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Indians Top Prospects

Moderator: Jim Ingraham has compiled the Indians top 10 prospects list for the past several years and will answer your questions about the organization.

 Q:  Shad from Frostburg St. University asks:
Hi, What are you thoughts on Alex Escobar? How is he recovering from the ACL Tear this past year. And What are the Indians plans for him this year. Starting rightfield on opening day? THanks

Jim Ingraham: Shad: Alex Escobar is expected to be 100 percent, or close to it by the start of training camnp. Even so, I would guess that there is a chance he might have to start the year at Buffalo, since he has missed a full year. In training camnp he will compete for a job in right field, where his main competition would probably be Karim Garcia.

 Q:  Jim Fehr from Annapolis Maryland asks:
Everyone seems to agree that the Indians have a large stock of young pitching at virtually every level. Which of the position players do you feel have major league potential?

Jim Ingraham: Jim, Brandon Phillips clearly is the best position player prospect in the organization right now. He'll go to camp and compete with John McDonald for the second base job. My guess is that unless Phillips has a disastrous camp he will get the starting job. Catcher Victor Martinez is right there with Phillips as a prospect, although Martinez will likely start at Buffalo so he can play every day and work on the one area that he needs to improve: his throwing. Josh Bard is a very good defensive catcher, and will be the starter on the big league club, but his bat probably isn't good enough to hold off Martinez for much more than a year. Outfielder Grady Sizemore is another player the organization is very high on, as is former No.1 pick Corey Smith, a third baseman. Smith, though, has yet to have that one breakthrough year that would get everyone really excited. With the retirement of Travis Fryman, third base is wide open for Smith, as soon as he's ready.

 Q:  UMD Indian from College Park asks:
What does your projected opening day lineup look like for the Indians this year? Thanks.

Jim Ingraham: I defy anyone to predict what the Indians' opening day lineup will look like in 2003. I've been covering the team for almost 20 years, and I don't ever remember it going to training camp with so many jobs wide open. To me, the only certainty for the lineup as of today is that Josh Bard will be the catcher and bat ninth. DH Ellis Burks will bat third or fourth, but everything else is unsettled. Even knowing who the favorites are for various positions, it's still hard to predict in which order they will hit. For example, Omar Vizquel will obviously start at shorstop, but will he bat first or second? Coco Crisp is the only true leadoff hitter in the mix, but he might not even start in center field, where Milton Bradley would have to be the favorite. Alex Escobar is a major prospect, but he will apparently have to beat out Karim Garcia in right field, and all Garcia did was lead the majors in RBI last year from Aug. 6 through the end of the season. And where would Escobar or Garcia hit in the lineup? Your guess is as good as mine.

 Q:  Brian from Phoenix asks:
That looked more like Cleveland's opening day roster than a Top 10 List! More seriously, it seems most of the guys you listed today will spend a lot of time in the Majors in 2003, so next year's Top 10 list will look completely different -with that in mind, what does the next layer of Cleveland's prospects look like, those that will likely spend all of 2003 in the minors - are there more reinforcements coming later or is this it?

Jim Ingraham: Brian, my guess is that half of the Indians' opening day roster could conceivably be rookies, and you're right, many of the players on the Top 10 list will be on the major league roster. As for the next wave, that would include Grady Sizemore, Corey Smith, first basemanoutfielder Luis Garcia, third baseman Matt Whitney, second baseman Micah Schilling, outfielders Ryan Church, and they also have solid shortstop prospects at virtually every level.

 Q:  Nick D from Columbus, OH asks:
Jim- Who do you think will be starting at 1st base for the Indians this year, and when will they make their next playoff appearance? Hopefully it won't take another 41 years.

Jim Ingraham: Barring injury, Nick, the starting first baseman will be Travis Hafner. There will be some token competition from Ben Broussard in training camnp, but Hafner is clearly the better prospect of the two, and unless Hafner gets hurt or suddenly forgets how to hit, I'd be shocked if he's not at first base on opening day.

