Here is the next group of prospects in the 2010 Indians Top 50 Prospect Countdown here on TheClevelandFan.com and SportsTimeOhio.com. As a reminder, these scouting reports will be linked and listed for easy access on my site.Also, my new 2010 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More book is now available. To order the book (which profiles over 165 players in the system and runs 214 pages in length) ... go here for all the details.Last, I am currently in Goodyear, Arizona this week and I will be covering and reporting on the Indians minor leaguers as well as some of the major league happenings while I am out there for through Saturday. Be sure to check back daily for my notebook piece which posts almost everyday while I am out there. The notebook will recap all the news, stories and observations from the previous day.#50-46#45-41#40-36#35-31#30-26#25-21#20-16
15. Jordan Brown - OutfielderBorn: 12/18/1983 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 205 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
History: Brown was selected by the Indians in the 4th round of the 2005 Draft out of the University of Arizona. He won the Carolina League MVP Award at High-A Kinston in 2006, and followed that up with the Eastern League MVP Award at Double-A Akron in 2007 where his .333 batting average also won him the league batting title. His 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. Last year at Triple-A Columbus he won his second minor league batting title by hitting .336 to take home the International League batting crown. He also finished 6th in the league in hits (140), 5th in doubles (35), 4th in total bases (222), 8th in on-base percentage (.381), 3rd in slugging percentage (.532), and 5th in OPS (.913).
Strengths & Opportunities: Brown is a persistent, pure hitter with incredible hand-eye coordination and a passion for hitting. He is a tough out as he has an exhausting approach at the plate that wears a pitcher down because he battles on every pitch and is one of the best hitters in minor league baseball at bat-to-ball ability and making hard, consistent contact. He is very disciplined and gets on-base at a very good clip, and is a consistent performer with few long hot/cold streaks. He has good gap power and piles up doubles at a good rate to where it is believed that he should be a .300+ hitter that can hit 15-20 home runs a year in the big leagues. While he only has average speed, he is an intelligent, heady runner on the bases. He is as strong-willed as they come and extremely mentally tough. He 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.
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. His one substandard year was his 2008 season at Buffalo, but a lot of that was the result of a poor first half where he hit .267 with a .710 OPS because he was dealing with a knee injury, but in the second half of that season he hit .311 with an .848 OPS. Aside from that so-so first half performance to open the 2008 season in Buffalo, he has been a model of consistency over his entire five year professional career hitting around or above .300 and piling up lots of doubles.
Brown's sweet swing and approach at the plate makes him a major league ready bat right now, and he has been compared to players like Sean Casey, Mark Grace, and John Olerud because of the good gap power, sweet swing, and ability to hit for high average. While he may hit like Casey, Grace, and Olerud, the biggest difference is all three of those players were above average or better defensive first basemen while Brown is not. In fact, depending on who you talk to he is viewed by many as a below average to average first baseman. For this reason alone it is why he has yet to appear in a big league game. The Indians have moved him off of first base and have committed to him as a full time outfielder. There is always the possibility he could go back to first base down the road and he could play there from time to time to make him versatile to the big league team, but they seem convinced his future with the team as an everyday player is in the outfield. He came into the system with little experience as an outfielder, but played the entire 2006 season at High-A Kinston in the outfield and spent most of last season at Triple-A Columbus out there and also played every game in winter ball this past offseason in the outfield. He has worked hard to become a fringe average defender in left field which is a testament to his strong work ethic and athleticism. He has made a lot of strides, but he still has a long way to go and needs to tighten up his defense out there.
In addition to his issues defensively, the other thing that holds Brown back is as a corner player he does not possess the big bat teams typically like to see play at first base or left field. For a player like Brown who hits for a high average and just average power, teams require the player to be an impact defender at one of those two positions, which obviously he is not. For him to have any chance at an everyday job he needs to continue working on his outfield defense with his route running and jumps he gets on balls. He has also had some injury problems throughout his professional career, which is a red flag. He suffered a hand injury in 2005 which limited him to only 19 games at short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley, he had scar tissue and bone chips in his knee which led to arthroscopic surgery after his 2007 season at Akron, he suffered from patellar tendonitis to his left knee in 2008 at Buffalo which affected him for most of the first half of the season there, and last year he had a shoulder injury in August which sidelined him for three weeks. While there are few if any things he needs work on as a hitter, he does need 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.
