Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Ingraham
1. Corey Smith, 3b
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSPiscataway, N.J., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Chuck Ricci.
Background: The Indians traditionally have avoided drafting high school infielders in the first round, doing so just twice in the last 20 years. They took Mark Lewis in 1988 and Smith in 2000. The muscular Smith was a shortstop in high school, but the Indians wasted no time in moving him to third base, where they feel his size and power potential make him a more natural fit. In Smiths two years as a pro, the transition to third base has gone much better offensively than defensively. Club officials downplay his stuggles with the glove, partly because his upside with the bat is so vast.
Strengths: Smith gets rave reviews for his makeup and work ethic. He is, plain and simple, a baseball player. A throwback. He loves the game and works extremely hard to improve his weaknesses. Hes intelligent and has tremendous athletic ability as well as an aptitude for learning. He has excellent bat speed that should produce even more power than he already has shown. Smith has yet to hit for a high average but that may come as well. He seems to rise to the occasion offensively and is a very tough out with men on base. Despite his obvious physical gifts, his biggest strength may be his passion. Hes a potential franchise cornerstone once he reaches the big leagues.
Weaknesses: Smith needs to work on his strike-zone discipline, but the most obvious flaw in his game is his defense. In 187 games as a pro, he has made 77 errors45 at low Class A Columbus in 2001most of them on poor throws. Smith has arm strength but lacks consistent mechanics. He made major strides in that area during instructional league. He tends to try to do too much defensively, which also has contributed to his third-base difficulties. Except for the errors, the position switch has gone better than expected. His speed is below average but hes not a baseclogger.
The Future: Until Cleveland got Alex Escobar in the Roberto Alomar trade, Smith was by far the organizations best position-player prospect and he still ranks as No. 1. He wont be rushed despite the lack of bats ahead of him. At age 20, hell open at high Class A Kinston. He probably wont arrive in the big leagues before late 2004.
2. Alex Escobar, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Gregorio Machado (Mets).
Background: Escobar had been the bright light of the Mets system since a breakout season in 1998 in the South Atlantic League, but New York also was getting impatient waiting for him to make the final steps in becoming a major league regular. Faced with the prospect of getting Roberto Alomar in a December trade, the Mets included Escobar in the five-player package they sent to Cleveland. Escobar has exciting tools across the board.
Strengths: When hes right offensively, Escobar generates line drives and above-average power while utilizing the entire field. He also has speed. A standout center fielder, he offers the best outfield defense and arm in the system.
Weaknesses: Escobar struggled in Triple-A and the majors last season as his plate discipline deteriorated. He was befuddled by conflicting advice from a variety of Mets coaches before reverting to an open stance with his legs spread wide and his hands held high.
The Future: Escobar could spend most of 2002 at Triple-A Buffalo trying to polish his game. If he cant, the whispers that hes the second coming of failed prospect Ruben Rivera will just get louder.
3. Ryan Drese, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: California, 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Paul Cogan.
Background: Projected as an early first-round pick and in line to be the No. 1 starter on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, Drese was derailed by elbow surgery in college. He has also had problems staying healthy as a pro, missing almost all of 2000 after reconstructive knee surgery.
Strengths: Drese pitches with a mean streak and supreme confidence that borders on cockiness. He has four major league average to above-average pitches: a fastball that touches the mid-90s, a slider, a changeup and a curveball. He can throw all four for strikes and has a great feel for pitching.
Weaknesses: In part because he doesnt repeat his delivery consistently, Drese still hasnt mastered command of his fastball in the strike zone. Once he does that and is able to throw more first-pitch strikes with his fastball, the sky is the limit. His durability remains a question.
The Future: Drese was so impressive in a late-season trial with Cleveland he earned a chance to win a spot in the major league rotation. He showed the ability to pitch out of the bullpen last year as well.
4. Dan Denham, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSAntioch, Calif. (1st round). Signed by: Paul Cogan.
Background: Denham was the first of five high school pitchers the Indians selected in the first four rounds of the 2001 draft. He made eight starts at Rookie-level Burlington, and while his numbers werent great, he impressed managers enough to be rated the Appalachian Leagues best pitching prospect.
Strengths: Denham has great natural ability and arm strength. He threw 95 mph in high school, with plus life and sink on his fastball, and showed a power breaking ball. Hes also developing a changeup. All three of his pitches have a chance to be well above average. Hes very athletic and has shown a lot of intensity plus the ability to make adjustments.
Weaknesses: Denham has no major shortcomings. He lacks ex-perience, but that will take care of itself. Hes also a little inconsistent with his delivery, which is normal for a pitcher his age.
The Future: Denham will follow a similar course to the one the Indians used with the last California high school pitcher they drafted in the first roundC.C. Sabathia. In his second year, Sabathia started six games at short-season Mahoning Valley before moving to Columbus. Denham likely will head straight to low Class A.
5. J.D. Martin, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSRidgecrest, Calif. (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Jason Smith.
Background: It didnt take long for the Indians to realize they had something special in Martin. In his fourth pro start, he pitched five hitless innings, striking out 14 of the 16 batters he faced. "Thats a line you dont ever see," former Tribe GM John Hart said. "Thats like something out of Brunos Groceries, in Little League.
Strengths: Some scouts say theyve never seen an 18-year-old command both sides of the plate with his fastball the way Martin does. The pitch also has tremendous sink. He also can throw a changeup for strikes on three-ball counts, which also leaves observers shaking their heads. His slider has a late, hard break. He has a tremendous feel for pitching.