 Q:  Dennis Nosco from St. Louis asks:
Jim, Why has Jason Stanford fallen so out of favor with the Indians that they did not protect him on the 40-man roster this winter? It seems like he had good success at AAA this year every time he was called up but, to a lot of people's surprise, including the play-by-play announcers for the Bisons, the Tribe kept shipping him back to Akron. Dennis Nosco St. Louis

Jim Ingraham: Indians officials still like Jason, but he fell victim to a numbers game on the 40-man roster. There were simply too many good young players to protect, many of them pitchers, and some very difficult decisions had to be made. I would say the Indians are prime candidate to lose somebody in the Rule 5 Draft this year who might turn out to be a very good player

 Q:  Jackson from NY asks:
Although he is not really considered a "prospect" anymore, what are your thoughts on Milton Bradley? Is this the year the 25 year old puts it all together? I noticed his walk to k ratio was up significantly last year,(a good sign) what type of numbers do you see this talented player putting up? thanks

Jim Ingraham: Milton Bradley is an interesting guy. He is a very good defensive outfielder who gets great jumps on the ball. His arm is only average, and so, apparently, is his speed. When they acquired Bradley, Indians officials talked as though he would one day become a base stealing threat, but we haven't seen it. Offensively, I think Bradley is struggling either trying to accept or identify the type of player he should be. Like most young players I'm sure he sees himself as a power hitter, but he really isn't. He's a gap hitter, who should be more productive than he has been to this point in his career. I'm not sure he is as coachable as Indians officials would like, and at times he seems aloof and distant. But there are tools there, and this would seem to be the perfect situation for Bradley to excel, or to prove that he can become the major leaguer a lot of people think he can be.

 Q:  Jay from Madison asks:
Doesn't it seem that Phillips has been a bit rushed. He didn't dominate AAA or the Arizona league yet seems likely to be the Indians 2bmen on opening day. Don't you think he could be 2003's Hank Blalock? If not, what do you project his 2003 numbers to be?

Jim Ingraham: If Phillips seems a bit rushed, it's only because of his age. Traditionally each time he has gone up a level he struggles briefly, then adjusts, and eventually proves he belongs. You're right, he didn't dominate in the Arizona Fall League, but this was his second year in that league, and he had already played a lot of baseball this season. Plus, I'm sure most of his energy was spent learning to play second base, rather than worrying about his hitting. So to answer your question, no, I don't think Phillips is being rushed, and I won't think so even if he struggles with the Indians at the start of the season, assuming he's on the opening day roster. Most young players, including stars, struggle when they first reach the big leagues.

 Q:  Medina from Appleton, Wisconsin asks:
In looking over your top 10 list to me at least you have a glaring omission. 20 year old Shortstop Jhonny Peralta had a very good season with the bat in AA plus has a strong glove. He had a .900 OPS from a 20 year old SS in AA is pretty impressive let alone his reduction in strikeouts. I know that Indians system is very good right now but I don't see how he could not rank at least 6th or 7th overall.

Jim Ingraham: You're right. Johnny Peralta is a big time prospect, and in any other year he would have been in the Top 10. He was close to being in it this year, but there were just too many others ranked slightly ahead of him. I personally like Peralta a lot. He's got an A-Rod type build, and he appears to have a chance at being a very productive hitter. His offensive potential is so intriguing, that there has been talk about moving him to third base. Like Brandon Phillips, Peralta is still very young. But he's not very far from competing for a spot on the big league roster.

 Q:  Kyle D Krauss from Deschler, Ohio asks:
With all the talent the Indians acquired through trades and the draft, do you see them turning around in a year or two and acquiring major leaguers for prospects or do you think they are intent on totally rebuilding through the system?

Jim Ingraham: Teams that go through a rebuilding process of this magnitude generally require at least two or three years. I think the one thing that could help the Indians accelerate the process is that they have a lot of good young pitchers. I don't look for them to spend any money on any veteran free agents, or trade for any players who make a lot of money, until they feel they are in a position to win the division again. When that happens, this staggering inventory of prospects they have been stockpiling over the next year will become a big factor. Not all the players listed in the Top 10, or Top 30 prospects will wind up playing in Cleveland. Some will eventually be used in trades that might bring to Cleveland a key veteran that could put them over the hump once they become contenders again. But history says that they probably are at least two to three years away from being a contender _ and that's only if everything goes right.

 Q:  Ryan Baker from Cleveland, OH asks:
Jim, Oh how the might have fallen. Korey Smith from #1 to off the charts. I know a lot of that has to o with the relative weakness of the system before the season and the influx of big time talent in 2002. But how far has he fallen? I must say I've never believed the hype on him. Work ethic, raw power, and intangibles are great, but he's only at high A and he just can't hit, has poor strike zone judgement, and plays erratic defense. In his defense, I've not seen him in person, but numbers and talking to those who have seen him have got to count for something. The numbers just don't lie.

