Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
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The Indians did a lot of winning during the 2003 season. Everywhere, that is, but at the major league level. Indeed, the most dramatic evidence of the organization�s rebuilding process can be found in the winning percentages. At the major league level, Cleveland�s .420 winning percentage was its 10th-worst since it began play in 1901. The Tribe�s six minor league clubs, however, combined for a .575 mark, the second-best in baseball.
At 97-43, low Class A Lake County had the best record of any team in the majors or minors. Double-A Akron went 88-53, the fourth-best mark in the minors, and won the Eastern League championship. Three of the Indians� six affiliates qualified for postseason play.
In the majors, winning took a back seat to development. While the loss total soared, so too did the stock of many of the 25 rookies who appeared with the Indians. Outfielder Jody Gerut finished fourth in the American League rookie of the year balloting. Among the others making favorable impressions were pitchers Jason Davis, Cliff Lee and Jason Stanford; catchers Josh Bard and Victor Martinez; first basemen Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner; shortstop John Peralta; and outfielders Coco Crisp, Alex Escobar and Ryan Ludwick.
The Indians also pushed many young players through the system, trying to accelerate the rebuilding process. Pitchers Fernando Cabrera, Fausto Carmona, Francisco Cruceta, Jeremy Guthrie and Kazuhito Tadano; third baseman Corey Smith; and outfielders Luke Scott and Grady Sizemore all reached the upper minors by the end of 2003.
Cleveland also continued to bring in more talent, taking advantage of multiple first-round picks for the fourth straight draft. The Indians made the most of their highest draft slot in 10 years by taking Tulane first baseman Michael Aubrey, who hit .348 at Lake County. They used their other first-rounders on Ball State outfielder Brad Snyder and Texas high school righthander Adam Miller, who also looked good in their pro debuts. The Tribe added another first-round talent in righty Nick Pesco, a 25th-round draft-and-follow from 2002 who signed for $1.1 million.
Many longtime Indians employees say it has been decades since the organization had this much depth in its farm system, and it makes the team�s minor league talent among the best in the game. Cleveland has so much talent, in fact, that several legitimate prospects with eye-catching numbers or good tools couldn�t crack the organization�s top 10.
There were a few negatives on the development side last year, however. The last two No. 1 prospects in the organization, infielder Brandon Phillips and Smith, didn�t progress as hoped. Phillips had a disastrous year, hitting .208 in Cleveland and .175 in Triple-A. Smith still hasn�t had a breakout season after batting a modest .271-9-64 at Akron.
But they were the exception and not the rule. The Indians aren�t ready to contend in the AL Central this year, but they should be able to challenge no later than 2006. Their only division rival whose future looks as bright is the Twins.
Top Prospect: Grady Sizemore, of
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200 Bats: L Throws: L
Drafted: HS�Everett, Wash., 2000 (3rd round)
Signed by: Scott Goldby (Expos)
Background: Sizemore was considered the third-best prospect in the trade that brought him from Montreal to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon in mid-2002. Since switching organizations, Sizemore has eclipsed infielder Brandon Phillips and lefty Cliff Lee, who came with him from the Expos, and established that he has a higher ceiling than anyone in the system. A high school quarterback who signed a letter of intent with Washington after being recruited by several other Pacific-10 Conference schools, Sizemore gave up football to sign for $2 million. He�s a high-energy, intense competitor who draws comparisons to other football-to-baseball converts such as Kirk Gibson. Sizemore looks like he made the right decision. In 2003, he led Indians minor leaguers in runs and hits, topped the Double-A Eastern League in triples and was named MVP of the Futures Game. He hit .412 as Akron won the EL playoffs, then batted third for Team USA at the Olympic qualifying tournament in November.
Strengths: It has been a long time since a player with this many tools has emerged from the Indians system. Sizemore has the full package, the potential to be a marquee player, and is as close to being an untouchable as the Indians have in their minor league system. He uses the entire field and controls the strike zone well, projecting as a .300 hitter in the majors. His power is coming quicker than expected, as he stroked 13 homers last year after totaling six in his first three seasons. There�s a lot more to come, as he was an EL all-star at the tender age of 20. Sizemore�s speed and center-field range are well-above-average. He�s quick out of the batter�s box and has tremendous baserunning instincts. He�s still learning the art of basestealing but should become at least a 20-20 player as he matures. Along with all his physical skills, Sizemore also has off-the-charts makeup. He�s an aggressive, blue-collar player with a tremendous desire to succeed.
Weaknesses: There are few flaws in Sizemore�s overall game. His arm grades as a 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale, though it�s playable in center field. He compensates by getting to balls and unloading them quickly. Sizemore�s walk rate declined in 2003, though it was still respectable. That seems to be the tradeoff, at least at first, for the increase in power. After succeeding on just 57 percent of his steal attempts the last two years, he must improve his reads and jumps.
