This year, I set out on a goal to better learn the minor leagues. I am a Phillies fan but I realized that, other than the Phillies, I didn't really know anyone else's system too well. I thought it would be a good idea to start ranking teams' top 10 prospects.
After doing the research on the Indians organization I found out just how deep it is. Most of the players on my list were acquired within the last two years, so kudos to Indians GM Mark Shapiro for refilling the organization. I now present to you the Cleveland Indians' 2010 top 10 prospects.
1) Carlos Santana-C (Will Be 24 in April)
No shocker here, as Carlos Santana is the Indians' No. 1 prospect. He is used to being in this spot as he was voted as Baseball America's No. 1 prospect for the 2009 season.
The slugging catcher was the Eastern League MVP last season, playing for Double-A Akron where he was in the top tier of most offensive categories. So let’s take a look at why he is so valued and thought of as the future backstop of the Tribe.
2009 STATS: .290 BA, 30 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 97 RBI, 91 R. In 428 AB he had 83 SO, 90 BB, and had a .943 OPS.
His 23 home runs were best among Indians minor leaguers and ranked second in the entire Eastern League. The 97 RBI he had were good for second in the Indians organization, and in the Eastern League, he was also second in the RBI count. His .530 slugging percentage was third best among Indians minor leaguers but led all of the Eastern League. He also led the Eastern League in OPS with a .943 mark.
Obviously you’re starting to see why he’s so highly valued. He was the most consistent batter in the Eastern League last season and plays one of the most demanding positions on the field. He is everything you would want in a catcher when it comes to the bat. He can hit for average and can hit the long ball.
If it wasn’t for Lou Marson, he would probably be the opening day catcher, and still has a shot at the role. I think a more-likely situation is Santana will be sent to Columbus and if Marson falters at any point, they would bring him up. He could also platoon with Marson or serve as a backup. Whatever his role is come opening day, it’s only a matter of time before he’s behind the dish for the Tribe full-time.
2) Jason Knapp-RHP (Will Be 20 in August)
In my mind, Jason Knapp was the key piece in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Knapp was an 18-year-old for the Single-A Lakewood Blueclaws, leading the entire minor leagues in strikeouts. Around June, he started to experience discomfort in his arm and it resulted in bad starts, which sent his ERA from the high twos to mid fours.
When the Indians pulled the trigger on the Lee deal, Knapp was actually injured at the time, but they didn’t even care. The teenager spent the entire 2009 season in Single-A Lakewood/Lake County last season and had some success there
2009 STATS: 2-7 record with a 4.18 ERA. In 21 games and 97 IP, he let up three HRs while compiling 123 SO, 47 BB. He held his opponents to a .212 BA.
The good thing about Knapp is his ability to keep the ball in the park. In 97 innings pitched he only allowed three home runs, which is a great asset. His strikeout numbers are good, but I would like to see him lower his walks. You can see by his opponents’ batting average that he has good stuff, as he held them to a .212 average, but the ERA was still in the low fours (4.18).
You may look at Knapp's numbers and not be impressed but I'll leave you with these thoughts: The first is that Knapp is still a teenager and won’t turn 20 until August. The second is that, in this day and age of teams being so cautionary with the talent they either sign or receive in trades, what does it say about Knapp's ability that the Indians didn’t even care that he was injured at the time of the trade? He should start the season out in Lake County.
3) Michael Brantley-LF (Will Be 23 in May)
Michael Brantley is only 22 years old but could very well be the Indians starting left fielder come opening day. This former seventh-round pick in the 2005 draft was the player to be named later in the deal that sent Carsten Charles Sabathia to the Brewers in 2008.
Brantley has gone through the minor leagues, experiencing no real growing pains that you would expect for anyone who is drafted out of high school. He is coming off a very successful 2009 campaign which saw him end it in Progressive Field.
2009 COMBINED STATS: .276 BA, 25 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 48 RBI, 90 R. In 569 AB, he had 67 SO, 67 BB and a .709 OPS. He also had 50 SB, 9 CS.
Obviously, his bread and butter is his ability to steal bases. He had more success at Triple-A Columbus where he swiped 46 bags and only got thrown out five times as opposed to his four steals and four caught stealings he had in the majors, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it. He needs to learn the major league catchers, but before too long he will have them figured out.
He doesn’t bring much with the power department, only hitting six home runs, but when you’re getting that speed on the basepaths, it cancels the other out. If he could improve his BA I would say he could be a top-of-the-lineup guy, but his average was too low in my book to warrant the second spot in a lineup. He could start out in the seventh hole, but if he is able to improve the average he will be a top-of-the-lineup guy.
4) Lou Marson-C (Will Be 24 in June)
Lou Marson was one of the brightest prospects the Phillies had last season. He's coming off of a 2008 season where he was selected to the 2008 Futures Games, represented Team USA in the Beijing Olympics, and ended his season hitting his first career HR in the major leagues on the last day of the regular season.