Outlook: Brown was seemingly left for dead by national pundits and the fans after a so-so 2008 season which resulted in him not getting rostered that offseason or any team selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft. However, he came back with a chip on his shoulder last year and proved all the doubters wrong that he could hit Triple-A pitching and is one of the best hitters in the minors. He plays a position where the Indians have some depth and where the industry has some depth, so it is a hard position to crack into the major leagues. Even still, his ability to make consistent contact is something that should get him to Cleveland at some time in 2010, but at present he is more a depth option because Matt LaPorta is expected to be the opening day first baseman and Michael Brantley the opening day left fielder. LaPorta had offseason surgery to his toe and hip, so he could be slow to return, and if that happens perhaps Brown could open the year in Cleveland. However, if there are no injuries in spring training, he should open the season at Triple-A Columbus. He could also be an attractive trading chip for the Indians to use in a package to acquire a need elsewhere on the team.
Photo courtesy of Tony Lastoria
Jordan Brown MinorLeagueBaseball.com page
Jordan Brown Baseball-Reference page
Jordan Brown MinorLeagueSplits.com page
14. Tony Sipp - Left-handed PitcherBorn: 07/12/1983 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 190 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
History: The Indians selected Sipp in the 45th round of the 2004 Draft out of Clemson University. The pick was a gamble by the Indians, as Sipp was an outfielder who had only pitched in 22 career college games and many felt he would be too costly to sign. After he impressed the Indians in the Cape Cod League they gladly paid him an unheard of $130,000 to sign for a 45th rounder. His career was sidetracked for two years from 2007-2008 from an elbow injury that shut him down at the end of spring training in 2007 and then resulted in Tommy John surgery in July of 2007. He spent the rest of 2007 and 2008 rehabbing from the injury and was not 100% until the beginning of last year.
Strengths & Opportunities: Sipp is a converted outfielder who has made an exceptional transition into pitching. He is a power-armed pitcher who has an impressive three-pitch arsenal 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 life and movement consistently coming in at 91-94 MPH and has flashed 95 MPH in the past and his quick arm action and excellent deception makes it look a lot faster. His slider is a major league weapon with wipeout ability showing good tilt and late action. He has a good feel for an average changeup, which is a good change of pace pitch so hitters can't sit on his slider and fastball.
Sipp gets a lot of swing and misses with his electric fastball-slider combo, consistently putting up some of the highest swing and miss percentages in the Indians' system since signing with them. Not only is he tough on left-handers, but 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 can really attack lefties and righties the same. He is also extremely athletic which allows him to consistently repeat his delivery and field his position exceptionally well. He is also tough on base-runners as he controls a running game well. He is a very aggressive, fearless pitcher on the mound, and has amazing aptitude. Even when he is not on, he has guts and a certain toughness about him that finds a way to get outs and get out of a jam.
It all comes down to fastball command with Sipp. He was inconsistent with his command last year, so it led to a high amount of walks. Command is usually the last thing to return after a pitcher has Tommy John surgery, so this should surely improve this coming season since he has a full season played in the books since his surgery. Nonetheless, it is the most important part of his development to finish him off. If he can consistently throw it over the plate at a high percentage, then he immediately becomes even more dominating and into the special category of major league relievers. He is a little under-sized so he still needs to prove he can be durable and stay healthy. While he made it through unscathed with no injury setbacks last year, in addition to the elbow surgery he has a history of injuries in his past such as a shoulder issue last offseason as well as an oblique injury and left elbow inflammation in 2006. He also needs to continue working his changeup into his pitch mix and develop more consistent command with it.
Outlook: Finally a 100% from his elbow surgery last year, Sipp once again showed why he was thought of as one of the top relief prospects in all of baseball going into 2007. He no longer had any restrictions and was pain free, and went out and pitched like a man with a purpose. The Indians love his potential as a dominant late-inning reliever, a role he had several opportunities to pitch in with the big league club last year. He has established himself as a fixture in the Indians bullpen for the foreseeable future, and will open the 2010 season in a setup role in the Cleveland bullpen.
Tony Sipp MinorLeagueBaseball.com page
Tony Sipp Baseball-Reference page
Tony Sipp MinorLeagueSplits.com page
13. Jason Kipnis - Second BasemanBorn: 04/03/1987 - Height: 5'10" - Weight: 175 - Bats: Left - Throws: Right
History: Kipnis was selected by the Indians in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft out of Arizona State University. He originally enrolled and played for the University of Kentucky, but he was dismissed from the team after his red-shirt freshman season because of a rules violation, so transferred to Arizona State. The Indians followed him extensively his three years in college and had him targeted in the 2008 Draft when he was a draft eligible sophomore but just missed out on him when the San Diego Padres selected him in the 4th round. He did not sign with the Padres and came back for his junior season at Arizona State in 2009 and went on to win PAC-10 Player of the Year honors and was named a first team All-American. He led Arizona State in almost every offensive category hitting .387 with 68 runs, 20 2B, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 47 walks, and 24 stolen bases. He also had a .500 on-base average and .731 slugging percentage. He only played 29 games for short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley in 2009 because he did not sign until early July, but also because he had a minor elbow sprain that he suffered in the College World Series when he hyper-extended his elbow laying out for a ball in the outfield in a game against North Carolina. He spent roughly three weeks rehabbing the injury in Mahoning Valley before he made his professional debut on August 3rd.
