It's that time of year when the Major League Baseball top prospect lists start pouring in. Normally, it's just a part of the normal hot stove season for each major league team.
You know the drill: sign some free agents, make some trades and reevaluate your minor league system. For the Indians, that drill should be a much simpler proposition thanks to Paul Dolan's recent revelation to Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer:
“It’s not the right time to spend. No question about that. It’s not the right time to spend in the cycle of this franchise. The spending is deficit spending. When New York and Boston spend, they’re spending from their profits. It’s a riskier proposition for clubs like us to spend. We’re taking a far greater financial risk than whatever it is a large-market club spends on a large free agent. It’s the unfortunate nature of our game.”
While the conversation about Dolan's statement will take the better part of the winter months, and likely the entirety of the 2011 baseball season (you know, the one in which Mark Shapiro believe the Indians would be in contention again...oops), let's instead discuss the first of the baseball prospect ratings that have come out.
On November 17th, Baseball America released their top 10 rankings. BA's rankings always tend to veer towards the current drafts and/or trades, and while there is value to their rankings, the definitive rankings tend to come from Tony Lastoria via his prospect book and website, Indians Prospect Insider. To give some perspective, let's take a look at last year's rankings, compared to this year's, both compiled by Baseball America's Ben Badler:
BA 2010 Tribe Top 10
BA 2011 Tribe Top 10
Carlos Santana, C
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Alex White, RHP
Nick Hagadone, LHP
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Jason Knapp, RHP
Drew Pomeranz, LHP
Michael Brantley, OF
Nick Weglarz, OF
Nick Weglarz, OF
Jason Knapp, RHP
Hector Rondon, RHP
Levon Washington, OF
Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Tony Wolters, SS
Alex White, RHP
Joe Gardner, RHP
Jason Kipnis, 2B/OF
Nick Hagadone, LHP
Looking at last year's ranking, No. 1 Carlos Santana, No. 5 Michael Brantley and No. 8 Carlos Carrasco have all been promoted to the major league level. Santana likely remains the true No. 1 prospect in the organization.
While establishing himself as a major leaguer during the 2010 season, Santana sprained his lateral collateral ligament on the outside of his knee during an early August collision at home plate and missed the rest of the season.
Brantley spent the beginning of the season in Cleveland, but after early struggles, made a quick exit back to Columbus. After a solid two months for the Clippers, Brantley returned and slowly began to show off some of the skills that the Indians saw when dealing for him in the CC Sabathia deal.
During the first half of the season, Brantley batted .118. In the second half, he rebounded nicely, batting .284, and bringing up his overall average to .246. He also managed to steal 10 bases, while only getting caught twice.
Carrasco was a September call-up after a fabulous season in Columbus, and he continued to pitch well for the big league Tribe. Carrasco never went less than six innings in seven starts, while going 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA. He struck out 38 batters in 44 2/3 innings, while only walking 14 batters.
Hector Rondon dropped out of the top 10 after having a season to forget. The lanky righty went 1-3 with an 8.53 ERA before the Indians shut him down for rest and rehab. Then, in late August, Rondon had Tommy John surgery, and likely won't be a factor again until next season.
The other six prospects on the list, remain on the list. Lonnie Chisenhall, Nick Weglarz, Alex White and Jason Kipnis all moved up, while Nick Hagadone and Jason Knapp both dropped. Newcomers to the top 10 are 2010 draftees, Drew Pomeranz, Levon Washington and Tim Wolters, and 2009 draftee Joseph Gardner.
No. 1: Lonnie Chisenhall
Chisenhall, the No. 1 pick for the Tribe in 2008, is certainly one of the top three prospects in this organization. He had a fantastic 2010 season. While the numbers may not scream future All-Star, you have to keep in mind that "Chis" spent much of the season battling through injury issues.
The Aero's third baseman hit .278, but slugged 17 home runs, driving in 84 and scoring 81. He led the team in runs, RBI, hits and total bases. With one more solid year in Columbus, he'll be on the fast track to the majors. While I do feel that Chisenhall got passed this season by another infielder, I have no problem raking him No. 1.
No. 2: Alex White
White was the No. 1 pick for the Tribe in 2009, and he did everything he could to prove that during the 2010 season. In his professional debut, White was solid, if a bit spectacular in two levels of the Indians organization.
At High A Kinston, White went 2-3 in eight starts, but don't let the win-loss confuse you. His ERA was a solid 2.86, striking out 41 in 44 innings, while walking only 19. He was promoted early to Akron and went 8-7 with an even more impressive 2.28 ERA.
His overall ERA was 2.45, and it looks like this kid knows how to pitch. He did struggle a bit with only 6 1/2 K's per nine innings, and I think you'd want more at a guy this high, but he'll only get better.
Look for White to start the year off in Columbus, and make some noise to join the big league club earlier, rather than later. I would have White in the top 10, but I'm not sure he's a No. 1 starter down the road...more like a No. 2 or No. 3.
No. 3: Jason Kipnis
Kipnis was the second-round pick of the Tribe in 2009. Understand that Kipnis made the move from the outfield to second base this season and did it as seamlessly as possible.
How seamless? Kipnis started the year off in High A Kinston and ended the season winning titles in Triple A Columbus. In 54 games in Kinston, Kipnis hit .300, with six home runs, 33 runs and 31 RBI. He did have 10 errors, but this would improve.
