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Cleveland Indians:
1999 Top 10

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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: 19  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-7  Wt: 235
Signed: HS-Vallejo, Calif., 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Paul Cogan

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Sandy Alomar, c
1991 Mark Lewis, ss
1992 Kenny Lofton, of
1993 Manny Ramirez, of
1994 Manny Ramirez, of
1995 Jaret Wright, rhp
1996 Bartolo Colon, rhp
1997 Bartolo Colon, rhp
1998 Sean Casey, 1b
1999 Russell Branyan, 3b

Background: It’s difficult for Indians officials to decide what they like best about Sabathia: his youth, his size, his arm, or that he’s a lefthander. All of those factors combine to make Sabathia perhaps the only untouchable player in the minor league system of a team unafraid to package prospects in trades for veteran help in the big leagues. After getting a late start in 1999 due to a bone bruise in his elbow, Sabathia began galloping up the ladder, pitching at three levels while holding opposing batters to a .198 average. In two years as a pro Sabathia has averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In high school, he was a star end on offense and defense and turned down football scholarship offers from several Division I-A programs, including UCLA.

Strengths: Sabathia is that rarest of commodities: a lefthanded power pitcher. At 18, he already was throwing nearly 100 mph. Sabathia has a great feel for pitching for one so young. He has a nice knack for changing speeds, working off a plus fastball. And, despite a somewhat soft body, he is extremely athletic. He made the most of his late start to the 1999 season. While recovering from his bruised elbow, he refined his mechanics and did extra work on the field and in front of the mirror.

Weaknesses: Sabathia doesn’t exactly have a classic pitcher’s body, and because of his body type it will be critical to his success that he works hard to stay in shape. Like most young pitchers he is inconsistent with his breaking ball, and he needs to get a better feel for his changeup. He also needs to get a full season under his belt. A late signee in ’98, he is a third-year professional who has logged just 104 innings.

The Future: Still a teenager, Sabathia will begin the 2000 season at Class A Kinston. Indians officials would love to let him get a full season there, but depending on how things develop ahead of him, he may be pushed through the system in much the same way that the club pushed another high school pitcher taken in the first round, Jaret Wright.

1999 Club           W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Mahoning Valley (A) 0  0  1.83   6   6   0   0   20   9  12  27
Columbus (A)        2  0  1.08   3   3   0   0   17   8   5  20
Kinston (A)         3  3  5.34   7   7   0   0   32  30  19  29

2. Danys Baez, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 225
Signed: Cuba, 1999  Signed by: Rene Gayo, Dom Chiti, Mike Brown

Background: Baez defected from the Cuban national team after making one appearance during the Pan Amer-ican Games in Winnipeg last year. He established a temporary residence in Costa Rica, where his workouts sparked a bidding war. The Indians won, signing Baez to a four-year $14.5 million contract, the most money ever given to an amateur player.

Strengths: The Indians praise Baez’ makeup and maturity, as well as his low to mid-90s fastball. Baez has a burning desire to succeed. He throws a power curveball with a hard, sharp break.

Weaknesses: In addition to learning how to become a big league pitcher, Baez is also trying to learn how to function in a new culture, far removed from his family (still in Cuba) and anything he experienced in his homeland. He also needs to develop an offspeed pitch.

The Future: With a strong spring, Baez could win a spot on the Opening Day roster. The more likely scenario is for him to start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Buffalo, allowing him to get his feet on the ground professionally and socially.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
             Did Not Play--Signed 2000 Contract

3. Rusell Branyan, 3B
Age: 24  B-T: L-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Warner Robins, Ga., 1994 (7th round)  Signed by: Mark Germann

Background: Branyan has hit 149 home runs in 1,922 minor league at-bats, with 766 strikeouts. He got a brief taste of the big leagues in 1999, hitting a home run off David Cone in Yankee Stadium in his first at-bat, but he quickly went back to Buffalo.

Strengths: Branyan has staggering, jaw-dropping raw power. He has surprising athleticism, and has worked hard and made huge strides to turn himself into a solid defensive third baseman.

Weaknesses: He also has shown almost no ability to make adjustments and swings just as wildly when behind in the count as when ahead. He struck out 118 times more than anyone else on the Buffalo team last year.

