My 2009 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More book is now available. Click on the hyperlink for all the details, and to order it just go to my website and click on the form to the top right to complete the order with a check or credit card. If you wish to send a check or money order by US Mail, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will verify the order and provide my full mailing address for you so send payment. We continue today with #20-16 in the Indians Top 100 Prospect Countdown. Here are the earlier rankings: 100. Brian Juhl (C) 99. Brad Hinkle (RHP) 98. Mark Thompson (SS) 97. Adam Davis (C/INF) 96. Adam White (OF) 95. Jerad Head (INF/OF) 94. Brock Simpson (1B/OF) 93. Ryan Blair (OF) 92. Dustin Realini (INF/OF) 91. Shawn Nottingham (LHP) 90. Cirilo Cumberbatch (OF) 89. Michael McGuire (RHP) 88. Sung-Wei Tseng (RHP) 87. David Roberts (RHP) 86. Jason Smit (INF) 85. Marty Popham (RHP) 84. Jose Constanza (OF) 83. Adam Abraham (INF) 82. Isaias Velasquez (2INF) 81. Gary Campfield (RHP) 80. Heath Taylor (LHP) 79. Rich Rundles (LHP) 78. Dallas Cawiezell (RHP) 77. Robbie Alcombrack (C) 76. Carlos Moncrief (RHP) 75. Nate Recknagel (C/1B) 74. Karexon Sanchez (INF) 73. Roman Pena (OF) 72. Kyle Landis (RHP) 71. John Drennen (OF) 70. Todd Martin (1B) 69. Santo Frias (RHP) 68. Michael Finocchi (RHP) 67. Kevin Rucker (OF) 66. Matt Meyer (LHP) 65. Bo Greenwell (OF) 64. Paolo Espino (RHP) 63. Jonathan Holt (RHP) 62. Vinnie Pestano (RHP) 61. Kevin Dixon (RHP) 60. Randy Newsom (RHP) 59. Chris Nash (1B) 58. Carlton Smith (RHP) 57. Lucas Montero (OF) 56. Steven Wright (RHP) 55. Michael Aubrey (1B) 54. Delvi Cid (OF) 53. Clayton Cook (RHP) 52. T.J. McFarland (LHP) 51. Wyatt Toregas (C) 50. Chris Jones (LHP) 49. Chen-Chang Lee (RHP) 48. Matt Brown (OF) 47. Ryan Edell (LHP) 46. Neil Wagner (RHP) 45. Danny Salazar (RHP) 44. Jared Goedert (2B/3B) 43. Josh Judy (RHP) 42. Jeremie Tice (3B) 41. Joey Mahalic (RHP) 40. Erik Stiller (RHP) 39. Ryan Morris (LHP) 38. Mike Pontius (RHP) 37. Ryan Miller (LHP) 36. Frank Herrmann (RHP) 35. Bryce Stowell (RHP) 34. Stephen Head (1B/OF) 33. Chuck Lofgren (LHP) 32. Trey Haley (RHP) 31. Rob Bryson (RHP) 30. Tim Fedroff (OF) 29. Matt McBride (C) 28. Eric Berger (LHP) 27. Alexander Perez (RHP) 26. Cord Phelps (2B)25. Jeanmar Gomez (RHP)24. Josh Rodriguez (SS/2B)23. Zach Putnam (RHP)22. Josh Tomlin (RHP)21. Trevor Crowe (OF)20. Jordan Brown - First BasemanBorn: 12/18/1983 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 205 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left(due to a formatting issue, Jordan Brown's stats are listed at the bottom of this page)History: Brown was a 4th round pick in the 2005 Draft out of the University of Arizona. After a very slow start in 2006 at advanced Single-A Kinston where he hit .232 with 0 HR and 9 RBI in the first 28 games that season, Brown settled in to finish the season hitting .290 with 15 HR, 87 RBI and an .831 OPS and won the Carolina League MVP Award. At Double-A Akron in 2007 his .333 batting average won him a league batting title and his second consecutive league MVP award, this time in the Eastern League. Brown's back-to-back MVP seasons in 2006 and 2007 are only rivaled by Victor Martinez as he won the Carolina League MVP in 2001 and the Eastern League MVP in 2002 in successive years just like Brown. Brown was also the Topps Carolina League Player of the Year in 2006 and Topps Eastern League Player of the Year in 2007.
