The future success of every Major League team lies
largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind,
MLB.com is looking at the top 10 prospects from each farm
system, with only those who still maintain rookie status
entering 2011 being eligible.
Jason Kipnis stands at the big league door, firmly knocking
on it. The 2009 second-round pick got to that precipice by
hitting his way to two levels during his first full season,
then going up to the third -- and highest -- level for an
exciting playoff run. The Arizona State product does look
back at his climb with satisfaction, though not because of
the promotions or numbers he posted.
"I accomplished what I set out to do, which is get better as
a player," Kipnis said. "I think I managed to do that in a
lot of areas. Am I there yet? No. Am I getting there? Yes.
It's always going to be a work in progress. The main goal is
to stay humble and stay focused on getting better each day.
I think I got better as a player, and I'm hoping to continue
that [moving] forward."
In his brief professional career, Kipnis has a
.307 batting average, .386 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage. He's played 162 professional games,
so his 17 homers and 93 RBIs do have some context. There's
little doubt his bat is just about ready for Cleveland, even
though he's yet to play a regular-season game above
Double-A. What's even more impressive is that he put up
his numbers all while learning to play second base -- a
position he'd never played previously.
"I'm not saying I'm a veteran, [but] going from the outfield to
the infield at this level of play, to be able to pick it up -- I think I've handled it pretty well," Kipnis said. "Am I a
gold glover? No. I'm not going to say I am [going to be one] any time soon,
but it's getting there. I have great coaches in Spring
Training who are going to help me. I think I have the work
ethic to get there. I'm excited for the opportunity."
Kipnis is getting the opportunity to show what he can do in
big league camp this spring. And while the Indians do have
some options at second, there's no major roadblock standing
in the prospect's way when Cleveland's brass decides he is
ready. It likely won't be on Opening Day, but rest assured
Kipnis' knocking should get louder as the 2011 season
"Whether I make the big league team, Triple-A, or Double-A -- whatever it is -- I want to force them to actually have to
think about it, 'Do we want this kid up top?'" Kipnis
said. "They brought me in for that challenge, to be on the
big league team or to push the guys to become better who are
above me. There are some things I want to get done. [Making] the big
league club would be great. Am I crushed if it doesn't
happen? No. But it's something I'm shooting for -- to push
their hand a little."
Indians' Top 10
1. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B: The 2008 first-rounder has
been known for being one of the best pure hitters, and he's
been living up to that billing. He's firmly in "knocking-on-the-door" territory, and a hot start to his spring certainly
opened more eyes. The No. 36 prospect on MLB.com's Top 50
prospect list, and No. 2 third-base prospect, Chisenhall
will get some Triple-A time in to start the year, but look
for him in Cleveland at some point this summer.
2. Alex White, RHP: The 2009 first-rounder was
outstanding in his first full season, jumping on the fast
track by spending most of it at Double-A. He finished second
in the system with a 2.45 ERA, hitters managed just a .220
average against him and he had an impressive 2.61
groundout-to-airout ratio. Improvement of his slider makes a
future as a starter much more likely. He should move up to
Triple-A and be ready for his first callup at some point
3. Kipnis, 2B: Coming in at No. 4 on the second-base prospect list, Kipnis came a long way in his first full
season. He can hit for average and some power. While his defense is
still a work in progress, he should be just fine at second.
Like Chisenhall, he'll likely start the year in Triple-A, but
could see Cleveland at some point in 2011.
4. Drew Pomeranz, LHP: This is not your typical
Pitchability college lefty here. Pomeranz has a plus
fastball that reaches the mid-90s, and he had perhaps the best
breaking ball in the 2010 Draft class. He's got a changeup
and will have to use it more to succeed at the big league level. He'll
also have to refine his command, which deserted him at times
during his junior season at Mississippi. He still should
move fast and spend time in Double-A during 2011.
5. LeVon Washington, OF: The Indians' second-round
pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Washington had been a first-rounder out of
high school in 2009, but he didn't sign with the Rays at that time. He's as
toolsy as they come, with the ability change a game with his
speed, though he's raw defensively. He does have a more
advanced approach at the plate and should hit for average,
along with at least some power as he develops.
6. Nick Weglarz, OF: A very patient hitter at the
plate (.383 career OBP), Weglarz also has terrific raw
power, though he hasn't always tapped into it. He also has
had a string of injuries curtail his development and he
played in just 87 games in 2010. Still, he should be back in
Triple-A Columbus and his bat should knock on the big league
7. Joe Gardner, RHP: Though Gardner led the
organization in wins and strikeouts and finished fourth in
ERA in his first season, the stat that tells you all you
need to know about him is his sinker-induced 3.2
groundout-to-airout ratio. His other pitches lag behind --
he'll have to improve his slider and changeup to beat
upper-level hitters. The 2009 third-round pick will get the
chance to do that with a move to Double-A this season.
8. Tony Wolters, SS: The Indians' third-round pick
from 2010, Wolters got high marks for playing the
game the right way. He also showed he can hit, as he is the type of player who
should have a little pop and profile well as a future No. 2
hitter. He doesn't have a ton of speed, but he might have the
actions and instincts to stay at shortstop. Worst-case: he
slides over and becomes a very good second baseman. He
should start the year with full-season Class A Lake County.
9. Jason Knapp, RHP: Perhaps the player with the
highest ceiling in the Cliff Lee deal, Knapp missed most of
last season following shoulder surgery, though he returned
late and looked dominant at times. He can touch the
upper-90s with his fastball, and his curve has the chance to
be a second plus offering. Time missed because of his
shoulder hasn't helped his development. He'll likely begin
as a starter in Class A Kinston, and if he can stay healthy, the sky
is the limit.
10. Cord Phelps, 3B/2B: A second baseman for most of
his career, Phelps showed he could play third during the
Arizona Fall League, which should only help his value. After
hitting .308 at two levels in 2010, he's nearly ready now
and might be called upon to help at either position in
Cleveland this year. His tools won't wow you, but he gets
the job done and might profile best as a utility guy down
Under the Radar
Austin Adams, RHP: Undersized right-handers always
have to prove themselves, but this fifth-round 2009 pick
out of Faulkner University has done that so far. The
5-foot-11 Adams began his first full season in Lake County,
but earned a promotion to Kinston at midseason. His 2.49 ERA
was good for third in the organization, and he struck out a
batter per inning, all while holding opposing hitters to a combined
Matt Packer, LHP: Senior signs taken in the 32nd
round of the Draft aren't supposed to do too much, but
Packer didn't get that memo. He began the year in Lake
County's bullpen, moved into the rotation in May, then got
bumped two levels to Double-A. Combined, his 2.04 ERA topped
the Indians' system and was second in all of the Minor
Leagues. He also finished fifth in the organization in
strikeouts while walking only 22 all year.
Hitter of the Year -- Washington
With Chisenhall and Kipnis likely to spend extended time in
the big leagues, it made sense to go with one of the 2010
Draft selections who'll be in Lake County. Both Washington and
Wolters should have solid first full years, but the nod goes
to Washington, with his speed helping avoid any prolonged
Pitcher of the Year -- Pomeranz
A guy like Packer -- the 2010 winner -- could sneak in and steal
it, but look for Pomeranz to start in Kinston, end in Double-A Akron
and lead the organization in strikeouts along the way.
Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMay
oB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.