The Future: Barring a trade of Travis Fryman, Branyan will start the season at Buffalo. This is a huge year for Branyan, who has the potential to be one of the most feared power hitters in the game. But he may end being nothing more than a poor man’s Dave Kingman.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Buffalo (AAA)      .208  395  51  82  11   1  30   67  52 187   8
Cleveland          .211   38   4   8   2   0   1    6   3  19   0

4. Tim Drew, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Hahira, Ga., 1997 (Supplemental 1st round)  Signed by: Mark Germann

Background: With his more renowned, older brother J.D., the Drews became the first brothers picked in the same first round in draft history. Tim had the better year in 1999, leading the Carolina League in wins and innings pitched. His breakthrough season came not a moment too soon, following a head-scratching first two years in which he was 7-12.

Strengths: Drew has great passion and aptitude for the game, mental toughness and a wonderful work ethic. Drew’s fastball has good life. He uses a plus slider as his out pitch and has a good feel for the craft, using multiple arm angles to deceive hitters.

Weaknesses: Drew lacks a blazing fastball and deception in his delivery, but he works around it. He’s not overly big and strong, and he could use more work on his third pitch, a curve or change.

The Future: Drew will start the 2000 season in the rotation at Double-A Akron. In their race to the big leagues he’s a step ahead of Sabathia, but it’s a horse race. Both are expected to arrive with an impact.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Kinston (A)       13  5  3.73  28  28   2   0  169 154  60 125

5. Scott Morgan, OF
Age: 26  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-7  Wt: 230
Drafted: Gonzaga, 1995 (7th round)  Signed by: Steve Avila

Background: Morgan is essentially a Richie Sexson clone, a gigantic power-hitting outfielder with a basketball background. Morgan played both hoops and baseball at Gonzaga. Over the last four seasons he’s averaged almost 27 home runs a year.

Strengths: Morgan is basically a one-tool player, but that one tool is an eye-opener. He has terrific power to all fields, and a big man’s ability to put up big numbers. Like Sexson, he’s also a good athlete, who though best suited for left field can also play some in right.

Weaknesses: His arm strength is below-average and he still needs a lot of work defensively, so he’s suited for left field. Morgan struggled with his average against Triple-A pitching, and has struck out more as he has moved up in competition.

The Future: He’ll be the left fielder at Buffalo to start the season, and would be just a phone call away in case of injury. For now, though, he appears to be stuck behind Jacob Cruz and Alex Ramirez for jobs as a big league reserve.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Akron (AA)         .282  344  72  97  26   2  26   70  38  96   6
Buffalo (AAA)      .257  171  32  44   9   0   8   31  18  38   2

6. Sean DePaula, RHP
Age: 26  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 215
Drafted: Wake Forest, 1996 (9th round)  Signed by: Kasey McKeon

Background: DePaula wasn’t even on the 40-man roster at the start of the year, but pitched effectively at four levels and ended up on the Indians’ postseason roster. During a September callup he was unflappable, unafraid to challenge hitters, as evidenced by his low walks total.

Strengths: DePaula has three above-average pitches–fastball, slider and split-finger fastball–and changes speeds well. He has great competitiveness, a big, strong body, terrific poise and maturity.

Weaknesses: The key to DePaula’s success will be learning to stay ahead of hitters consistently. He has shown an ability to repeat his unorthodox delivery. If he can stay together mechanically, he could factor into the Indians’ cloudy bullpen picture.

The Future: DePaula will go to camp with a legitimate shot at hanging onto the set-up role he won last September.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Kinston (A)        4  2  2.28  23   0   0   7   51  36  17  75
Akron (AA)         1  0  3.54  14   0   0   1   28  20  17  31
Buffalo (AAA)      0  0  0.00   5   0   0   2    5   0   3   7
Cleveland          0  0  4.63  11   0   0   0   12   8   3  18

7. Jamie Brown, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 205
Drafted: Meridien (Miss.) CC, 1996 (21st round)  Signed by: Max Semler

Background: Brown was signed as a draft-and-follow in May 1997. After going 22-11, 3.56 in his first two years in the system, he experienced his first adversity last year yet still showed flashes of the potential club officials see making an impact in the big leagues soon. He was added to the 40-man roster after the season.