Strengths & Opportunities: Brown is a pure hitter with incredible hand-eye coordination and a passion for hitting. He is a persistent hitter who is a tough out and one of the best hitters in minor league baseball at bat-to-ball ability and making hard, consistent contact. He is a very disciplined hitter and gets on-base at a very good clip, and has an amazing ability to put up consistent numbers from month to month. He has good gap power and piles up doubles, and his bat profiles well in the majors where he projects to be a high average hitter with the ability to hit 15-20 HR a year. Scouts rave about his sweet swing and approach at the plate and consider him a major league ready hitter right now. One scout even compared him to a Kevin Youkilis type from the left side of the plate because of how tough of an out he is, although he is typically compared to players who more fit his profile like Sean Casey, Mark Grace, and John Olerud because of the good gap power, sweet swing, and ability to hit for average.
Brown is one of the hardest workers in the system as he is not gifted with great physical abilities, but his outstanding work ethic and intelligence help make up for it. He came into the system as a below average first baseman, but has become a good defensive first baseman which is a testament to his strong work ethic and athleticism. He moves around the bag well, has good footwork, and reacts well to balls hit to him. While he has mostly played first base throughout his college and professional career, he did play outfield for one season at Kinston in 2006. He is a below average outfielder, but his flexibility to adequately play both first base and outfield will help him down the road at making a big league team. While he only has average speed, his intelligence as a person and runner helps him get good jumps to steal bases and take extra bases on hits.
The big red flag with Brown in his four year career has been his propensity to get injured. Shortly after signing with the Indians in 2005, he suffered a hand injury which limited him to only 19 games at short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley. He played through an injury in to his left knee for the last four months of the season at Akron in 2007 where he had scar tissue and bone chips in his knee causing pain, but opted to play through the season and have arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. The knee acted up again last year early in the season at Triple-A Buffalo as he missed almost three weeks with patellar tendonitis to his left knee, and it seemed to really hinder him the rest of the season and it showed in his numbers. The injury was an annoyance and at times the pain was unbearable, which took away some of the power in his swing to where he could not sit on his back leg when he swung and consistently drive the ball.
Adopting an approach at the plate like Brown has is very rare as few players have the ability to put the bat on the ball at a consistent rate like he does. He actually came into the Indians system sort of as a hacker, and it wasn't until after his first year in the system he understood the value of getting good pitches to hit. He understands that he can not do damage early in the count with marginal pitches, and he has developed into one of the best strike zone managers in baseball. What holds him back is as a corner guy he does not possess the big bat teams typically like to see play there, but if you can hit you will play somewhere and with his outstanding bat-to-ball ability the Indians or someone else will find room for him. Going forward, there is not a lot he needs to do as a hitter as he really just needs to continue working on putting up consistent at bats and get better at learning to understand and identify the way opposing pitchers are pitching to him. The Indians want him to continue working on his defense at first and improve on becoming more fluid in his movement around the bag. They will also continue to work on his first step quickness as well as his positioning with relay throws from the outfield. He also needs to improve as a base-runner by reading pitchers to get better jumps on the bases. That all said, his main focus will be to stay healthy, and if he does that while making these minor improvements, he could be a very solid major leaguer for a long time.
Outlook: Brown embodies exactly what the Indians lineup needs. While the Indians could use a little more thump in the lineup with a big power bat, probably their biggest need is for a hitter that hits around .300 who can consistently put the bat on the ball. He got a hard dose of reality this offseason when he not only was not rostered by the Indians, but also not picked up in the Rule 5 Draft. In all, 2008 was certainly not his year with the injuries and the disappointing offseason he went through, but he is as strong-willed as they come and extremely mentally tough. He is on a mission to come back strong this year and prove the doubters wrong, and his determination could pay off with a big rebound year. He should open the 2009 season as the regular first baseman at Triple-A Columbus.19. T.J. House - Left-handed PitcherBorn: - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 215 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
Strengths & Opportunities: It is easy to see why the Indians like House so much and felt it necessary to sign him because even though he is raw he is very skilled and projectable as a pitcher. He is a physically advanced (6'2", 215 lbs) left hander with two plus pitches, a low 90s above average heavy fastball with good tailing action and an excellent slider in the mid 80s with depth and late break. He has very good arm strength to where his velocity should continue to increase as he matures. He also has a curve which is often confused with his slider, but may be dropped since it lacks much separation from his slider which really is more of a power slurve anyway. He has begun work on a changeup which is a work in progress. He mixes up his speeds and pitches well and has good command of the zone at an early age.
