additional maturation. The downside, is that he lacks a true out pitch, and if he doesn’t gain increased strength, his ‘stuff’ isn’t likely to play on the big stage. Expect Perez to return to the CAR to open the 2010 season.

Grade B-

14) Beau Mills, 1B (2009 – Power 61; First Base Rate 33; Discipline 58; Speed 33)

The 13th overall pick in the 2007 draft has had a relatively disappointing career, falling outside of his League’s Top 30 Performance Scores in both 2007 and last season. However, he did post the #12 score in the CAR in 2008, on his way to earning League MVP honors, so we aren’t ready to write him off quite yet. Mills has the potential for above average power and strike zone management skills, but he tends to get pull-happy and doesn’t make the contact that we would like. Possessing very little speed and limited defensive abilities, Mills’ bat will have to carry him if he is to have a Big League career. Our concern is that he hasn’t shown the kind of offensive prowess to be successful as a LF/1B/DH type, putting his ceiling rather low. Look for Mills to begin 2010 in AAA, where he is going to have to show more.

15) Scott Barnes, LHP (2009 – Dominance 61; Stamina 70; HRrate 27; Control 53)

The Indians picked up Barnes from the Giants in the Ryan Garko deal. He was an 8th round pick in 2008, who has put together a rather successful beginning to his career. Pitching well when the Indians acquired him, Barnes posted the #9 Performance Score in the CAL. Not a high-ceiling guy, Barnes has a 90Mph fastball and above average change, to go along with fringe-average breaking stuff. He typically controls all of his pitches rather well—despite an awkward delivery. His best attribute is a high baseball IQ, with advanced pitchability. While Barnes is likely to never be more than a solid back of the rotation starter, we like his ‘certainty’ quotient of achieving it. Look for Barnes to return to AA to open up 2010.

16) Jess Todd, RHP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 26; HRrate 65; Control 67)

Todd was the ‘other’ reliever that the Indians acquired in the Mark DeRosa deal last summer. Originally a second round pick by the Cardinals in 2007, Todd has a low-90s fastball and above average slider—of which he both controls well and is able to keep them down in the zone. Todd doesn’t profile to be more than a set-up guy, but he is another of the low-ceiling, high-floor type that permeates the Indians system. Todd will have a chance for a bullpen job in spring training, and should spend the bulk of the year with the big league club.

17) Abner Abreu, RF (2009 – Power 70; First Base Rate 37; Discipline 35; Speed 36)

Abreu looked poised for a breakout 2009 campaign after posting the #8 Performance Score in the 2007 DSL and the #10 Score in the GCL in 2008. However, his SAL season was cut short when he injured his shoulder shortly before the all-star break. Abreu is an over-aggressive hitter that shows plus power potential, and very little patience at the plate. Defensively, he shows average range and a plus arm, making him an ideal fit for right field. While Abner is one of the higher ceiling players in the system, he will have to improve his pitch recognition skills, take more pitches, and cut down on his 23% strikeout rate if he is to succeed. Look for Abner to return to the SAL to begin 2010.

18) T.J. House, LHP (2009 – Dominance 42; Stamina 69; HRrate 51; Control 44)
The Indians were able to take House in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, and signed him by paying him second round money. Only 19 for the entire 2009 season, House posted a Top 25 Performance Score in the SAL, in his debut. With a 90MPH fastball, an average slider, and above average change, House succeeds with precocious pitchability. The downside is that none of his skills, other than makeup, project as above average, making his ceiling likely that of a back of the rotation starter. He offers little in the way of additional projection, and he still needs to tighten up his command. House will move up to the CAR to open the 2010 season.

19) Lou Marson, C (2009 – Power 32; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 53; Speed 48)

Marson may be the poster child for the low-ceiling high floor types, as his solid receiving skills and above average contact and plate discipline skills, make him a virtual lock as a Major League backup catcher. However, with no speed, and very limited power, there is little chance for him to be a regular with a first division club. Marson is the favorite to win the opening day backstop job, but at some point this season, Carlos Santana will become the Tribe’s everyday catcher.

20) Kelvin de la Cruz, LHP -

A breakout 2008, when he posted the #7 Performance Score in the SAL, put de la Cruz on the prospect map, and he looked poised to build upon it this past season before elbow soreness shut him down early in the season. He did make a couple of late season starts in the AZL, and threw in instructional, were the reports were mixed. The Indians are hoping to have him back by spring training, but we remain cautious. When healthy, de la Cruz possesses as much upside as perhaps any pitcher in the system. His low 90s fastball and potentially plus curve give him two solid offerings and while his change is developing, it shows potential. His ceiling is that of a front of the rotation starter, however, the injury issue, merely average control, and the lack of a capable change could spell a bullpen role. Health is the first issue to deal with and de la Cruz will have his chance back in the CAR in 2010.

