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Of all the prospects the Indians reeled in with trades in 2002, Phillips was clearly the biggest trophy. Rated the Expos' No. 1 prospect before the season, he was the marquee name in the package the Indians acquired for Bartolo Colon. After settling in at Triple-A Buffalo, Phillips flashed the five-tool ability that has always excited scouts. He earned a big league cameo in September and made several eye-popping plays at second base, his new position. He moved from shortstop in deference to Omar Vizquel. Phillips is a premier athlete who projects as an all-star at either middle-infield position. As a shortstop, Phillips has drawn comparisons to a young Barry Larkin or Derek Jeter. Hitting out of a Jeff Bagwell-style crouch, Phillips has the bat speed and athletic skill to be a top-of-the-order hitter. Few middle infielders offer his combination of hitting for average and power. He has average range and plus arm strength at shortstop, and those tools play even better at second base. Phillips also has a charisma that stamps him as a special player. His confidence and flair sometimes annoy opponents. But he enjoys playing the game and doesn't hide it. Phillips sometimes tries to do too much. He'll overswing when ahead in the count. He needs to drive the ball to right-center to counter the adjustments pitchers have made to attack his holes. He's still learning how to turn the double play as a second baseman. Most important is his weight transfer as he comes across the bag, which can lead to him short-hopping throws to first. Phillips will get a long look for Cleveland's second-base job, especially with incumbent Ricky Gutierrez a question mark following spinal surgery. Even if he returns to Triple-A, it won't be long before he joins the Indians for good.
Martinez has won back-to-back batting titles and MVP awards in the high Class A Carolina and Double-A Eastern leagues--as a switch-hitting catcher. In 2002, he also led the EL in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs. Martinez is a natural hitter with tremendous strike-zone discipline and an uncanny ability to produce from either side of the plate. He rarely swings and misses. His power numbers jumped in 2002 as he got stronger. He has shown an ability to pick the pitch and count that allow him to drive the ball. Martinez' skills at calling a game and blocking and receiving pitches are also major league ready. Martinez' throwing needs work. It's a matter of getting his footwork and arm action aligned. He struggles to stay mechanically consistent, which led to him throwing out just two of 13 big leaguers who tried to steal on him in September. Martinez could battle Josh Bard for a big league job, but he'll more likely begin the year in Triple-A. He's Cleveland's long-term catcher and a future all-star.
After coming to the Indians in the Bartolo Colon deal, Lee jumped from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues, getting rave reviews at each level. Lee is a rare pitcher who can win without his best stuff. And when he's on, watch out. His fastball sits at 91-93 mph, his slider has good late action, and his curveball and changeup give hitters something else to worry about. Lee is so smooth that hitters don't get a good read on his pitches until they're halfway to the plate. Lee's velocity was down to the high 80s in September, probably because his innings jumped in 2002. He just needs to adjust to the majors and appreciate the importance of every pitch. Lee is a candidate to win one of the openings in the rotation behind C.C. Sabathia. He, Billy Traber and Brian Tallet give Cleveland three advanced southpaws, and Lee has the most upside.
It took about four months, but the Indians signed Guthrie to a four-year, $4 million major league contract. The deal included a $3 million signing bonus, a club record for a drafted player. The negotiations prevented him from pitching in the minors, so he debuted in the Arizona Fall League. Guthrie is an advanced pitcher. His fastball is in the 92-93 mph range and will touch 95 at times, and his slider and changeup are plus pitches. He has a strong, compact body and commands all his pitches well. He's mature beyond his years, thanks in part to a two-year Mormon mission in Spain. Guthrie faded late in 2001, his first year back from Spain, so there were some questions about his durability. But he answered those by finishing strong in 2002 and didn't miss a start in two years at Stanford. His 158 innings in 2002 were the most by a college pitcher. He's 23, so there's not a lot of room for projection, but he's plenty good as is. Guthrie likely will begin his pro career at Double-A Akron, unless the Indians decide to send him to the warmer climate of high Class A Kinston for the first month. It won't be a surprise if he reaches Cleveland by the end of 2003.
The December trade that brought Hafner to Cleveland couldn't have worked out better for the player or the team. The Indians saved $4.65 million and cleared the catching job for Victor Martinez and Josh Bard by sending Einar Diaz to Texas. And Hafner, who had a premium bat but no clear path to regular playing time with the slugger-laden Rangers, immediately becomes Cleveland's replacement for Jim Thome. One member of the Texas front office directly compared him to Thome a month before the trade and said Hafner's offensive upside rivaled that of Rangers farmhand Mark Teixeira, the best hitting prospect in the game. Hafner always used the whole field, and as his plate discipline has improved he has unleashed his power by working himself into favorable counts and learning to pull the ball. He's a grinder who has learned to hang tough against lefthanders and knows the value of a walk. He led the minors with a .463 on-base percentage in 2002 while walking more than he struck out. Only nagging wrist injuries, including a broken wrist in 2001, have slowed him offensively since he signed as a draft-in-follow in 1997--days after earning tournament MVP honors while leading Cowley County to the national junior college title. Defensively, he's not a slug, but Hafner's footwork can be awkward. He'll have to work to be adequate.
Acquired from the Dodgers for Paul Shuey, Rodriguez was the Dodgers' top prospect a year ago. Some scouts even rated Francisco Cruceta, who also was included in the trade, ahead of him. That transaction looks like a heist in Cleveland's favor. Rodriguez has the demeanor and talent to pitch at the front of a rotation. He loves to pitch inside--he drilled eight batters in seven big league games--and challenge hitters. His 92-95 mph fastball has above-average sink, and his slider is a strikeout pitch. Because of his aggressiveness, Rodriguez becomes too fastball-oriented with the game on the line. He got off to a slow start in 2002, which was attributed to too many innings in winter ball. Rodriguez is a strong candidate for the Cleveland rotation in 2003. There are four openings in the rotation, and he's the best righthander among the candidates, which works in his favor.
The third player among the organization's top seven prospects who was acquired in the Bartolo Colon trade, Sizemore stepped up his offensive production after switching organizations. If the Expos hadn't given him a $2 million signing bonus as a 2000 third-round pick, he'd be playing college football at Washington. Extremely confident, Sizemore is one of the most advanced hitters in the system. He's an above-average runner with the ability to cover center field, and he controls the strike zone well. He proved to be a natural, Kirk Gibson-style leader at Kinston and backed up his confidence by repeatedly coming through in the clutch. Sizemore's arm is his biggest weakness. He has a fringe arm for center, though his range and instincts should keep him at the position. He has yet to show the power the Indians expect will come, which may be related to his middle-of-the-field approach. Just 20, Sizemore is one of the most exciting position players Cleveland has had in years. He'll start the 2003 season in Double-A and could be ready for the majors by mid-2004.
Alex Escobar was the biggest name acquired from the Mets for Roberto Alomar, but Traber's importance was reinforced when Escobar missed all of 2002 with a knee injury. While other pitching prospects were called up to Cleveland in September, Traber was not, in order to save a spot on the 40-man roster and to ease his workload. Pure and simple, Traber is a winner. He finished second in the minors with 17 wins. He isn't overpowering but has a variety of pitches and an unorthodox delivery. He's a strike thrower with good life and movement on all his pitches, making it tough for hitters to make hard contact. His fastball has below-average velocity at 87-88 mph, but its movement and Traber's delivery make it a solid pitch. His curveball and splitter are also reliable. Traber's changeup is his weakest pitch, and he needs it against righthanders. The Mets discovered ligament damage in his elbow after drafting him, but he has been durable to date as a pro. Yet another candidate for the Opening Day rotation, Traber should make his major league debut at some point in 2003.
Tallet threw six shutout innings against Boston on Sept. 16 to win his first big league start. His performance wasn't a surprise, considering he pitched in pressure games at Louisiana State, including the championship game of the 2000 College World Series. He's similar to Billy Traber with more velocity and less control. Tallet has absolutely no fear. He throws an 89-91 mph fastball, a slider and a changeup. He commands all his offerings and on a given night, any of the three could be his No. 1 pitch. Savvy and fearless, he enjoys throwing inside. He has no problem getting righthanders out and actually has more trouble with lefties. At 6-foot-7, maintaining his mechanics can be a challenge for Tallet at times, and he's an easy mark for basestealers. Opponents succeeded on 20 of 27 steal attempts in 2002. Tallet is in the mix for a spot in the 2003 rotation. Because Cleveland has an abundance of lefthanders, it's possible his long-term role with the Indians might be in the bullpen.
A basketball player in junior college, Davis signed as a draft-and-follow. He won 14 games at low Class A Columbus in 2001, his first full season as a pro. He ended 2002 by pitching well in three big league appearances after starting the year in high Class A. Though he's 6-foot-6, Davis is the most athletic pitcher in the organization and is adept at fielding his position and controlling the running game. He also might have the best arm in the system. He works in the 93-95 mph range with a heavy fastball and will touch 98. A workhorse, he also has an above-average splitter. Davis' slider needs more work, but it's coming. He needs to learn to use both sides of the plate with his fastball and work inside against righthanders. As good as his stuff is, he gets hit more often than he should. A better changeup also would help him. Unlike most of the candidates for Cleveland's rotation, Davis hasn't pitched in Triple-A. Some time in Buffalo to smooth out his secondary pitches and approach might be beneficial.
The measure of how much talent Cleveland has added is reflected by the fact that Smith was the organization's top prospect a year ago but fell out of the top 10 after a decent season in high Class A. He started 2002 quickly, batting .308 in April, but hit just .241 afterward. Smith shows tremendous explosiveness at the plate and in the field. He generates terrific bat speed and has the ability to drive the ball. He projects to hit for a decent average with lots of doubles and homers. At third base, he shows good range and plenty of arm. The Indians like his hard-nose attitude. He has made progress drawing walks, but Smith still strikes out too much. He needs to refine his two-strike approach. Smith also led Carolina League third basemen with 34 errors because he gets too aggressive and makes poor throws. He just needs to relax defensively. Third base is the most unsettled position on the big league club, but Smith won't be rushed. He'll start the 2003 season in Double-A and probably won't be ready for Cleveland until 2005.
Acquired from the Dodgers in the midseason trade for Paul Shuey, Cruceta was something of an unknown quantity coming into 2002. That began to change when he pitched well in spring training, and he gained further notoriety when he tossed a no-hitter in April. He turned in a strong performance after changing organizations and was quite impressive in instructional league, where he had 20 strikeouts and no walks in 15 innings. Cruceta's fastball sits at 92-94 mph. He also throws a solid average major league changeup, and two types of breaking balls, a slider, and a hard-breaking curve. Cruceta commands his breaking stuff better than his fastball. He's not wild, but he tends to elevate his fastball. He also needs to find a consistent arm slot for both his breaking pitches. He tends to vary the angle depending on whether he's throwing a slider or curve, and that's something quality major league hitters will pick up on. Cruceta is projected as a starter, but with his stuff and durability he also might fit in the bullpen. He'll start the 2003 season in the Double-A rotation.
The first sign that 2002 wasn't going to be the Indians' year came in the first week of exhibition games. Escobar, the key prospect to come over from the Mets in the Roberto Alomar trade, blew out his left knee making a catch in the outfield and required season-ending reconstructive knee surgery. He should be 100 percent, or close to it, by the start of spring training, but he lost a full season when he needed to re-establish himself following a disappointing 2001 performance. Escobar has tremendous athletic ability, and is a well-rounded player offensively and defensively. He has the range, speed, and arm for all three outfield positions, and offers Cleveland a much-needed righthanded bat. He has the potential to hit .265-.285 and be at least a 20-20 man. Escobar's high strikeout totals were an ongoing source of concern for the Mets. His ability to get over the knee injury may be as big a challenge mentally as physically, and how the injury affects his speed and range in the outfield remains to be seen. Assuming he's ready physically, Escobar will come to training camp and compete for a starting job, most likely in right field.
After the Indians made him a supplemental first-round pick, Martin exploded on the pro scene with eye-catching numbers (1.38 ERA, 71-11 strikeout-walk ratio) at Rookie-level Burlington. He wasn't as dominant in his first full season, though he won 14 games to lead a talented Columbus staff. He has outstanding command of all his pitches, which include an 87-88 mph fastball, a changeup, an overhand curve and a big, sweeping slider. Martin showed an intuitive feel for pitching that was remarkable for a teenager. Unlike many young pitchers, he has to be encouraged to throw his fastball more. He used it just half of the time during some games last year, and Cleveland wants him to up that mark to 65-70 percent. The gangly Martin had some stamina problems, which caused his velocity to drop at mid-season. But he eventually gained a second wind and the velocity returned near the end of the season. He needs to get stronger in order to at least maintain his velocity on his fastball. He'll move up a level to high Class A in 2003.
When the Indians acquired Bard as part of a trade that sent Jacob Cruz to the Rockies in the middle of the 2001 season, the transaction drew little notice. But Bard started opening eyes immediately with his leadership and game-calling ability. Last year, he drew raves from veteran Terry Mulholland the first time he caught Mulholland. Bard has an innate feel for determining what his batterymate's strength is on a given day, and he can help guide a pitcher through rough spots. He also does a solid job of combating the running game. Offensively, Bard has made tremendous strides. From the left side, he has gone from a dead-pull hitter to one who uses the entire field. He has learned how to pick pitches he can drive. Bard won't be a top run producer, but he has enough bat to be an everyday catcher for a first-division team. (That said, he doesn't have enough bat to hold off Victor Martinez once Martinez is ready.) Bard needs to get stronger, in order to prove he can handle catching 120 games a year. After Einar Diaz was traded to the Rangers, Bard became the Opening Day starter behind the plate.
Denham's $1.86 million bonus in 2001 was the largest the Indians gave a draft pick until Jeremy Guthrie received $3 million last year. Though his numbers weren't overwhelming, Denham had a huge year in 2002 in terms of acclimating himself to the pro game. He went through some challenging times and grew mentally. There are still some mechanical issues he needs to address in order to repeat his delivery. He's not all over the place but he needs to improve his command. His fastball ranges from 91-93 mph, with occasional bursts to 94. He also throws a curveball, slider and changeup. He must refine his changeup to develop a weapon against lefthanders, who hit .314 against him last year. Denham also needs to make continued mental adjustments, such as learning how to take errors made behind him in stride. He'll move up a level to high Class A this year.
Because they have a wealth of middle infielders, the Indians sent Peralta to the Arizona Fall League to play third base. His ultimate position has yet to be determined, though his thick build probably will mean he'll have to move off shortstop. Offensively, he had a breakout year in 2002, raising his average 41 points, more than doubling his home run production and cutting his strikeouts by more than a third. Peralta can hit any fastball. He's steady defensively, with excellent hands and plenty of arm for shortstop or third base. His range is fringe average at best and he's a below-average runner who lacks quick reactions to the ball. Cleveland will continue to play him at shortstop until he outgrows or proves he can't handle the position. Because the Indians have third-base options, he may wind up at second base as part of a double-play combo with Brandon Phillips. Peralta will open this year in Triple-A.
Foley went three rounds after Dan Denham and J.D. Martin in the 2001 draft, but he was considerably tougher to hit than they were last year at Columbus. Foley has good stuff and his mental toughness may be even more impressive. He has good command of his fastball, which sits at 90-91 mph, and is aggressive with it. He also has an overhand, 12-to-6 curveball that could use some shortening. Foley also has a good feel for his changeup and uses it well. It's a big part of his repertoire, and he needs it because it helps determine the success of his fastball. As Foley continues to move up levels, he'll have to improve the late action on all his pitches. He'll also need to get better at controlling the running game. Foley will start 2003 in the Kinston rotation with Denham and Martin.
One of the most highly regarded high school hitters in the 2002 draft, Whitney somehow lasted until the supplemental first round. He's one of the more exciting position players to enter the organization in years. He reached double figures in home runs at Burlington, showing power to all fields. He showed some susceptibility to breaking balls early, but his temperament and even-keel approach allowed him to adjust. He recognizes what pitchers are trying to do against him. Though he's big, he's athletic enough that he doesn't clog the bases and has good range at third base. Whitney tends to push the ball on his throws, but that can be fixed with a minor adjustment. He fits the profile for a corner infielder and has no glaring weaknesses. He'll begin his first full season in low Class A.
After getting him from the Red Sox when they dumped Dustin Hermanson in December 2001, the Cardinals used Garcia to get Chuck Finley from the Indians last July. A graceful athlete, Garcia has the most raw power of any hitter in the Cleveland system except Travis Hafner. He has shown an ability to hit in the .280-.300 range and doesn't strike out as much as most sluggers. He'll have to prove himself against the better breaking balls he'll see at higher levels. Garcia needs to stay on pitches longer and fight his urge to pull everything. The ball comes off his bat better than any hitter in the Indians organization, and he has good plate discipline. He doesn't strike out as much as a typical power hitter. He spent time at first base and three outfield positions in 2002, and his best fit may be in right field. A former pitcher, he has enough arm to play there. He also showed good actions and soft hands at first base. He'll see time at first and in the outfield this year in Triple-A.
Herrera wasn't as overwhelming last year as he was in his breakout year of 2001, but he was solid and continued to move toward the majors as a power lefty reliever. He has a mid- 90s fastball and a slider that can be devastating at times. When he keeps his mechanics together and allows his slider to work for him, Herrera can be a dominating pitcher. Like most power pitchers, Herrera sometimes struggles with his command and has a tendency to overthrow. He needs to harness his emotions and concentrate on repeating his delivery. Though he's lefthanded he doesn't hold runners well; basestealers went 13-for-13 against him in 2002. He has more than enough stuff to get both lefties and righties out, and he showed well in five late-season appearances with Cleveland. He'll go to spring training and compete for a job in the big league bullpen.
Cabrera began to emerge in 2002, averaging more than a strikeout per inning for the second straight year and reaching Double-A at age 20. While he has been used as a starter in his three years in the organization, he projects as a power reliever. His fastball consistently reaches 93-96 mph and he can command it to both sides of the plate. Cabrera needs to refine his mechanics and improve his control of his slider and splitter. His changeup isn't an asset at this point, and his ability to hold runners is weak. Though he's still raw, he did hold lefthanders to a .204 average last year. He'll open 2003 in the Double-A rotation but likely will be moved to the bullpen either this year or next.
Yet another of the many prospects the Indians added during 2002, Broussard was acquired from Cincinnati in a trade for Russell Branyan. With the presence of Jim Thome at first base, Broussard was moved to the outfield following the deal. The transition didn't go especially well, because at times he seemed so occupied with learning the outfield that it detracted from his hitting. He's an offensive-minded player with the power to hit 20-25 homers, similar to Brian Daubach but with a better batting eye. Broussard went from a gap-to-gap approach to more of a pull hitter by the end of the season. First base is still Broussard's best position. He handles himself well around the bag and has soft hands. As a left fielder, his best tool is his arm. He still needs work at that position, as well as on his overall strength and conditioning. When Thome signed with the Phillies, Broussard had a good chance to replace him until the Indians traded for Travis Hafner. He still figures into the big league picture somewhere.
One of the more coveted draft-and-follows in 2002, Smith signed for $1.1 million after spending a year at Sac City. After a decent pro debut, he really hit his stride in instructional league. Smith's fastball sat at 89-90 mph last summer and was clocked as high as 94 during the spring. He has a very good feel for his curveball and changeup, and his command of those offspeed pitches is what sets him apart from other pitchers his age. His poise and polish are uncanny for a teenager. The next step in Smith's development will be improving his overall physical strength. His workload will be closely monitored, as is being done with J.D. Martin, another similarly built pitcher with great promise. Smith will compete for a spot in the low Class A rotation during spring training.
