After a spending spree in the offseason not really seen since the days when Progressive Field was packed and sold out every night in the 1990s, the Indians appeared poised to make another run at the postseason going into last season. But when the season started and the balls started flying the bats were swinging, things quickly fell apart for the team early in the season and they were put square behind the eight ball with yet another poor start in April at 8-14.
After several months of poor, inconsistent play, Indians GM Mark Shapiro finally pulled the plug on the season and really closed the book on "The Plan" which started back in June 2002. After left-hander Cliff Lee was dealt to the Phillies for four promising prospects, and then shortly thereafter catcher Victor Martinez was sent to the Boston Red Sox for another three prospects, the Indians were no doubt in rebuild mode and the only holdovers left from the original plan are now just designated hitter Travis Hafner, third baseman Jhonny Peralta, outfielder Grady Sizemore, and right-handed pitcher Jake Westbrook. And several of those players could be gone in the next year or two.
Many other deals were done in addition to those, and with all the trades it stripped the team almost down to the bones for a retooling process that would require a new wave of players to come in over the next five to seven years and lead the Indians back into contention.
The 2009 season was a crushingly disappointing season, not so much in the win-loss column but that the realities of the game reared their ugly head where good talent is almost impossible for smaller market teams to keep. By now everyone knows that the biggest inequality in the game is money, where the have's have a lot and the have not's have very little. But the greatest equalizer for those have not's is young talent, and the Indians have a lot of that.
While the poor season last year left many Indians fans pondering the team's future and if they can ever sustain a competitive team again, the future may still be bright in Cleveland thanks to several key trades over the course of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. They dealt the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Casey Blake, Rafael Betancourt, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, and Kelly Shoppach during that time, and they added an influx of talent to an already emerging talent base thanks to some solid to great drafts the past few years.
All that equals a farm system that is widely considered a top five system in baseball. One that may be short on hotshot five-star perennial All Star talent, but one that is loaded with good major league talent and with many that still have the upside to become five-star talent. It is this farm system that will need to be the key player in the Indians ever getting back to a championship contending team much like the farm system did for them in the 1990s and from 2005-2007.
Pitching is always the key, and the Indians have set their sights squarely on amassing as many arms as possible. In 2009 alone, between all the trades and the draft itself, the Indians added over 30 pitchers to their player development system. Roughly half of those arms have some good upside and major league potential. All the new pitching will certainly displace some of the pitching already present in the system before the trades, most likely over the course of what should be a very intense spring training this year. They went out and added a plethora of arms, now they need to see how they develop.
It you look at the current Indians big league roster, the biggest question mark is the pitching staff. There are a lot of intriguing arms and names as far as prospects go, but no sure things, and this is what they are ultimately going to have to sort out in 2010 and potentially in 2011. But they have arms of all shapes and sizes at every level of the system. From crafty left-handers to hard throwing right-handers and everything else in between, they have it all. Well, with the exception of a couple can't miss bonafide aces on the horizon, which is something every team can use.
When you look at the strength of the Indians farm system going into the 2010 season, it clearly is their pitching. While they lack those for-sure aces that every fan and team craves, they have lots of good arms with the upside of good #2 starters or impact relievers, and some of those starters have ace potential. They have a lot of options for the middle and back of the rotation, and have power arms galore in the bullpen. It is hard to say when or if ever the Indians have had so much depth in pitching in the organization. Not organizational depth guys, but good pitching prospects all with a legit chance of pitching in the big leagues someday.
The outfield is also another position of strength. Everyone knows that the Indians have some good young building blocks in Cleveland already with Shin-Soo Choo, Matt LaPorta (who will be playing first base), Michael Brantley, and even Trevor Crowe who will likely be the fourth outfielder this year. But they also have some good outfield depth on the horizon with the slugging giant Nick Weglarz, sweet swinging Jordan Brown, a potential future star in the making Abner Abreu, and a trio of very interesting leadoff hitting speedy defensive wizards in Delvi Cid, Jordan Henry and Donnie Webb.
At third base the Indians have Lonnie Chisenhall on the doorstep to stardom, Wes Hodges still has a chance to be a good major league regular, and Kyle Bellows looks very promising. At second base they have the young Luis Valbuena already in Cleveland, but more help could be right behind him with good major league prospects Jason Donald at Triple-A, Cord Phelps at Double-A, and Jason Kipnis in High-A. And at first base they will have Laporta there in Cleveland, and former 1st round pick Beau Mills could factor in there down the road.
