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Top Ten Prospects: Cleveland Indians
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Chris Kline
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, 2005.
Background: Teams shied away from high school righthanders in the first round of the 2003 draft, with only Jeff Allison (Marlins, No. 16 overall) and Chad Billingsley (Dodgers, No. 24) getting picked. Miller went with the top pick of the supplemental first round, and he and Billingsley quickly have established themselves as two of the top pitching prospects in the game. A sore shoulder and strict pitch counts limited Miller in his pro debut, though he was still an easy choice as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. In 2004, his first full season, Miller elevated himself to the top of an organization strong in pitching prospects, particularly righthanders. After being promoted to high Class A Kinston, he dominated Carolina League hitters and won both his playoff starts, striking out 14 while not allowing an earned run in 12 innings. Miller didn’t just seem to get stronger as the season wore on. His routine exit physical found that his rotator cuff actually had gotten stronger; something GM Mark Shapiro called “nothing short of freakish” and attributed to Miller’s outstanding work ethic.
Strengths: Miller has all the components to develop into a frontline starter in the big leagues. Cleveland brass believes he’s ahead of former Indians phenoms Jaret Wright and Bartolo Colon at the same stage of development. Miller’s arsenal begins with a heavy, boring fastball that sits anywhere from 92-97 mph and occasionally threatens triple digits. His late-breaking 87-88 mph slider has blossomed into a deadly out pitch. The power break on his slider eats up lefthanders, who batted at a .221 clip against him in 2004. Miller possesses a rare combination of power, intelligence and feel for a teenager. He has an almost photographic memory in terms of recalling pitch sequences, which has helped him make adjustments from inning to inning and start to start. Miller spent extra time with coaches to break down hitters on days before his turn in the rotation. His makup and aptitude are off the charts.
Weaknesses: Like many young power pitchers, Miller was able to overpower hitters with his two-pitch attack, but the Indians had to force him to throw his changeup more often to increase its depth and effectiveness as a third option. He made impressive strides with the changeup after working with Kinston pitching coach Greg Hibbard and continued to show improvement in instructional league. He needs to build more confidence in the pitch as he continues to move through the system.
The Future: Miller has earned comparisons to two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen for his explosive fastball-slider combination as well as his moxie. Miller is on the fast track and will begin 2005 at Double-A Akron. He could reach Cleveland the following year, and it might not be much longer before he’s leading the big league rotation.
Background: Aubrey was Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 2001, when he was a two-way star and led Tulane to its first-ever College World Series victory. A back injury ended his days on the mound, but his bat made him the 11th overall pick in 2003. A career .320 hitter as a pro, he has been held in check by only a nagging hamstring injury that sidelined him for five weeks in 2004.
Strengths: Aubrey’s quick hands allow him to control the barrel of the bat and he has a knack for identifying pitches early, rarely swinging and missing. He projects as a top-notch defender with solid footwork around the bag and a strong throwing arm for a first baseman.
Weaknesses: There’s some question as to how much power Aubrey will hit for in the majors. Most scouts see him as a gap hitter with occasional pop. He can get tied up by fastballs in on his hands, something he can rectify by incorporating his lower half more in his swing.
The Future: Aubrey’s on-base ability and gap power fit the mold of a No. 3 hitter. He’ll return to Double-A and is in line for a midseason promotion to Triple-A Buffalo.
Background: While Milton Bradley’s antics finally forced the Indians to trade him, they were able to make the best of the situation by prying Gutierrez and Andrew Brown away from the Dodgers. Shortly after a promotion to Triple-A in 2004, he needed surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow and missed two months.
Strengths: The most complete player in the system, Gutierrez has electrifying bat speed. He destroys pitches on the inner half of the plate. His strength and natural lift give him the potential to hit 30-plus homers in the majors, though his elbow injury muted his power in 2004. His speed and arm strength make him a standout defender in either center or right field.
Weaknesses: Hitting coordinator Derek Shelton worked overtime with Gutierrez in instructional league to address his pitch recognition and patience. He still has a tendency to expand the zone, chasing too many breaking balls in the dirt.
The Future: Still somewhat raw, he needs a full season in Triple-A. He’ll try to break into Cleveland’s promising outfield corps in 2006.
Background: A car accident put Snyder’s career in jeopardy following his freshman year at Ball State, but he made a full recovery and became the 2003 Mid-American Conference player of the year. He missed spring training and much of April in 2004 with an eye infection before contact lenses helped correct the problem.
Strengths: Snyder has drawn comparisons to the likes of Paul O’Neill and Grady Sizemore for his broad base of tools and advanced hitting approach. His sweet, compact stroke and his bat speed produce easy power to the opposite field. He runs well and displays good instincts on the bases. He also has a strong arm.
Weaknesses: While he plays an admirable center field, Snyder is better suited for a corner role and probably will settle into right field. He still needs to become more comfortable in turning on pitches on the inner half to fully tap into his power potential.
The Future: Snyder fanned 82 times in 62 games in his pro debut, but after making better contact in 2004 he’s on the verge of an offensive breakthrough. He’ll begin his second full season in Double-A.
