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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 Smith's two years as a pro, the transition to third base has gone much better offensively than defensively. Club officials downplay his struggles with the glove, partly because his upside with the bat is so vast. 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 hard to improve his weaknesses. He's 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. He's a potential franchise cornerstone once he reaches the big leagues. 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 errors--45 at low Class A Columbus in 2001--most of them on poor throws. Smith has arm strength but lacks consistent mechanics. He made major strides in that area during instructional leagues. Smith 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 he's not a baseclogger. Until Cleveland got Alex Escobar in the Roberto Alomar trade, Smith was by far the organization's best position-player prospect and he still ranks as No. 1. He won't be rushed despite the lack of bats ahead of him. At age 20, he'll start this season at high Class A Kinston. He probably won't arrive in the big leagues before late 2004.
Escobar had been the bright light of the Mets system since a breakout season in 1998 in the low Class A South Atlantic League, but New York grew 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. When he's right offensively, he generates line drives and above-average power while utilizing the entire field. He also has speed, and if he puts everything together he could be a 30-30 player. A standout center fielder, he offers the best outfield defense and arm in the system. 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. While his arm is strong, it isn't always accurate. The Indians aren't as desperate for outfielders as the Mets were, so Escobar could spend most of 2002 at Triple-A Buffalo trying to polish his game. If he can't, the whispers that he could be the second coming of failed prospect Ruben Rivera only are going to get louder.
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 pitched a total of just 90 innings over his final three college seasons and has had problems staying healthy as a pro, missing almost all of 2000 following reconstructive knee surgery. 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. In part because he doesn't repeat his delivery consistently, Drese still hasn't mastered command of his fastball within the strike zone. Once he does that and is able to throw more first-pitch strikes with his fastball, the sky is the limit. Based on his history, his durability remains a question. Drese was so impressive in a late-season trial with Cleveland in 2001 that he earned a chance to win a spot in the major league rotation. He did show the ability to pitch out of the bullpen last year as well, so he could make the club as a swingman.
Denham was the first of five high school pitchers the Indians selected in the first four rounds of the 2001 draft. He signed in time to make eight starts at Rookie-level Burlington, and while his numbers there weren't great, he still impressed managers enough to be rated the Appalachian League's best pitching prospect. He 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. He's also developing a changeup. All three of his pitches have a chance to be well above average. He's very athletic and has shown a lot of intensity plus the ability to make adjustments. Denham has no major shortcomings. He lacks experience, but that will take care of itself. He's also a little inconsistent with his delivery, which is normal for a pitcher his age. He'll follow a similar course to the one the Indians used with the last California high school pitcher they drafted in the first round: C.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.
It didn't take long for the Indians to realize they had something special in Martin. In his fourth pro start, Martin pitched five hitless innings, striking out 14 of the 16 batters he faced. "That's a line you don't ever see," former Tribe GM John Hart said. "That's like something out of Bruno's Groceries, in Little League.'' Some scouts say they've 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 has the ability to throw a changeup for strikes on three-ball counts that also leaves observers shaking their heads. His slider has a late, hard break. He has a tremendous feel for pitching. Martin needs to get a lot stronger, but he has a very 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. Because of their status as high school first-round picks from the same draft, Martin and Dan Denham likely will climb the minor league ladder together. This year they could comprise a devastating one-two punch in low Class A.
Catchers don't normally win batting titles, so when Martinez led the high Class A 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 season with shoulder problems. He has hit .305 in five years a pro. He's a switch-hitter who can produce for average, and he should hit for more power as he matures. There aren't too many catchers who can do that. But it doesn't end there. He also has tremendous poise, presence and leadership. He has unbelievably soft hands and calls a great game. Managers rated him the CL's best defensive catcher. His arm is a little weak, so he has to rely on a quick release to throw runners out. He erased just 29 percent of basestealers in 2001, compared to the CL average of 39 percent. He'll have to work hard on his throwing mechanics in order to control a running game. With Einar Diaz established on the big league club, there's no need to rush Martinez. He'll open the 2002 season at Double-A Akron.
Riske is the lowest Indians 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 Cleveland's most consistent relievers last year. Riske has great makeup and is unflappable on the mound. He's essentially a one-pitch pitcher, relying almost exclusively on a deceptive, explosive fastball that plays bigger than its lowto mid-90s velocity. The pitch takes off on hitters, who can't catch up to it as it rides up out of the zone. He 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. Though major league hitters didn't make him pay last year when he gave up walks, he'll have to fine-tune his control. A closer in the minors, Riske is evolving into a valuable middle reliever and potential set-up man in the big leagues. He'll spend 2002 two or three chairs down from closer Bob Wickman in the Cleveland bullpen.
