Whether the Indians want to admit it to you or not, we all know they are trying to rebuild from a team that just three seasons ago were one win away from the World Series. Long gone are the staples to that rebuilding project that started way back in 2002. Has it been that long since the Indians dealt Bartolo Colon and started a whole new wave of players to build another winner? Unfortunately the second “Blueprint for Success” wasn’t structurally sound enough to sustain winning like the John Hart and Mike Hargrove teams of the mid 1990s. This time the Indians are turning to their third ‘blueprint’, this time co-led by outgoing GM Mark Shapiro, his successor of 2011 assistant GM Chris Antonetti, and of course first year manager Manny Acta. Here are a few players the Indians will need to come through for them to make this plan a winning one, at least in the next few seasons.
Criteria in this list will be ranked on draft position and year, based on the player they were traded for and their positional value with the organization. (Year and how acquired in parenthesis)
C Carlos Santana (trade-2008). Traded to the Indians as part of the Casey Blake deal, when the Indians first rebuilding project started to fall in on them in 2008. If Santana ends up being as good as advertised it will go down as one of the bigger steals in baseball trade history, at least recent history. Currently at AAA Columbus Santana is hitting .313 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI. He needs to work on his defense, particularly blocking, but his offense would be a welcome addition to the Tribe, maybe as soon as next week. The sooner he is in Cleveland the better, as one of the major reasons the Indians hired Sandy Alomar Jr. to help develop Santana defensively. He is the most highly touted hitter in the Indians organization and the Indians need him to come through because of how much he has been hyped. Also the Indians are nearly the worst team in baseball offensively and could use a major bat to help them soon. Santana will also be good for at least the next two years to sell tickets, whether or not he pans out, another area the Indians are desperate to improve.
P Alex White (drafted 1st round, 15th overall 2009) – The Indians are sorely lacking pitching prospects at this point, and using a first round pick on one who was well developed at the University of North Carolina. The Indians selected a pitcher who was far enough along that he could move through the minors fast enough to make an impact sooner rather than later. White is mostly a three pitch pitcher at this point, but has already moved from high A Kinston to AA Akron in less than two months. He allowed just two runs in seven innings in his first start at Akron, and could be in Columbus by the end of the summer, if not sooner.
P Hector Rondon (signed as undrafted free agent-2004)- Rondon follows the same mold as Fausto Carmona, another Latin free agent who has blossomed into their best pitcher. Rondon advanced through every level, having success everywhere he went. He had a chance to get called up into the Indians rotation in 2010, but was placed on the disabled list. At Kinston in 2008, Rondon went 11-6 with a 3.60 ERA. He had 145 strike outs and 42 walks, and in 2009 he pitched at two levels, Columbus and Akron. He went combined 11-10 with 137 strikeouts and 29 walks. The Indians need more front line strikeout pitchers to be successful and Rondon would fit that mold perfectly.
P Justin Masterson (trade- 2009)- Brought in with another pitcher, Nick Hagadone, who is in Kinston right now. Masterson is 0-11 in his last 16 starts going back to 2009. The Indians shipped major fan favorite, catcher Victor Martinez to Boston for Masterson, the hard throwing right hander. He was successful reliever and spot starter in Boston, but has yet to have any success in Cleveland. Because the fact that Hagadone might be 2-3 years away from making the big club and because he was traded for Martinez, the Indians for their own accord, need Masterson to flourish. The main reason that he’s still in the starting rotation and not in the bullpen or at AAA right now, is to save face because of the big trade. Masterson is a strikeout pitcher, something championship teams need the most, so one way or another, the Indians really need him to find some success soon. Just for kicks, in 2010 so far Masterson is 0-5 in nine starts, has struck out 46 but has walked 26 in 47 innings.
OF Matt LaPorta (trade 2008)- The first big trade in 2008 as the Indians started their rebuilding plan. The Indians as we know, gave up Cy Young winner CC Sabathia, who was a former first round pick, for LaPorta, Michael Brantley who will also appear on this list, P Rob Bryson who is in the minors, and P Zach Jackson, who is no longer with the organization. LaPorta has recently lost at bats to OF Austin Kearns because he wasn’t swinging the bat well and Kearns was. LaPorta in limited action in 2009 had 181 at bats hit seven home runs with 21 RBI, but only hit .254. LaPorta hasn’t shown much power this season, but it’s worth noting he is recovering from off season hip surgery. The Indians signed Russell Branyan to play first base, which shows their current stance on LaPorta’s development. Because he was traded for Sabathia and because the Indians currently have less offense than a 50 year old boxer has a punch, it would behoove the Indians to do their best to develop LaPorta and hope he flourishes into a power hitting first basemen soon.
INF Lonnie Chisenhall (drafted 1st round, 2008)- Chisenhall has been a hitting machine since being drafted in the 2008 draft, hitting at every level, until incurring a shoulder injury early in 2010, where he was hitting just .261 at AA Akron, playing third base. Chisenhall at Kinston/Akron in 2009 hit .258, 22 home runs and had 92 RBI. Out of college in 2008 he hit .290 with five home runs and 45 RBI. Because he plays a corner position and the Indians are as we said, lacking impact bats in the middle of their lineup, Chisenhall could be a cornerstone in the next two seasons, depending on how fast he recovers from his current ailment. Chisenhall was drafted as a college shortstop, but moved to third base because no one will supplant Asdrubal Cabrera, but it should mean Chisenhall’s glove isn’t far behind his bat. With Jhonny Peralta probably not getting his option picked up next season, if Chisenhall gets healthy and starts hitting, he could be the Indians third baseman in 2011.
