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Background: It's been years since an Indians prospect has excited his bosses as much with his slugging exploits as Branyan. Nobody in recent memory, not even Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez, flashed the power Branyan has in his march up the minor league ladder. Over the last three years Branyan has hit 95 home runs, and that's despite missing half the 1998 season with a lingering and still nagging strained tendon in his right wrist. Over that same span he has averaged one home run every 11.3 at-bats. He hit 12 home runs in Double-A in the second half, then tried to make up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League but was sent home when the wrist flared up again. The condition might require minor arthroscopic surgery over the winter, but club officials are confident he'll be close to 100 percent by the start of training camp. Strengths: Wall-to-wall power. Light tower power. Over the wall and out onto the street power. Branyan may have the best raw power of any hitter in the minor leagues. He is also maturing as a hitter and improving his pitch identification ability. He is not giving away as many at-bats as he has in the past. The ball explodes off his bat, and he's learned he doesn't have to pull everything. With dangerous power to all parts of the ballpark, Branyan is taking more pitches the other way, with authority. Weaknesses: Branyan still strikes out way too much, in part because his approach at times appears to be merely trying to see how far he can hit each pitch. He has averaged one strikeout every 2.7 at bats as a pro. The tradeoff is his power, and club officials are willing to live with it. Branyan has shown an improved work ethic, and there is hope that it will translate into fewer strikeouts. Defensively he has made definite strides and has turned himself from a below average third baseman into an average one. It's not out of the question, however, that his big league future could be in left field. The Future: The wrist injury prevented Branyan from positioning himself to make a run at a big league job in training camp next spring. As it is, he will come to camp and try to prove that the injury is behind him. He will likely start the season at Buffalo, whom he played for in this year's Triple-A World Series. Club officials would like to see him get a full season at Triple-A, and that's very possible, because with Travis Fryman entrenched at third base on the big league club, there is no need to rush Branyan. But it's only a matter of time before Branyan's fence busting swing punches his ticket to the big leagues.
Background: Sabathia is the first lefthander selected by the Indians in the first round since Greg Swindell in 1986. At the time of the draft there was some question about his weight and, consequently, his makeup, but the Indians never hesitated and couldn't be happier with the choice. Prolonged negotiations limited Sabathia to five starts at Rookie-level Burlington. Strengths: Tremendous size, strength and athleticism. His upside is as big as Branyan's. Sabathia can hit 97 mph--and that's with unrefined mechanics. He has a plus curve and changeup, and a feel for both. Weaknesses: His body is still a concern. He's going to have to work hard to maintain a good playing weight that will allow him to fully realize his potential. He also needs work on his mechanics, which are inconsistent. The Future: Sabathia is ticketed for the rotation at Class A Columbus in 1999. He is being put on the same fast track Jaret Wright rode to Cleveland.
Background: Ramirez is proof that hard work pays off. After toiling for five mostly uninspiring years in the Tribe system, he emerged his sixth and seventh years to make this list for the first time. This Ramirez is no relation to Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramirez. Strengths: Big-time raw power and a tremendous work ethic. Ramirez is very competitive and worked hard to become a 30-home run hitter after entering 1998 with a career high of 18. Weaknesses: His strikeouts are high, but perhaps not for a player with his power. A bigger concern is his lack of discipline at the plate. Ramirez' career high for walks is 26. Defensively he's getting better, but has a ways to go. The Future: With two full years at Triple-A under his belt, Ramirez will go to training camp with a legitimate shot at winning a job on the big league club. He, Jacob Cruz and Richie Sexson probably will vie for two spots.
Background: Wilson was acquired from the Twins for lefthander Shawn Bryant in 1994 in one of GM John Hart's shrewdest minor league trades. Wilson methodically climbed the ladder in the Indians system as a shortstop before starting at second base for much of this year's big league playoffs. Strengths: He doesn't get much chance to show it off from second, but Wilson has the best infield arm in the system. He's an adaptable, athletic player who made the transition to second smoothly but still needs to learn the footwork to turn the double play at second. He has gap power and generally makes good contact at the plate. Weaknesses: Wilson hit just .244 from the left side this year, compared to .388 righthanded--leaving doubt on his future as a switch-hitter. He needs more discipline at the plate, especially for a free swinger without home-run power. The Future: With the signing of Roberto Alomar to play second, Wilson will be relegated to utility duty or trade bait in '99. His future as an everyday player in Cleveland lies only at shortstop, but not as long as Vizquel is around.
