The club actively went after polished talent, signing 28 of its 50 Draft picks, all of them either out of college or junior college. That addition of fast-track players was evident when many of them contributed to short-season Mahoning Valley's run to the New York-Penn League playoff finals.
Michael Brantley, OF
Acquired from Milwaukee in October 2008 as the final player in the CC Sabathia deal, Brantley projects as the team's starting left fielder on Opening Day. A great athlete, the left-handed hitter's best asset is his speed, but he also adds a little gap power to all fields and excellent plate discipline. The son of former big leaguer Mickey Brantley came into the '09 campaign with a .311 career average in his first four seasons and hit .267 at Triple-A Columbus with 46 steals before his callup to the big leagues, including a perfect 33-for-33 with right-handed pitchers on the mound. He barely maintained rookie eligibility with 112 at-bats in which he batted .313.
Lou Marson, C
Picked up from the Phillies in the midseason Cliff Lee deal, Marson was a 2008 Olympian who has fine tools, both at the plate and behind it. Though he may only be, for now, holding a spot for top prospect Carlos Santana, as the likely starting catcher in 2010, he'll get to show what he can do. He homered in his big league debut in 2008 and batted .277 in 91 games at Triple-A last summer.
Under the Radar
Kelvin De La Cruz, LHP
De La Cruz fell off the top 10 from last year after elbow trouble cost him virtually all of 2009, but the lanky left-hander is still one to watch. In 2008, he went 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 27 games mostly at Class A Lake County and was off to a fine start at Class A Advanced Kinston with a 2-0 record and a 1.50 ERA before he was shut down. He throws a fastball in the low 90s and plus curve and got more reps in instructional league action.
Jeanmar Gomez, RHP
Gomez was the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year as well as earning MiLB.com's honors for the best single-game performance of the year -- a perfect game tossed in his fourth start after his promotion from Kinston to Double-A Akron. Armed with a slider as an out pitch, he threw a nine-inning gem for the first perfect game in Aeros history and allowed just one earned run in his first four outings with the club, and a skein of 42 innings with one run allowed between Kinston and Akron. Overall, the 22-year-old combined to go 12-6 with a 3.30 ERA on the season and earned a spot on the 40-man roster.
Alexander Perez, RHP
Just 20, Perez put together a fine first full season between Lake County and Kinston, with a 3.04 ERA in 15 starts at Lake County before lowering that to a 2.87 mark in eight starts at Kinston down the stretch, combining for 107 strikeouts in 114 1/3 innings. He throws a fastball in the low 90s, a hard curve and a developing changeup with a fluid delivery and good mechanics.
Carlos Rivero, SS
A tough cut from last year's top 10, the young Venezuelan with the strong arm has all the defensive tools, but he needs to continue to develop his offense. He hit .282 with eight homers and 64 RBIs at Kinston in 2008 and then moved up to Akron, where he batted .242 this past season. He has a bit of pop, but his glove is his ticket.
RHP Alex White (1) was the ace at the University of North Carolina, but he dropped to the 15th overall pick in the Draft. Throwing a solid fastball and plus slider, he went 8-4 with a 3.87 ERA for the Tar Heels and will make his pro debut this spring. ... OF Jason Kipnis (2) was taken with the 63rd overall pick out of Arizona State University after flashing big-time power in his last two seasons there. A line-drive hitter with a good approach at the plate, good instincts and plate patience, the left-handed batter hit .306 with one homer and 19 RBIs and a .459 slugging percentage in his debut at Mahoning Valley. ... RHP Joe Gardner (3) signed out of UC-Santa Barbara, but he was prevented from making his pro debut in 2009 due to a rib-cage injury. His sinking fastball is his out pitch. ... 3B Kyle Bellows (4) hit .240 with seven homers, 32 RBIs and eight steals at Mahoning Valley after signing out of San Jose State. ... RHP Austin Adams (5) is a converted shortstop who only moved to the mound as a college senior at Faulkner University in Alabama, but his fastball is clocked in the mid-high 90s. ... OF Jordan Henry (7) out of Mississippi posted a .408 on-base average at Mahoning Valley to lead the New York-Penn League while scoring 48 runs. A prototypical center fielder with speed and agility, he stole 22 bases. ... The Indians took back-to-back picks out of Arizona in a pair of right-handers, Cory Burns (8) and Preston Guilmet (9). Burns, a sidearming reliever, posted a 1.93 ERA in 22 games with 11 saves at Mahoning Valley, fanning 37 while walking six in 32 2/3 innings and limiting hitters to a .157 average. Guilmet, a starter for Mahoning Valley, had a 4.09 ERA and struck out 62 while walking 16 in 70 1/3 innings.
Hitter of the Year -- Carlos Santana, C
With the likelihood that the Indians would like to give Santana a full year at Triple-A Columbus to continue his defensive transition from third base, it's an easy pick to project him as their Hitter of the Year. He's coming off a pair of back-to-back MVP seasons in the California and Eastern Leagues, respectively, hitting for high average with considerable power. Last season, the switch-hitter batted .290 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs at Akron and led the Eastern League with a .530 slugging percentage. His defense has improved considerably as well.
Pitcher of the Year -- Nick Hagadone, LHP
Picked up via a trade with pitcher Justin Masterson from Boston in the deal for Victor Martinez, Hagadone lost most of 2008 due to Tommy John surgery, but in '09, he showed why, in his comeback, he is considered one of the most promising left-handed starters in the Minors. Throwing a fastball, slider and changeup, the Washington State native has an easy delivery and has made the transition from closer to starter with ease, should the Indians choose to keep him in that role. He was still on a pitch count in 2009, but moved up to Kinston by season's end, looking good in his short stints and striking out 27 in 20 innings. The kid gloves should come off in '10.