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Top Ten Prospects: Cleveland Indians
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Chris Kline
January 23, 2006

Chat Wrap: Chris Kline took your Indians questions
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, 2006.

Mark Shapiro took over as Indians general manager in November 2001 and promptly dismantled a team that had won six American League Central titles in seven seasons. The big league club was aging and overpaid, while the farm system was thin.

Cleveland fans weren’t happy, but Shapiro assured them that the Indians would rebuild the right way—by developing their own talent—and set a timetable of 2005 for the club to contend again.

Let’s just say his ETA was right on schedule.

The Indians finished 2005 with 93 wins, the sixth-most in the majors and more than every other National League club except the Cardinals. Cleveland has improved from 68 to 80 to 93 victories over the last three seasons, thanks to homegrown prospects and key trades.

Shapiro’s signature deal remains shipping Bartolo Colon to the Expos in June 2002 for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens. Sizemore and Lee are now part of a young nucleus that also includes Coco Crisp (part of a Chuck Finley trade with the Cardinals in July 2002), Travis Hafner (stolen from the Rangers in a deal for Einar Diaz in December 2002), Victor Martinez (signed out of Venezuela in 1996), Jhonny Peralta (signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999) and C.C. Sabathia (drafted in the first round in 1998). None of that group is older than 28.

While the Indians have emerged from their rebuilding phase, the system continues to develop talent. Another wave of prospects in the upper minors is nearly ready to make an impact in Cleveland. Lefthander Jeremy Sowers, righthanders Fernando Cabrera and Fausto Carmona and first baseman/catcher Ryan Garko all could contribute to the big league club in 2006, and Brad Snyder and Franklin Gutierrez are on hand should an outfield opening arise.

Double-A Akron won the Eastern League title behind up-and-coming managerial candidate Torey Lovullo. Cleveland has had success promoting managers as well as players from within—most notably with big league skipper Eric Wedge and third-base coach Joel Skinner—and Lovullo could be the next in that line. In addition to developing players, managers and coaches, Cleveland also is grooming future general managers. Assistant GM Chris Antonetti turned down the opportunity to interview for Boston’s GM job, and farm director John Farrell’s name also surfaced in connection with the position. Assistant GM/scouting director John Mirabelli also is a future GM candidate.

Not all of the news from the minors was good. The Indians’ top two prospects from a year ago, righthander Adam Miller and first baseman Michael Aubrey, had serious injuries. Miller missed the first half of 2005 with an elbow strain but came back in the second half to reclaim the No. 1 spot on this list. Aubrey had back problems that limited him to just 28 games, and there are some fears they may be chronic.

1. ADAM MILLER, rhp      Born: November 26, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS—McKinney, Texas, 2003 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Matt Ruebel

Background: Background: Miller came into 2005 off a strong first full season, which he finished by not allowing an earned run in 14 innings and touching 101 mph with his explosive fastball during the high Class A Carolina League playoffs. There were whispers during spring training that he could reach Cleveland in 2005 after starting the year at Double-A Akron, paying quick dividends on the 2003 supplemental first-round pick received for the loss of Jim Thome to free agency. But those ambitious plans were put on hold two weeks into spring training when Miller was shut down with a strained ligament in his elbow after long-tossing. He didn’t require surgery but lost nearly three months of development time. Miller sat out for three weeks before throwing bullpen sessions in extended spring training. He joined short-season Mahoning Valley at the end of June and was greeted rudely by opposing hitters, who touched him for a .405 average. He never gained confidence in his secondary pitches and continued to struggle after moving up to high Class A Kinston. He pitched better in the Arizona Fall League than his 5.68 ERA would indicate.

Strengths: When he’s healthy, Miller has all the components of a frontline major league starter. Garnering comparisons to Kevin Brown and Bret Saberhagen, he features a heavy 92-97 mph fastball with great life and armside movement. Though he sat at 91-93 mph for much of 2005, his velocity increased as the season wore on. He complements his fastball with a hard-biting, 87-88 mph slider than can dominate lefties and righties alike. His changeup showed significant improvement when he used it. He has an advanced feel for pitching, combining those instincts with power stuff and moxie. Managers and scouts rave about his makeup.

