Some Surprises, and Some Not-so-Surprises
At the end of this month Player Development Director John Farrell likes to make promotions. With the exception of the Buffalo starters and some injuries in Akron, the system is full of players who have played to and even above expectations. Here's a couple prospects you probably know about, and a couple you didn't even know existed:
1B Michael Aubrey, Kinston (A+) Age 22
171 AB, .322/.406/.538, 8 HR, 11 2B, 23 SO, 17 BB
If the season ended today, I'd have a tough decision naming the Indians' #1 prospect. But for now, Aubrey gets the nod given his all-around game and his impressive debut at a fairly high level. He's probably one of the most polished hitting prospects in the minors, and is said to have Gold Glove potential at first base. I've seen some comparisons to Rockies superstar Todd Helton, and while every promising player is the next somebody, you can see the similarities. He's going to be promoted to Akron soon, and that's a pretty big test for a prospect. But given his plate discipline, I don't think he'll have too much trouble moving quickly through the high minors and arrive in Cleveland some time next year. This is the Indians' first baseman for the next ten years.
OF Franklin Gutierrez, Akron (AA) Age 21
187 AB, .299/.374/.449, 16 2B, 4 HR, 57 SO, 18 BB
He'd be the #1 prospect for a lot of teams. His upside is a little higher that Aubrey's, but there's more risk here. He's doing very well in AA considering his age, and on pace to eclipse the numbers Grady Sizemore put up here last season. He has definite power potential, and the amount of doubles he's been hitting shows that. His plate discipline is improving a bit, and if continues to do so, he should see Cleveland in late 2005 or early 2006 as either a center fielder or a right fielder. Trading Milton Bradley certainly hurt the club in the short-term (he'd be an obvious upgrade over Alex Escobar/Coco Crisp), but Mark Shapiro definitely received some outstanding prospects for him.
OF Grady Sizemore, Buffalo (AAA) Age 21
203 AB, .261/.343/.414, 9 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 36 SO, 24 BB
His numbers may seem a bit pedestrian compared to Aubrey and Gutierrez, but Grady has picked up the pace in the last two weeks. In Spring Training, he lost 15 pounds due to sickness, and started out of the gates slow. But there are still a lot to like about Grady; he's still walking, and the power is coming. In a perfect world, he'd be a center fielder in Cleveland, but he may have to move over to left field when Matt Lawton leaves. He should make his major-league debut in August or September.
RHP Andrew Brown, Akron (AA) Age 23
40.1 IP, 4.02 ERA, 58 SO, 14 BB (Jacksonville)
9.2 IP, 1.86 ERA, 15 SO, 4 BB (Akron)
When evaluating a minor-league pitcher, I go right past wins/losses and ERA to his strikeouts and walks. And I like what I see with Brown. Sidelined with arm problems last year, he was one of the players Mark Shapiro considered for the PTBNL in the Milton Bradley trade. And although he didn't have to choose anyone until the end of June, Brown's numbers made the choice extremely easy. He'll probably be promoted to Buffalo at the end of the month, and may get a September callup. I'd really like to see him stay a starter, and hopefully the Indians can withstand the temptation throw him into the bullpen because of a need in Cleveland. Of course, the obvious caveat with Brown is if he can stay injury-free, but guys who strikeout 73 in 51 innings don't come along every day.
RHP Adam Miller, Lake County (A-) Age 19
55.0 IP, 2.95 ERA, 65 SO, 17 BB
High school pitchers are the riskiest of propositions for clubs to draft high, but the Indians seem to hit the jackpot with Miller. Yes, he's still in low A-ball, there's always the risk of injury, and TINSTAAP. But Miller is dominating hitters with a fastball that reaches 95 mph, and a very good slider. Obviously I'm not going to pencil him into the Cleveland rotation yet (I'll save that conversation for when he gets to Akron), but I'm calling your attention to him now.
CA Ryan Garko, Kinston (A+) Age 23
170 AB, .341/.432/.618, 14 2B, 11 HR, 26 SO, 15 BB
He's putting up gaudy numbers, but he needs to be moved fast to see how good he really is. Garko was drafted last year as a college senior, and his age is going cloud any discussions of his prospect status. I'm pleasantly surprised, but I'll see how he does in AA first. His upside is a guy like Matt LeCroy, who can mash and play the catcher position passably.
RHP Fausto Carmona, Kinston (A+) Age 20
58.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 50 SO, 18 BB
The fact that his strikeout ratios are improving after a promotion is definitely encouraging. Last year, he dominated the South Atlantic League with pinpoint control. Now he's missing bats, and will probably move to Akron soon. He has a "projectable frame", so there is still some room for his stuff to get a little better.
Others that are worthy: Jake Dittler, Ryan Goleski, Kyle Denney, Dan Denham, Nathan Panther, Brandon Pinckney, Kevin Kouzmanoff