Pitching for college baseball's 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. 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. He's 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. 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. When the Indians drafted him, they projected him as a reliever. He since has pitched so well as a starter that those plans have changed. He'll begin this year in the Double-A rotation.
While Alex Escobar was the biggest name among the prospects Cleveland received in the Roberto 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. 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. He also throws on a nice downward plane. His fourth pitch right now is a changeup, and it needs the most work. He did make some strides with it and learned to trust it more last year. Though Traber logged 152 innings and did not miss a start in 2001, there's still concern abut his elbow. The Indians don't 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. He'll be a phone call away this year in Triple-A.
Herrera had 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 didn't find him much easier to solve. He lacks size but he doesn't lack heat. He has a lively 92-96 mph fastball, which hitters aren't accustomed to seeing from a lefty. His slider is inconsistent, but it's also a plus pitch at times. When he has both pitches working, he's in charge. Herrera's delivery varies, so his command and stuff do as well. He also throws a changeup, but like his slider it's far from a finished product. At 5-foot-11, it's not easy for him to leverage the ball down in the strike zone. 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.
The Indians think highly enough of Taveras that they turned him loose in low Class A as a 19-year-old. A graduate of the club's increasingly productive program in the Dominican Republic, he has tremendous athleticism, game-changing speed and fearlessness on the bases. He has some pop for a center fielder, though he'll hit more for average than for power. He already steals bases at a high percentage, but he doesn't reach base as often as someone with his wheels should. Taveras is a free swinger who managed just a .317 on-base percentage last season. Offspeed pitches still baffle him at times. He must realize his job is to get on base however possible. Taveras covers a lot of ground in center field and has a plus arm. He could start 2002 back at Columbus or in high Class A.
Drew exemplifies the perils of rushing a young pitcher to the big leagues. When their rotation was riddled by injuries in 2000, the Indians summoned an unprepared Drew, and he hasn't been the same since. The younger brother of J.D. Drew--they're the only siblings to go in the first round of the same draft--Tim pitched his way onto the Opening Day roster last year, then quickly pitched his way back to Triple-A. He's a tremendous athlete and a hard worker, plus he has good stuff. For some reason, it just hasn't translated yet at the big league level. Drew's fastball is average but there's enough there that he should be getting more out of it than he does. His best pitch is a changeup and he also throws a slider. Drew must learn to trust his stuff more in the strike zone. He tends to be a nibbler, then can't recover once he falls behind in the count. Drew will be given a chance to win a spot in the major league rotation in training camp. As a contender, Cleveland can't afford to give him on-the-job training, so he could wind up in Buffalo again.
Riggan should make the most immediate impact of the four prospects the Indians acquired in the Roberto Alomar trade with the Mets. He no longer qualifies as a rookie, but he's eligible for this list despite pitching in 36 big league games because he hasn't exceeded 50 innings. New York promoted Riggan from Triple-A five times last year, and he settled in with a 2.36 ERA after the all-star break. Released by the Angels after two years as a starter, he has flourished in relief. He throws strikes with an 88-92 mph fastball, a slider and a splitter. Unlike some control pitchers, he's not hittable because he won't just lay the ball over the plate for the sake of throwing a strike. Riggan needs to get tougher on lefthanders and basestealers, but he should make the Opening Day roster.
McDonald was born about three or four decades too late. He's a vintage 1960s or 1970s good-field, no-hit shortstop stuck in an era of high-octane offense. He's a state-of-the-art defender with borderline Vizquelian gifts. But his path has been blocked by Omar Vizquel himself, and McDonald's Mark Belanger-like bat hasn't helped. Given the chance to play every day, McDonald would be a "SportsCenter" regular for his defense, which is Gold Glove-caliber. He's not as acrobatic as Vizquel, but McDonald has more range and a better arm. He has great hands, quickness in the field and wonderful instincts. All that won't matter unless he can hit, however. McDonald batted a combined .236 between Triple-A in the majors last year, has just six homers in the last four seasons and rarely hits for extra bases. He makes reasonable contact but doesn't draw walks and isn't much of a basestealing threat with his average speed. McDonald will compete for a spot as a backup middle infielder on the big league club this year. Trade rumors continue to swirl around Vizquel, and a deal would make McDonald the starter.
Church began his college career as a pitcher, but hurt his arm at Nevada, turned to the outfield and has become one of Cleveland's better position-player prospects since signing in 2000. He was named MVP of the short-season New York-Penn League in his pro debut and had a strong performance in Class A last year. Church doesn't have an overwhelming tool but he's solid across the board. He has the chance to hit for average and power in the majors. He's an average runner. Defensively, Church gets good jumps on balls and has enough arm for right field. At times his swing tends to get a bit long as he tries to force his power. But he's as good an all-around outfielder as the Indians have in their system. A good spring could position Church to open the season in Double-A.
