The Indians are a team that has been built on young talent, and by now fans should know that the Indians will continue to build this team around young talent. As players like Travis Hafner, C.C. Sabathia, and Jake Westbrook hit free agency in the next few years and potentially become tough to re-sign, the Indians will need to look to their minor league system for future core players.
With that, over the course of the 2006 season, the Indians will look to several young prospects to help fill voids at the major league level, and hopefully prove to be a long-term solution.
At this time of the year, numerous baseball publications and websites churn out their top prospect lists. SwerbsBlurbs.com will continue this effort, although with a much different approach. Our prospect list will not necessarily be the Top 10 Prospects in the Indians system as far as talent goes, but are the Top 10 Prospects on the major league doorstep who can have an affect on this team in 2006.
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Top 10 Impact Prospects for 2006:
1. Fernando Cabrera RHP
2. Kelly Shoppach C
It remains to be seen if the Indians will go with one of the veterans Einar Diaz or Tim Laker at backup catcher, or if they will give Shoppach a chance. Most likely, the Indians will break camp with Shoppach as the backup catcher and keep Diaz and Laker in Buffalo for depth. Shoppach provides a much more potent bat than previous backup catcher Josh Bard did, and comes highly regarded defensively. In 2005 as AAA Pawtucket, he hit .253 with 26 HRs and 75 RBIs in only 371 at bats. For a more thorough look at Shoppach, check out the previous article on him at SwerbsBlurbs.com.
3. Ben Francisco OF
4. Andrew Brown RHP
5. Andy Marte 3B
6. Ryan Garko 1B
After an impressive two years in the minors, Garko lies on the major league doorstep. In 2004 Garko combined to hit .332 with 22 HRs and 102 RBIs in three different stops in Kinston, Akron and Buffalo, and he followed that up in 2005 by hitting .303 with 19 HRs and 77 RBIs at Buffalo. He has a short swing, which as a power hitter allows him to adjust to pitches and keep the strikeouts down (6:1 AB/K ratio in minors). While his bat is major league ready, he is slated to spend at least the first two months in Buffalo working on his defense at 1B. Like Marte, Garko could be another mid-season addition to the club that gets significant playing time.
7. Brad Snyder OF
Snyder currently projects as the Opening Day RFer in 2007. He has the best power in the organization, and his wide range of skills and makeup are similar to Grady Sizemore’s. In 2005, Snyder combined to hit .278 with 22 HRs and 82 RBIs with 17 stolen bases at Kinston and Akron. One big concern is he strikes out a lot (158 times in 513 at bats in 2005), so he will start the season in Buffalo (possibly a return to Akron as well) to work on his approach at the plate with two-strikes and become more disciplined as a hitter. If he is sensational early in 2006, and Casey Blake struggles, Snyder may be the first option for Indians GM Mark Shapiro to turn to in RF.
This might be a surprise to some, considering Sipp isn’t even on the 40-man roster or that he hasn’t made a pitch above A-ball yet. Most fans don’t know who Sipp is, but the best way to describe him in look, delivery, and repertoire is Arthur Rhodes. Sipp is a power pitcher, and dominated at low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston in 2005, posting a combined 2.40 ERA and .198 BAA with a 130:42 K/BB ratio in 116.1 IP. The Indians plan to move Sipp fast through the system this season, and if he impresses enough, he could be a valuable late addition to the Tribe’s bullpen as a second lefty during the pennant race like Cabrera was last year.
9. Franklin Gutierrez OF
When the Indians traded Milton Bradley in a deal that landed them Gutierrez in April of 2004, the Indians probably envisioned Gutierrez being the starting RFer by 2006. Unfortunately, injuries and slow development have kept that from becoming a reality. His power has been muted due to an elbow injury suffered in 2004, going from 24 HRs in 2003 to only 17 HRs combined the last two years. He possesses above average speed, and is widely considered the best defensive outfielder in the Indians system. Gutierrez will get some consideration for the 4th outfielder role, but ultimately the Indians want him to play everyday to develop more as a hitter, so he will start in Buffalo. Depending on the need, he could be the first called up if a need arises due to injury.
Sowers is arguably the Indians #1 pitching prospect, and prior to the signing of free agent Jason Johnson was a good bet to win the #5 starter job out of Spring Training. Sowers is not an overpowering lefty (fastball ranges 88-92MPH), but his excellent command and intelligence helps him work all four corners of the plate to keep hitters guessing. A common comparison for him is Tom Glavine. In 2005, in a combined three stops at Kinston, Akron and Buffalo he went 14-4 with a 2.38 ERA and 149:29 K/BB ratio in 159 IP. With Johnson in the fold, Sowers will go to Buffalo and provide depth to the Indians starting pitching in 2006. Since he is not on the 40-man roster, the Indians may choose to limit his service time and not waste an option calling him up prior to Sept 1st.
Honorable mentions: Fausto Carmona RHP, Jason Cooper OF/DH, Chris Cooper LHP, Jeremy Guthrie RHP.