The Future: Sizemore isn�t far from being major league-ready at age 21. With a surplus of young outfielders on the major league roster, the Indians have no need to push him and he�ll start 2004 as the center fielder in Triple-A Buffalo. He should make his big league debut at some point during the season.
2. Jeremy Guthrie, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: Stanford, 2002 (1st round).
Signed by: Don Lyle.
Background: After signing for $3 million in October 2002, Guthrie reached Triple-A in his first season. The last Indians pitcher to advance that high in his introduction to pro ball was another Stanford product, Steve Dunning, who went straight to the majors in 1970. Guthrie dominated the Eastern League but got hit hard in the Triple-A International League, though he impressed people at both stops.
Strengths: Guthrie has command of four pitches, starting with a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 95. His slider and changeup could be plus pitches, and he also throws a curveball. He fields his position well. Intelligent and coachable, he�s a great competitor.
Weaknesses: Guthrie tends to rely too much on his fastball when he gets into trouble. He didn�t locate his pitches as well in Triple-A as he had in Double-A, and hitters got ahead and pounced on his mistakes.
The Future: The Indians hoped Guthrie would compete for a spot in the major league rotation in spring training. The choppy waters at Buffalo last year mean he�ll start the season back there this year instead, though he still could reach Cleveland during the 2004 season.
3. Fausto Carmona, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000.
Signed by: Josue Herrera.
Background: Nobody in the organization made more dramatic progress in 2003 than Carmona, who emerged as a breakout candidate last spring. He tied for the minor league high in wins and led the low Class A South Atlantic League in ERA. The Indians could have promoted him but wanted to ease his transition to the United States as a teenager.
Strengths: Carmona threw a higher percentage of strikes than any pitcher in the organization last year. He has uncanny control of his 92-95 mph fastball, which he drives down in the zone, making it difficult for hitters to lift. His athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery. His changeup is an advanced pitch.
Weaknesses: Carmona needs to further develop his slider, which will dictate how quickly he moves. He pitches to contact by design, but has good enough control to pitch out of the zone more often and draw more swings and misses.
The Future: Carmona profiles as at least a quality No. 3 starter. He�ll start the year at high Class A Kinston and could reach Double-A by midseason.
4. Jake Dittler, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: HS�Henderson, Nev., 2001 (2nd round).
Signed by: Doug Baker.
Background: Dittler is a product of prep power Green Valley High, which also produced first-round picks Chad Hermansen (1995) and Mike Nannini (1998). The Indians took three pitchers ahead of Dittler in the 2001 draft, but he has surpassed Dan Denham, Alan Horne (who didn�t sign) and J.D. Martin as a prospect. Dittler went just 6-13, 4.19 over his first two seasons before breaking out last year.
Strengths: Dittler relies on a sinking, boring fastball that sits at 90-94 mph. Physical maturity allows him to sustain his arm slot, giving his fastball consistent velocity and action in the zone. He also throws a hard curveball. Dittler�s control improved in 2003. His strong build and confidence are reminiscent of Curt Schilling.
Weaknesses: Dittler needs to improve the consistency and rotation of his curve, and must refine his changeup. He must be able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes so hitters don�t sit on his fastball.
The Future: Dittler will start the 2004 season in Double-A. He needs at least a year and a half in the upper minors before he�s ready for Cleveland.
5. Fernando Cabrera, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 170.
Drafted: HS�Bayamon, P.R., 1999 (10th round).
Signed by: Henry Cruz.
Background: After being used almost exclusively as a starter in his first 31/2 years in the organization, Cabrera moved to the bullpen in late June last year. He finished the season as Akron�s closer, converting his last five regular-season save opportunities and turning in three scoreless outings in the playoffs.
Strengths: Cabrera throws an overpowering 92-96 mph fastball and a splitter that�s an effective No. 2 pitch. His stuff and his temperament are suited for a late-inning role. His fastball command improved in 2003.
Weaknesses: Cabrera needs to make hitters more aware of his splitter, which would make his fastball more effective. His slider and changeup lag behind his main two pitches, though he won�t need them as much in relief. He must improve his fielding and ability to control the running game after giving up 27 steals in 31 attempts (87 percent) last year.
The Future: Cabrera will begin 2004 in Triple-A. He�ll reach Cleveland after he shows command of more than his fastball. The Indians don�t have an obvious closer on their current roster, and Cabrera could fill that role in time.
6. Michael Aubrey, 1b
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195.
Drafted: Tulane, 2003 (1st round).
Signed by: Scott Meaney.
Background: Aubrey was a two-way star when BA named him Freshman of the Year in 2001, but he eventually settled in as strictly a first baseman. Among college players in the 2003 draft, scouts considered only No. 2 overall pick Rickie Weeks a better pure hitter than Aubrey. He projected to go as high as No. 6, but Aubrey went 11th and signed for $2.01 million.