Weaknesses: The health of Miller’s elbow is a major concern, but he stayed healthy and didn’t experience any further problems after his three-month layoff. His mechanics are usually free and easy, so they shouldn’t cause him difficulty in the future. Miller’s problems on the mound last year can be traced to his secondary pitches. While his slider still had its usual velocity, he lacked the command he showed with the pitch in 2004. He lacked confidence in his changeup, so hitters sat on his fastball. His ability to locate his slider and changeup improved late in the season. With all the time off, Miller developed a hitch in his delivery, dropping his lead arm. That caused him to lower his arm angle, affecting his leverage and deception, but he smoothed out the problem toward the end of the year. Though he earns points for his poise and his work ethic, Miller did get frustrated at times when things didn’t go his way.

The Future: Miller isn’t quite on the same path he was a year ago, when he was regarded as one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. But he still has a huge ceiling and might not be much more than a season away from joining the Indians. They say he’s 100 percent healthy and ready for a full season in 2006. Barring any setbacks, he’ll head to Double-A to start the year and could take off from there.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mahoning Valley (SS) 0 0 5.06 3 3 0 0 11 17 0 4 6 .405
Kinston (Hi A) 2 4 4.83 12 12 0 0 60 76 5 17 45 .318

2. JEREMY SOWERS, lhp        Born: May 17, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175
Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Scott Barnsby

Background: Growing up, Sowers was more into chess than sports, and that may be the best metaphor for his approach to pitching—a strategic match of wits. A two-time first-round pick who turned down the Reds out of high school before signing for $2.475 million as the sixth pick in 2004, he finished his first pro season in Triple-A Buffalo. The Indians gave him their Bob Feller Award as their minor league pitcher of the year.

Sowers doesn’t overpower hitters with his 88-92 mph fastball, so he relies on his intelligence to gain an edge to keep them guessing. He locates his fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and shows excellent command of both his short slider and his changeup. He scrapped his curveball in favor of the slider, which features a more cutter-like action.


Though Sowers locates his changeup well, it lacks depth at times and his arm speed is inconsistent. He needs to do a better job of repeating his arm slot with his slider, as he tends to arch his back, throwing off its overall effectiveness and late bite.


The Future:
Several Tribe officials felt Sowers could have won in the big leagues last year, and they view him as a future 15-20 game winner in the mold of John Tudor. Sowers probably will return to Triple-A to begin 2006, but he could be the first starter Cleveland summons from the minors.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Kinston (Hi A) 8 3 2.78 13 13 0 0 71 60 5 19 75 .223
Akron (AA) 5 1 2.08 13 13 0 0 82 74 8 9 70 .241
Buffalo (AAA) 1 0 1.59 1 1 0 0 6 7 0 1 4 .292

3. BRAD SNYDER, of    Born: May 25, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
Drafted: Ball State, 2003 (1st round)  Signed by: Bob Mayer/Chuck Ricci

Background: Snyder has come a long way since a car accident sidetracked his career during his freshman year at Ball State. He rebounded to become the Mid-American Conference player of the year and a first-round pick in 2003, but then missed spring training in 2004 with an eye infection that set back his development. He found his stride in Double-A last year, helping Akron win the Eastern League championship.

Snyder has drawn comparisons to Paul O’Neill and Fred Lynn for his wide base of tools. He has the sweetest swing and the best power in the organization, with plus bat speed that produces easy pop to all fields. He’s an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases. While he has the speed and range to play center field, his tools are best suited for right. He has average arm strength that plays up thanks to his accuracy and instincts.


Snyder’s lack of strike-zone discipline hampers him at the plate. He fanned 158 times last year, and big league pitchers could exploit his tendency to swing and miss. He struggles with breaking balls down and away, and he’s still learning how to stay back and drive balls consistently.


The Future:
Snyder will head back to Double-A to further hone his approach and tighten up his zone. He should earn a Triple-A promotion by midseason.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Kinston (Hi A) .278 .365 .431 209 36 58 10 2 6 28 24 64 12 1
Akron (AA) .280 .345 .539 304 56 85 21 5 16 54 25 94 5 3

4. FAUSTO CARMONA, rhp        Born: December 7, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000  Signed by: Josue Herrera

Background: Carmona has won 40 games in his three full seasons, tying for the minor league lead with 17 victories in 2003. He struggled in Double-A in both 2004 and 2005, but he recovered to pitch well in Triple-A last year.

Carmona enjoyed increased velocity in Triple-A, jumping up to 93-94 mph while topping out at 96. His high-80s slider can be nasty when he commands it, and his deceptive changeup with late action gives him a third plus pitch. Command always has been his forte, as he likes to pound the zone with heavy sinkers and values groundballs as much as strikeouts.


Carmona still doesn’t miss a lot of bats and probably never will. But someone with his stuff shouldn’t be nearly as hittable as he has been in the upper minors. He needs to become more consistent with his mechanics.