Jim Ingraham: In talking to my cohorts at Baseball America, we can't remember a player who was No.1 on the Top 10 list one year, played a full year, was not injured, but fell out of the top 10 the next year. It happened with Corey Smith this year for a couple of reasons. His numbers were decent at Kinston last season, but nothing more than decent. He still has yet to have that breakthrough season everyone is waiting for. Meanwhile, the Indians made several trades that brought several good young prospects into the system, they drafted Jeremy Guthrie, and when it came time to arrange this year's list, Smith kept sliding and sliding. Indians officials still like him a lot, but if he doesn't have a big year this season at Akron his star could begin to flicker the way Tim Drew's did, leading, ultimately to his inclusion in the Bartolo Colon trade with Montreal.

 Q:  Myron Leslie from USF Tampa FL asks:
Corey Smith goes from #1 to off the list! Is this because off the top talent brought in through trades or has he regressed that much.

Jim Ingraham: I wouldn't say Corey Smith has regressed. He just hasn't developed as quickly as was hoped. That, coupled with the influx of talent into the organization the last year resulted in his tumble out of the Top 10 list for this year.

 Q:  Chief Wahoo from Arizona asks:
Are the Indians looking at Milton Bradley and Coco Crisp as long term solutions for the OF, or is there guys in the system they like better in a year or two?

Jim Ingraham: For now, Bradley and Crisp are the options in center field. Bradley is a better defender and, potentially, a better run producer. Crisp is the only pure leadoff type hitter on the roster, and he has more speed and is much more of a base stealing threat. I also would not rule out the Indians looking at Alex Escobar in center field, providing his knee surgery didn't rob him of any range in the outfield. Down the road, Grady Sizemore and Ryan Church are two center field candidates. Luis Garcia is also one to watch. He is a right-handed hitter with power, a commodity the Indians don't have a lot of in their system.

 Q:  Ryan Baker from Cleveland, OH asks:
Some OFs in the system get mild hype here in Cleveland such as Jody Gerut, Luis Garcia, and Ryan Church. I'm guessing these guys made the top 30, but with Crisp, Bradley, Broussard, Sizemore, and if Karim Garcia contiues to pretend he's Superman do these guys have shots as regulars? Or are they more 4th and 5th OFs or trade bait for when the rebuilding comes full circle?

Jim Ingraham: Luis Garcia, Jody Gerut, and Ryan Church are all longshots to play in Cleveland this year. On the other hand, Bradley, Crisp, Broussard, and even Escobar can hardly be called established major leaguers, so the Indians' outfield picture is very fluid at the moment. I would say Church, Gerut and Garcia are guys who might be trade candidates, but the only problem there is that the Indians aren't in the position to make the kind of prospects-for-veterans trades that players such as that would be involved in. Broussard and Crisp might be the fourth and fifth outfielders to start the season, but Escobar and Garcia appear to be both competing for the right field job, and the loser of that competition would likely be kept on the team as well. The more you look at it, there is going to be a numbers problem by the end of training camp with regard to the outfielders, and for that reason, it would not surprise me at all if the Indians traded Matt Lawton andor Ellis Burks, who doesn't play outfield, but if they opened the DH spot, it would give Garcia, say, a spot in the lineup.

 Q:  Richard Barrett from Newark,Ohio asks:
Where does Brian Tallent fit in top propects.

Jim Ingraham: Tallet will go to camp and compete for a spot in the starting rotation. He, Cliff Lee, and Billy Traber, the three lefties who were together at Akron and Buffalo last year, will all compete for spots on the staff. Of the three, Tallet might be the one who the Indians might move to the bullpen as a long reliever, spot starter, as a way to ease him into the big leagues.

 Q:  Ryan Baker from Cleveland, OH asks:
I got a chance to see 2 of Francisco Rodriguez's starts in Cleveland last year. The 1st was Oakland whose patient plate approach ate him alive with his inconsistent control, while the second was the near no hitter against Detroit and their hack away approach, where he beamed Fick and was ejected. I know young pitchers are inconsistent, but which is the real one? He reminds me of the post injury Ramon Martinez - awesome and awful all in one breath.