Strengths: Brown has three above-average pitches–a fastball, curve and a changeup that is his out pitch. He has learned how to change speeds effectively, has a good body and a clean delivery.

Weaknesses: Brown’s breaking ball is still inconsistent. His relative lack of experience leads to a lack of command. He does not have overpowering stuff, so location is extremely important for him. It’s vital that he stays down in the strike zone.

The Future: Brown, who has climbed through the system quietly and without fanfare, will likely start the season in the rotation at Buffalo.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Akron (AA)         5  9  4.57  23  23   1   0  138 140  39  98
Buffalo (AAA)      1  0  5.40   1   0   0   0    5   8   1   2

8. Robert Pugmire, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 205
Drafted: HS--Everett, Wash., 1997 (3rd round)  Signed by: Steve Avila

Background: After a 1-2, 3.92 pro debut in 1997, Pugmire missed the entire ’98 season due to a fracture in his back. He bounced back in spectacular fashion in 1999 and climbed back onto the development path as if he hadn’t missed any time.

Strengths: In addition to having a classic pitcher’s build, Pugmire has a great passion for the game and loads of intensity. His fastball, curve and change are all solid average to above-average. He did not miss a start last season, a major step forward.

Weaknesses: Given that he has missed a full season with a back problem, there are still some minor questions about Pugmire’s overall health. He lacks a blazing fastball, but compensates with mound maturity.

The Future: Because Pugmire’s history includes back troubles, the Indians will handle him carefully. He will likely start and finish the 2000 season in the rotation at Akron, where club officials would like to see him produce a second consecutive healthy and productive season.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Columbus (A)       6  1  2.65  10  10   0   0   58  43  14  71
Kinston (A)        7  1  3.66  16  16   0   0   96  85  25  89

9. Maicer Isturiz, SS
Age: 19  B-T: B-R  Ht: 5-8  Wt: 155
Signed: Venezuela, 1998  Signed by: Luis Aponte

Background: Isturiz was the No. 10 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 1998. It didn’t take long for the comparisons to fellow countryman and shortstop Omar Vizquel to start. Isturiz’ progress last year was hampered by a sore shoulder that ended his season on July 11.

Strengths: Isturiz is the full package at short, with soft hands, great range and good arm strength. He’s a solid hitter and a good baserunner. He has a live body and the potential to be an impact defender. Only his lack of size and the troublesome shoulder are red flags.

Weaknesses: The shoulder problem is an ongoing concern, and one that will have to be watched closely in 2000. Indians officials wouldn’t mind if Isturiz grew an inch or two and added 10 or 15 pounds. But nobody’s complaining about his size for now, because all the tools are there.

The Future: If Isturiz is able to put together a healthy, productive season in 2000, his name could jump near the top of this list next year. He will open this season at Class A Kinston.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Columbus (A)       .300  220  46  66   5   3   4   23  20  28  14

10. Willie Martinez, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 180
Signed: Venezuela, 1995  Signed by: Luis Aponte

Background: As recently as a year or two ago Martinez was considered perhaps the top pitching prospect in the organization. He finished the ’98 season pitching in the Triple-A World Series with Buffalo, but his once-rapid development curve (a full season at Double-A at age 21) seems to have flattened out.

Strengths: Martinez has an average fastball and curve, but he has superior intelligence. He has shown maturity and the ability to make his pitch when he needs it. He also has a knack for turning it up a notch in big games.

Weaknesses: A red flag appeared last season, when the velocity on Martinez’ fastball decreased by a couple of notches, from the 89-93 mph range to 87-91. More than ever, he needs to develop a third pitch he can throw for strikes. He doesn’t attack hitters the way he should.

The Future: This is a big year for Martinez, who must re-establish himself as an upper-tier prospect. He’ll get that chance with a full season in Triple-A on tap.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Akron (AA)         9  8  4.09  24  24   0   0  147 163  45  91
Buffalo (AAA)      2  2  6.85   4   4   0   0   22  28   7  12

Rest of the Best:

11. Martin Vargas, rhp
12. Danny Peoples, 1b
13. Paul Rigdon, rhp
14. Scott Pratt, 2b
15. Zach Sorensen, ss

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