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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 didn't 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 21⁄2 months of 1999 with a bone bruise in his elbow. Sabathia is the whole package--and 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. He's 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. He's strong with durable mechanics. That he's 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. 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. 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.
Baez, who defected from the Cuban national team during the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, was the Tribe's 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. He projects as a four-tool third baseman. He's 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 he's taught. Smith is a below-average runner. Though he has a strong arm, it's not especially accurate right now. His swing tends to get long on pitches up in the strike zone. But there's nothing that can't be fixed by more experience. His high error total is attributed to youthful aggressiveness. 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.
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 nobody's radar screen at the start of last season, but that has changed dramatically. Taveras is a center fielder with speed, so the comparisons with Kenny Lofton already have started. He 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. Taveras is still raw as a hitter, however, especially in the power department. He needs to work on going back on balls in the outfield. He's still learning how to read pitchers in order to maximize his threat as a basestealer. Like Corey Smith, Taveras will jump from Rookie-level Burlington to Columbus in 2001. He too could be ready for Cleveland by the end of 2003.
A strong September earned DePaula a spot on the Tribe's 1999 postseason roster, and he was the club's 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. DePaula has three quality pitches--fastball, slider, splitter--and throws all of them with confidence. He has shown the mental toughness necessary to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. At times, he has trouble throwing strikes consistently. DePaula's biggest drawback right now is the uncertainty about his elbow. It didn't require surgery after extended rest. Indians officials hope that's all he needs to return to 1999 form. If healthy, DePaula will make a serious run at winning a job in the Cleveland bullpen during spring training. If he doesn't pitch well in camp, he could start the season in Triple-A. In a couple of years, he could emerge as the Tribe's closer.
Day was one of three players obtained from the Yankees in last June's 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. 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. Day could use a more consistent curveball and more experience. His performance in 2000 erased concerns about his health. Day started eight games at Double-A Akron following the trade, and that's probably where he'll begin 2001. He easily could pitch his way to Triple-A or the majors by the end of the season.
Cleveland is Westbrook's 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. He has a big, strong body and an average fastball with hard sink. He complements it with an occasionally plus slider and average changeup. He's intelligent and has a feel for mixing his pitches. Some see him as a Chad Ogea with better stuff. Lacking an overwhelming pitch, Westbrook hasn't 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. Westbrook joins the roll of candidates for Cleveland's Opening Day rotation. More likely, he'll begin the season in Triple-A.
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 wasn't 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. 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. He's intelligent, mentally tough and intense, and possesses a good feel for pitching. Because he doesn't 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 don't have any trouble picking it up. Drew still needs to prove he can pitch at the Triple-A level. Once he does, he'll get a second chance in Cleveland.
The Izturis family churns out shortstops, as Maicer's 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. 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. 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. 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. Vizquel's contract expires after the 2002 season, but Izturis might not be quite ready at that point.
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. His strengths are 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. Requena's 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. Requena will open 2001 at high Class A Kinston, where he'll face more advanced pitching than he has seen before. His development as a hitter will dictate how quickly he moves through the organization.
The clock continues to tick for the Indians' top draft pick from 1996. Peoples has flirted with breakthrough seasons--34 homers in 1997 at Kinston, and 21 homers in each of the last two years--but never has been able to put it all together. Drafted as a first baseman, he was later moved to third base and the outfield, and now he's back at first base. Peoples has very good raw power and bat speed. He's considered a solid hitter, though he never has batted higher than .279 in the minors. Defensively, he's a good enough athlete to be tried at three different positions but not proficient enough to excel at any one of them. He's adequate at best with the glove. But his biggest problem is making consistent contact. He has struck out a combined 264 times the last two years, and has averaged one whiff per 3.3 at-bats as a pro. His age also is becoming a factor. Peoples likely will begin 2001 at Buffalo, and could be one of the first hitters called up when injuries strike the big league club.
Vargas, who hails from the cradle of shortstops, San Pedro de Macoris, actually was signed as a catcher. After hitting .223 in 1996 he was converted into a pitcher, and he has shown one of the liveliest arms in the organization. Originally a starter, he was moved to the bullpen in the middle of the 1999 season. He has tremendous athleticism, an easy delivery and a well-above average fastball with good sink, the best sinker in the organization. He’s also making progress in throwing a quality splitter. Because he’s a converted catcher, Vargas still is developing a feel for pitching, and at times he’s very inconsistent. His secondary stuff needs to be further refined, but the arm is definitely there. He projects as a reliever at the big league level, with a chance at developing into a closer.
The trade of Enrique Wilson to Pittsburgh last season was a break for McDonald, now the heir apparent as the Indians' utility infielder. Unfortunately for McDonald, when the injury bug was sweeping Cleveland in 2000, he was limited to 75 games at Buffalo by a pulled quad. McDonald is well above average at shortstop, and his defensive skills are superior to many major league starters. He has very soft hands, is very good on the transfer, shows excellent quickness around the bag and has a quick release. He has terrific makeup and loves to play the game. There still are questions about whether he will hit enough to be an everyday player in the majors, however. Right now he's a No. 8 or 9 hitter. He'd probably have to play on a big offensive team that could carry him offensively. McDonald also needs to improve his bunting and his ability to play the little game. He'll go to camp with a good chance at opening the season as the Indians' utilityman. Defensively, there isn't much of a dropoff from Omar Vizquel to McDonald.
Tallet comes out of a big-time program at Louisiana State and has experience pitching big games, which only can help him. He was the starting pitcher in the College World Series championship game, getting no decision as the Tigers rallied to beat Stanford. Tallet has three solid average pitches: a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup. He has good size and that most precious commodity of all, being a lefthander. Tallet tends to throw across his body somewhat, but that's correctable. He has good mound presence. Because he comes from an advanced college background, Tallet could move quickly. He was very effective in his brief stint at short-season Mahoning Valley, helping pitch that team to the New York-Penn League championship. He'll likely begin his first full pro season in the high Class A Kinston rotation.
Riske first made it to Cleveland in 1999 and didn't pitch like a 56th-round draft pick. He showed good poise and wasn't awed at all by big league hitters. He was looked at as a candidate for the bullpen in 2000, but a bulging disc hampered him early last season and led to surgery in May to remove the disc. Riske spent most of the season on the disabled list, and when he attempted to pitch again in September, he was halted by a labrum tear in his shoulder. When healthy, Riske gets by on guts and guile. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but is utterly fearless on the mound and uses good deception to make the most of an average fastball. He has good command of that fastball, but lacks a quality second pitch, which sometimes gets him into trouble. He'll go to camp next spring with a chance to win a job in the bullpen.
A minor league Rule 5 draftee out of the Boston organization, Padilla has had a strange career. Drafted as a pitcher, he converted to the outfield and was the starting left fielder in the 1996 Midwest League all-star game. He stalled the next two years in high Class A, then was drafted by the Indians and moved back to the mound. He has tremendous arm strength, unleashing a fastball that can at times be overpowering, clocking in at a C.C. Sabathia-like 99 mph. Because he spent about half of his minor league time as a position player, Padilla still is learning to develop his secondary pitches. His feel for pitching is also lacking. But he is a stunning physical specimen on the mound with the potential to make an impact at the big league level, once he improves his repertoire and the consistency of his mechanics. He’s expected to start this season in the Double-A bullpen.
Brown seemingly has been on the verge of a breakthrough season for the last couple of years. His best season remains his first one, when he went 10-2, 3.08 at short-season Watertown in 1997. Brown's 2000 performance at Akron was statistically unremarkable. But the stuff is there. Brown, who has a good feel for pitching, has two above-average pitches in his fastball and change. His third pitch is a slider, which could use a little more work. He had some back problems in 2000, which may have contributed to an inconsistent delivery. Inconsistency in the strike zone has also been a problem at times. The back trouble last season and a sore shoulder in 1999 have raised questions about his durability. Brown remains one of the organization's more intriguing arms and could start 2001 in the Triple-A rotation.