Jim Ingraham: As you said, Rodriguez is a like a lot of young pitchers: inconsistent. What I like about Rodriguez the most is that he's not intimidated about being in the big leagues. He attacks hitters, he trusts his stuff, and he's not afraid to pitch inside. Pitchers who do that tend to have a better chance for success at the big league level than do pitchers who do not. Unfortunately, the Indians are going to have to live with lots of inconsistencies from most of their young pitchers in the next couple of years. That's just the way it works.

 Q:  Ryan Baker from Cleveland, OH asks:
Jim, of the 4 2001 pitchers you mentioned in the Best of The Rest, who has the most upside and who is closest to Cleveland, Martin, Foley, Dittler, or Denham? Local guys hail Foley the most, but Martin's numbers are out of this world. I don't know much about Dittler, and Denham looks like a late inning reliever like Billy Koch (former starter, elctric stuff, erratic control). Your thoughts?

Jim Ingraham: You can talk to four different people in the Indians organization and get four different opinions on who they like best from those pitchers they got in the 2001 draft. Foley had the best numbers of the group this past season, but only slighly better than Martin. Dittler pitched much better than his numbers, which weren't great, and as for Denham _ there's a reason he was drafted No.1 by the Indians, ahead of the other three. At this point, I would say Foley and Martin are the closest to Cleveland, but it's still going to be at least two years, and probably three, before they are ready.

 Q:  dave from CA asks:
will travis foley be in the top 30? why doesnt he get a much hype as guys like martin and denham when he is the same age or younger and has had more success against the same competition?

Jim Ingraham: Travis Foley is in the top 30, and while he hasn't gotten the hype of the other pitchers who were taken in the same draft, there are those in the organization who like Foley more than any of them. Hype is one thing. Performance is another. And Foley is performing.

 Q:  Tj Lawrence from Ft. Lauderdale asks:
Hi there. Do you feel that Travis Hafner has the same feel and aura about him that Eric Hinske did last year ie. traded to new team, full seasoning in the minors, no competition for his position. Can he pull of ROY 2003?

Jim Ingraham: Good comparison. Like Hinske last year, Hafner couldn't be coming into a better situation. He will be on a young team, will get plenty of playing time, and will play half his games in a ballpark that is very friendly for left-handed hitters. I think he is a definite Rookie of the Year candidate.

 Q:  Darren from UK asks:
I'm just wondering, you mention that some scouts think Cruceta has a higher upside than Rodriguez and yet you omit Cruceta from the top 10, but Rodriguez lands at #6. What's your reasoning behind this?

Jim Ingraham: The reason Cruceta isn't rated higher is that his career is still in its infancy. Scouts and club officials like him a lot, but when you compare him to Rodriguez, you're talking about a guy who has pitched far more innings in the minor leagues to a guy who hasn't, by comparison, pitched very many innings at all. The more a pitcher is seen, the more accurate evaluators can be. With pitchers who haven't been seen as much, it requires more of a projection. Cruceta could very well turn out to be a better pitcher than Rodriguez, but it's difficult to predict that now, because Rodriguez has pitched more _ and been evaluated more _ than has Cruceta.

 Q:  NC from Boone, NC asks:
"The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on discussions with scouting and player-development personnel." How is a player's projected long-term worth determined?

Jim Ingraham: A player's "long term worth'' takes into account the chances of him reaching the big league level, and his potential impact once there. Generally speaking, players with the highest ceilings are the highest rated players on these lists.

 Q:  snowbound from upstate new york asks:
Now that einar diaz has been sent packing, could you speculate on the numbers that victor martinez will put up with the big club? Thanks

Jim Ingraham: Martinez will likely start the season at Buffalo. Josh Bard will be the starting catcher on the big league club, backed up by Tim Laker. The Indians want Martinez to play every day, which he will do at Buffalo. Of course, that's not written in stone. If Martinez comes to training camp and continues to be a hitting machine, while also showing he has improved the area in which he needs the most work _ his throwing mechanics _ it's not out of the question he could beat out Bard for the starting job on the big league club. But my guess is that the Indians would prefer to start the season with Bard as the starter on the big league club and Martinez at Buffalo. Don't be surprised if Martinez is in Cleveland at some point in 2003, and by 2004 he could very likely be the opening day catcher.

Jim Ingraham: Thanks guys, I've enjoyed the chat. Hopefully the Indians didn't make any trades for anymore prospects while we were chatting. I don't think any of us could handle keeping track of any more young players.

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