The Future:
The Indians envision him developing along the lines of Jake Westbrook. Carmona has the necessary pitches to become a frontline starter, but he still has plenty of development remaining before he’s ready. He’ll probably spend at least another half-season in Triple-A, as Jeremy Sowers is in line for the first callup.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Akron (AA) 6 5 4.07 14 14 0 0 90 100 7 20 57 .276
Buffalo (AAA) 7 4 3.25 13 12 1 0 83 76 10 15 49 .244

5. RYAN GARKO, 1b/c        Born: January 2, 1981 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225
Drafted: Stanford, 2003 (3rd round)   Signed by: Don Lyle

Background: Garko’s bat never has been in question. But after he went undrafted following his junior year at Stanford, Garko dropped 15 pounds to address concerns over his lack of mobility behind the plate. His stock soared and he earned All-America honors as a senior, and he hit his way to the big leagues little more than two years after turning pro.

Garko is short to the ball with an efficient stroke, allowing him to adjust to pitches in any location. He uses the whole field and shows above-average power. His makeup and leadership skills are among the best in the system.


The only thing holding Garko back is his defensive deficiencies. The Indians committed to getting him as much work as possible behind the plate in 2005 but have since wavered, realizing backup Josh Bard is a much better defender than Garko ever will be. Though his actions at first base have gotten better, he’s still mechanical at times and adequate at best. He’s a liability on the basepaths.


The Future:
Garko worked exclusively at first base in the Arizona Fall League. He could push for incumbent Ben Broussard’s first-base job in 2006 if he can prove himself serviceable defensively.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Buffalo (AAA) .303 .384 .498 452 75 137 25 3 19 77 44 92 1 3
Cleveland .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0

6. FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ, of     Born: February 21, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180
Signed: Venezuela, 2000   Signed by: Camilo Pascual (Dodgers)

Background: After hitting 24 homers in a breakout 2003 season, Gutierrez has totaled just 17 longballs in the Indians system since coming over from the Dodgers in the Milton Bradley trade in April 2004. Nagging injuries have been the problem. He had minor elbow surgery in 2004, and he sprained a knee in April and dislocated his left middle finger in June last year.

Gutierrez generates tremendous bat speed and crushes inside pitches, and he also shows the ability to take balls the other way through improved pitch recognition. He moved back in the box and raised his hands slightly to improve his load at the plate and did well once he adjusted to the changes. Indians officials consider him the best defensive outfielder in the system, with above-average speed and range to play center and a plus arm.


Gutierrez still has a tendency to expand his strike zone, and his lack of discipline has some scouts thinking that his ceiling is nothing more than becoming Juan Encarnacion. If he hadn’t lost so much development time during the last two years, Gutierrez might be knocking on the door to Cleveland.


The Future:
He could make the Indians as a fourth outfielder in spring training. But he has yet to prove himself in Triple-A and needs regular at-bats, so he likely will start the year in Buffalo.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Akron (AA) .261 .322 .423 383 73 100 25 2 11 42 30 77 14 4
Buffalo (AAA) .254 .320 .403 67 10 17 6 2 0 7 6 13 2 2
Cleveland .000 .500 .000 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0

7. FERNANDO CABRERA, rhp      Born: November 16, 1981 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 170
Drafted: HS—Bayamon, P.R., 1999 (10th round)  Signed by: Henry Cruz

Background: The Indians had a poor draft in 1999, as their top pick (second-rounder Will Hartley) never made it out of Rookie ball and just one player signed in the first 20 rounds made it past Double-A. That exception is Cabrera, who reached Double-A as a starter but has been groomed as a late-inning reliever since mid-2003. He has been impressive in late-season callups the last two years.

Cabrera operates with two plus pitches, a lively 92-96 mph fastball and a hard, diving splitter. His fastball command has improved since his days as a starter, and he pitches effectively to both sides of the plate. He has both the stuff and the demeanor to close.


Cabrera’s slider and changeup aren’t nearly as effective as his other two offerings. When he stays on top of his slider and doesn’t slow down his arm speed with his changeup, both pitches grade out as major league average. He rarely concerns himself with holding runners close to first base.


