Indians rebuild with top prospects

Indians rebuild with top prospects

Before the 2008 season began, took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

Looking at the Cleveland farm system has been a treat for some time and this season was no different. The Indians have splashy young talent, as they always do, much of which is on the cusp of making an impact at the Major League level.

Homegrown prospects like Wes Hodges and Beau Mills will provide offensive pop in the near future. In Hodges' case, that pop may be on display in Cleveland as soon as 2009. The Indians, though, didn't rest solely on their own Draft picks to stock their system. A pair of trades landed two of the premier offensive players in the Minors Leagues -- Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta.

Santana was one of the most brilliant performers in the Minors this season while LaPorta showed so much in the first half that the Indians were willing to take him in return for C.C. Sabathia. That alone speaks volumes about his talent and potential.

Add pitchers David Huff, Scott Lewis and Kelvin De La Cruz -- not to mention the oft-injured Adam Miller -- and it looks like the Tribe has a full compliment of arms that will arrive in Cleveland over the next two seasons.

Here's a closer look at these players and a few others that had good, and in some cases not so good, seasons in 2008.

Organizational Players of the Year Preseason Picks

Trevor Crowe, OF: We'll be the first to admit that we let sentimentality get in the way when making Crowe our preseason pick for Player of the Year. Crowe was recovering from health issues (he had a benign cyst removed from his chest) the previous fall and is a genuinely nice guy. And he did have a decent year, hitting .302 with nine homers and 41 RBIs while splitting time between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo.
Crowe cracks a homer

•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

Chuck Lofgren, LHP: Few could argue with the selection of Lofgren after he had gone 29-13 in his previous two seasons at Kinston and Akron. But it turns out there was a good argument against him after the 2008 season -- he went 2-6 with a 5.99 ERA and was even pulled from the Akron rotation late in the year. He had some nagging injuries, but ultimately Lofgren just pitched poorly and his stock took a tumble as a result.
Lofgren's ninth K Postseason Selections

Wes Hodges, 3B: Hodges continued to establish himself as a legitimate thumper, leading the organization with 97 RBIs and finishing second with 18 homers. Throw in his .290 batting average at Akron and there's every reason to be excited to see this kid playing next year at Columbus, and perhaps even Cleveland.
Hodges drives in seven

David Huff, LHP: Well, a lefty did win Pitcher of the Year, but it was David Huff, who went 11-5 at Akron and Buffalo and led the organization with a 2.52 ERA. Statistically, Huff was stronger in Double-A Akron, but still went 6-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 16 International league starts, solid numbers any way you look at it.
Watch Huff's interview

Climbed the Ladder

Carlos Santana, C: Santana spent the bulk of the year with the Dodgers, ripping through the Class A Advanced California League. He earned that circuit's Player of the Year award despite the late-July trade that sent him east. Santana continued his fine play after the deal, tearing it up at Kinston of the Carolina League before earning a promotion to Akron. Overall, he hit .326 with 21 homers and 117 RBIs, and drew 89 walks while striking out only 85 times.
Santana slams a a pair

Beau Mills, 1B: Cleveland prospects won a pair of Class A Advanced MVPs after Mills earned the award with Kinston in the Carolina League. The first baseman hit .293, led the organization with 21 homers and finished second to Hodges with 90 RBIs. He hit .327 after the All-Star break and had 12 homers in 78 fewer at-bats than he did in the first half.
Mills mashes two homers

Wes Hodges, 3B: Hodges will be a big-time bat for the Tribe in the near future -- but will the folks in Cleveland love his defense as much? Hodges led all Eastern League third basemen with 28 errors, which was also second most among position players on the circuit. The positives more than outweigh the defensive negatives with Hodges, however, who is in the Arizona Fall League working on his play at the hot corner.

David Huff, LHP: Huff held the opposition to a .209 batting average (.224 in the IL) and had a WHIP of 0.96. He fanned 143 and walked only 29 in 146 1/3 innings and will have a solid chance to make the Major League roster in Spring Training.

Scott Lewis, LHP: Fellow southpaw Scott Lewis had a strong season at both the Minor and Major League levels. He was 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA at Akron and Buffalo, then went 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four starts with Cleveland. He'll be given an opportunity to make the Major League rotation next spring.
Lewis fans 10

Kept Their Footing

Nick Weglarz, OF: Weglarz's power production fell off in 2008 -- his home run total dropped from 24 to 10 in 71 fewer at-bats than 2007 -- but his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved just as significantly. Weglarz struck out 47 more times than he walked (82) in 2007 but this year he had a 78-71 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 games for Kinston. He had 41 RBIs, a handful of stolen bases and hit .360 (9-for-25 with five RBIs) with the Canadian Olympic team.
Weglarz delivers in clutch

Trevor Crowe, OF: Hitting .400 with a league-high 24 RBIs, Crowe won the Eastern League Player of the Month award in June. He added five homers and five steals, but then spent part of July on the disabled list with a strained left intercostal muscle. While he may not be the type of player the Tribe envisioned when they made him their top pick in 2005, he can still be a solid Major Leaguer.