With fans being suspect of Carlos Ruiz' bat, they saw Marson who hit .314/5/46 for Double-A Redding and wanted that offense. When spring training came around, one of the big stories in Phillies camp was whether Marson would be Carlos Ruiz' backup or sent down to Triple-A Leigh High Valley. The Phillies decided it would benefit their young catching prospect more to get the at bats in Triple-A than get very few ABs in the majors serving as a backup. So, Marson started the season out as an Iron Pig but ended it as an Indian as he was yet another piece the Indians got in the Cliff Lee deal from Philadelphia.
2009 STATS: .272 BA, 25 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 37 RBI, 51 R. In 375 AB, he had 80 SO, 50 BB, and a .715 OPS.
While his Triple-A/MLB numbers aren’t anything that jump off the page at you, I assure you Lou Marson can swing the stick. He isn’t going to be a Carlos Santana guy when it comes to power, but he’s a smart hitter who had 15 hits in the majors this season with seven of them being doubles.
There’s a good chance Marson is going to be the Indians' opening day catcher while Carlos Santana gets more seasoning in the minors, but he’s going to have to really work hard to keep Santana from taking his job. I'm a huge fan of Marson and had him listed as the Phillies' seventh-best prospect going into the 2008 season, and I moved him up to third for the 2009 season. The former 2004 fourth-round pick out of Coronado High School won the Paul Owens Award in 2008 which is given to the best Phillies minor league hitter in the organization. He’s got great strike-zone discipline and I hope he gets a good shot with Santana lurking.
5) Eric Berger-LHP (Will Turn 24 in April)
All Eric Berger has done since being selected in the eighth round of the 2008 draft is dominate. It seems like, no matter where the Indians front office decide to put him, he puts up eye-popping numbers, and such was the case in his second professional season. The 2009 season saw Berger make it to Double-A Akron but he originally started the season out in High Single-A Kinston. At both levels, he pitched great, compiling a 2.45 ERA in Kinston and a 2.67 in Akron.
2009 COMBINED STATS: 10-9 record with a 2.50 ERA. In 27 starts and 144 IP, he had 133 SO, 61 BB. He let up five HRs and held his opponents to a .233 BA.
Berger's 2.50 ERA was the third-best ERA among Indians minor leaguers. His 10 wins were ranked fifth in the organization, and his 133 strikeouts were the second-best in the Indians' farm system.
Don’t be shocked if you see him in the majors this season. I would expect him to start the season out in Double-A because he only started six games last year, but in his six games he showed a lot. If he continues his success from last year he could be a September call-up when the time comes.
6) Lonnie Chisenhall-3B (Will Be 21 For the 2010 Season)
Chisenhall was the Indians' first-round pick back in the 2008 season. He was chosen 29th overall under a cloud of controversy. Chisenhall was kicked off his University of South Carolina team after he was arrested for burglary and grand larceny. This ended his career as a Gamecock. The Indians either thought he had put that in the past or just didn’t care and wanted his talent, and they certainly got it last season.
Chisenhall played most of last season in High Single-A Kinston and at the tail end of the season received a call up to Double-A Akron. He played much better at Single-A Kinston than he did Double-A Akron, but when he was able to put the ball in play at Akron, he made it meaningful.
2009 COMBINED STATS: .258 BA, 31 2B, 3 3B, 22 HR, 92 RBI, 72 R. He had 96 SO with 44 BB. He also had a .797 OPS.
Don’t let the batting average fool you; he can hit. In High Single-A Kinston he hit .276, but his Double-A Akron batting average of .183 brought his season total down. The 22 home runs he hit were good for second among Indians minor league hitters, only one behind No. 1 prospect Carlos Santana. His 92 RBI ranked third in the organization.
He had a taste of Double-A this season and will start the season in Double-A Akron next season. Some scouts didn’t know how he would project power-wise. He’s a line drive hitter who has obviously proven he can hit the long ball. He’s got great plate presence but no speed to speak of whatsoever. He’s also suspect defensively and will probably have to switch positions to one of the corner outfield spots.
7) Scott Barnes-LHP (Will Be 23 in September)
Barnes was the key piece in the deal that sent Ryan Garko to the San Francisco Giants. Barnes was originally an eighth-round draft pick in the 2008 draft by the Giants out of St. John's University but joined the Indians organization and pitched for High Single-A Kinston and Double-A Akron after starting his season pitching for the High Single-A San Jose Giants.
Barnes pitched great in Single-A, posting a 2.85 ERA for San Jose and a 2.13 ERA for Kinston. In six games at Akron, he struggled, posting a 5.68 ERA, but the jump from Single-A to Double-A can be a shock to some pitchers. The batters are more experienced and patient at the plate and it can take some getting used to.
COMBINED 2009 STATS: 14-5 record with a 3.41 ERA. In 27 games and 142.1 IP, he had 138 SO, 49 BB. He did let up 15 HRs and opponents hit .247 off of him.