Background: Sowers became the 12th player to be selected in the first round of two June drafts. The Reds took him 20th overall in 2001 with little or no intention of signing him, and he went sixth in 2004, making him the highest-drafted Vanderbilt player ever. He held out all summer before signing for $2.475 million. His twin brother Josh is a righthander/infielder at Yale.
Strengths: Sowers commands the zone with four pitches and goes right after hitters with an aggressive approach. He adds and subtracts from his fastball while mixing in a plus curveball, a cutter-type slider and a changeup. His fastball features good arm-side movement and sink from a deceptive three-quarters delivery.
Weaknesses: He can’t overpower hitters with the 85-91 mph velocity on his fastball. He must further refine his changeup to put the finishing touches on his arsenal. While both of his breaking balls show tight, downward rotation, they can become more consistent.
The Future: The most polished lefthander in the 2004 draft, Sowers should move swiftly up the ladder. He’ll make his pro debut in high Class A and could make it to Cleveland as early as 2006.
Background: When the Indians signed Carmona out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old, he was a malnourished stringbean. As he has bulked up, his velocity has steadily increased. He tied for the minor league lead with 17 wins in 2003 and reached double figures again while advancing to Triple-A in 2004.
Strengths: Carmona pounds the ball down in the zone with good command of a heavy 90-95 mph sinker. He upgraded his deceptive changeup into a plus pitch with improved late action in 2004. His athletic, repeatable delivery allows him to consistently throw strikes.
Weaknesses: Despite his lively fastball, Carmona doesn’t miss a lot of bats. While he induces a lot of ground balls, his strikeout totals won’t increase until he tightens his slider. It’s a slurvy breaking ball and hasn’t been an effective third option for him.
The Future: After coddling him earlier in his career, the Indians were more aggressive with Carmona in 2004. That won’t stop in 2005, as they plan on assigning him to Triple-A.
Background: Though Cabrera had a 7-2, 2.47 record as a 21-year-old starter in Double-A, the Indians moved him to the bullpen in mid-2003. He has continued to flourish and was impressive in a brief major league stint in August.
Strengths: Cabrera has all the makings of a power reliever with two plus pitches—a 92-96 mph fastball and a hard, diving splitter. He controls both sides of the plate with his fastball. His aggressive temperament benefits him late in games with the lead.
Weaknesses: Cabrera’s slider and changeup aren’t as useful as his fastball and splitter, though he doesn’t need as diverse a repertoire coming out of the bullpen. He has improved his slider, but he tips off his changeup by reducing his arm speed. He’s easy prey for basestealers.
The Future: He’ll get a long look in spring training, not just to make the club but possibly to replace free agent Bob Wickman as Cleveland’s closer. The Indians might not want to feed a rookie to the wolves in that role, but he showed he has the stuff to thrive with the game on the line.
Background: Undrafted following his junior season at Stanford because of skepticism about his defensive ability, Garko turned in an All-America .402-18-92 performance as a senior. In his first full season as a pro, he was Cleveland’s 2004 minor league player of the year.
Strengths: Garko climbed three levels and raked at every stop in 2004, hitting to all fields and showing above-average power. He’s short to the ball with an efficient swing, helping him adjust to any type of pitch and location. His strong leadership skills are an asset behind the plate.
Weaknesses: While he is underrated defensively behind the plate, some scouts still question whether he can be an everyday catcher. He worked extensively with roving instructors Chris Bando and Ted Kubiak to improve on defense both behind the plate and at first. He’s a well below-average runner.
The Future: The Indians believe Garko is ready to be a role player in the big leagues right now. However, he likely will start 2005 in Triple-A as he tries to find a full-time position.
Background: In 2002, the Indians signed righthander Sean Smith for $1.1 million as a draft-and-follow out of Sacramento CC. A year later, they went back to the same northern California juco conference and spent the same amount on another draft-and-follow, Pesco. While Smith had elbow problems in 2004, Pesco had a strong first full season.
Strengths: Pesco is armed with a four-pitch repertoire, including the most effective changeup in the organization. His extra-large frame and heavy, boring 90-94 mph fastball on a downhill plane elicit comparisons to Jason Davis.
Weaknesses: Pesco made strides with his slider and curveball last season, though both pitches have yet to reach their projections yet. He has the makings of a good, clean delivery, but he needs to continue working on staying over the rubber to create better overall balance.
The Future: The Indians’ pitching depth affords them the luxury of not needing to rush Pesco. His second trip to high Class A could be short-lived, with a quick promotion back to Double-A very possible.
Background: After sending Milton Bradley to Los Angeles for Gutierrez and a player to be named, Cleveland chose Brown from a group of prospects to complete the deal. Brown had made a strong first impression on the Dodgers in 2002 after coming from Atlanta in a trade for Gary Sheffield, but made only one start in 2003 because of elbow problems.
Strengths: Brown possesses an overpowering four-pitch mix, led by an effortless 92-96 mph fastball that he drives down in the zone. He also has two power breaking balls along with good touch on an average changeup.
Weaknesses: Health is the biggest question mark with Brown. He had Tommy John surgery in 2000 and bone chips removed from the same elbow in 2003. The Dodgers developed some concerns about his mental toughness, as have the Indians.
The Future: Brown needs to show he’s willing to accept criticism from coaches before he’ll reach his potential. He’ll start 2005 in Double-A and could make his major league debut later in the year.