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.For those that missed it, I was on the program All Bets Are Off on the Indians cable network SportsTime Ohio last Friday March 6th. I DVRed the show and made a recording of the DVR playback with my digital video camera and uploaded it to You Tube. So, if you are interested in seeing it, click here. We talked for about 35 minutes covering two segments and touched on a myriad of prospects.We continue today with #15-11 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 (1B)19. T.J. House (LHP)18. Chris Gimenez (C)17. Luis Valbuena (2B)16. Tony Sipp (LHP)15. Abner Abreu - Third BasemanBorn: 10/24/1989 - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 170 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right
Strengths & Opportunities: Abreu probably has some of the best raw power in the entire organization, and as he grows into his big frame has the potential to add much more strength with the chance to have well above average power at the major league level. His build and look is a lot like Alfonso Soriano in that he is tall and skinny with very long arms and legs, but even with his wiry frame he has some awesome raw power and the ball just explodes off his bat. He has strong hands and a natural whip in his swing that is hard to teach, and showcases a very quick bat on inside pitches that allows him to drive the ball pull side. He generates excellent bat speed and has the ability to hit the ball out to any part of the ballpark. A lot of the Gulf Coast teams play in the big league spring training parks, so it is something when you see an 18-year old hitting the ball out of a major league ballpark to the opposite field.
While he is tall and very skinny, he has a body that will allow him to gain weight and grow into it more the next few seasons. He is an average runner, but as he fills out he could see a spike in his speed to a fringe above average. He is a very aggressive hitter at the plate so he will likely always be prone to high strikeout totals as demonstrated by his 52 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 199 at bats in the Gulf Coast League last year. The key going forward is not to significantly reduce the strikeouts, but to better improve his plate discipline where he can work counts a little more by being a little more patient to wait for his pitch and draw more walks.
While he is very young and strong, Abreu is also relatively versatile. He came in as a shortstop, but was moved to third base last year and displayed some real soft hands and good range at the position. The Indians are not sure whether he is going to be an infielder or an outfielder, and he profiles as an average defender really anywhere, but they plan to exhaust every opportunity to keep him at a premium position in the infield at this point. It still looks like at some point down the road because of his athleticism, cannon for an arm and of course his bat that he could be destined for a move to the outfield.
Outlook: The Indians are very high on Abreu and were very impressed with his power showing in the GCL where over a 500 at bat season he was on pace to hit almost 30 home runs as an 18-year old. He definitely has a lot of room for growth physically and as a player, but he already looks like he could be a star in the making. He should open the 2009 season at Single-A Lake County.14. Jon Meloan - Right-handed PitcherBorn: 07/11/1984 - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 230 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right
Strengths & Opportunities: Meloan throws a fastball that tops out around 94-95 MPH, and he complements it with a nasty slider that is an out pitch. He also throws a cutter, changeup and curveball which are all good pitches, but are more show-me pitches to set up his fastball and slider. In addition to his talent, one of the big selling points for Meloan is how much of a competitor he is on the mound and his off the charts makeup. With his pitching repertoire to go along with his makeup and composure Meloan has the makings of a dominant backend reliever down the road, perhaps even a closer.
The Indians believe Meloan's best role is as a reliever, and upon acquiring him from the Dodgers they moved him back into his more familiar relief role after he had been starting for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate. He certainly has the arsenal to be a starter and was a starter in college where he was actually dominant in that role, but the Indians feel like with the type of strikeout pitcher that he is and that he can get a little more velocity on his fastball in the bullpen that he has a much greater chance of impacting their team in a relief role at some point. He was moved to a starting role in 2008 because the Dodgers felt like they needed some depth there, and he supposedly was experiencing a drop in velocity when being used on back-to-back days. However, according to the Indians - who have followed him since 2005 when he was first drafted - they saw a lot of his performances on back-to-back days as a reliever and don't think there was an issue with a drop in velocity as has previously been reported in other places. He has a little bit of a maximum effort delivery, so it is kind of better suited for the bullpen anyway.