He lets up way too many home runs and needs to learn how to keep them in the park. Other than that, his stats speak for themselves. However, I would expect him to be in Double-A Akron to start the season.
8) Alex White-RHP (Will Be 22 in August)
White was the first overall pick for the Indians in last June’s draft. He was taken with the 15th pick out of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He signed in mid-August thanks to the negotiating skills of Scott Boras, who got him an above-slot contract, but since he signed so late he was unable to compete in the minors in 2009. So let’s take a look at his 2009 numbers at UNC.
2009 STATS: 4-0 record with a 1.57 ERA. In 34 1/3 IP he had 74 K, and only 7 BB.
In his last game ever as a Tar Heel, he faced BYU and dominated. He went seven innings, yielded no runs on two hits, and struck out 15. He can throw six different pitches but has three really good ones. His fastball is in the 92-95 MPH range but has touched 97 before. It’s got decent movement with some sink on it. His changeup is probably his worst pitch but he doesn’t throw it often. His curveball is more of a get-me-over pitch for him. Uses it to get ahead in the count and keep guys off balance. His slider is really good with a hard bite that reaches mid-80s on the gun. His best pitch is his splitter, which is his out pitch.
His numbers from UNC are amazing. What impressed me more than anything is his reluctance to give up the free pass to first. Seven walks with 74 strikeouts is quite an amazing ratio.
He recently pitched a 1-2-3 inning in an intersquad game in spring training and should be headed to High Single-A Kinston come the start of the season. Hopefully he can carry over his success from UNC.
9) Brett Brach-RHP (Will Be 22 in March)
Brach was taken in the 10th round of last June’s draft. Another product of the 2009 draft, Brach made the most of his opportunity when the Indians signed him and sent him to Low-A Mahoning. He spent his first pro season in Mahoning but after his success will definitely be in line for a promotion come 2010.
2009 STATS: 5-2 record with a 2.19 ERA. In 78 IP he had 61 SO, 20 BB and only let up one HR. He also held his opponents to a .215 BA.
While he doesn’t have the power numbers, with only 61 strikeouts, he did everything right. Nothing flashy, but he only let up one HR and, as I’ve said before, if you keep it in the park you keep the ERA down—everybody wins. I would like to see him lower his walk total a little but it’s not a pressing issue at the moment. I would expect him in Lake County or possibly High Class-A Kinston.
10) Carlos Carrasco-RHP (Will Be 23 in March)
Carlos Carrasco was the Phillies' No. 1 prospect in 2007 and 2008. He was the Phillies' No. 2 prospect in 2009 behind Domonic Brown. He was one of the brightest pitching prospects the Phillies have had since Cole Hamels, but last season he looked more like a punching bag than a top prospect.
Carrasco, like Marson, had a 2008 which saw him jump to Double-A Redding, start the Futures Game for the World Team and pick up the win, and finish the season in Triple-A Leigh High Valley. His Double-A numbers were just okay, and I will admit I didn’t think he deserved a promotion to Triple-A, but Phillies GM Pat Gillick shockingly didn’t call to ask my opinion on the matter.
In 2009, things started out great for Carrasco. He was invited to Phillies spring training where he competed with Kyle Kendrick, Chan Ho Park, and JA Happ for the Phillies' fifth starter spot. In a shock, Carrasco, the long shot, beat out incumbent Kyle Kendrick, but he was ultimately sent down to Triple-A. Triple-A was rough for Carrasco in 2009, as he got rocked. At one point he was 0-6 for the Iron Pigs and many thought he should be sent down to Double-A, while others thought he was either tired or injured.
In July, he was involved in the Cliff Lee trade, and in his first start for Triple-A Columbus he not only faced his former team, but their new pitcher, former Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez. Carrasco pitched well for the Clippers and received a call up to the majors where he made his major league debut on Sept. 1, 2009. Carrasco was awful in his five starts for the Indians, giving up almost a run an inning.
COMBINED 2009 STATS: 11-14 record with a 6.76 ERA. In 179.1 IP he had 159 SO, 56 BB and let up 23 HR.
These stats were between the Triple-A teams he played for and his short stint with the Indians, but nothing is really good. Carrasco's big problem is he surrenders way to many home rus. No. 1 prospect Carlos Santana hit as many home runs in 2009 as Carlos Carrasco let up. He had a 8.87 ERA in the majors as hitters were rushing to the bat rack to get a piece of the rookie.
Carrasco still has a ton of potential but I do want to say that I think the Phillies might have treated his situation poorly. I always thought, last season and even part of 2008, that he was either worn down or injured.
That’s all speculation on my part, but I emailed Daily News writer Bill Conlin about him last season and he told me, "I think he’s destined for surgery." The Phillies rushed him through the system because of fan pressure, I believe. There was no reason for him to be in Triple-A in 2008 and he should have been sent back down to Double-A last season. If the Indians were smart they would put him down in Columbus for the season and make him earn his promotion.