House has to learn how to pitch in professional baseball, but he has all the tools to develop rapidly. He already has sufficient "stuff" to become a late inning relief pitcher. While he has a smooth delivery, he needs to work on location and develop a change of speed pitch. Cleveland's left-handed pitching prospects in the upper levels are more finesse pitchers, but he is not of the same mold as he comes right after batters anywhere in the strike zone. He is very athletic and is a competitor, and along with his strong build and abilities he has been comped to Mike Hampton by publications such as Baseball America. In high school, he stayed in great shape during the offseason by participating on the swim team and helped them win a state championship in 2006.
Outlook: Right now House projects at least to be a middle of the rotation starter with the potential to be a top of the rotation starter if he learns to better command the zone and develop that third pitch. He will open the 2009 season in extended spring training and will pitch for one of the short-season league teams later in the summer. If he stays healthy, he could be in Cleveland as soon as 2012.18. Chris Gimenez - CatcherBorn: 12/27/1982 - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 190 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right
Strengths & Opportunities: Gimenez is an athletic player who can play all over the field and do a lot of things. Without any injury setbacks the past two seasons, he has resurrected himself as a top hitting prospect in the system with very good power potential. He is a physically imposing specimen, and with his chiseled physique arguably may be the strongest player in the Indians system. He is one of the best makeup guys in the system, and his success the last two years has been the result of a lot of hard work in the cages. Last season he made a conscientious effort to focus on being more selective at the plate to allow him to get into better hitter's counts and improve his on-base percentage with more walks. His much improved plate discipline was helped by the Indians winter development program held at Progressive Field last January where after listening to instructors, coaches, front office personnel, and guest speakers it helped him adopt better strike-zone awareness and a penchant for drawing walks. Because of this hard work, his walk-rate has improved a lot to where he had the best walk-rate in the system last season.
In 2006, Gimenez was converted to a catcher, and the move to catcher has sort of made him a jack-of-all-trades in that he can play virtually anywhere on the field except the middle at center field, shortstop and second base. By concentrating just on catching it will allow him to better pick up the nuances of the game from behind the plate, and also help him maintain consistency when he steps into the batters box. From the start of spring training last year, he put a lot of extra work in before games with catching coordinator Tim Laker working on his mechanics, leaning with a pitch, and receiving the ball. He is still working through all the mechanical issues with being quick with his release and also making an accurate throw down to second to cut down a would be base-stealer. He has worked on has transfer-and-throw since he has more of an outfielder's throwing motion and it needed shortening up. He is extremely strong and durable with the ability to handle injuries and blows at the catching position, and he is a natural leader and has no problem taking charge in a clubhouse or game. While the Indians are committed to developing him as a catcher and believe he can handle the position, his best position is third base.
Gimenez still needs to work on staying down through the ball with his swing to generate more backspin when he connects. He has the tendency to get the bat in the right position, but he generates a lot of topspin because he does not follow through with his swing path which leads to him cutting it off and rotating his shoulders. If he starts to consistently generate more backspin on his hits, his home run and double totals will surely increase. He has done well in his conversion to catcher, and the final thing for him is to get more consistent throwing to second base to make sure that he can keep control of a running game. He also needs more work and experience with his game calling like reading swings and realizing when his pitcher does not have his best stuff.
Outlook: When he has been healthy, Gimenez has put up some very good numbers at the plate and proven to be very valuable. His toughness, durability, and skill with the bat is very intriguing. He has more than made a name for himself in a utility role, and now that he is on the 40-man roster - because of that versatility and his powerful bat - he could be a very valuable bench option for the Indians as a super utility player sometime this coming season or in 2010. He should open the 2009 season in Triple-A Columbus.17. Luis Valbuena - Second BasemanBorn: 11/30/1985 - Height: 5'10" - Weight: 200 - Bats: Left - Throws: Right
Strengths & Opportunities: Valbuena's biggest upside as a player is his bat, which is the main reason the Indians acquired him. He has a good approach at the plate, and has demonstrated good bat-to-ball ability with a quick bat with a nice line-drive stroke. He is not intimidated by anyone when he steps into the box and profiles as a top of the order hitter because of his ability to work counts, never give away an at bat, take walks, make consistent contact and showcase decent speed. Coming into last season he had shown the ability to control the strike zone throughout his minor league career from 2005-2007 with a 192-138 strikeout to walk ratio (1.4:1) and 6.3 AB/K ratio, and showed an improvement with his approach last season with a 6.6 AB/K ratio and 69-59 strikeout to walk ratio (1.2:1). He currently has doubles power and is a gap hitter, but he continues to get stronger which is a reason he saw his power numbers improve last year. While he is only considered an average runner, his overall game and ability has often been compared to Ray Durham and his physical look is a lot like Juan Uribe.