Matt LaPorta, OF: A key component of one of the biggest deals of the season, LaPorta came over from Milwaukee in the Sabathia trade. If our rankings were based on the first half of the season, he would have joined Santana on the top rung of the organizational ladder. But he didn't play as well in Akron after the deal as he did while playing in the Southern League. Granted, it was only a 17-game sample that was also affected by his time with the Olympic team, for which he hit only .158 in six games. It was a hectic second half for LaPorta, who is playing Winter Ball in Venezuela in an effort to regain the consistency he displayed with the Brewers.
LaPorta on ATM

Jeff Stevens, RHP: Stevens split the season between Akron and Buffalo, going 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 58 1/3 innings. He held the opposition to a .184 average and struck out 81 in 58 1/3 innings. Don't be surprised if he arrives in Cleveland early next year as middle-relief help.
Stevens discusses the Olympics

Michael Aubrey, OF: Aubrey should get an award simply for playing a full season for the first time in what seems like a hundred years. He hit .281 with nine homers and 53 RBIs while splitting 97 games between Akron and Buffalo. He also appeared in 15 big-league games, spending most of May and September in Cleveland.
Watch Aubrey go deep

Slipped a Rung

Jordan Brown, 1B: Brown didn't have a bad season at Triple-A Buffalo -- he hit .281 with seven homers and 51 RBIs, numbers that were down a bit because he missed three weeks in May with a knee injury. It was a solid year, but much less productive than Brown's previous seasons. In fact, Brown's production has dipped in each of the last three seasons. His home run totals fell from 15 to 11 to seven as he moved from Kinston to Akron to Buffalo. His RBI totals have dropped accordingly, from 87 to 76 to 51. It's doubtful that he would have made up the 25 RBIs in those three weeks in May. His slugging percentage was the lowest (.417) of the three full seasons in which he's played, as was his OBP (.337).

Reid Santos, LHP: After a very impressive 2007 campaign in Akron, Santos struggled at Buffalo this season, pitching to a 7.20 ERA in 25 innings. While his ERA improved back at Akron (3.78 in 52 1/3 frames) it was more than a run higher than the 2.72 ERA he had posted in his two previous stops in the Eastern League and he was ultimately signed off waivers by the Blue Jays.

Adam Miller, RHP: Though tough to accurately assess, Miller falls into this category because he simply has spent too much time rehabbing one injury or another. He pitched well early this season, posting a 1.88 ERA in 28 2/3 innings at Buffalo. But he got hurt again and had to have surgery to re-attach the flexor tendon on the middle finger of his right hand. He's pitching in Winter Ball, but until he demonstrates an ability to stay on the mound for a prolonged period of time, questions about his durability will remain.

Josh Rodriguez, SS: After hitting 20 homers and driving in 82 runs at Kinston in 2007, Rodriguez struggled in the Double-A Eastern League. He hit .241 with seven homers and 49 RBIs at Akron -- and struck out 122 times, just three shy of his total the previous two seasons.

Chuck Lofgren, LHP: We've documented Lofgren's numbers already, so there's no need to rehash. He had a very bad year and needs to show it was the exception and not the norm.

On the Radar

Kelvin De La Cruz, LHP: De La Cruz spent time at three levels this season, going 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 27 starts at Lake County, Kinston and Akron. He's got an impressive fastball that helped account for his 136 strikeouts in 130 innings. De La Cruz, who allowed only four homers, is expected to anchor the Akron staff to start next season.
De La Cruz gets his sixth K

Carlos Rivero, SS: Without much fanfare, Rivero, who turned 20 in May, has more than held his own at each of his Minor League stops. This season in the Carolina League he produced nicely, hitting .282 with eight homers and 64 RBIs. His 24 errors, however, were second-most among league shortstops.
Rivero rips two doubles

Matt Brown, OF: Brown had a stellar season at Class A Lake County, leading the organization with a .308 batting average and finishing third in RBIs (75) behind only Hodges and Mills. He committed seven errors in 203 chances and could split next season between Kinston and Akron.
Brown's six-RBI performance

Josh Judy, RHP: Judy, a 34th-round pick in 2007 out of the Indiana Institute of Technology, went 12-1 in 35 games for Lake County, posting a 3.51 ERA over 74 1/3 innings. He also had a 1.93 ERA in seven games with Kinston, where he struck out 17 and walked one in 14 innings.
Judy fans his third batter

Draft Recap

1. Lonnie Chisenhall, SS: Chisenhall came to the Indians with some off-the-field baggage, but soothed concerns by hitting .290 with five homers and 45 RBIs in 68 New York-Penn League games.
Chisenhall doubles twice

2. Curtis Haley, RHP: Haley pitched 2 1/3 innings in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues, allowing eight runs on seven walks and four hits.
Haley picks up another K

3. Cord Phelps, 2B: A former Stanford standout, Phelps had an impressive run with Mahoning Valley, hitting .312 with 21 RBIs in 141 at-bats. He stole four bases and 14 of his 44 hits went for extra-bases.
Phelps pounds two homers

Others of Note: OF Tim Fedroff (7th round) also made an impact at Mahoning Valley. The University of North Carolina product, who has extensive College World Series experience, hit .319 with 12 RBIs in 91 at-bats. ... RHP Guido Fonseca (12th round) was 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA in 11 appearances (three starts) split between the New York-Penn and Gulf Coast Leagues. He struck out 18 in 20 2/3 innings. ... RHP Marty Popham (20th round) was 1-1 with a 0.78 ERA in 23 Gulf Coast League innings. He fanned 25 and walked five. ... LHP Russell Young (28th round) was 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 15 starts for Mahoning Valley. He struck out 62 and walked 14.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.