Outlook: The Indians have a plethora of young bullpen depth ready to contribute at the major league level, and with the offseason acquisitions of Kerry Wood and Joe Smith to fill out the bullpen, the young stable of arms they have will be hard-pressed to make the big league team out of spring training. Meloan should open the 2009 season in the Triple-A Columbus bullpen, but will likely be the first bullpen option the Indians turn to when a need arises at the major league level. He should see significant time in Cleveland this season.13. Scott Lewis - Left-handed PitcherBorn: 09/26/1983 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 195 - Bats: Switch - Throws: Left
Strengths & Opportunities: Once pegged as a left-on-left guy in the bullpen or a middle reliever, Lewis has showcased the endurance and ability to be a major league starter. There is no question he has the pitches and ability. He has a fastball that consistently sits around 88-90 MPH and tops out at 91 MPH, but his tremendous command of his secondary pitches along with good arm action and deception throughout his delivery make his fastball play up and look faster. He also throws a curveball and changeup, with both grading out as very good pitches. The power and depth he has added to his nasty 12-6 curveball has made it one of the best in the system, and his changeup has developed into a plus pitch where he gets a lot of action on the pitch in the strike zone. The Indians have been particularly encouraged by the absence of any arm injuries considering how aggressive his release is when he throws the ball.
Lewis has a history of arm troubles going all the way back to his college days. After his brilliant 2003 season at Ohio State and being considered as a first round possibility in the 2004 Draft, he suffered a severe arm injury that resulted in him needing Tommy John surgery. He also battled bicep tendonitis all through 2005, and ended up pitching a total of only 21 innings combined in 2004 and 2005, so he went into the 2006 season on a strict pitch count of 65 to 70 pitches an outing. Lewis made it through the 2006 and 2007 seasons unscathed and made every turn in the rotation. While Lewis made it through the 2007 season without injury, he was put on the disabled list for the Eastern League playoffs that year with inflammation in his left elbow. He reportedly complained of some soreness in the elbow and had some tingling and numbness in his hand, and as a precaution he was shutdown for the playoffs. He also had another setback this past spring where in his last outing before the end of spring training he pulled a lat muscle in his back and missed nearly three months of the season.
Lewis is currently 100% healthy and ready for spring training, but going forward Lewis needs to continue to prove he can be a durable pitcher and stay on the field for the Indians. His curveball continues to improve and is a very good pitch, but the Indians are still trying to firm it up a bit and make it more of an out pitch. Also, he does not throw hard, so he will need to depend on his excellent command and secondary pitches to get more advanced hitters out on a regular basis. He also needs to continue getting better at repeating his delivery and ironing out some flaws with his delivery mechanics.
Outlook: It was really a tough year for Lewis in some ways as the Indians were expecting a lot out of him in 2008, but he was injured in his last spring training outing. After missing half the season with the injury, the Indians major focus with him was to get him to an innings threshold where he could be starting depth for the major league team in 2009. The Indians were able to accomplish that with the innings he threw in Double-A Akron, Triple-A Buffalo, Cleveland as well as in the offseason winter leagues. He really showed a lot of poise and took command of his performance last season to sort of tell Indians officials "I'm ready". He is a candidate to open the season in the Cleveland starting rotation as the fifth starter, but likely will open the season in the Triple-A Columbus rotation which will be a homecoming for him having played at Ohio State. He should be up in Cleveland at some point during the season.12. Michael Brantley - OutfielderBorn: 05/15/1987 - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 195 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
Strengths & Opportunities: Brantley is just about everything you want out of a leadoff hitter. He is one of the best players in the minors at making consistent contact and bringing a solid plan to every at bat by being patient at the plate, making consistent contact, hitting for average, and getting on base. At just 21-years of age, his bat-to-ball ability is phenomenal and he has displayed an elite level approach at the plate striking out just 27 times in 420 at bats this past season ranking second in the entire minor leagues with a strikeout per plate appearance ratio of 17.7 (27 K in 479 PA). In his four year minor league career, Brantley has struck out just 142 times in 1633 total plate appearances (11.5 AB/K). While he has only drawn 199 walks in his career, he has an extraordinary ability to consistently put the bat on the ball. He also has plus speed to steal a base at anytime. Brantley's best comp may be as a Kenny Lofton type offensive player, a hitter who can steal 30-40 bases and can pound the gaps and hit the occasional home run and pile up 40-50 extra base hits in a season.
Brantley does not have much power, but as a leadoff hitter this is not a necessity and he projects as a doubles type hitter as his power is still expected to develop more along the way. He is now just a shade under 6'3" and is 195 pounds and expected to get even bigger. He certainly has the body to be more powerful as he is hardly built like a 5'8" 160-pound "slap-hitter", but for him to become more powerful and drive the ball more consistently into the gaps it all depends on his bat speed and strength in his hands and arms. He has sacrificed some of that bat speed in order to make more consistent contact, so if he can continue to mature and grow into his body and also learn how to speed up his bat without taking too much away from his bat-to-ball ability, he could become a special player. Last year he had just 23 extra base hits in 420 at bats, and in his minor league career has just 66 extra base hits in 1392 at bats. He probably would have fared much better in the extra base hit department last season had he not suffered an ankle injury in early July which hindered him the final two months of the season and limited him to four total extra base hits.