Strengths & Opportunities: Kipnis is an advanced, athletic hitter who has a nice compact, clean swing. He has a polished approach at the plate with a discerning eye that packs a powerful punch in his small 5'10" 175-pound frame. He has some incredible bat-to-ball ability, works counts, can hit with two strikes, gets on base, and doesn't strikeout a lot. While he has more hit ability than power at this time, the Indians feel like he has a chance to hit with more power down the road. In fact, his developing power may be his best tool because he has a knack for squaring up the ball and the ball just jumps off his bat to all fields. While he is not very big he has excellent bat speed and strength to hit for power mostly because of some very strong wrists and forearms which help generate a lot of his power and whip the bat through the hitting zone. One comparison made by an Indians official was that he reminds them some of former Texas Rangers big leaguer Rusty Greer.
Kipnis is a baseball player who is an intense competitor. He plays the game with passion and very hard, goes all out, and is fun to watch. While his speed is only just a tick above average, he can steal a base and shows a good success rate because of his good instincts on the bases and intelligence as a player. Unlike most hitters, Kipnis had a lot of experience with wood bats in high school and college having used them in high school tournaments and in college summer leagues in the Virginia Valley League in 2007 and Cape Cod League in 2008. His barrel late in the season at Mahoning Valley was getting a little slower and loopy, so an adjustment was made to shorten up his swing by keeping his hands in front of his head to provide a shorter path. The Indians are also working on leveling out his swing as he has a minor uppercut.
The biggest question mark for Kipnis is where he fits on the field as going into the draft the past two years this was the primary concern among teams. The Indians left him in the outfield for his professional debut in Mahoning Valley, but after the season decided to try him out at second base during the Fall Instructional League. His performance at second base during the instructional period earned him rave reviews not only by the Indians, but from several scouts from other teams as well. One rival scout out in Instructional League said "if he can stick there he has the bat that could make him explode as a prospect."
While Kipnis is only considered an average defender in the outfield, he is very athletic and has the versatility to play any outfield position. He also displays good instincts and gets good jumps on balls. His throwing arm is a tick below average, easily the weakest tool in his arsenal. The problem is he really does not fit anywhere in the outfield as an everyday major league player as he lacks the plus range of a center fielder and lacks the big bat teams covet from a corner outfielder. As a result, he kind of gets lots in the shuffle as an outfielder and is just another solid prospect. As a second baseman his offensive tools play up and increase his value tremendously. The move to second base makes him move valuable, and worst case is if he can't play there everyday it should provide some versatility for him down the road.
Kipnis has experience at second base as he played there in high school and originally enrolled at the University of Kentucky as a shortstop. He also prefers to play the position, which is a big plus when making a position switch as it always helps when the player is 100% on board with the change. The Indians are confident he has the footwork, hands, and comfort level with turning double plays. He doesn't have the natural actions of an infielder and he certainly needs lots of work with coaching and reps at second base, but the feeling is he can be at least an average defender there. Such a change would boost his value as with his bat he would just be at best a fringe corner outfield prospect or an average center field prospect, but as a second baseman his bat plays up big at the position to where he becomes a potential impact player there offensively.
Outlook: Kipnis' path to the big leagues as an everyday player looks to be second base or bust. He was nothing special as an outfielder and just a regular guy, but as a second baseman his bat and ability there puts him in the upper-echelon of second base prospects in minor league baseball. If he stays healthy and handles the position change well, he has the potential to be a player who can put up a high on-base percentage and plus slugging from the position. The Indians were very encouraged with what he showed at second base in Instructional League for five weeks, and are full steam ahead at least for 2010 in keeping him there to see how he develops and adapts to the position. He could move quickly through the system given his advanced hitting ability, though the change to second base will likely slow him down some for at least 2010. He should open the 2010 season as the starting second baseman at advanced Single-A Kinston.