Weaknesses: Martin needs to get a lot stronger, but he has a projectable frame and should be able to do so as his body naturally matures. The velocity on his fastball is slightly below average at 87-89 mph, but it should pick up as he physically develops.
The Future: Because of their status as high school first-round picks from the same draft, Martin and Denham will climb the minor league ladder together. This year they could comprise a devastating one-two punch in low Class A.
6. Victor Martinez, c
Age: 23. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by: Luis Aponte.
Background: Catchers dont normally win batting titles, so when Martinez led the Carolina League in hitting in 2001, it propelled him onto this list for the first time. Martinez, the most improved player in the organization, made gigantic strides after missing two months in 2000 with shoulder problems. He has hit .305 in five years as a pro.
Strengths: Martinez is a switch-hitter who can produce for average, and he should hit for more power as he matures. There arent too many catchers who can do that. But it doesnt end there. He also has tremendous poise, presence and leadership. He has unbelievably soft hands and calls a great game. Managers rated him the CLs best defensive catcher.
Weaknesses: Martinez arm is a little weak, so he has to rely on a quick release to throw runners out. He erased just 29 percent of base-stealers in 2001, compared to the CL average of 39 percent. Hell have to work hard on his throwing in order to control a running game.
The Future: With Einar Diaz established on the big league club, theres no need to rush Martinez. Hell open the 2002 season at Double-A Akron.
7. David Riske, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Green River (Wash.) CC (56th round). Signed by: Steve Avila.
Background: Riske is the lowest In-dians draft pick ever to reach the big leagues. He has staggering numbers in five minor league seasons, including 295 strikeouts and just 175 hits allowed in 240 innings. He also has grit, rebounding from back and shoulder surgeries in 2000 to emerge as one of Clevelands most consistent relievers last year.
Strengths: Riske has great makeup and is unflappable on the mound. Hes essentially a one-pitch pitcher, relying on a deceptive, explosive fastball that plays bigger than its low- to mid-90s velocity. The pitch takes off on hitters, who cant catch up to it as it rides up out of the zone.
Weaknesses: Riske needs a reliable secondary pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. Attempts to develop a breaking ball have led to a change in his arm angle, which adversely affects his heater. Hell also have to fine-tune his control.
The Future: A closer in the minors, Riske is evolving into a valuable middle reliever and potential set-up man in the big leagues. Hell spend 2002 a few chairs down from closer Bob Wickman in the bullpen.
8. Brian Tallet, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 208. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Rene Gayo.
Background: Pitching for college baseballs premier program (Louisiana State) in pressure situations (he started the 2000 College World Series championship game) has helped Tallet in his development as a pro. He dominated at Mahoning Valley in his pro debut in 2000, and last year he led the Carolina League as well as Indians minor leaguers in strikeouts.
Strengths: Tallet reminds some scouts of a young Chuck Finley. Tall and rangy, he has three solid pitches in his low-90s fastball, his slider and his changeup. Hes very aggressive and has a good feel for pitching. He pitches with confidence and shows a knack for changing speeds. His size is an asset, especially for a lefthander.
Weaknesses: His main concerns are repeating his delivery more consistently and refining his changeup. Tallet also will have to throw more strikes with his secondary pitches in order to get hitters out at the upper levels.
The Future: When the Indians drafted Tallet, they projected him as a reliever. He since has pitched so well as a starter that those plans have changed. Hell begin this year in the Double-A rotation.
9. Billy Traber, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Loyola Marymount, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bob Minor (Mets).
Background: While Escobar was the biggest name among the prospects Cleveland received in the Alomar trade, Traber may be a safer bet to succeed. The 16th overall draft pick in 2000, he agreed to a $1.7 million bonus before a routine physical revealed ligament damage in his elbow. Forced to settle for $400,000, he was healthy throughout his pro debut last year and reached Triple-A.
Strengths: Traber has three pitches that can get hitters out: an 89-91 mph fastball, a plus curveball and a splitter that he saves to escape jams. His command makes those pitches even better, as he keeps hitters off balance by mixing his pitches and locations.
Weaknesses: Trabers fourth pitch right now is a changeup, and it needs the most work. Though he logged 152 innings and did not miss a start in 2001, theres still concern about his elbow.
The Future: The Indians dont have the stockpile of lefty starters that the Mets have, so Traber may find it easier to reach the big leagues in his new organization. Hell be a phone call away this year in Triple-A.
10. Alex Herrera, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 1997. Signed by: Luis Aponte.
Background: Herrera escaped notice until last year, when he was untouchable in high Class A. He limited Carolina League hitters to a .171 average while striking out 12.5 batters per nine innings, and Double-A batters didnt find him much easier to solve.
Strengths: Herrera may lack size, but he doesnt lack heat. He has a lively 92-96 mph fastball, which hitters arent accustomed to seeing from a lefty. His slider is inconsistent, but its also a plus pitch at times. When he has both pitches working, hes in charge.
Weaknesses: Herreras delivery varies, so his command and stuff do as well. He also throws a changeup, but like his slider its far from a finished product. At 5-foot-11, its not easy for him to leverage the ball down in the strike zone.
The Future: If he can add one or two secondary pitches and firm up his mechanics, Herrera has back-of-the-bullpen potential. He had a strong winter pitching in his native Venezuela, which could springboard him to Triple-A at the start of this season. His name has started to come up in trade inquiries, but so far the Indians have resisted.
Rest of the Best:
11. Willy Taveras, of
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