In Akron, Kipnis continued to improve, batting .311 with 10 homers and 43 RBI. His defense also improved, with 13 errors in 75 games.
After finishing the regular season, the Tribe sent him to Columbus to help out in the playoffs. Kipnis exploded, hitting for the cycle in the Clippers game-clinching game for the Governor's Cup, the trophy awarded to the best Triple A team.
In the five games he played for Columbus, he hit .455 with a 1.045 OPS. Kipnis is a shooting star in this organization. He'll start the year off in Columbus, but look for the Kipnis watch to begin in spring training. This guy may be the top prospect in the organization.
No. 4: Drew Pomeranz
Pomeranz was the Indians top pick in 2010. Without knowing much about the big 6'5" lefty, it appears as if this kid is the type of workhorse that the Indians have been stockpiling over the past 2 1/2 years.
He has a nice fastball that's in the 91-92 range, but can bring it up to 95. It's extremely explosive, but not his best pitch. That would be his 12-6 curve, which may already be the best curve in the organization.
He has a decent offspeed pitch, but it's likely the Indians will be tinkering with this over the next couple of years. I wouldn't have him this high yet, but there's no doubt this kid is going to be good.
No. 5: Nick Weglarz
Weglarz was the third-round pick of the Indians in 2005. It's unknown where Weglarz is going to play, whether it be outfield, first base or DH. This year, he hit .285, with 13 homers and 47 RBI.
He had a .503 OBP, and an .893 OPS. Weglarz is in the Jim Thome-mold...a mountain of a man, who walks as much as he strikes out. The only concern with the kid is health. He had less than 400 at bats this year. If healthy, I fully expect Weglarz to show up in Cleveland.
No. 6: Jason Knapp
Knapp was a second-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2008 and made his debut for the Tribe in rookie ball with six weeks left in the season. The kid is talented and has a lot of stuff, but it's really hard to figure out what we've got with this kid.
He made nine starts, to the tune of 28 1/3 innings. He went 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA, striking out an incredible 47 batters, while walking only 12. If you're counting at home, that's 15 K's per nine innings. He is a long way from the Majors, but he clearly has the best stuff of any Tribe pitcher.
No. 7: Levon Washington
Washington was picked in the second round of the 2010 draft. Here's another kid I don't know a lot about, other than the fact that many consider him to be the best overall athlete in the entire draft. Washington is a raw talent, he's fast and has above average offensive talent.
Many compare the kid to Johnny Damon and/or Carl Crawford. While I can't go there yet, there is a lot of hope for this kid down the line. His biggest knock is on his arm, and many say it may cost him from being a centerfielder. I just don't see the kid in the top ten yet, but what do I know.
No. 8: Tony Wolters
Wolters was picked in the third round of the 2010 draft. The Indians hadn't really drafted a top SS prospect since Jhonny Peralta about 200 years ago. Wolters is just that, a top prospect. Many believed that Wolters was going to college, and that there was no way that he'd sign.
It caused him to slide, and the Indians did what they normally don't, they took a chance at him and signed him. He's a fantastic fielder, but his specialty is his bat, which is special from both sides of the plate.
He's a small kid, but he's tenacious. The kid eats, sleeps and drinks baseball. His biggest comparison is Dustin Pedroia. When you look at the kid, he's not going to blow you away on paper, but when you put all the pieces together, he may be the Tribe's best draft pick. Again, not sure I'd have him in the top 10 yet, but he's certainly earned that right.
No. 9: Joe Gardner: Joe Gardner was selected in the third round in the 2009 draft. Gardner made quite a splash in the Indians organization this year. Gardner started the year in Low A Lake County, and made quick work there, going 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in only six starts.
He moved up to High A Kinston, and did an even better job, going 12-6 with a 2.65 ERA in 22 starts. He finished first in the organization in wins and K's, and had an overall 2.75 ERA. Opponents hit .197 against him. He has a wicked sinker and commands the lower part of the plate, and has a 3.21 GO/AO ratio.
There's nothing about this kid that doesn't sound off the alarms of being a solid top-of-the-rotation starter. Will his breaking stuff translate to AA and higher? I believe it will. Look for Gardner to really rise to the top this season.
No. 10: Nick Hagadone
Nick Hagadone was a first-round selection by the Boston Red Sox in 2007. Hagadone may have had the best stuff in this organization coming into this season, after coming over in the Victor Martinez deal last year.
He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, so this was likely the first we got to see him at the top of his game. Cleveland was extremely careful with Hagadone, so much so that they moved him in the bullpen when he struggled a bit in Akron.
Hagadone is another big lefty, who has a mid-90's fastball, a plus slider and a changeup. He had a solid season in Kinston, (1-3, 2.39 ERA) before heading to Kinston. Once there, Hagadone struggled as a starter, so they moved him to the pen.
It's still not sure where he'll end up, but it's likely the pen. Hagadone has much to prove, before he gets to the bigs. This may be too high for him.
The Indians certainly have their doubts heading into the season with regard to the big league club. What is sure is that the Tribe has a slew of prospects moving up through the organization that should make an impact over the next five years.
We'll be taking a long look at many of them over the next three months. It's not like we have anything else to talk about, do we?