By now, fans are well aware
that the Indians will continue to steadily use their farm system as
a pipeline for young talent to help the big league club. As current
players on the Indians roster near free agency, the Indians will need
alternatives other than free agency and trades to turn to.
Because of this, over the course
of the 2007 season Indians fans will likely be exposed to several young
Indians prospects. Some will be familiar as they may have played
at some time in 2006 with the Indians, and some will be seen for the
first time. The hope is that with the Indians expecting to contend,
the Indians will not need to turn to their farm system for help, but
injuries and performance issues always crop up during a season for just
about every team. When these issues surface, the Indians will
turn to a healthy stable of prospects that they have stashed away in
Back in late-November, TheClevelandFan.com’s
inaugural Top 35 Prospect list was unveiled. But, a lot of these
prospects will not even sniff the majors this year. Instead, the
prospect listing below is not necessarily the Top 11 in the Indians
system as far as talent goes, but are the Top 11 prospects who are major
league ready (or close to it) with the highest likelihood of being called
up, ranked from #1 (most likely) to #11 (least likely):
(Note: Fausto Carmona RHP,
Shin-Soo Choo OF, Joe Inglett IF, and Franklin Gutierrez OF were not
considered for this article. While they will be in Buffalo and
most likely be the first players the Indians call-up when a need arises,
these players are no longer considered prospects because they have lost
their rookie status.)
1. Rafael Perez LHP
Perez is one of the Indians
top left-handed pitchers in the system. Last year, Perez went
a combined 4-8 with a 2.76 ERA and held opposing batters to a .213 BAA
in 25 appearances (12 starts) at Akron and Buffalo. In brief action
with Cleveland, Perez was 0-0 with a 4.38 ERA in the 12.1 innings he
pitched, and he held batters to a .204 BAA. Perez throws a powerful
92-94 MPH live fastball with great action, and his slider is rated as
the best in the entire system, which many scouts feel will be a devastating
pitch in a major league bullpen. Reportedly, he will begin the
season in the Buffalo starting rotation, but the Indians have a great
need for young left-handed relief pitching this year and beyond. With
how dominant he has been against lefties the past few seasons, and the
Indians need for a second lefty in the bullpen, Perez will get several
opportunities with the Indians in such a role throughout 2007.
2. Tom Mastny RHP
Mastny is yet another relief
option the Indians will have stashed away at Buffalo this year.
Last year was his first season as a full-time reliever and he blossomed
in the role going a combined 2-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 36 games at Akron
and Buffalo, and after being called up to Cleveland pitched impressively.
What Mastny lacks in stuff he makes up for with good arm action and
deception in his delivery. He throws strikes and handles himself
well on the mound, which are probably two of the biggest keys to success
as a bullpen pitcher. Mastny will likely get the call sometime
this season as the need for bullpen help arises because of injury or
the Indians need a fresh arm in the bullpen for a few days.
3. Juan Lara LHP
Lara is another left-hand relief
option the Indians may turn to quickly this season. Last year,
Lara went 5-3 with 8 saves and a 2.77 ERA in 53 combined relief appearances
at Akron and Buffalo. Lara was also impressive in his short stint
in Cleveland, going 0-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 9 appearances. Lara’s
durability makes him very attractive, especially as a lefty specialist.
He throws a 92-94 MPH fastball, and compliments it with a nice low to
mid 80s slider. While he is still developing his changeup, it
proved to be an effective pitch for him last season. Like Perez,
Lara undoubtedly will get a few looks as a lefty in the pen with the
Indians this season. If the Indians are steadfast on keeping Perez
in the Buffalo rotation, Lara may be the first lefty reliever they turn
4. Eddie Mujica RHP
In two years, Mujica has gone
from a struggling starting pitcher to a flourishing reliever and one
of the Indians top bullpen prospects. Last year, Mujica went 4-1
with 13 saves and a 1.57 ERA in 34 combined appearances at Akron and
Buffalo. Mujica features a mid 90s fastball which he locates very
well, a good mid-to-high 80s slider, and a nasty split-finger fastball
he developed last year. He is fearless on the mound with excellent
physical and mental makeup, and also has outstanding durability to handle
multiple appearances. His confidence and short-memory, to go along
with his fearless mentality and pitching abilities, make him a natural
fit for a backend bullpen role. While he likely will not make
the team outright, he and Mastny will be the first right-handed relievers
the Indians call on when a need arises for a fresh arm or to fill in
for an injured pitcher.
5. Brian Slocum RHP
Slocum bounced around from
starter to reliever and back to starter last year. Last year at
Buffalo, Slocum went 6-3 with a 3.35 ERA and held opposing hitters to
a .227 BAA. Slocum seemed to find himself the second half of last
season as his pitching arsenal improved a lot where he now has a good
low-to-mid 90s fastball and above average changeup which make him effective.
He struggled in his first call to the big leagues, but some of it was
due to over-thinking and things speeding up on him. He will be
the Indians 7th starter in 2007, and should only see time
in Cleveland as a spot starter or if a rash of injuries befalls the
Indians starting rotation.
