There are two reasons for the top of the Indians' system appearing a bit on the bare side. One, obviously, was the trade that sent Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Joe Gardner to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez. The other was the callup of prospects like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis in 2011.
Looking for impact-type guys who will help in 2012 might be an arduous task, with the real talent sitting at the bottom rungs of the system. But that doesn't mean Cleveland won't be receiving any help from the farm this year.
"There's good bullpen help for sure," Indians farm director Ross Atkins said of the upper levels. "There are good starting [pitching] candidates. But there aren't high-ceiling guys. When you take away those guys [especially in the trades], there's certainly less there."
While Atkins points to arms like Austin Adams and Scott Barnes as guys who "have the chance to be high-profile names, but they just haven't had the pedigree," there's no question who the top player in the system is these days. He hasn't even truly begun his Indians' career yet, but any discussion of the organization's farm system must begin with their first-round pick from last June, Francisco Lindor.
The No. 8 pick in the 2011 Draft, Lindor is, as they say, the real deal. His physical tools -- an ability to play plus shortstop, hit for average and power -- are matched perhaps only by his intangibles. The Indians have seen him for only a short time, most notably during instructional league play, but it didn't take long to see who the top prospect in the system was.
"You probably hear the quote a lot, but he was everything we expected and read about and then some," Atkins said. "He was all the physical ability, all the intelligence, all the baseball instincts. He stood out among all our players as, if not the most, then one of the most talented players below the Major League level.
"He has all the fundamental ability you'd want from an 18-year-old. You hear about instincts, but when you see them play out the first time he's exposed to a professional environment, that's very exciting."
Top 20 Prospects
Lindor, in all likelihood, will head to Class A Lake County and the full-season Midwest League to begin his career in earnest. That's not a 100 percent guarantee, but the Indians won't hold him back and will allow his talent to dictate where and when he goes.
If Lindor is the first block to be put in place, there are many others that will follow because one of the main strengths of the Indians' system is the number of intriguing middle infielders they have at the lower levels. Figuring out who will play where will be one of the front office's bigger challenges this spring.
"[The depth] will factor in, but it won't factor in for Lindor," Atkins said. "Independent of him, we will be open to guys playing second base, guys playing in some type of rotation. And we'll be open to pushing someone to a level we may not have otherwise done."
Of the group of middle infielders -- there are a total of seven in the Top 20 -- the one who comes closest to Lindor in terms of ability is Ronny Rodriguez. His numbers in Lake County were so-so in 2011, but keep in mind the Indians pushed him to full-season ball for his professional debut at age 18.
"What he has accomplished in his first year of playing organized baseball is remarkable to us," Atkins said. "He has all five tools. The one that is the projectable one is the hit tool. All of the others have less projection. He has raw power, he has speed, he has the arm.
"The one thing that stands out is that he has zero fear. That's why he could go to Midwest League last year. There's a lot of work to be done to create consistency with his fielding and most importantly his approach to hitting, [but it's all there]."
indians' top prospects
Under the radar
Tyler Sturdevant, RHP: A 2009 senior sign in the 27th round of the Draft, the New Mexico State product made it up to Triple-A and is knocking on the door after pitching at three levels in 2011. With a fastball up to 98 mph and an effective cutter, Sturdevant has struck out 11 batters per nine innings in his Minor League career, then was outstanding in the Arizona Fall League this past autumn. He could easily be a Top 20 guy and could hit Cleveland's bullpen at some point in 2012.
Roberto Perez, C: The Indians took Perez in the 33rd round of the 2008 Draft from the junior college ranks. The Puerto Rican native stands out because of his plus-plus catch and throw skills. He's thrown out 38 percent of would-be basestealers in his career. What he hasn't done is hit. His defensive work has gotten him to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, so he doesn't have to hit a ton to be a big leaguer. If he can tighten up his plate discipline a bit and improve his leadership skills behind the plate, he has the makings of a very solid backup backstop.
Hitter of the Year
Lindor: You were expecting someone else? He's the best position player in the system and he'll show why, hitting full-season ball right on Opening Day and putting up league-leading type numbers in the South Atlantic League.
Pitcher of the Year
Adams: The only thing that could keep Adams from being the top starter in the organization is getting significant time in the big leagues. Otherwise, count on the converted infielder to move up to Triple-A and finishing among the system's best in ERA and strikeouts.