At age 19, Moreno hit .303 in full-season Class A ball. He came on even stronger last fall in instructional league, where he really started opening some eyes. Defensively, he's a good left fielder with a decent arm. Some see him as being out of the Magglio Ordonez mold. Moreno has good power and is a warrior. With his tools and tremendous makeup, there's no telling how good he could be. The one knock on him is that there isn’t one part of his game that stands out. He's solid in all areas but not exceptional in any. He doesn't have a No. 1 tool. But if he continues to develop at his current pace, he projects as a potential starter at the big league level. The Indians won’t rush him. He’ll start the 2001 season with one of the Tribe’s Class A affiliates.
The Indians surprised some by assigning Peralta to a full-season Class A team at age 17, but he held his own. Despite his youth, Peralta is mechanically sound defensively. He has soft hands and very good range to his left, but still needs more work going into the hole. He has a strong arm, and is already a quality defensive shortstop. Offensively there are still some adjustments he needs to make. He draws walks and has potential gap power but must make more consistent contact. He's only an average runner and not a very accomplished basestealer. Peralta already is halfway up the ladder in the Cleveland system, though the Indians will be patient with him. He likely will start 2001 in high Class A, and if his development continues, it's not out of the question that he could reach Triple-A as a teenager. He might be the most advanced young player in the system.
A product of the Indians' burgeoning Dominican program, Luna is another in the organization's growing inventory of quality middle infielders. His defense is ahead of his offense, mostly because he's already a very accomplished shortstop. He's a solid athlete with quick, soft hands. His glove is his No. 1 tool, but his speed is a close second. He has 48 stolen bases in 121 games in his two years in the system. Luna's bat is still a question mark, and his ability to hit will determine how far he'll rise. He'll have to get stronger to give himself a chance. The Indians will have legitimate prospects playing shortstop at every level of their system in 2001. That includes Luna, who's expected to be the starting shortstop at Columbus.
Sorensen has a tremendous work ethic and makeup and is very intelligent. After not showing much with the bat the last two years, he made some progress in the Arizona Fall League that could indicate he's turned the corner. The best case scenario is that he becomes a Jay Bell type of infielder because he lacks a true No. 1 tool. Defensively, he's solid if unspectacular. His arm is fringe for a shortstop and he hasn't exhibited a lot of range. He'll have to make up for his shortage of defensive tools by precise defensive positioning. But it's his temperament and personality, more than his tools, which everyone talks about. Sheer effort and will make up for shortages in other areas, and Sorensen has all the intangibles. He has risen through the system with his double-play partner, second baseman Scott Pratt, and the duo will start the 2001 season in Double-A or Triple-A. Sorensen, however, might be better suited for second base at the major league level.
The Indians believed the 2000 draft was strong in high school hitters and pitchers, particularly lefthanders. The Indians wasted little time in picking a high school lefty, choosing Thompson with the No. 37 overall pick, compensation for losing free agent Mike Jackson to the Phillies. Thompson signed for an $850,000 bonus. He has a good feel for pitching and throws strikes with three pitches--a low 90s fastball, a slider and changeup--a rarity for a high school pitcher. Thompson was undefeated as a high school senior, averaging 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The Indians think he's very projectable. Though his numbers at Rookie-level Burlington were unimpressive, he may bypass Mahoning Valley and begin 2001 in the Columbus rotation.
Johnson is a converted football player who actually logged more time on the gridiron than on the diamond at Western Carolina. He still is wrestling with the transition from football, but he's a tremendous athlete with superior baseball abilities. His instincts in the outfield are good and he has all the tools necessary to be an above-average defender. He has a plus arm and plus speed, though he's still working on tracking fly balls. Offensively, Johnson will be more of a project. He struggled after being promoted to Kinston and has been slow to make adjustments offensively. His mechanics are inconsistent and he needs a better approach. He does just fine on the bases, where he stole a combined 56 bases in 68 attempts last year. Johnson likely will start the 2001 season back at Kinston.
Evans, another product of new scouting director John Mirabelli's first draft, is a very athletic pitcher. He has a quality sinker, great makeup and good pitchability. He showed a lot of promise in his first year, reminding some of a young Charles Nagy. Evans moves his fastball around the strike zone, and mixes in a slider and changeup. He throws strikes down in the zone and is more of a pitcher than a thrower. That's somewhat surprising, because he's a converted infielder who's still learning the nuances of pitching. His inexperience on the mound is at times noticeable and costly, but that can be fixed. Evans' biggest need right now is for innings. He showed so much in his debut that he might skip Columbus and begin this season in the Kinston rotation.
