Cleveland Indians Top-Five Prospects for 2009
1. Matt LaPorta, OF/1B, 1/8/1985
LaPorta was drafted seventh overall by Milwaukee in 2007, but was shipped to Cleveland this past summer as part of the deal that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee.
LaPorta had been mashing in the minors prior to his trade to Cleveland.
In 2007, he put up a .304/.369/.696/ line in 118 at bats between R-Helena and A-West Virginia.
He picked up where he left off to begin 2008, going .288/.402/.576 in 302 AB for AA-Huntsville. LaPorta showed a good eye at the plate—45 walks against 63 strikeouts—and exhibited quite a bit of power, clubbing 23 doubles and 20 homers.
But LaPorta struggled to duplicate that success in 60 AB for Cleveland's AA team, hitting just .233/.299/.350.
He also struggled in the Venezuelan Winter League, striking out 22 times in 67 at bats while hitting .164/.250/.299.
Right now, treat his struggles as a blip on the radar. LaPorta is still a premium prospect that figures to be Cleveland's long term answer at either first base or at one of the corner outfield spots.
Look for LaPorta to begin 2009 back in AA. If he gets back on track, he'll advance to AAA and could debut late in the season.
2. Carlos Santana, C, 4/8/1986
Santana was acquired in July when Cleveland traded Casey Blake to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Through his first four seasons in the minor leagues, Santana didn't appear to be anything special. In 700 AB entering 2008, he hit just .259/.357/.406, including a .223/.318/.370 line in 2007.
But this past season was a different story.
He began the year with High-A Inland Empire and he tore through the league. In 350 at bats, he had a .323/.431/.563 line and demonstrated outstanding patience at the plate, collecting 69 walks while fanning only 59 times. The power was there as well—34 doubles and 14 long balls.
After the trade to Cleveland, he was assigned to their High-A affiliate in Kinston and continued to put up big numbers, hitting .352/.452/.590 in 113 AB. The power (12 XBH) and patience (20 BB, 24 K) held up well.
The success earned him a cup of coffee with AA-Akron, where he went 1-for-8.
Santana will have to prove that his breakout wasn't an aberration, but the stats don't suggest that it was. He'll likely begin the year with Akron and could earn a September call-up with another productive season.
He's projected to be Cleveland's long term catcher. Current starter Victor Martinez is signed through 2009 with a club option for 2010, coinciding well with Santana's arrival.
3. Beau Mills, 1B/DH, 8/15/1986
Mills was selected with the 13th pick in the 2007 draft.
After a mediocre pro debut that year, Mills enjoyed a solid 2008 season.
He spent the entire year with High-A Kinston, and in 482 AB, he hit .293/.373/.506. He smacked 34 doubles and hit 21 homers with a BB/K of 51/105.
Mills struggled at the start of the year, hitting .212 with a 698 OPS in April. But picked it from the rest of the way. His OPS rose each month: 698-856-874-918-982.
There's no question that hitting is what will get Mills to the majors. On top of his good year in 2008, Mills hit an NAIA record 38 home runs in 2006 while playing for Lewis-Clark State.
Mills' biggest fault is his defense, which is said to be well below-average. He was drafted as a third baseman, but that experiment quickly ended and he spent this past year as a first baseman, where he reportedly wasn't much better.
He should begin 2009 with Akron and profiles best as a designated hitter at the major league level. He could debut in September.
4. Nick Weglarz, OF, 12/16/1987
This native of Ontario, Canada was a third rounder in 2005 and has advanced well for his age.
He played exclusively for Kinston in 2008 and had a line of .272/.396/.432 in 375 AB (105 games). He had 35 XBH (20 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR) though his overall power output took a step back from 2007 levels. He also went 9-for-14 in stolen base attempts.
His 828 OPS ranked eighth in the league and the seven ahead of him were at least 13 months older than he was.
Weglarz' best asset may be his patience at the plate. He drew 71 walks in only 105 games, fourth most in the entire Carolina League and the three ahead of him played in at least 12 more games.
In 2007, he struck out 129 times in 125 games. Last year, while playing at a higher level, he only fanned just 78 times in 105 games.
Weglarz, a former member of the Canadian National Team, figures to return to Kinston to begin 2009. But a fast start could earn him a promotion to Akron.
Weglarz could arrive in Cleveland in mid-to-late 2010, and while he may not hit for a great average, he should get on-base at a high clip with good power numbers to boot.
5. David Huff, LHP, 8/22/1984
Huff was drafted out of UCLA and went 39th overall in the 2006 draft.
He split last season between Akron and AAA-Buffalo. He appeared in 27 games—26 starts—and racked up a career-high 146.1 innings. He gave up just 112 hits and 29 walks while striking out 143—all outstanding ratios.
Huff did miss a sizable chunk of 2007 with a sore elbow, but there was no indication it caused any problems last year and he appears to be healthy.
Huff profiles as a No. 3 starter at the major league level. He doesn't light up the radar gun—his fastball tops out around 90. But it plays up due to his command, which ranks with just about anyone in the system and he has several offerings at his disposal.
Besides the fastball, his best pitch is a changeup that elicits swings-and-misses. He'll also throw a slider and a curve.
He should have a chance to break camp in the big league rotation. If he doesn't, he'll head back to Buffalo and will be among the first names called when a need arises.
He's a better bet than guys like Scott Lewis, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey.
NOTE: Only players with no more than 130 AB/50 IP in the majors qualify for this list.