21) Matt McBride, LF (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 40; Discipline 76; Speed 34)

McBride was the Indian’s sixth round pick in 2005, who looked well on his way to a potential big League career after he posted a Top 10 Performance Score in the NYP in 2006. But lack of improvement in a shoulder that required surgery after the 2007 season has significantly diminished his value. McBride has consistently shown the ability to hit. This past season he posted the #4 Performance Score in the CAR and a top 30 score in the ESL. His best skill is a plus approach to strike zone management, but he also shows above average power potential and average contact skills. The problem for McBride is where he will play, as he is a below average outfield defender, and his overall offensive game is less than average at 1B or DH. This makes McBride likely to never develop into more than a backup type player. At 24yo, this becomes a pivotal season for McBride. Look for him to begin it in AAA.

22) Clayton Cook, RHP
(2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 70; HRrate 60; Control 46)

After posting a rather non-descript debut in 2008, after signing with the Indians as the 9th round pick, Cook began to put it all together this past season as he posted the #3 Performance Score in the NYP. With a low-90s fastball and average curve, Cook shows potential, as he seems poised and knows how to pitch down in the zone. The biggest knocks against Cook are that he is raw mechanically, and despite being 6’3”, 175lbs, his body seems ‘soft’, so there are questions as to the degree of additional projection. Only 19yo, Cook should get his first taste of full season A-ball to begin 2010.

23) Jordan Brown, 1B (2009 – Power 72; First Base Rate 59; Discipline 65; Speed 34)

Brown, the Indians 4th round pick from 2005 is another low-ceiling type, who has never quite been able to repeat his 2007 season when he posted the #4 Performance Score in the ESL. While his 2009 season was strong, it only ranked #17 in the INT. With potentially average power, and plus contact and strike zone management skills, Brown possesses an intriguing bat. However, he is slow and defensively challenged—even at first base. There is likely enough bat here to imagine the possibility of Brown winning a full-time role with a second division club, but the reality is that he is never likely to be more than a platoon/part-time player. The Indians will give Brown every opportunity to win a roster spot this spring, but another season in AAA looks to be his likely destination.

24) Zach Putnam, RHP (2009 – Dominance 67; Stamina 41; HRrate 69; Control 65)

The Indians drafted Putnam in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, and signed him to late second round money. We still find that somewhat puzzling, because his four-pitch repertoire, while rather advanced, doesn’t have a true swing-and-miss pitch in the bunch. He mainly thrives on a low-90s fastball/plus sinker, combination. In general his secondary offerings offer hope, but this is a 22yo without significant remaining projection. His 2009 ESL Performance ranked 20th. While there is enough here for the upside of a back of the rotation starter, we feel that Putnam’s likely destination is in relief—likely as a middle reliever. Putnam is likely to return to AA to begin 2010.

25) Jason Donald, SS (2009 – Power 38; First Base Rate 32; Discipline 29; Speed 68)

Donald is another former Phillies’ prospect whom the Indians acquired in the Cliff Lee deal. He is also another low-ceiling prospect that the rest of the world seems to like far more than we do, as we see below average power and strike zone management skills, with only average contact and speed. Defensively he is likely a below average shortstop, and is better suited for second base. When you put the entire package together it comes out as a ceiling of a below average offensive Major League second baseman or as a decent utility infielder. This is further supported by his #20 Performance Score in the 2008 ESL, and outside of the Top 30 score this past season in the INT. The only thing that looks promising is his opportunity, as he will get a long look this spring.

Grade C+ Prospects –
26) Tonny Sipp, LHP; 27) Hector Ambriz, RHP; 28) Bo Greenwll, LF; 29) Josh Judy, RP: 30) Jason Smit, 1B; 31) Jesus Aguilar, 1B; 32) Eric Berger, LHP; 33) Tim Fedroff, CF; 34) Cord Phelps, 2B; 35) Delvi Cid, CF; 36) Chen-Chang Lee, RP; 37) Jordan Henry, OF; 38) Roberto Perez, C; 39) Connor Graham, RHP; 40) Kyle Bellows, 3B; 41) Autin Adams, RHP; 42) Wes Hodges, 3B: 43) Trey Haley, RHP.

Grade C Prospects –

Cristo Arnal; Brett Brach; Cory Burns; Ben Carlson; Chun-Hsui Chen; John Drennen; Paolo Espino; Joe Gardner; Jared Goedert; Preston Guilmet; Angel Hernandez; Chris Jones; Jairo Kelly; Adam Miller; Alex Monsalve; Ryan Morris; Vinnie Pestano; Yohan Pino; Mike Pontius; Marty Popham; Bryan Price; Dioris Robles; Nick Sarianides; Bryce Stowell; Mitch Talbot; Giovanny Urshela; Donnie Webb.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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