2B Luis Valbuena (trade, 2008)- Traded for then fourth outfielder Franklyn Gutierrez, who is now a key player on the Seattle Mariners. The Indians have had a revolving door at second base since they traded Ronnie Belliard in 2006. With the fails of Brandon Phillips and Josh Barfield, the Indians desperately need someone to stick and produce at the second sack. Last season in 268 at bats, he hit 10 home runs and 25 doubles. He only hit .250 but showed a flashy glove and range at second. However in 2010, the left hander has regressed, possibly a sophomore slump. (.144, two home runs, three doubles). He might have to go back to Columbus to work on some things offensively, but is only 25 years old, and has time to make an impact.
LHP Nick Hagadone (trade 2009)- The second pitcher brought in for Victor Martinez. He is currently at High A Kinston and is 1-3 in 10 starts with a very good 2.39 ERA. Hagadone is a potential three started, who would look nice sandwiched between Rondon, White, and Carmona. He doesn’t allow many home runs (3 home runs allowed in 40 minor league starts). The Indians could use a big production whole from a PR standpoint on the Martinez trade.
1B Beau Mills (drafted 1st round, 2007)- Another corner infielder with power, but also another first round pick, so the Indians don’t want to look bad, blowing a high pick on a player who never made it. Beau is the son of former Boston Red Sox coach Brad Mills and had a great start to his minor league career. In 2008 at Kinston he hit 21 home runs while knocking in 90 runs and hitting .293. So far in 2010, he is hitting .213 with three home runs at Akron. The Indians if nothing else could use him as trade bait, or need him to produce if LaPorta doesn’t pan out.
P Jason Knapp (trade 2009)- brought in for Cliff Lee, with what is starting to look like a rather weak class early on. After the trade went down, it later came out that the Indians agreed to take on the 19 year old, the key to the deal, without examining him, and now he is out at least until July with shoulder problems. The Lee deal needs to produce at least two good players out of the four they got.
P Carlos Carrasco (trade 2009)- one of the four in that previously mentioned Lee deal. Has been a .500 pitcher at AAA, and in a few starts in Cleveland last season, got rocked badly. He was expected to get a shot at the rotation in spring training this year, but didn’t look good, and has looked every bit we saw last year at Cleveland. (2-2 eight starts, 3.86 ERA, 34 strike outs, 20 walks, five home runs allowed) The Indians need some back of the rotation starters, and if he can cut down on his walks and home run rate, he could be that.
INF Jason Donald (trade 2009)- also brought in, in the Lee deal, and it now getting a shot to play at the big league level everyday, while Cabrera heals his broken forearm. Donald has been a high average hitter with a great glove at shortstop. Might shift to second base once Cabrera returns. He was hitting .277 at the time of his call up, but in his first two season in the minor leagues he hit .304 and .307, with 12 and 14 home runs in respective years. The Indians need him to hit enough to give him a job, because he does have a good glove and really need any second basemen to flourish.
2B Chord Phelps (drafted 3rd round, 2008)- he is currently hitting .360 at Akron and has moved up a level each year. He was a mid season and post season All Star at Kinston in 2009. He hasn’t shown much power but he can swing the bat, but does have eight errors this season. If the Indians want him to stay at second base, they will need to work on his range and glove, to get his bat into the lineup as well.
P Frank Hermann (undrafted free agent, 2005)- At the current rate of the bullpen, the Indians need some relief prospects to show something. Hermann in the last two season has done that. In 44 appearances in 2009, he was 2-3 with a 2.96 ERA and in 2010, he is 2-0 with a 0.37 ERA, in 24.1 innings pitched.
P Chris Perez (trade 2009)- The Indians need Perez to keep doing what he has been doing (one earned run in his last nine appearances (9.2 innings pitched). He eventually needs to take over the closers role, but for the time being needs to show he can come in and shut the door for years to come.
OF Michael Brantley (trade 2008)- The Indians need someone to take over at the top of the lineup, or the bottom, and to add some serious team speed. Brantley has been a .300 hitter in the minor leagues and has stolen as many as 46 bases in his career. He is a natural center fielder and if (hold you breath, the Indians lose Grady Sizemore), they need his defense, in any outfield spot.
OF Nick Weglarz (drafted 3rd round, 2005)- Just like pitching depth, the Indians need depth in hitters. With Travis Hafner on the down side of his career the Indians need a future DH. Not that he cant play outfield, but he can absolutely hit. In 2007 he hit 24 home runs while hitting .274, and has seven home runs so far at Akron this season. If he can get back to his 2007 form, he will be up in Cleveland by next season possibly. Even if he never ends up in Cleveland, the Indians will need good power hitting trade bait.
P Josh Tomlin (19th round pick, 2006)- Tomlin has been a winner at every level so far: (worst record 14-9), and it would help the Indians image to develop a low round pitcher and turn him into a successful starter. For his career including 2010, Tomlin is 48-22 in 76 starts. Even better, his strike out to walk ratio is 3-1 this season. He could be Charles Nagy with more strikeouts.
P Joe Gardener (3rd round pick 2009)- Gardner opened a lot of eyes early in 2010, especially the Tribe brass, which is hard to do when you’re not a first round pick. Gardner in six starts a Lake County went 1-0 with 38 strikeouts and just 11 walks. He was moved up to Kinston in early May, and is 2-0 in four starts with 20 strikeouts and 12 walks. He throws in the mid to uppers 90s and has a well developed changeup. He could advance another level this season, which would help the Indians soon, using his hard fastball out the pen soon or as a top end starter.
P Trey Haley (2nd round pick 2008)- Haley is coming into his own at Lake County, 4-0 this season so far. With the Indians needing plenty of pitching depth, with not many options at the upper levels right now. Haley is a hard thrower and has the potential to be a number two starter if he gets his control straightened out (38 strikeouts, 23 walks).