Strengths: An advanced hitter, Aubrey was as good as advertised in his pro debut. He makes outstanding contact, has good plate discipline and projects as a .300 hitter with 35 doubles and 15-20 homers in the majors. He has solid-average speed and Gold Glove potential at first base. He threw 90-92 mph off the mound as a freshman and has a good arm for his position.
Weaknesses: Though he sometimes gets tied up on inside fastballs, Aubrey should be able to adjust. He gets pull-conscious at times, leading to an uppercut swing, and needs to a better job of identifying pitches he can drive. He doesn�t have much experience facing quality lefthanders and hit .250 against southpaws in his debut.
The Future: Aubrey won�t need much time in the minors. He�ll begin 2004 in high Class A and should reach Double-A in the second half.
7. Jason Cooper, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: Stanford, 2002 (3rd round).
Signed by: Don Lyle.
Background: Cooper was part of a vaunted 1999 senior class at Moses Lake (Wash.) High, along with outfielder B.J. Garbe (first round, Twins) and catcher Ryan Doumit (second, Pirates). Cooper turned down the Phillies as a second-rounder to attend Stanford, where he was also a backup punter. He led Tribe farmhands with a .542 slugging percentage in his first full season.
Strengths: Cooper could move fast. He has big league power and is a more complete hitter than he was at Stanford, where injuries and an uppercut swing held him back. He�s gaining a better understanding of the strike zone and using the whole field, and now projects as a .280 hitter with 30 homers. He has average speed and plays with intensity.
Weaknesses: At times, Cooper can get pull-conscious and his stroke can get long. He hurt his shoulder in college and his arm strength hasn�t come back, limiting him to left field. He has improved as an outfielder but can get better.
The Future: The Indians have lefthanded-hitting outfielders in the majors, so they won�t rush Cooper. He�ll head to Double-A in 2004.
8. Brad Snyder, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: Ball State, 2003 (1st round).
Signed by: Bob Mayer/Chuck Ricci.
Background: After growing up as an Indians fan in Bellevue, Ohio, Snyder was thrilled when his local team drafted him. His career was threatened by an auto accident after his freshman year at Ball State, but he made a full recovery. He was the 2003 Mid-American Conference player of the year and the fourth first-round pick in Ball State history.
Strengths: Snyder has all-around tools. He�s a patient hitter with a quick bat and the ability to turn on pitches. When he extends his arms, he can drive the ball out of any part of the park. He�s an average runner but covers enough ground to play center field. His arm is average as well.
Weaknesses: Snyder stuck out 82 times in 62 games and will have to make better contact as he moves up the ladder. He has a slight loop in his swing that he�ll have to iron out, and he�ll have to adapt to quality breaking stuff. His reads on the basepaths and in center field also need work.
The Future: A right fielder at Ball State, Snyder will enhance his value as a pro if he can stay in center. The Indians plan on keeping him there, and he�ll spend 2004 in Class A.
9. Adam Miller, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 175.
Drafted: HS�McKinney, Texas, 2003 (1st round supplemental).
Signed by: Matt Ruebel.
Background: The Indians used eight first-round picks on pitchers in the previous six years. Seven of those arms came from the high school ranks, including Miller, who surged into the first round with a strong finish last spring. Though a sore shoulder and strict pitch counts limited him in his pro debut, he still ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
Strengths: Miller is mature for a high schooler and has a projectable power pitcher�s frame. Some scouts have compared him to two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen. Miller throws strikes with a heavy, boring 90-95 mph fastball. He also has a plus slider that has touched 87 mph.
Weaknesses: Miller didn�t need his changeup in high school, so the development of that pitch has lagged. At 6-foot-5 he needs to work on keeping his mechanics together and consistently repeating his delivery. His shoulder isn�t a long-term concern but still raised a red flag.
The Future: Miller was at his best by instructional league last fall, showing no signs of shoulder trouble. He�ll move into the rotation at low Class A Lake County this year.
10. Matt Whitney, 3b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190.
Drafted: HS�Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 2002 (1st round supplemental).
Signed by: Jim Gabella.
Background: Whitney was so impressive in his pro debut that the Indians invoked Manny Ramirez� name when discussing his offensive potential. But last February, Whitney broke his left leg in a freak accident playing basketball while in minor league camp. He required two separate surgeries and missed the entire season.
Strengths: Whitney has middle-of-the-lineup talent. He has a sweet swing that generates power to all fields. The ball jumps off his bat and has tremendous carry. He quickly made adjustments to pro pitching and wood bats. He�s athletic for his size and has made a nice transition to third base after playing mostly first base and the outfield in high school.
Weaknesses: First and foremost, Whitney needs to get healthy. His arm is solid for the hot corner, though he tended to push his throws in 2002. He�s a below-average runner but not a baseclogger.
The Future: Whitney�s rehab program continued through the offseason, and the Indians hope he�ll be ready to resume full activity by the start of spring training. He may start the year in extended spring training with a target of getting to low Class A in May.