Valbuena has a reputation as being more of an offensive player, but he has dedicated himself the past few seasons in improving his defense. The fruits of his labor started to show last season as Seattle officials raved about his improvement on defense. He has now pushed himself up to a fringe above-average defensive second baseman that makes all the routine plays while displaying very good range, a strong arm, and the ability to make consistent, accurate throws. He works well around the bag showing good footwork and is mechanically sound turning the double play especially with his quick pivot. With his offensive and defensive skills, he should end up at worst as an average big league second baseman.
That said, Valbuena lacks really any versatility to play another position - much in the same vein as Josh Barfield - so at this point the only way he will make a roster is as a starter at second base and not as a bench option unless he is in some sort of platoon with another player at the position. There is also some concern about his body because of his very stocky build which could give him some problems with his weight down the road, but so far this has not been an issue for him.
Outlook: Valbuena's acquisition fills a huge void in the middle infield in the upper levels of the Indians minor league system. At the moment, after the acquisition of Mark DeRosa to fill out the big league infield, the plan for Valbuena is to open the season as the everyday second baseman in Triple-A Columbus. He still needs to be polished off, and has some development and upside left, but he provides the Indians good middle infield depth for this season and beyond and could potentially become the starting second baseman by the middle of the 2009 season.16. Tony Sipp - Left-handed PitcherBorn: 07/12/1983 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 190 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
Strengths & Opportunities: Sipp is a power-armed pitcher who has an impressive three-pitch arsenal. His stuff is big-time, fronted by a plus fastball and plus-plus slider that both grade out as out pitches at the major league level. His fastball has good movement and consistently sits in the 91-94 MPH range, although his quick arm action and excellent deception makes it look a lot faster. He is still developing a changeup and has a good feel for it, and even though he just started throwing it when he came into the organization the Indians feel it may end up being his best pitch. With the changeup, hitters can't sit on his slider and fastball, and the development of his changeup has pushed him into the upper echelon of elite relief prospects in the minors.
With three very good pitches, a player of Sipp's caliber would normally project as a starter, but the Indians love his potential as a dominant late-inning reliever. He gets a lot of swing and misses with all three of his pitches, and his deception in his delivery troubles right-handers who have a hard time picking up the ball out of his hand. He does not have a traditional left-handed delivery since he is a little bit open and therefore really attacks lefties and righties the same. He is also extremely athletic, and his athleticism allows him to consistently repeat his delivery well. He is very aggressive on the mound, and has amazing aptitude.
Sipp's career has been sidetracked the last two years as he did not pitch in 2007 after experiencing discomfort in his left elbow near the end of spring training and was shutdown for the first half of the season. An MRI in July 2007 found the UCL was no longer strained or even torn, but that he had a fracture near his UCL as it had pulled at the bone in his elbow that it was attached to until it eventually fractured which happens when the ligament is too strong or the bone too weak. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2007 and followed that up with a rigorous 11-month rehab and was back in game action in June 2008. He was pain free and spent the rest of the 2008 season on a very restricted throwing program. By the end of the season his return from Tommy John surgery had gone well as his velocity was back in the low 90s and he was touching 94 MPH with no setbacks or any pain. He came back stronger, pitched really well, and performed a lot better than the Indians expected him to.
Sipp was very close to 100% when the season ended, but early in the offseason reportedly started experiencing some discomfort in his shoulder which concerned the Indians enough to shut him down and they will re-evaluate him once he reports to spring training. If the shoulder issue is not serious and he is good to go once spring training starts, Sipp should be 100% with the elbow and completely recovered from the Tommy John surgery and be able to throw without any restrictions in 2009. He needs to prove he can stay healthy, as in addition to the elbow surgery and looming shoulder issue, he also missed two months in 2006 with an oblique injury and left elbow inflammation. Also, while he has made great strides with the changeup, he still is working on maintaining consistent command with it. He also is a little undersized, and lacks pinpoint control.
Outlook: Sipp's elbow injury really came at a bad time for him and the Indians in that he probably would have already made his major league debut and would be a fixture in the Indians big league bullpen by now. The Indians made some moves in the offseason to bolster their big league bullpen, but if Sipp is healthy he could factor into the big league bullpen mix by the middle of the season. He will open the 2009 season in the Triple-A Columbus bullpen.
Photos courtesy of Ken Carr except for T.J. House photo courtesty of Team USA BaseballUp Next: #15-11Jordan Brown Stats: