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Top Ten Prospects: Cleveland Indians
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By Chris Kline
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
When the Indians promoted Mark Shapiro to general manager in November 2001, he inherited a team coming off its sixth American League Central title in seven seasons. But beneath the surface, the major league roster was full of overpaid thirtysomethings and the farm system was in need of a major overhaul.
Shapiro told the Cleveland fan base that the organization needed to be rebuilt from the ground up, and started by trading Roberto Alomar to the Mets. Stars such as Bartolo Colon and Jim Thome followed Alomar out of town soon thereafter, and the club went into a downward spiral. It didn’t mollify the general public, but Shapiro promised the Indians would be able to contend again by 2005.
Thanks to trades, the draft and their ability to develop prospects, the Tribe finds itself on the brink of Shapiro’s original timetable. The Indians actually crept within a game of the eventual division champion Twins on Aug. 14, and even going 17-27 the rest of the way can’t dim their bright future. Their 80-82 record was a 12-game improvement over 2003.
While Shapiro’s blockbusters have drawn the most attention—he landed building blocks Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips from the Expos for Colon—he also has made several successful minor deals. He grabbed Ben Broussard from the Reds for the perennially disappointing Russell Branyan; added Coco Crisp from the Cardinals while shedding Chuck Finley’s contract; got Francisco Cruceta from the Dodgers for Paul Shuey; stole Travis Hafner from the Rangers while simultaneously dumping Einar Diaz (though Texas also got Ryan Drese); and picked up Josh Phelps from the Blue Jays for former 41st-round pick Eric Crozier.
Cleveland also has integrated homegrown players into its big league roster. C.C. Sabathia has become one of the top lefthanders in baseball, while catcher Victor Martinez broke out with an all-star season in 2004.
There’s more talent on the way. The Indians have been stockpiling arms as they attempt to complement an offense that ranked fifth in the majors in scoring in 2004. Their young pitching staff led by Sabathia and Jake Westbrook was hurt by injuries to Billy Traber and Brian Tallet, inconsistency from Lee and a disastrous season from Jason Davis.
No. 1 prospect Adam Miller is a couple of years away, but Fausto Carmona, Francisco Cabrera, Andrew Brown, Cruceta, Kyle Denney and Jeremy Guthrie should be able to contribute in 2005. More hitting is on the way as well, as Sizemore, Phillips and Jhonny Peralta are ready for full-time duty.
While Cleveland hasn’t quite returned to its winning ways in the majors, its minor league affiliates are getting the job done. The Indians became the first organization since the Dodgers in 1990 to win championships at four levels in the minors. They captured titles in the Triple-A International, high Class A Carolina, short-season New York-Penn and Rookie-level Dominican Summer leagues.Scouting reports for the Top 10 Prospects (Subscribers only) -- Click Here to Subscribe