Requena has sensational speed. He's the fastest runner in the organization and perhaps in all the minors. He led the South Atlantic League with 87 stolen bases in 2000 and swiped 47 in 95 games last year. His speed shrinks the field. He covers tremendous ground in center field and is very aggressive on the bases. He also has a solid arm. Requena has a long way to go as a hitter, however. He hit .227 in Class A in 2001 and never has topped .259 in three minor league seasons. He has shown very little plate discipline, consistent contact or the ability to make adjustments. Like Willy Taveras but even more so, Requena has to figure out how to play to his strengths. Though the Indians would like to develop Requena as a leadoff hitter, he has yet to show the requisite on-base ability. He may give high Class A another try in 2002.
A big, strong righthander, Warden is yet another product of the Indians' promising 2001 draft class. In February, the Major League Scouting Bureau gave him an overall future potential grade of 57 grade on the 20-to-80 scale, two points higher than fellow Tennessee collegian Dewon Brazelton, who went No. 3 overall to the Devil Rays. Warden isn't really in Brazelton's class, but he's a legitimate prospect who made quite an impression in Rookie ball and instructional league. The Indians love his makeup, arm strength and ability to both spin a breaking ball and repeat his delivery. His size allows him to create a good downhill angle for his low-90s fastball. The next step for Warden will be to continue to work on his changeup, which could make his fastball even more effective. He's scheduled to start 2002 in the low Class A rotation.
Wallace was on his way to a possible 20-win season in 2001 when he was derailed by elbow problems that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. His tremendous makeup will help him in his comeback. Wallace has a good feel for pitching, operating with a low-90s sinker and an effective curveball and changeup. He cuts his fastball at times, making it look almost like a slider. The cutter and changeup are his best pitches against righthanded hitters. The changeup could use some further refinement, but the biggest concern about Wallace is just keeping him healthy. It may take a full year to regain his form following the surgery. When healthy, he's one of the top two or three lefties in the organization. When he's ready, he'll start back in high Class A.
One Indians official says Peralta has the best hands he has ever seen on a 19-year-old. Those soft hands, and Peralta's over-the-top throwing motion, have led to defensive comparisons to former Gold Glover Alan Trammell. Peralta has a strong, accurate arm, and plenty of range. Defensively, there's no question he could play shortstop in the major leagues. But like John McDonald, Peralta still has a ways to go offensively. He strikes out way too often and doesn't produce much in the way of extra-base hits or stolen bases. Peralta will draw walks, but he still needs a better approach and concept of the strike zone. He's young, so he still has plenty of time to make adjustments. He could return to high Class A or move up to Double-A to begin 2002.
A converted catcher originally known as Martin Bautista, Vargas still is learning how to pitch, as evidenced by his up-and-down performances in Double-A the last two years. He has a great arm and owns a power sinker, but that alone isn't enough to guaranteee success. His slider and splitter shows flashes of being at least average pitches, but not on a consistent basis. After five years on the mound, Vargas still lacks pitching instincts and command. He's wild both in and out of the strike zone. He did pitch better after a promotion to Triple-A, where he'll head to start 2002. Once he figures out what he's doing, he'll be a candidate to pitch in Cleveland.
After designating Jacob Cruz for assignment last May, the Indians traded him to the Rockies for Bard and outfielder Jody Gerut. While Gerut didn't play last year following knee surgery, Bard was everything he was advertised to be in his half-season with Akron. He has size and strength, leadership abilities and catch-and-throw skills. He probably could handle game-calling duties in the major leagues right now. He did a nice job of working with an unfamiliar pitching staff after changing organizations. Offensively, Bard is a switch-hitter who fares better from the left side. He has shown some power potential but lacks a solid approach to hitting. His defense clearly is ahead of his offense at this point, and how much he hits will dictate his future. Despite the questions about his bat, Bard has no glaring weaknesses. He'll be the starting catcher in Triple-A this year.
After spending the previous three seasons as the top shortstop in the Indians system, Izturis was moved to second base last year because of repeated injuries to his throwing arm. He had shoulder surgery in 1999 and elbow problems in 2000. Like his brother Cesar, a Dodgers shortstop, Izturis is a standout with the glove who makes defense look easy. He has great hands and fielding mechanics, plus good speed. But Izturis missed so much time with injuries that he's just starting to catch up in his development. Last year was the first time in his four years in the organization that he was injury-free. Izturis runs well enough to steal bases, but that's the extent of his offensive contributions. He lacks power, strength and patience. He needs to have another healthy year in 2002 to get his career back on track. He'll be the starting second baseman in high Class A or Double-A.
Luna is another talented Indians middle infielder who's still trying to prove he'll hit enough to one day be a big league regular. He has some offensive upside with a strong frame, quick bat, good pop for a shortstop and some semblance of plate discipline. Now he has to turn those tools into performance. He has average speed that's enhanced by his instincts, which make him a threat to steal an occasional base. Luna is quick and athletic at shortstop, with the hands, range and arm to play the position. His upside is as a five-tool shortstop, though there's some concern that he may eventually outgrow the position. Where John Peralta winds up to start the season will determine whether Luna goes to Kinston or Columbus.
A nondrafted free agent in 1999, Stanford was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2000. He kept opening eyes last year. He spent most of 2001 in Double-A, and spun a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and no walks in his Triple-A debut. After the regular season, he posted a 1.42 ERA in the Arizona Fall League and went 2-0, 0.75 for Team USA at the World Cup. Stanford's stuff is solid across the board. He commands his fastball to both sides of the plate, throws his breaking ball for strikes and has an effective changeup. His makeup, mental toughness and pitchability are also assets. If he has a weakness it's that he lacks an out pitch, though his changeup has the potential to become one. He likely will open 2002 in the Triple-A rotation.
Sorensen missed much of the 2001 season with shoulder problems, but he rebounded to hit .371 in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the all-prospect team. He's a solid gamer who plays with a lot of passion, and those qualities have endeared him to the Indians since they drafted him in 1998. A switch-hitter, he has shown a decent bat that, based on his play in Arizona, may still be improving. He has a good idea on what he wants to do at the plate. Sorensen also has some speed, though he really lacks a single above-average tool. He does everything well, nothing great. There still are some questions about his arm strength at shortstop--his shoulder woes didn't help his cause--and some thought that he might be better suited for second base. Sorensen projects as a backup middle infielder in the big leagues and will be on call in Triple-A this year.
A basketball player in junior college, Davis signed as a draft-and-follow in 2000 with little fanfare. He proved to be better than expected in his first full season. He shows plenty of arm strength with a sinking fastball that clocks in at 93-94 mph. The next step will be developing his offspeed pitches. Davis is working on a breaking ball and changeup, but still is a long way from having command of both. His size makes him an intimidating presence on the mound and allows him to throw his pitches on a tough downward plane. His athletic ability and aptitude for learning should help him make adjustments and polish his repertoire. He'll begin this year in the rotation at high Class A.
Like Kinston teammate Shane Wallace, Evans got off to a quick start in the Carolina League last year before succumbing to elbow problems that required Tommy John surgery. Evans played some shortstop at Baylor before making a quick and smooth transition to pitching. He does a nice job of mixing his fastball, slider and changeup to keep hitters from getting comfortable. His feel for pitching and his deceptive delivery allow his stuff to work better than it looks on radar guns. Evans is a good athlete who throws strikes and isn't rattled easily. While may pitchers bounce back from Tommy John surgery better than ever these days, the operation still raises concerns about Evans' future. He has worked a total of just 93 innings in two years as a pro and won't get a full workload this year in high Class A.
Snyder was named Mets minor league player of the year in 2001 before joining the Indians as part of the Roberto Alomar trade. A 36th-round pick out of the University of Hartford--which also produced another first baseman named Jeff Bagwell--Snyder is a classic overachiever who has succeeded at every level. He has hit at least 20 homers in each of the last three seasons, and last year he improved his strike-zone judgment. He's not an exceptional first baseman, but he's not bad either. He also has seen time at third base and in the corner outfield positions. Before trading him, New York officials compared Snyder to Benny Agbayani in the way he exceeded expectations. Snyder should spend most of this season in Triple-A.
Cabrera followed an unimpressive pro debut in 2000 with an attention-getting performance in low Class A last year, averaging more than a strikeout per inning and holding opponents to a .241 average. He has a long, lanky body and plenty of arm strength. He throws a heavy, dominating fastball that tops out at 97 mph. Cabrera also can spin a breaking ball, though not consistently. He still needs work on his mechanics, as his long arms make it difficult for him to repeat his delivery. His secondary pitches, command and durability all require improvement as well. But pitchers with arms like Cabrera's always get plenty of chances. He'll move up to high Class A in 2002.
Conroy was the only hitter the Indians selected with their first nine picks in the 2001 draft. His $870,000 bonus was the second-highest in club history for an amateur hitter, trailing only the $1.375 million that fellow first-round pick Corey Smith got the year before. Conroy draws some Paul O'Neill comparisons because of his lefthanded swing, power potential and solid defensive skills. He had a humbling season in Rookie ball and had a difficult time adjusting to failure. Cleveland officials praise his makeup, though he tends to be hard on himself--another O'Neill trait. As a high school player coming from the Northeast, Conroy may take a while to develop. The Indians are willing to wait and will send him to low Class A this year.