Photo courtesy of Ken Carr
Jason Kipnis MinorLeagueBaseball.com page
Jason Kipnis Baseball-Reference page
Jason Kipnis MinorLeagueSplits.com page
12. T.J. House - Left-handed PitcherBorn: 09/29/1989 - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 215 - Bats: Right - Throws: Left
History: House was selected by the Indians in the 16th round of the 2008 Draft out of Picayune High School (MS). As a senior in high school he went 7-2 with a 0.89 ERA and had 99 strikeouts and 25 walks. He also pitched out of the bullpen in qualifier action for Team USA in the summer of 2007, pitching only three innings while posting six strikeouts and a .214 opponent batting average. He was projected to go in the fop five rounds of the draft, but a commitment to Tulane University and a $1.5 million bonus demand scared teams away. He eventually signed just before the signing deadline for $750K. 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.
Strengths & Opportunities: House is a very skilled and projectable pitcher who pitches well beyond his years. He is a physically, mentally advanced left hander has a three pitch mix of a fastball, slider, and changeup where all three pitches have the makings of being at least above average pitches. His heavy fastball is a plus pitch that sits at 90-93 MPH and has touched 95 MPH, and has good tailing action. He has very good arm strength to where his velocity is expected to improve as he matures. His excellent slider is another plus pitch that sits in the mid 80s and shows good depth and late break. The slider is a nasty pitch and a true weapon for him. Last year he began work on a changeup which is a rapidly developing pitch for him that he made big strides with last year. He has worked so hard on developing his changeup that it is now the pitch he has the most confidence using. The changeup sits at 80-81 MPH, which is good separation from his low 90s fastball. He also has a curve which is often confused with his slider, but it has been dropped since it lacks much separation from his slider which really is more of a power slurve anyway. He mixes up his speeds and pitches well and has good command of the zone at an early age, and down the road is projected to have at least average command.
House has the drive and courage to do what it takes to be a major league pitcher. In almost every one of his starts last year he was able to keep his composure, maintain his stuff, and take his team deep into games even on nights when he didn't have it. His maturity level is off the charts and it showed itself on the mound and in the dugout last year when he was not pitching as he was always tuned into the game action watching the pitchers and hitters from both teams to try and pickup an advantage to use on hitters the next time he faced them. He is very coachable and very open to ideas for improvement presented to him from his coaches. Baseball people think he is very much like lefties Scott Kazmir and Mike Hampton in that he is very athletic, is a competitor, has a strong build, and has a lot of power to his stuff.
House was a late signing with the Indians in 2008, so he never officially pitched in the Indians system until last season. He slid because of signability concerns since he was pretty committed to attend and play at Tulane University, but when the coach that recruited him to go to Tulane stepped down and took another job, he rethought his option to start his professional career right away and ended up signing with the Indians. He opened last season at Low-A Lake County, which was somewhat out of the ordinary since high school draft picks for the Indians typically open their first full season in extended spring training to better adapt them to the game, learn to develop a routine, and receive more instruction. But the Indians did not do that with House, which shows the level of confidence they have in his advanced pitching abilities and his maturity level.
House is still very green and needs to learn how to pitch in professional baseball, but he has all the tools to develop rapidly. While he has a smooth delivery, he needs to work on the command and location of all of his pitches. He is still learning how to establish the lower part of the plate, and how to setup hitters and reading them. He is working on the development of his changeup, and throwing a first pitch strike with his slider. At times last season when a runner was on first base, he would lose focus on the hitter and pay too much attention to the runner, so the Indians will work with him in learning to balance when and when not to focus so much on the opposing team's running game. He is a very competitive kid and he wants to succeed so at times he tries to force the issue which has gotten him in trouble, so he is working hard at controlling that and maintaining his stuff.
Outlook: House had a lot of hype surrounding him coming into last season considering he was a high profile draft signing. Even though he had yet to throw a pitch as an Indian before the start of the season, he was ranked almost unanimously as one of the Indians top 20-25 prospects coming into the season. With all of those expectations he handled it very well and put together a good season both objectively and subjectively. He is one of the Indians best pitching prospects in the lower levels of the system, and is someone we will continue to hear a lot about the next few years. He projects at least to be a #3 starter with the potential to be a good #2 starter if he learns to better command the zone and develop that third pitch. He should open the 2010 season in the starting rotation at High-A Kinston.
T.J. House MinorLeagueBaseball.com page
T.J. House Baseball-Reference page
T.J. House MinorLeagueSplits.com page
11. Kelvin De La Cruz - Left-handed PitcherBorn: 08/01/1988 - Height: 6'5" - Weight: 187 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left
History: De La Cruz was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in December of 2004. He is often referred to as "Carmona Left" because of his close resemblance to current Indians right-handed starting pitcher Fausto Carmona not only in look, but also his skills, pitching repertoire, makeup and more. He is also very good friends with Carmona and often asks him for insight into the professional game and lifestyle. He was added to the Indians big league 40-man roster this past offseason.
