Influx bolsters Tribe farm system

Influx bolsters Tribe farm system

The midseason non-waiver Trade Deadline is always an exciting time for baseball fans as they watch closely to see what their favorite Major League club does, be it acquire a big-name player or trade one away, often for a handful of top Minor League prospects.

But in the flurry of the moves, few may stop to think about how an influx of new prospects might affect an organization.


NL East
ATL | FLA | NYM | PHI | WAS

AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

NL Central
CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

AL Central
CHW | CLE | DET | KC | MIN

NL West
ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

AL West
LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX

No team got such an immediate influx of young talent within such a short time span in 2009 as the Indians.

Thanks to a chain of five trades, in which they dealt established big leaguers such as ace Cliff Lee, catcher Victor Martinez, pitchers Carl Pavano and Rafael Betancourt, and infielder Mark DeRosa, the Cleveland farm system suddenly swelled by a dozen talented prospects, 10 of them pitchers.

What people might forget, though, is that new players need to somehow be woven into a system that is already established, fit into Minor League rosters that are already set, learn a new organization's philosophy. And some of that new system's players may find their jobs impacted as well.

"It's a challenge," admitted Ross Atkins, the Indians' director of player development, who was kept pretty busy in July and August just making sure that the transition was as seamless as possible. "First and foremost, we try to determine what we think is best for each new player's development in every facet, not just where he should play but what he needs to focus on and what we need to do to communicate that to him."

Among the players the Tribe acquired via trades in 2009, two -- pitchers Justin Masterson (from the Red Sox) and Chris Perez (Cardinals) -- went straight to the Indians' big league roster, while the rest spent at least some time getting acclimated in the Minors.

Atkins, meanwhile, made a point of getting on the road and meeting each new player individually before bringing the entire new crew to Cleveland after the season ended to hold a mini-orientation.

"We had them learn about our values and morals, and talked to them about our plans for them individually," Atkins said. Atkins also made a point of updating any Indians prospects whose status was affected by the additions.

"I revisited each individual the moves directly affected, because there may have been changes that had nothing to do with their performance."

The influx of pitching has certainly given the Indians a more balanced system up and down the line.

"We're not heavy at just the upper levels or just position players like it was a year ago," Atkins said. "It's more balanced throughout now."

The lower-level pitching additions, in particular, have Atkins excited.

"Getting Nick Hagadone [from Boston] and Jason Knapp [from Philadelphia] and adding them to a pair of [Class] A ballclubs [was big]," Atkins said. "That's a pair of pitchers who throw 100 mph; extremely projectable arms."

Meanwhile, the Indians' 2009 Draft class also added to the fast-track group of players, as the team heavily skewed its picks towards the college ranks. In fact, every one of the 28 players who signed with the Indians, including top pick Alex White (North Carolina) and second-round pick Jason Kipnis (Arizona State) came out of either college or junior college. The team did not sign a high school pick.

Looking ahead, Atkins predicts that two players, speedy outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Hector Rondon, could be ready to be impact players in the big leagues in 2010. The system's top prospect, catcher Carlos Santana, who comes off an Eastern League MVP campaign, is certainly expected to be a star when he arrives, but he could be another year away since the club is not going to rush him if it impedes his all-around development, especially on defense.

With a 65-97 record this season, the Indians are definitely in rebuilding mode, but no team did more to add to its coffers in 2009 in that department.

On the field in the Minors, the team went 382-380 (.501), finishing right in the middle of the pack at No. 14. Double-A Akron, behind Santana's leadership and bat, won the Eastern League title, and its manager, Mike Sarbaugh, earned Manager of the Year laurels. Short-season Mahoning Valley finished second to the Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League finals.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Carlos Santana, C: Picking Santana was sort of a no-brainer, as he had been one of the best hitters in the Minors in 2008, when he combined for a .326 average, 21 homers and 117 RBIs between his time in the Dodgers organization and his arrival with the Indians following a deal for infielder Casey Blake. A switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, Santana was known for his work ethic as he continued to improve his defense. It was hard to predict anyone else for the honors.

Hector Rondon, RHP: Rondon had just been added to the 40-man roster after leading the system with 145 strikeouts in 2008 when he posted a 3.60 ERA at Advanced A Kinston. Boasting a plus fastball with good life, offset by a changeup and slider, he was even more impressive the first half of 2009 as he dominated in 15 starts at Double-A Akron with a 2.75 ERA and 73 strikeouts with just 16 walks in 72 innings. Rondon came down to earth a bit in a move up to Triple-A Columbus with a 4.00 ERA there, but combined for a 3.38 ERA to continue to rank as one of the system's top starting pitching prospects at just 21 years old.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Carlos Santana, C: Did Santana live up to his preseason billing? Just ask Eastern League pitchers, as he earned his second league MVP honors in as many seasons, hitting .290 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs while showing power to all fields for Akron. His .413 on-base percentage led the system and he added a .530 slugging percentage and 90 walks, both of which led the league. Santana, who represented the Indians in the 2009 Futures Game, continued to work on his defense and has a strong arm and good agility for that premium position.

Eric Berger, LHP: In his first full season, the eighth-rounder from 2008 out of Arizona posted a 2.45 ERA in 21 starts between Kinston and Akron, moving up quickly through the ranks while striking out 100 in 110 innings and limiting hitters to a .227 average. He is a "max effort" pitcher, so it's unlikely his fastball, which sits around 90, will add many more ticks. He needs to continue developing his offspeed offerings.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.