Background: An unheralded 1996 draft choice who signed a year later as a draft-and-follow, Brown emerged as a prospect in 1997 when he went 10-2, 3.08 at short-season Watertown. He skipped a level off that performance, and even finished this year with a start in Double-A. Strengths: Brown's changeup is a big-time out pitch and becomes doubly nasty when thrown off his lively 92-94 mph fastball. He has a strong, durable body and is an intense competitor. But even he may not realize how good he can be. Weaknesses: Brown could use a third pitch, and he's working on developing a consistent breaking ball. He has inconsistent mechanics that lead to lack of consistency in the strike zone, particularly with his breaking ball. He throws too many pitches up in the zone. The Future: Expect Brown to start the 1999 season in the rotation at Akron. Tribe officials love hiss makeup and the fact that he has two plus pitches in his fastball and changeup. When the breaking ball comes, the package will be complete.
Background: The club's top draft pick in 1997 and the younger brother of J.D., Drew got a healthy dose of humility in '98. After getting a mid-season promotion from Columbus to Kinston, he struggled. In 33 professional starts in his two years in the organization, Drew is 7-12, 4.67. Strengths: Despite the statistics, Drew has great makeup, is very competitive and has terrific athleticism. His fastball has plus life, but his two above-average pitches are his breaking ball and changeup. He's very intense and focused, but it seems like he wants to make it to the major leagues tomorrow. He has incredibly high standards for himself. Weaknesses: Drew is inconsistent with his location because he doesn't repeat his delivery with any regularity. He has trouble avoiding big innings and needs to improve his command on both sides of the plate. The Future: Depending on what kind of spring training he has, Drew will start the year in the rotation at either Kinston or Akron. He needs to settle down and have a productive season to get the ball rolling again.
Background: Knee and back injuries hampered him through most of the 1998 season. Peoples was a first baseman in college, but was shifted briefly to third base as a pro before finding a home in left field. He followed a mediocre rookie season with a breakthrough 1997, hitting 34 homers in Class A. But injuries and problems adjusting to Double-A pitching have flattened out his development curve. Strengths: Peoples has outstanding raw power to all fields. He projects at either left field or first base. He has a great work ethic, is a good athlete and isn't afraid to draw a walk. Weaknesses: His big swing and homer-happy approach lead to too many strikeouts, one every 3.1 at-bats in the Indians organization. Peoples' defense is adequate at best and he has no speed. While his batting average improved this year, his power numbers declined. The Future: Peoples will start the 1999 season in left field at either Akron or Buffalo. He needs more at-bats in Double-A.
Background: Who knew what to expect in Brammer's third pro season? In 1996 as a reliever at Watertown, Brammer was unbeaten. A year later, he fell to 6-10 as a starter at Columbus. In 1998, he was back in the bullpen and almost unhittable at Kinston, earning a promotion to Double-A, where he again struggled. His season was interrupted for two months in May and June because of a broken collar bone. Strengths: Brammer flashes two plus pitches: an above-average fastball with explosive life in the zone, and a power curveball that is also above average. He's very resilient, and pitches aggressively. Weaknesses: He has an inconsistent delivery and some mechanical glitches that need refining. He needs better command of all his pitches, which have nasty action but don't always hit the catcher's mitt. The Future: Though he appeared in just 11 games in Double-A, Brammer had an outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League and could be pushed to Buffalo in 1999.
Background: Signability questions caused Bacsik, whose father Mike pitched in the big leagues from 1970-1974, to fall in the 1996 draft. The Indians took a flier on him and paid him second-round bonus money. He had a breakthrough 1998 season despite pitching for a poor offensive team in Kinston. Strengths: For a young lefthander, Bacsik has a tremendous feel for pitching. He has above-average command of a below-average fastball and will flash a fine changeup. He has pinpoint control. His whole approach to pitching is strikingly similar to that of Tom Glavine. Weaknesses: His breaking ball is on the way, but it's not here yet. He needs to refine the pitch and learn to keep it down consistently in the zone. Bacsik's command is good right now, but it needs to be great because of his lack of overpowering stuff. The Future: He'll pitch the entire 1999 season in the Akron rotation. In an organization thirsting for lefthanded pitchers, Sabathia and Bacsik are the best of the lot.