Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Ingraham
1. C.C. Sabathia, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 260. Drafted: HS-Vallejo, Calif., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Paul Cogan.
Background: It would be difficult for any player to have a wider range of experience than did Sabathia during the 2000 season. In addition to pitching in high Class A and Double-A, Sabathia also was selected to the Eastern League all-star team; participated in the Futures Game; pitched in the Hall of Fame game at Cooperstown; and finished the season with the big league club in September, though he never was formally activated. Sabathia also was among the finalists for the U.S. Olympic team, but the Indians balked at letting him be used as a reliever, so he didnt make the final cut. Through it all, the mature beyond his years Sabathia handled the spotlight gracefully, as he continued his freight-train ascent through the minors. His biggest accomplishment was pitching a career-high 146 innings without incident, putting to rest any doubts raised by missing the first 21Ž2 months of 1999 with a bone bruise in his elbow.
Strengths: Sabathia is the whole packageand a gigantic one at that. He has a tremendous fastball that consistently sits at 97-98 mph, a good changeup, terrific feel for pitching and off-the-charts makeup. Hes intelligent and coachable, a ferocious competitor, and at 6-foot-7 and upward of 260 pounds he can be an intimidating presence on the mound. Hes strong with durable mechanics. That hes a lefthander and only 20 is icing on the cake. He has a chance to be a dominant No. 1 starter at the big league level, the most overpowering lefty the organization has produced since Sam McDowell.
Weaknesses: Sabathia has no glaring flaws. He needs to continue to refine his breaking ball and changeup, and his body is always going to be a concern. He will have to work hard throughout his career to keep himself in top shape in order to avoid injuries. Beyond that, he could use a little more experience.
The Future: Though he has yet to pitch above Double-A, Sabathia will get a chance to win a spot in the major league rotation in the spring, as the Indians could have multiple openings. Sabathia would benefit from at least a half-season at Triple-A Buffalo, but team officials are going to let his talent dictate where he starts 2001.
2. Danys Baez, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Signed: Cuba, 1999. Signed by: Rene Gayo/Dom Chiti/Mike Brown.
Background: Baez, who defected from the Cuban national team during the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, was the Tribes first big-money gamble on the international market. The Tribe signed him to a four-year, $14.5 million contract last winter, expecting him to be in their rotation in 2000. But one look in spring training told club officials he was going to be a project. His mechanics needed a major overhaul, and it took him time to adjust culturally.
Strengths: Baez fastball just keeps getting better. He threw 94-95 mph early in the 2000 season, and in the Arizona Fall League he was at 97 mph with life. He gets great leverage on his fastball, which helps him keep it down in the zone. He has an above-average curve, mental toughness and desire.
Weaknesses: Baez lacks a third pitch and needs more consistent mechanics. He struggles working out of the stretch and controlling his emotions. He needs more innings to allow him to refine everything.
The Future: Following his AFL performance, Baez will get a chance to win a spot on the big league staff in spring training. A better bet is that he starts the season in the Triple-A Buffalo rotation.
3. Corey Smith, 3b
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSPiscataway, N.J., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Chuck Ricci.
Background: The first high school infielder selected by the Indians in the first round since Mark Lewis in 1988, Smith signed for $1.375 million. A shortstop in high school, he immediately converted to third base, where the reviews were better than his numbers. Smith made 32 errors in 57 games, but club officials maintain his transition is going fine.
Strengths: Smith projects as a four-tool third baseman. Hes athletic, has good power and should hit for average as well. Though he was shaky defensively in his professional debut, he shows a plus arm and has great first-step reactions. He has a tremendous work ethic, listens and applies what hes taught.
Weaknesses: Smith is a below-average runner. Though he has a strong arm, its not especially accurate right now. His swing tends to get long on pitches up in the strike zone. But theres nothing that cant be fixed by more experience. His high error total is attributed to youthful aggressiveness.
The Future: Smith will start his first full pro season at Class A Columbus. If his bat develops as expected, he could be ready for the majors in three years.
4. Willy Taveras, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Winston Llenas.
Background: A product of the Indians Dominican program, Taveras emerged in 2000, though his .354 average in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 1999 should have been a tipoff that the potential was there. He was on nobodys radar screen at the start of this season, but that has changed dramatically.
Strengths: Taveras is a center fielder with speed, so the comparisons with Kenny Lofton already have started. Taveras is a 6 or 7 runner on the 2-to-8 scouting scale, which makes him a dangerous basestealer and gives him fine range in center field, where his arm is also a plus tool. He has a good idea of how to hit, and the Indians envision him as a contact hitter who drives the ball to all fields.
Weaknesses: Taveras is still raw as a hitter, especially in the power department. He needs to work on going back on balls in the outfield. Hes still learning how to read pitchers in order to maximize his threat as a basestealer.
The Future: Like Smith, Taveras will jump from Rookie-level Burlington to Columbus in 2001. He too could be ready for Cleveland by the end of 2003.
5. Sean DePaula, rhp
Age: 27. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Wake Forest, 1996 (9th round). Signed by: Kasey McKeon.
Background: A strong September earned DePaula a spot on the Tribes 1999 postseason roster, and he was the clubs only reliable reliever in the American League Division Series flameout against the Red Sox. He came to camp in 2000 favored to win a bullpen spot, but an inflamed elbow limited his effectiveness and cost him almost half the season.
Strengths: DePaula has three quality pitchesfastball, slider, splitterand throws all of them with confidence. He has shown the mental toughness necessary to pitch in the back end of the bullpen.