Strengths & Opportunities: De La Cruz is a high ceiling left-handed starting pitcher who oozes confidence and just loves to compete. He is the complete package as he is left-handed, has a good power fastball, and two plus secondary pitches in a curveball and changeup. He pitches with his fastball and has a good feel for his curveball and changeup, and shows an ability to throw all three in the zone. He continues to show much improved arm strength as his fastball velocity jumped from 84-86 MPH in 2006 to where it currently sits at 91-93 MPH and has touched 95 MPH. It is believed there is even more arm strength in there as he is still young and getting bigger and stronger, so his fastball velocity in the next year or two could increase if he can stay healthy. He gets good sink with his fastball and pounds it down in the zone. His curveball is a 12-6 hammer and a projectable plus-plus pitch with real good depth and a swing and miss put away type pitch that is of major league weapon quality. He has a good feel for his changeup, and while it is clearly behind his fastball and curveball, it projects to be a plus pitch for him down the road.
De La Cruz is still very young, and because of his big frame and stuff, there is still no limit to his potential. At 6'5" he gets good leverage on hitters by using his height to get the ball on a downward plane. He shows a no fear aggressive approach on the mound where he challenges hitters and pounds the strike zone. He is an intelligent pitcher who understands how to attack hitters and stick to his strengths. Even for his size, he displays very good athleticism and fields his position well by handling all the bunts and comebackers, and even while shagging during batting practice he shows off his athleticism by running down balls in the outfield. Aside from an elbow injury last year, he has been healthy his entire five year professional career and been very durable. He has good attention to detail, and is a student of the game. He is also very passionate about baseball and is doing a good job making the cultural transition to the United States from the Dominican Republic. He has excellent makeup, speaks good English, and just loves the game.
One of the biggest blows to the Indians farm system last season was when he went down with a serious elbow injury in the first month of the season. He was off to a great start for High-A Kinston where in two starts he was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA (12.0 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 19 K) and had just been named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week for his efforts in his first two starts. During that second start he started to feel some discomfort in his elbow and it increased a lot over the coming days to where he had to eventually be shut down for most of the rest of the season with a UCL strain of his left elbow. There was no tear so he avoided serious surgery and eventually did make his way back to pitch some games on a rehab assignment with the Arizona League Indians at the end of August, but was a long way from the pitcher he was pre-injury. He participated in Instructional League to make up some of the lost development time, and he slowly showed signs of putting things back together as his velocity was up to 92 MPH and his feel for pitching started to return.
The key to De La Cruz's success in the early going in his return trip to Kinston last year was much improved command and a sharpened curveball that showed more depth. It is a pitch he really worked on last offseason, and one of the main mechanical adjustments for it was just getting him to be cognizant of not allowing his arm slot to get too high and also finishing the pitch. His preparation also improved, and it looked like he was about to take a leap forward in his already high prospect standing with a great season until the elbow injury occurred.
De La Cruz still has a ways to go as a prospect, but has greatness in his future if he can maintain health. He is still young and coming off of an elbow injury, so his fastball command is still not all there. It takes awhile for a pitcher coming off a serious elbow injury to get his stuff back to where it was, and that is what he worked his way through at the end of last season and in the offseason. A big focus this coming season will be to hone in on the fastball command to cut down on some of the walks but also be on the plate more and throw strikes more consistently. By refining the command of his fastball it will allow him to use his secondary stuff more effectively and set up hitters to get themselves out. He has gotten better at controlling his emotions on the mound when things do not go his way, though he still needs more improvement in not letting the results that happen behind him affect his performance. He also needs more work on being more consistent with repeating his delivery.
Outlook: De La Cruz is a very good talent and if not for the injury to his left elbow last year may have been off to a breakout season where he may have solidified himself as the Indians top pitching prospect and one of the best in all of baseball. He still has a promising future because he is young, strong and powerful, though the recent elbow injury clouds it some. This coming season he will pitch at age 21, not age 22 like so many have been mislead to believe. He would probably be received a lot better by scouts from other organizations and media outlets if they realized he was actually born on August 1, 1988 (08/01/1988) and not the incorrect date of January 8, 1988 (01/08/1988) which is a typo listed in every non-Indians publication that lists his vitals. That one year in age makes a big difference in his value, especially when he is expected to pitch at Double-A this year at age 21. He should open the 2010 season in the starting rotation at Double-A Akron.
Kelvin De La Cruz MinorLeagueBaseball.com page
Kelvin De La Cruz Baseball-Reference page
Kelvin De La Cruz MinorLeagueSplits.com page