The other day here at The Lake Erie Soldiers, we spent some time running down some of the big things to pay attention to this coming season with the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe is in a transition stage with a new coach, and coming off of consecutive bad seasons. The team is relying on its minor league prospects to come through big for the organization and provide the core of the team for the future. While competing this season is not out of the question, it is very possible, but no matter how this year turns out, there is a crop of very young and very talented players coming up through the Indians system. We will give a quick rundown on guys that could very well spend time with the team this season, some who could have huge impacts this year, and are poised to be stars of this team in the coming years. Here is a short list of the top, most major league ready, prospects in the Tribe’s organization.
Catcher, Carlos Santana. This young switch hitting backstop has been tearing through the minor league system for the past few years, racking up awards and leading the minor leagues in all sorts of batting statistics. He, to most Indians fans dismay, is the reason the team was able to trade away the team’s captain last year, Victor Martinez. Many liken this young player to Martinez, but with more skill behind the plate, and a far superior throwing arm. I would have hoped to see him as the team’s opening day guy, but he has yet to play a game at AAA, where he will start the season. He is expected to join the team around the All-Star Break. Just so we all have a good idea of how good he is, here is a quick look at some of his key stats from the past few years. Keep in mind that he is going to be 24 this season, he will be ready to go in no time.
– In 2009, in AA Akron, he hit 23 home runs and batted .290 while driving in 97 runs. Impressive numbers for anyone, especially a catcher.
– In 2008, he split time between A and AA, and put up this line. .326 BA, 21 HR, 117 RBI, 10 SB, 39 Doubles, .431 OBP and a .568 slugging average. Simply put, he is an offensive machine. He also threw out 30% of would be stealers last season.
OF, Michael Brantley. Another name we are very familiar with. The 22 year old speed demon was very productive in his brief audition late last season and left everyone with memories of Kenny Lofton at the top of the Indians lineup. Brantley will most likely start the year in AAA to work on getting on base and taking more pitches, but he will also take very little time to cement himself as a mainstay in the Tribe’s lineup.
– 2009 saw him steal 46 bases in 116 games in AAA Columbus, but only bat .267 with an OBP of .350. The Indians want to see both of those numbers look better before he comes up to be the Tribe’s leadoff hitter. Only getting caught stealing 5 times in 51 opportunities is very impressive. He also only made 2 errors all of last year, is a very solid outfielder, with Grady Sizemore’s range and a much better arm. He could possibly move Grady over to LF in the near future to help save Sizemore’s health.
– He batted .313 in 28 games with the Tribe last year, stealing 4 bases while getting caught 4 times.
SP, Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez will be 22 this month and has been tearing through the ranks of the Tribe’s farm system. He was tremendously dominant last year, with 4 starts in A and the rest coming in AA. Between the 2 levels, he was 12-6 with a 3.30 ERA. 124 Strikeouts and only 46 walks in 150 innings. He threw a perfect game. If the rotation suffers any big injuries or really struggles, he is one of the 2 or 3 guys that will be immediately called upon to fill the void. Carlos Carrasco will probably get the call before Gomez, or even the next guy on the list, Hector Rondon, but Carrasco has more riding on him then they do. Carrasco is older and we gave up Cliff Lee for him. Gomez, however, could very well be the future #1 of this team.
SP, Hecotr Rondon. Rondon is the other big ticket front end of the rotation pitching prospect currently developing in the high minor leagues for the Indians. Rondon really came on strong last season, like Gomez, and shot way up people’s list of top prospects. He will also turn 22 this month, around the time pitchers and catchers report to camp. The young Venezuelan right split the year between AA and AAA and is a little bit ahead of Gomez, but he struggled in the switch to AAA competition, posting a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts with a 4-5 record. In AA last year he had a 2.75 ERA and a 7-5 record in 13 starts. In all he posted a 3.38 ERA, 11-10 record, 146.1 innings pitched and only walked 29 while striking out 137. His WHIP last year was 1.17 which is the most impressive stat he had, he did not let guys get on base easily, as noticed by his 29 walks, and was hard to hit. If anyone goes down, and once Carrasco proves he was not worth Cliff Lee, then Rondon will get his chance.
