Kelvin De La Cruz, LHP: This slender 20-year-old southpaw from the Dominican Republic is a player to watch. He finished 2008 at 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 27 games, mostly at Class A Lake County. He posted a 1.69 ERA there before moving up to Class A Advanced Kinston and for one outing, Double-A Akron. He should anchor the Kinston rotation as the 2009 season opens. The 6-foot-5 190-pounder gets his fastball into the low-90s and offsets it with a plus curve. He just needs reps and is working on adding a changeup to the arsenal.
David Huff, LHP: Huff was the club's top pick in 2006, taken with a supplemental first-round pick out of UCLA. After being sidelined for the second half of 2007 with a sore elbow, he posted a combined 11-5 record and 2.52 ERA (1.92 at Akron and 3.01 at Triple-A Buffalo), tops in the organization. His combined .210 average against was 11th-best among full-season Minor League starters. He fanned 143 and allowed just 112 hits while walking only 29 in 146 1/3 innings. The 24-year-old boasts the best changeup in the system along with an effective slider and a fastball around 90.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
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Matt LaPorta, OF: Like Brantley, LaPorta was acquired from Milwaukee in the Sabathia deal. The two former Huntsville teammates should help give Columbus one heck of an outfield as the 2009 season opens. Ranked 14th on MLB.com's preseason Top 50 Prospects list, his outstanding big league Spring Training performance only bolstered his reputation -- the Indians will not hesitate to turn to him when the need arises. Though known for prodigious power to all fields, LaPorta also possesses good athleticism, hitting instincts and even usable baserunning abilities. A first-round pick out of Florida in 2007, he moved from first base to the outfield with apparent ease. Last year he hit .288 with 20 home runs and 66 RBIs at Huntsville prior to the deal and added two more homers in a brief Akron stint before joining Team USA for the Summer Olympics.
Beau Mills, 1B: The son of Boston Red Sox coach Brad Mills, the 22-year-old earned Carolina League MVP honors in 2008 by hitting .293 with 21 homers and 90 RBIs at Kinston. He led the Indians system in home runs and finished second in RBIs in his first full season. The slugging first baseman actually picked up the pace as the long campaign wore on, batting .327 after the All-Star break. The club's top pick in 2007 out of Lewis-Clark State (where he helped the team win the NAIA national title), Mills has power to all fields and good plate patience for a slugger, no doubt thanks in part to his dad. At first base now, where he moved from third, he finished sixth in the system in batting.
Carlos Rivero, SS: In an organization that lacks the depth at middle infield that it enjoys on the corners and in the outfield, Rivero stands out even more as a potential superstar. Facing older competition everywhere he's played, the 20-year-old Venezuelan batted .282 with eight homers and 64 RBIs at Kinston last year, raising his average from an otherwise similar campaign at Lake County in 2007. He is a fine defensive player with a great arm and good power potential for the position. He was 10th in the system in batting last season and is still refining his game.
Hector Rondon, RHP: Added to the 40-man roster, Rondon made a strong impression this spring in big league camp before being reassigned to the Minors. He is expected to anchor the Akron rotation after a 2008 season in which he led the system in strikeouts, fanning 145 in as many innings with a 3.60 ERA at Kinston. He finished 11-6 and was sixth in the organization in ERA. He also ranked among the Carolina League top five pitchers in wins, strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and average-against (.239). The 21-year-old from Venezuela has a lively plus fastball that he offsets with a changeup and slider.
Carlos Santana, C: While the Los Angeles Dodgers may have needed the veteran presence of a Casey Blake for their playoff run, one can't help but wonder if they'll ultimately regret dealing Santana. The 2008 California League MVP enjoyed a breakout season as he continued his shift from third base/outfield to the premium position of catcher, hitting a combined .326 with 21 homers and 117 RBIs at Class A Advanced Inland Empire, Kinston and Akron. His 125 runs scored led the Minors and his .431 on-base average ranked eighth, thanks to his 89 walks. Santana, who will turn 23 on Minor League Opening Day, has worked tirelessly on improving his defense at his new position in terms of both technical skill and leadership. His power to all fields is a joy to watch. He'll open the year as the catcher at Akron, but the sky is the limit for the Dominican prospect.
Nick Weglarz, OF: The Indians have yet another power prospect in this Canadian product, who played for his home country in the World Baseball Classic. The left-handed hitter, just 21, was a third-round pick out of high school in Ontario in 2005 but lost most of the '06 season to a broken hamate bone. The 6-3 245-pounder hit .276 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs the following summer at Lake County, though his power numbers dipped last season to .272 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs at Kinston. He also, however, cut down his strikeouts significantly as his plate patience improved.