The Future:
There’s no question that Cabrera is Cleveland’s closer of the future. The Indians will ease him into the role, however, after re-signing all-star Bob Wickman to finish games in 2006. Cabrera will help set up Wickman this season.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Buffalo (AAA) 6 1 1.23 30 0 0 3 51 36 3 11 68 .196
Cleveland 2 1 1.47 15 0 0 0 31 24 1 11 29 .212

8. TREVOR CROWE, of    Born: November 17, 1983 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200
Drafted: Arizona, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Joe Graham

Background: A natural athlete with good bloodlines, Crowe is a former junior national racquetball champion and his father David was a professional golfer. Crowe earned All-America honors last spring by hitting .403 and leading NCAA Division I with 15 triples (the second-most in D-I history) and 49 extra-base hits. He went 14th overall in the 2005 draft—the highest-selected University of Arizona player since Eddie Leon went ninth in 1965—and signed for $1.695 million.

A switch-hitter with quick hands, Crowe is a slightly better hitter from the left side while displaying more power from the right. He has a history of hitting with wood bats with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League. He makes quick adjustments and has the ability to center the ball and use the whole field. The Indians grade his speed as above-average and believe he can handle the defensive responsibilities of center field.


Crowe can be undisciplined at times at the plate and lacks raw power. Some scouts question whether he had the quickness to play center, and his arm is below average. He had trouble staying out of the training room in his pro debut, with an abdominal strain and a freak injury when he was hit in the thumb by a line drive while running the bases.


The Future:
Though he finished 2005 in Double-A, Crowe likely will start in high Class A this year. He’s quite similar to Cleveland’s current left fielder, Coco Crisp.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Mahoning Valley (SS) .255 .345 .392 51 9 13 2 1 1 6 6 8 4 3
Lake County (Lo A) .258 .327 .326 178 18 46 8 2 0 23 18 25 7 5
Akron (AA) .100 .100 .100 10 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0

9. STEPHEN HEAD, 1b       Born: January 13, 1984 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220
Drafted: Mississippi, 2005 (2nd round)   Signed by: Scott Barnsby

Background: Head projected as more of a pitcher coming out of high school and starred as a two-way player at Mississippi. He set the Rebels career saves record with 26, and his 165 RBIs were three shy of another school mark. He entered 2005 projected as an early first-round pick, but dropped to the Indians in the second round because of concerns about his power ceiling. He signed for $605,000 and hit six homers in his first 10 pro games.

Head has the strength to hit balls out of the park, generating most of his pop with his lower half. He destroys inside pitches and his long arms enable him to cover the outer half. If he maintains a consistent approach, he can hit for average with 20-30 homers annually. He’s a solid defender at first base, with soft hands and good range.


Head’s upper body isn’t great, but he should fill out with more conditioning. He needs to tighten up his strike zone and identify breaking balls better. He also tends to get a little long in his swing and becomes too pull-conscious at times. He’s a below-average runner.


The Future:
By jumping Head to high Class A after 10 pro games, the Indians displayed their faith in his advanced bat. He could return there to start 2006 or move up to Double-A if Michael Aubrey isn’t healthy.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Mahoning Valley (SS) .432 .533 1.027 37 11 16 4 0 6 14 8 5 0 0
Kinston (Hi A) .286 .310 .419 203 31 85 15 0 4 36 8 33 4 0

10. MICHAEL AUBREY, 1b      Born: April 15, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195
Drafted: Tulane, 2003 (1st round)    Signed by: Scott Meaney

Background: Aubrey jumped to Double-A in 2004 after just 98 games as a pro. But a hamstring injury that July sidelined him for five weeks, and he played just one game after May 9 last year after he hurt his back. The injury could be chronic, as back problems also ended his career as a pitcher at Tulane.

Aubrey’s quick hands allow him to control the barrel of the bat, and he drives balls into the gaps with regularity. He recognizes pitches well and rarely swings and misses. He’s a premium defender with good footwork around the bag, soft hands and a plus arm for a first baseman.


There’s some question about how much power Aubrey will hit for in the majors. He profiles as a gap hitter with occasional pop, and he needs to improve at turning on inside fastballs. After the back injury, he had trouble getting his front foot down without feeling any pain as he went into the turn in his swing. His speed is below-average, though he’s not a baseclogger.


The Future:
Aubrey has the highest ceiling of any corner infielder in the system. His health will have a huge role in whether he reaches it. He’ll probably return to Double-A in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Akron (AA) .283 .336 .462 106 17 30 5 1 4 20 7 18 1 0

Photo Credits:
Head, Snyder: Rich Abel
Aubrey, Garko: Mike Janes
Miller, Sowers: Carl Kline
Gutierrez: Bill Mitchell
Carmona: Steve Moore
Crowe: Rodger Wood

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