Weaknesses: At times, he has trouble throwing strikes consistently. DePaulas biggest drawback right now is the uncertainty about his elbow. It didnt require surgery after extended rest. Indians officials hope thats all he needs to return to 1999 form.
The Future: If healthy, DePaula will make a serious run at winning a job in the Cleveland bullpen during spring training. If he doesnt pitch well in camp, he could start the season in Triple-A. In a couple of years, he could emerge as the Tribes closer.
6. Zach Day, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSCincinnati, 1996 (5th round). Signed by: Steve Chandler (Yankees).
Background: Day was one of three players obtained from the Yankees in last Junes David Justice trade. The others were righthander Jake Westbrook and outfielder Ricky Ledee, since traded to the Rangers for David Segui. Day bounced back from rotator-cuff surgery in 1999 to rank among the minor league strikeout leaders in 2000. He and Westbrook gave the Indians a couple of much-needed upper-level pitching prospects.
Strengths: Day has a big, strong body and relies mainly on a fastball and changeup. His fastball shows good sink and has improved from 90 to 93 mph since his surgery. He has a good feel for pitching and an ability to make big pitches when needed.
Weaknesses: Day could use a more consistent curveball and more experience. His performance in 2000 erased concerns about his health.
The Future: Day started eight games at Double-A Akron following the trade, and thats probably where hell begin 2001. He easily could pitch his way to Triple-A or the majors by the end of the season.
7. Jake Westbrook, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSDanielsville, Ga., 1996 (1st round). Signed by: Steve Payne (Rockies).
Background: Cleveland is Westbrooks fourth team in five years. The Rockies drafted him in the first round in 1996, then traded him to the Expos as part of a Mike Lansing deal a year later. In 2000, he was used in packages to acquire Hideki Irabu from the Yankees and David Justice from the Indians. Westbrook has yet to pitch for the Tribe, as a fractured rib had sidelined him before the trade.
Strengths: Westbrook has a big, strong body and an average fastball with hard sink. He complements it with an occasionally plus slider and average changeup. Hes intelligent and has a feel for mixing his pitches. Some see him as a Chad Ogea with better stuff.
Weaknesses: Lacking an overwhelming pitch, Westbrook hasnt shown any signs of dominating hitters since pitching in short-season ball in 1996. The top concern at the moment is getting him healthy again after he averaged 172 innings in the three previous seasons. His breaking ball could be more consistent.
The Future: Westbrook joins the roll of candidates for Clevelands Opening Day rotation. More likely, hell begin the season in Triple-A.
8. Tim Drew, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSHahira, Ga., 1997 (1st round). Signed by: Mark Germann.
Background: Drew and his older brother J.D. (Cardinals) became the first siblings chosen in the first round of the same draft. Against their better judgment, the Indians rushed Drew to the big leagues in 2000. He wasnt ready, but a glut of injuries stripped the pitching staff and they took a chance. Drew had a 10.00 ERA in three starts and got crushed in Triple-A after being sent back down.
Strengths: Despite his bumpy debut with the Indians, Drew remains a solid prospect. His out pitch is a changeup, and his slider is becoming a weapon as well. Hes intelligent and possesses a good feel for pitching, mental toughness and intensity.
Weaknesses: Because he doesnt have overpowering velocity, Drew must mix all his pitches to get batters out. He needs to locate his fastball precisely, because it arrives at 90 mph and hitters dont have any trouble picking it up.
The Future: Drew still needs to prove he can pitch at the Triple-A level. Once he does, hell get a second chance in Cleveland.
9. Maicer Izturis, ss
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-8. Wt.: 155. Signed: Venezuela, 1998. Signed by: Luis Aponte.
Background: The Izturis family churns out shortstops, as Maicers older brother Cesar is the Blue Jays No. 3 prospect. Maicer might have as high a ceiling as any player in the organization. But he missed a large chunk of the 1999 season following shoulder surgery and barely played in 2000 because of elbow problems.
Strengths: When healthy, Izturis has drawn comparisons to fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel. He is a solid all-around player who can run, throw and hit. He has great hands, reads balls well off the bat and moves to the ball well. His arm is both strong and accurate. Offensively, he makes consistent contact and is a basestealing threat.
Weaknesses: Izturis lack of durability has been a problem, costing him most of the last two years. He needs to get stronger in order to hold up for an entire season, and he could also stand to develop a dose of pop at the plate.
The Future: Having played a total of just 67 games at Columbus over the last two seasons, Izturis may head back to low Class A at the start of 2001. Vizquels contract expires after the 2002 season, but Izturis might not be quite ready at that point.
10. Alex Requena, of
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 155. Signed: Venezuela, 1998. Signed by: Luis Aponte.
Background: Requena has established himself as the most prolific basestealer in the organization and one of the fastest runners in the minor leagues. He led the short-season New York-Penn League with 44 steals in 1999 and the Class A South Atlantic League with 87 in 2000, when he swiped a league-record six in one game.
Strengths: Speed, speed and more speed. Requena is aggressive and fearless on the bases. While his bat leaves a lot to be desired, he has shown a willingness to take a walk. He also displays an above-average arm and range in center field.
Weaknesses: Requenas bat is a major question mark. He has hit a soft .251 since coming to the United States, with just 22 extra-base hits and 201 strikeouts in 696 at-bats. He began switch-hitting three years ago and is still learning. Making contact remains a challenge, and he hits too many balls in the air. He needs to put the ball on the ground to take full advantage of his speed.
The Future: Requena will open 2001 at high Class A Kinston, where hell face more advanced pitching than he has seen before. His development as a hitter will dictate how quickly he moves through the organization.
Rest of the Best:
11. Danny Peoples, 1b
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