A catcher in high school, Swedlow immediately was converted to a first baseman after the Indians drafted him in the third round last June. His best tool is his raw power, though he's still looking for his first professional home run. A big lefthanded hitter, Swedlow has a nice swing and has a chance to be an impact power source. The consensus is that he's further along than former Indians Richie Sexson was at the same age. Defensively, Swedlow is barely adequate at first base. He needs a lot of work around the bag, though he did show some improvement in instructional league. Swedlow needs to go out and play, learn his new position and settle in at the plate. He's expected to spend 2001 at Columbus.
A second-round pick last June, Folsom signed for $700,000 and immediately started opening eyes with his jaw-dropping power. He has tremendous, off-the-charts raw power that rivals that of any hitter in the minors. He's a big, muscular slugger who at times has a tendency to overswing. He averaged a Russell Branyanesque one strikeout per 2.8 at-bats in his debut, so obviously making consistent contact is a problem. His strike zone discipline needs a lot of work, as does his defense. He played center field in high school but played mostly left field at Burlington, and was only adequate at best. Folsom has a lot of upside, though he needs to work on his swing and acknowledge that a 350-foot homer counts the same as a 500-foot blast. Columbus is his likely destination this season.
A Cuban defector, Santana didn’t generate nearly as much hoopla when he signed in 1998 as Danys Baez did a year later. But Santana has quietly positioned himself to make a run at a big league job in the next year or two. As a center fielder, Santana is as good at running down balls as anyone in the system. He gets a tremendous jump on flies and covers a lot of ground. At the plate, he's a contact hitter who must use the bunt to greater advantage. He doesn't have Kenny Lofton's speed or power, but Santana is just now coming into his own, so the best may be yet to come. Though he has above-average speed, Santana doesn't steal as many bases as he should. He also doesn't necessarily project as a leadoff hitter because he doesn't draw enough walks. He posted a .325 on-base percentage after his promotion to Akron, and may head back there to start 2001.
Pratt led the New York-Penn League in hitting with a .351 average in his pro debut in 1998, and a year later he led the Carolina League with 47 stolen bases. Last season his big statistical accomplishment was ranking among the Eastern League leaders with 500 at-bats--which wasn't a positive. The main reason he had so many at-bats is that he's reluctant to take a walk, and his lack of patience has contributed to his overall .239 average the last two years. His main offensive strength is his solid pop for a middle infielder, and he has good instincts on the bases. However, he has to learn to use his speed to greater effect by making better use of the bunt. Defensively he's adequate and should improve with more experience. A lack of consistency in all phases of the game is holding him back right now. As he has in his first three seasons, Pratt probably will team with shortstop Zach Sorensen in 2001, at either Buffalo or Akron.
Church had the best debut of any of Cleveland's 2000 draft picks, leading the New York-Penn League in RBIs and earning MVP honors. He has a lot of upside but may take some time to develop because up until three years ago he was a pitcher. A shoulder injury in college moved him back to the outfield, his main position in high school. Though Church lacks an exceptional tool, he's solid in all phases of the game. He runs fairly well and will take a walk, as evidenced by his .396 on base percentage. The jury is still out on what kind of power Church may eventually show. He's a corner outfielder, so the power better arrive eventually. He'll get the chance to develop it in Class A this season.
There's nothing glamorous about Fitzgerald, a blue-collar player with great makeup. The 41st player taken overall in the 1997 draft (as compensation for the loss of free agent Albert Belle), he hasn't shown the power Indians officials had hoped to see. He also hasn't produce much in terms of average or walks, though he has been effective running the bases. His biggest drawback has been a lack of health. In 1998 he had surgery to remove the hamate bone from his right wrist, and a year later he had reconstructive surgery on his left elbow. Healthy again in 2000, he reached Double-A. He has yet to light up the minor leagues, but does enough things to project as a role player, a solid fourth or fifth outfielder at the major league level.