Church has quietly plugged along and become a viable prospect. He began his college career as a pitcher before hurting his arm, and he's still developing at the plate. He's a little too pull-conscious now and needs to use the whole field. He does strike out a lot and his plate discipline deteriorated once he reached Double-A. However, Church projects to hit 20-25 home runs, which would be a luxury for a center fielder. Though he's no more than an average runner, Church is athletic enough and gets good enough jumps on balls to play center at Jacobs Field. He easily has the strongest arm of any outfielder in the Indians system. As he has advanced, he has shown a pattern of struggling early at each new level before making adjustments. He'll vie for a spot in the Triple-A outfield this spring, but may have to return to Akron. Either way, he's a candidate for a September callup to Cleveland.
The Cardinals' 2001 minor league player of the year, Crisp came to the Indians in a trade for Chuck Finley. Crisp is athletic, no surprise considering that his father boxed, his mother was a world-class sprinter and his sister is an ice skater. His best tool is his speed, and if he could walk more often and hit more balls on the ground, he'd be a fine leadoff man. He understands that's his role in the big leagues, and does show a knack for bunting and handling the bat. Defensively, Crisp has a below-average arm and was put on an offseason throwing and lifting program to address that deficiency. He needs to get a better feel for the strength of big league hitters, which will help him improve his jumps and reads on fly balls. He has a tendency to play a shallow center field, and balls get driven over his head more than they should. Crisp's bat fits better in center than on a corner, so getting better on defense is crucial. He and incumbent Milton Bradley are the leading candidates to start in center for Cleveland this year.
A smooth, switch-hitting shortstop who reminds some of a young Tony Fernandez, de la Cruz is another addition to the bulging list of shortstop prospects in the organization. In his first year in the United States, he finished fourth in the Rookie-level Appalachian League batting race. He also showed some gap power, though he'll need to draw a few more walks to become an effective leadoff hitter. De la Cruz is a solid average runner and has the potential to steal 20-25 bases in the majors. He has loose actions and plenty of arm for short. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and has an innate feel for the game. De la Cruz will get his first taste of full-season ball in 2003.
Matt Whitney and Schilling were considered two of the most advanced high school hitters in the 2002 draft, and the Indians landed both of them as supplemental first-round picks. Schilling is an aggressive hitter who scouts said had one of the sweetest swings to come out of Louisiana since Will Clark. Schilling hyperextended his elbow swinging the bat at Burlington, which hampered him offensively. He has gap power and uses the whole field well. He sometimes tries to do too much, but once he learned to relax in instructional league, the hits started to come. Schilling is only adequate defensively. He needs to work on his footwork around second base, and his agility and quickness bear watching because there's a chance he could outgrow second base. If that happens, he still has enough bat to play elsewhere. Schilling again will form a double-play combination with Chris de la Cruz in 2003, this time in low Class A.
Released by the Expos after two seasons because he had elbow problems, Sadler was signed by the Indians two days later. Cleveland let him move at his own pace, and he missed all of 1998 and most of 1999 while trying to come back from two surgeries. He moved to the bullpen in 2000 and emerged unexpectedly last year. Sadler's fastball jumped from 90 to 94 mph in 2002, giving him a second plus pitch to go with his curveball. He commands both well, though he'll sometimes fall in a rut and rely on one at the expense of the other. He needs to use both pitches to be effective. He's probably no more than a lefty specialist, but he was effective in that role in the major leagues and wasn't rattled by his first callup. He's a strong candidate to make Cleveland's Opening Day roster.
Slocum reminds some Indians officials of Charles Nagy. Both came from Big East Conference schools and were quiet, intelligent, headstrong competitors. Where they differ is that Slocum throws much harder than Nagy did. Slocum touches 95 mph on occasion and his fastball explodes on hitters. He has the makings of a good changeup, though he needs to tighten his slider. He throws strikes and limited short-season New York-Penn League hitters to a .230 average and one homer in his pro debut. More important, he put to rest any questions about his durability. Slocum missed the 2001 season with a sore shoulder-- though he avoided surgery--and pitched through biceps tendinitis in 2002. He has the chance to skip a level and go to high Class A this year.