1B, OF, Jordan Brown. The 26 year old left handed 1st Baseman/Outfielder/DH is stuck behind just about everyone on the big league roster right now. Which is unfortunate. While he has battled injuries for much of his minor league career, he has put up good numbers when he has played. The thing that really keeps him lower on the organizational depth chart is that he is not a big power hitter, but plays a power hitting position. The Indians have had, over the last 10 years or so, a laundry list of 1st baseman and corner outfielders who did not hit for good power. Brown, however, is a much more natural and effective hitter than any who have proceeded him over the past few years. Being 26 years old he is running out of time to make the club, and is currently behind Andy Marte (out of options and the team invested a lot in him several years ago, plus had a HUGE year last year in AAA and somewhat in the MLB.) and Travis Hafner, as well as Matt LaPorta. If the Indians could find a way to move Hafner’s contract, it would open up at bats at either DH or 1B for Brown. A quick look at his numbers will show you why his bat should be in Cleveland.
– 2009: .336 BA, .381 OBP, .532 Slugging, 15 HR’s, 67 RBI’s in 111 games. Impressive.
– Instead of going through every year he’s had, a quick look at his career stats at all levels, 2 years at AAA, 1 at AA and 2 at A. .308 BA, 374 OBP, .472 slugging. All he does his hit, drive in runs and get on base. He would be a good addition, and a consistent bat, to add to the lineup.
OF, Nick Weglarz. This is looking a little bit farther into the future, since there is a log-jam in the Tribe’s outfield. Weglarz is some kind of hitter, with a ton of potential. He has not fulfilled it so far in the minors thanks to injuries and some adjustments, but I predict he will be a very big time power hitter in the majors, somewhat like fellow Canuck Justin Morneau. He did just turn 22 in December, has plenty of time to get his game figured out in the minors. He’s huge, 6’3” and 245 pounds, and can hit the cover off the ball. He has been in pro-ball for 5 years though, so he should be rounding out into the potential the team sees for him, and could possibly, if he really impresses this year, or if anyone gets hurt or struggles, force himself into the big league picture. He really needs to work on his average and his strikeouts, walk more, and hopefully stay healthy. He will be in AAA this year.
3B, 1B, DH, Beau Mills. The 23 year old infielder spent his season in AA last season and had his worst pro season, which should hopefully work itself out. He is not as good as Lonnie Chisenhall defensively, but could very well put up the same or better numbers on offense. He was very impressive in 2008 in A all year, but struggled quite a bit in AA last year, with his average dropping from .293 to .267, and his HR’s going down from 21 to 14. His RBI’s only dropped from 90 to 83 and he reduced his strikeouts, which is good and its a good sign that his RBI totals stayed high. The shocking dropoffs were in his OBP and slugging. His OBP dropped from .373 to .308 and his slugging from .506 to .417. Mills future is most likely at 1B with the impressive play of Lonnie Chisenhall, and the fact that there is Andy Marte, Chisenhall, Wes Hodges and Jhonny Peralta all on the depth chart ahead of him. At 1st Base he is behind Brown, Marte (why does this name keep popping up) and Matt LaPorta. It might be hard for him to crack the Indians lineup, but he shows a lot of potential for if he ever does.
3B, SS, Lonnie Chisenhall. Only 21 years old and in his 2nd pro year, Chisenhall began the transition from SS to 3rd Base to accommodate his size, 6’1”, 200 pounds, and his defensive abilities. Not to mention, it coincided with Asdrubal Cabrera’s emergence as the team’s Short Stop. With Peralta’s future with the team looking a little shaky, Chisenhall could be moving up the ranks rather quickly. He split 2009 between A and AA, and while he struggled in his 29 games at AA to end the season, he still had a very impressive year for a 20 year old. He put up 22 homers between the 2 levels last year with 92 RBI’s and 31 doubles, and his average was .258. His average was hurt due to the .183 average he had at AA, but even that puts him on par with Peralta and Marte on the big league level. He is still a pretty raw talent in terms of both his offense and defense, but he is definitely a guy to watch moving forward.
A few of the names on here might be a year or so away from getting to the big league roster, namely Chisenhall, Weglarz and Mills, but they all of a very high likelihood of being a part of the Indians moving forward. All of them are names that Coach Manny Acta has dropped as being very excited to have in his farm system, and is eagerly awaiting their major league readiness. Rondon and Gomez have a great chance of making it up this year due to the team’s apparently thin starting rotation. If the duo does not make it up as starters, they will most likely get late season auditions in the bullpen if the team is doing well, or even if it is struggling, and both are 22, so there is no need to rush them up the ranks. With Santana and Brantley there is no doubt about the fact that they will be in Cleveland this year, only their performance in Spring Training and AAA to start the year will determine how fast they get there. Jordan Brown is just unlucky with the circumstances and the fact that guys like Andy Marte and Travis Hafner are blocking his ascension to the club. The other big name to watch out for is Matt LaPorta obviously, but I don’t think we can call him a prospect any longer.