It is a deep system up and down at every position and at every level except really catcher. Of course, when your best prospect plays the catching position you hopefully should have that spot locked down the next 6-8 years, so it is not a position of great importance at this time. But beyond Santana and Lou Marson, there is not much in the way of everyday catching talent in the system, though there are some intriguing guys in the lower levels who look to have some promise.
It is a system with really only two players at the moment viewed as five star caliber, but with a lot of four-star and three-star talent of which many still have a chance to become five star prospects. It's a deep system for sure, one that was immensely helped with the fire sales from the past two seasons, but also from good drafts the past few years. The Scouting Department for the Indians has been at its best recently, something that could not be said about it in the early part of this century seven to eight years ago. But the scouting is a big reason this system is as strong as it is today, not just in the amateur draft but in the scouting of other teams for talent to acquire in trades.
Last year was a big year for the Indians from the Player Development side of things with the development of so many good young players. With the addition of all the new players from the draft and recent trades, it will only make it that much more intense and competitive for the players to thrive and find their way through the minefield that is the minor leagues.
The start of the 2010 minor league season can't get here fast enough.
Over the course of the next several weeks leading into spring training and most of March, I will be unveiling the Indians Top 50 Prospect list with a countdown in groups of five on this site. Starting this weekend I will kick it off with #50-46 and continue that way until we reach #5-1 in the middle of March. As an FYI, these scouting reports will be kept individually under the "Rankings" tab at the top of my site at www.IndiansProspectInsider.com for easy, quick access.
This is a comprehensive listing of the Indians best prospects, and to give the potential stars of tomorrow some attention from the fans. These reports are very detailed and lengthy, and written in a way to remove a lot of the baseball scouting lingo to make it easier to understand what kind of player they are and what they went through last season. You won't find a more in-depth listing anywhere, and best of all, it will all be put on the site for FREE.
The criteria for inclusion in the ranking requires that a player must still be rookie eligible (under 50 IP or less than 130 at bats). Like most other publications, service time is not considered. The only players not eligible for these rankings are those who played in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) and have yet to play stateside. Also, recent international signings are not included. The reason for this is pretty simple really, in that I have not seen any of these players play and all the scouts I know have not seen them either. So, the opinions and info is practically non-existent except for what I have learned in limited conversations with the Indians. While no DSL players are in this listing, several of them will be in my upcoming book.
Some may wonder the basis is behind the rankings. While some people rate prospects purely on results (stats), some on standing (class level/age), and some purely on potential (projection), I try to combine all three to try and strike a balance. Admittedly, I generally favor projection more, especially with the very young kids versus some of the minor league veterans. Bottom line, it comes down to asking "what kind of player does the player have the potential to be"? The rankings are arbitrary, and they really are just a guideline of the best players to watch out for and most importantly provide scouting information on each player so fans know who they are. Any ranking is subjective, but as of January 2010 this is what I think best represents as a snapshot of the Indians organization of players from #50 to #1.
Almost all of the information in these scouting reports comes from my notes in conversations I have had with various Indians personnel/players, coaches, scouts, and other non-Indians personnel over the course of the last eight months. I have also supplemented where necessary with information I obtained over the year from comments Farm Director Ross Atkins, Amateur Scouting Director Brad Grant, and Scouting Director John Mirabelli have made via radio or print, as well some information from other media outlets.
For those interested, my prospect book should be available very soon, hopefully by the end of the month. The book will have close to 200 scouting reports and profiles of almost every player in the Indians system. Please help support the this venture and purchase a copy of this book when it becomes available. If you love prospects and the Indians, you will not be disappointed. Details on ordering the book will be provided soon.
Note: The following players who were in last year's listing are no longer eligible because of the rookie innings pitched or at bat threshold in the major leagues or as otherwise noted in parentheses: Matt LaPorta, David Huff, Jon Meloan (trade), Luis Valbuena, Trevor Crowe, Chuck Lofgren (Rule 5), Michael Aubrey (trade), Randy Newsom (trade), Kevin Dixon (retired), Matt Meyer (Rule 5), Michael Finocchi (released), Todd Martin (released), Robbie Alcombrack (released), Rich Rundles (released), Isaias Velasquez (trade), Cirilo Cumberbatch (released), Shawn Nottingham (trade), Dustin Realini (retired), Brock Simpson (retired), Brad Hinkle (released), Brian Juhl (retired).