2011 has been an exciting year for Cleveland Indians fans.
This is not only because of their sudden rise to contention, or the acquisition of an ace rather than the departure of one at the deadline, but because they have gotten a glimpse into a future that has come faster than anticipated.
Part of that future is the promotion of top prospects such as Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis and Alex White.
But now, with the departure of White to Colorado in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade along with the Tribe's other top prospect Drew Pomeranz, the once vaunted Indians farm system has taken a noticeable hit.
This is something I outlined in my last article, in which I said it was imperative that the Indians sign their top draft picks.
The high minors are now lacking with impact talent, but deep down in the system there are some diamonds in the rough to be found that could soon be valuable pieces in a Cleveland championship run.
Nick Weglarz and Jason Knapp entered the season as the Tribe's fifth and six best prospects, respectively, according to Baseball America.
Unfortunately, health has not been very friendly to the two farm hands.
Weglarz has been hanging around the Indians system since 2005 when he was their third-round pick out of high school. Now a 23-year-old in Double-A, Weglarz may never make it to the big leagues.
That is not taking away anything from his talent, which Weglarz has more than enough of. He has all the makings of a slugging corner outfielder with one of the best eyes in the minors. His 2011 slash line is quite an interesting one to look at: .168/.369/.290.
Weglarz has always had a great eye, and despite the fact he isn't hitting, he is getting on-base at a considerable rate. It's not as though Weglarz is struggling to make contact, since his K:BB rate is 1:1, but he just isn't hitting the ball with authority.
The slugging outfielder could have made the Majors last year or perhaps even earlier if he had been able to stay healthy. Weglarz played 50 games at Triple-A Columbus last year before a thumb injury prematurely ended his season. He also was unable to stay healthy this year, as he has thus far played in only 33 games.
Knapp is a little bit of a different story.
The centerpiece of the often criticized Cliff Lee trade, Knapp has yet to pitch higher than Low-A ball. This is not due to poor performance, but poor health.
In 2009, he was quickly shut down for the year after shoulder surgery.
Knapp then looked like a top prospect during a healthy 2010 season, when he held a 2.86 ERA and 14.9 K/9 between the rookie level and Low-A Lake County.
Looking to continue his ascension to the Majors, Knapp was unable to stay healthy in 2011. In June he underwent a second shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the year.
Now with two shoulder surgeries by the age of 20, Knapp's prospect status is in question, as well as his big league potential.
Weglarz and Knapp have some of the most potential out of players in this slideshow, but until they can stay healthy they cannot be relied upon.
A rare impactful Latin American signing, Luigi Rodriguez has turned himself into a prospect to watch after a strong debut in Arizona.
Rodriguez hit .379/.408/.569 in 25 games for rookie level Arizona Indians that has recently earned him a promotion to Low-A Lake County as an 18-year-old.
The Dominican Republic native will never hit for much power, but he just might be the fastest player in the Tribe's system.
In the Dominican Summer League last year, Rodriguez only hit seven doubles and two home runs in 63 games, but also stole 31 bases while only being caught nine times.
Rodriguez has a long way to go before he can play on the shores of Lake Erie, but if he continues his hot start to his professional career, he could be playing there for awhile.
Does the name sound familiar?
No, not because of the Chicago Cubs catcher.
Soto is the prospect received in return for Jhonny Peralta from the Detroit Tigers in 2010. Described as a lanky and raw southpaw with upside, Soto has dazzled in his time in the Indians system.
The Midwest League All-Star held a 3.77 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 rate before being promoted to High-A Kinston where he pitched even better with a 3.02 ERA and 9.2 K/9.
Despite striking out a batter per inning, Soto is not an overpowering pitcher. The 6'3" southpaw's arsenal consists of a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball and changeup and he makes batters miss by placing them well.
As he progresses through the system, his strikeout rate will probably drop, but having a tall left-hander like Soto would be great for a predominantly right-handed Tribe rotation. If he reaches the Majors in the next few years (he's only 20), he should be one of the better mid-rotation starters out there.
The Indians' third-round pick in 2010, Tony Wolters doesn't have that many tools.
But what he does have is that "baseball rat" mentality that can turn an average player into a great one.
Wolters will never win many batting titles or lead the American League in home runs, but he won't ever be the guy to lose you a game.
Currently playing at short-season Mahoning Valley, Wolters is having a fine pro debut as evidenced by his .296/.388/.401 slash line. His slugging percentage isn't particularly high, but power is not what is usually expected of a middle infielder.
Wolters doesn't have exceptional speed, but he's a very smart base runner as he has stolen 14 bags so far this year and has only been caught three times.
If Asdrubal Cabrera departs after 2013 via free agency, I could see Wolters fighting for the everyday shortstop job during spring training in 2014 and possibly even winning the position. He could be penciled in perfectly in the No. 2 spot of the lineup for awhile.
A Taiwanese product, Chen had a coming out party in 2010 in between Low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston.
After hitting only .215 at short- season Mahoning Valley in 2009, he hit .315/.404/.521 in 2010.
Chen knocked a solid 12 balls over the fence, but he also had an astounding 38 doubles. Though he is already 22, he could possibly mature some more or gain muscle and turn those doubles into bombs and become one of the better catching prospects around.
His defense is only average, but if he continues to mash the ball (20 doubles and 11 home runs in Double-A this year), he could possibly force a timeshare with Carlos Santana when he reaches the Majors.
Another arm the Indians acquired in a deadline deal, Nick Hagadone came over from the Boston Red Sox in the 2009 Victor Martinez trade.
Originally a starter, his 2008 Tommy John surgery is partially to blame for his move to the bullpen. Despite the injury, Hagadone has come back to become arguably the best bullpen prospect in all of baseball.
A dominant southpaw, Hagadone's fastball sits at around 97 miles per hour and can come close to hitting triple digits.
Hagadone was absolutely filthy in 12 appearances for Double-A Akron to start the year, where he held a 1.59 ERA and 9.5 K/9 rate.
This prompted a promotion to Triple-A Columbus where he struggled at first, but has since settled down and now holds a 3.71 ERA and 9.8 K/9.
If he was a part of any other organization, Hagadone could be a part of a big league bullpen by now, but since he is part of the Tribe's "Bullpen Mafia" he will have to wait until September to make his Major League debut.
Whenever he makes it into the bullpen at Progressive Field, Hagadone could develop into one of the best lefty relievers with his high heat and deadly slider.
With the promotions/departures of the Indians' top four prospects and injuries slowing their fifth and sixth best, 2010 second-round pick LeVon Washington is the new top prospect in Cleveland.
Washington was the first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, but he elected not to sign. Still, the Rays usually do a good job picking young outfielders from the draft.
Washington is most definitely the center fielder of the future in Cleveland, but there is also reason to believe he may not be able to make it.
The issue with the 20-year-old is that he still has "raw" written all over his scouting report.
But tools will never be an issue for Washington. His tool set is only rivaled by Home Depot.
Cheap jokes aside, Washington is a line-drive hitter with plenty of speed. There is reason to believe that as he matures he could develop a solid home run stroke and hit about 15 or even 20 per year in the bigs.
The 2011 season has brought about a less than impressive pro debut for Washington where he has a .226/.341/.310 slash line at Low-A Lake County.
Despite his low batting average, Washington is still getting on-base pretty well. He has also swiped 13 bags in 17 tries on the year.
One thing he needs to work on are his strikeouts. Washington has fanned 66 times in only 59 games.
Despite some issues and current lack of power (nine doubles, two home runs) Washington has the time and potential to turn into a star in the Majors. It all depends on how well he puts his tremendous tools together.