At 6'3", athletic, and with plus speed, Brantley moves like a gazelle out in the outfield. He is also versatile enough where he can play all three outfield positions, and he even played some first base in the Brewers organization last year. He has had trouble getting good jumps on balls which has limited his range somewhat, and he has an average to below average arm, so he will never be an elite defensive outfielder. Even still, after the Brewers messed around with Brantley at three different positions in left field, center field and first base, the Indians plan to focus on keeping Brantley in center field. He still projects to be at least an average to above average defender and will continue to work hard on improving defensively.
Outlook: Brantley brings a much needed asset to the Indians organization that had been missing in the upper levels of the system, which is a bona fide leadoff hitting prospect. The Indians have been waiting for a player to come along to plug into the leadoff spot in place of Grady Sizemore, and he just might be the guy. His skills would not have been valued five years ago, but in the post-steroid era the game is changing back to one that focuses more on offensive players who make consistent contact, have speed, and play defense. He has raced up the prospect rankings and climbed the minor league ladder quickly, and in a few years many people feel he will be a star and the best player the Indians received in the Sabathia trade. He will open the 2009 season in Triple-A Columbus at 21-years of age and won't turn 22 until mid-May.11. Carlos Rivero - ShortstopBorn: 05/20/1988 - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 210 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right
Strengths & Opportunities: Rivero has been sort of a hidden gem in the Indians system the past two years, but he finally started to show his potential with his late season surge in 2008. He battled through some injuries earlier in the year last season and put up average to below average numbers for most of the season hitting .241 with a .613 OPS in April, .304/.738 in May, .241/.732 in June, and .223/.617 in July. But, the 20-year old Venezuelan finished strong with a sensational August where he hit .356 with 4 HR, 21 RBI, and a .981 OPS.
Rivero has the potential to be a good hitting middle infielder with some power potential down the road, and has a very good approach for a young player. He has a great looking swing with good technique, and the ball comes off his bat well. He has some of the best power potential in the Indians system, and he doesn't have to generate his power because it comes naturally from the strength in his bat. He could hit more home runs if he was allowed to pull the ball more, but he has been working on staying in the middle of the field and learning to work counts to better develop his plate discipline. One thing going for him is he already has a good handle with his two-strike approach as in 1284 career at bats he has only struck out 225 times. Considering he has played all four of his previous minor league seasons very underage for his level, a 6:1 at bat to strikeout ratio is very good and shows the potential with his bat-to-ball ability and plate discipline. He also has excellent makeup.
While size is not everything, Rivero is impressive physically and is expected to get even bigger. To go along with his size, he has all the outstanding abilities and intangibles except speed. What he lacks in speed, though, he more than makes up with his power potential, bat-to-ball ability, his hands, and his glove-work. For his size, he moves around well at shortstop. He is not fast and only has average range, but he has good first step quickness, has real good hands, and a strong and accurate arm. Whether or not he sticks at shortstop or slides over to third base depends on how big he gets, but the Indians believe he will be able to stick at shortstop long term.
Rivero has it all to become an elite prospect given his abilities at such a young age, but like with so many highly touted players at his age, developing his plate discipline, breaking ball recognition, and staying healthy will determine his prospect status down the road. Going forward, Rivero needs to keep getting stronger and maintain his first step quickness, and he has been working on getting better jumps to the ball. At this point his career is relative to where Jhonny Peralta was four to five years ago as they are in very similar places in their career. They are slightly different in that Rivero is a little more athletic than Peralta was, but Peralta had better hands and they both have similar power. Some baseball officials have even gone as far as to say he could eventually be another player along the lines of Miguel Cabrera.
Outlook: Rivero is projection with a capital "P". He doesn't have the stats to backup his lofty prospect status, but this is the classic example of looking beyond the stats and looking at age, level, ability and flat out grading out a prospect with what you see and feel he will become. In a system mostly barren when it comes to good middle infield depth, Rivero is at the top of the class. He is still an emerging talent, and it is scary to think what he may become once his age catches up with the level he is at and he grows into his body more. He will start the 2009 season as the starting shortstop at Double-A Akron.
Abner Abreu and Scott Lewis photos courtesy of Ken Carr, Jon Meloan and Carlos Rivero photos courtesy of Carl Kline, and Michael Brantley photo courtesy of Huntsville Stars Media RelationsUp Next: #10-6