6. Wyatt Toregas C
After a disappointing 2005
campaign, Toregas bounced back in 2006 and re-established himself as
a good catching prospect. The Indians system is now loaded with
very good receivers, but Toregas is the one closest to the big leagues.
Last year, Toregas combined to hit .294/.366/.450 at Kinston and Akron.
Simply put, Toregas is a very good defensive catcher that can control
a running game who also happens to be a good hitter. Since the
Indians do not have a third catcher listed on the 40-man roster, in
the event Victor Martinez or Kelly Shoppach go down to injury and are
put on the disabled list, Toregas would likely have his contract purchased
and be called up by the Indians.
7. Ben Francisco OF
Last year at Buffalo, Francisco
put up another solid season hitting .278/.345/.454 with 17 HRs, 59 RBIs
and 25 stolen bases. Francisco's bat provides very good extra
base hit production, and he is a versatile defender who can play all
three outfield positions well. His speed is average, but he is
an excellent base-runner as his instincts on the base-paths lead to
many of his stolen bases. Francisco was rewarded with a spot on
the Indians 40-man roster this winter in large part due to his versatility
and productive bat. Now that he is on the 40-man roster, the option
clock is ticking and he is now a call-up away from Cleveland.
Francisco is not one of the Indians top prospects, but sometime in 2007
he could help the Indians if the need for a 4th outfielder
8. Tony Sipp LHP
Sipp is a power-armed pitcher
who has an impressive three-pitch arsenal that make him more than just
a matchup lefty, but instead a potential late-inning reliever.
He will go to Buffalo this year in a late-inning relief role and be
their closer. Last year, Sipp went 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 29 appearances
(4 starts) with 80 strikeouts in 60.1 IP with Akron. He has big-time
stuff, fronted by a 92-94 MPH fastball that grades out as a plus pitch,
and a devastating slider that grades out as a plus-plus pitch.
And, his changeup has taken big steps to being a very good weapon.
Sipp is not on the current 40-man roster and probably won’t make his
debut until sometime in 2008, but he is being fast-tracked and with
the Indians need for left-hand relief pitching Sipp could surprise and
be with the Indians by mid-season this year. Getting Sipp some
experience in 2007 at the major league level may be a good idea since
he is a serious candidate for the Indians closer’s job in 2008 and
9. JD Martin RHP
On a rehab assignment recovering
from Tommy John surgery, Martin finished last season 1-2 with a 2.03
ERA in 14 combined appearances (13 starts) at Mahoning Valley, Lake
County and Kinston. Martin will start this season in Akron, but
his previous experience at the Double-A level could move him up quickly
to Buffalo if he stays healthy and performs. After Adam Miller,
Martin is probably the most talented right-handed starter in the system
yet to appear in Cleveland. Martin throws three different fastballs
(a cutter, two-seamer and four-seamer) in the low 90s and has outstanding
control of them as well as the changeup and 12-6 curveball he throws.
Martin was recently added to the 40-man roster this off-season, so if
he remains healthy he potentially will be the Indians #8 starter this
season. He’ll likely be a September call-up unless a rash of
injuries to the starting staff forces him up earlier.
10. Asdrubal Cabrera SS
The Indians depth in the middle
infield in their farm system, particularly the upper levels, is pretty
thin. This was one of the big reasons the Indians traded Eduardo
Perez to Seattle for Cabrera last season. Last year, Cabrera hit
a combined .249/.310/.349 with 4 HRs, 36 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in
112 games in the Mariners and Indians system. What Cabrera lacks
offensively, Cabrera more than makes up for defensively as he is a gold-glove
caliber shortstop who has excellent hands, footwork and very good accuracy.
Cabrera was the youngest player in all of Triple-A last year, so when
he returns to Buffalo this year the focus will be on developing his
bat and approach at the plate. Cabrera most likely will not factor
into the Indians roster until 2008, but if Peralta continues to struggle
or gets hurt, Cabrera may be given a shot this year.
11. Adam Miller RHP
Miller is the crème de la
crème as far as prospects go in the Indians system. Last year,
Miller was 100% healthy and put up a great season at Akron, going 15-6
with a 2.75 ERA as well as tallying up 161 strikeouts in 158.1 IP.
Even though his velocity is down a little, he still consistently cranks
his fastball up to 96 MPH late into games. In addition to that,
he has developed his secondary pitches and has become more of a pitcher
rather than thrower. Miller is the prize of the organization,
and Shapiro has a penchant to coddle his prized-prospects. Add
to it that Miller is not on the Indians 40-man roster, and it is safe
to say that barring a major rash of injuries or poor performance from
the Indians starters, Miller won’t be in Cleveland until at the earliest
as a September call-up. His ETA is most likely April 2008 as the
Indians 5th starter.
Brad Snyder OF, Trevor Crowe OF, Brian Barton OF, Mike Rouse IF