After I broke out my midseason updates, I received a couple of emails regarding some relievers that I left off the list, namely Chris Cooper and Edward Mujica. While both pitchers may make the majors and succeed, I don't rank them highly due to the highly volatile nature of relief pitchers. I listed only one true reliever (Fernando Cabrera) among my top 20, and his age, statistics, and closer potential made the decision for me. The other, Tony Sipp, is thought of as a future reliever, but has been starting for much of his professional career. This organizational philsophy (start first, relieve later) is one of the reasons why the following relievers are all in Akron or Buffalo. So, in no particular order, my top reliever prospects:
(1) RHP Fernando Cabrera. See my comments on him here.
(2) LHP Tony Sipp. See my comments on him here.
(3) RHP Andrew Brown
Acquired: Trade, 2004 (Milton Bradley)
2005 Stats (AAA): 48.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 44 H, 62 SO, 15 BB
ETA: September (or sooner)
The ERA is a little bit misleading, because Brown has been dealing for a couple of months now. Brown is a big dude (6'6" 230), and he throws an "effortless" 93-95 mph fastball. The Indians left him in a starting role after they received him last year, but finally moved him into a full-time relief role in April. After a slow start (presumedly an adjustment period), Brown has settled into his role nicely. He's probably ready if the Indians need any further help in the bullpen, and may make parting with Bob Wickman and/or Bob Howry much easier.
(4) LHP Chris Cooper
Acquired: 2001 Draft (35th Round)
2005 Stats (AA): 48.1 IP, 2.05 ERA, 41 H, 50 SO, 17 BB
I don't have access to minor-league splits, but Cooper looks like a prime LOOGY candidate. Chris served as the Aeros' closer before his promotion to Buffalo. The 26-year-old has moved up the organizational ladder slowly, but if Scott Sauerbeck isn't back, Cooper could get a shot in 2006 at being the second lefty in the pen. If he isn't added to the roster, he's prime Rule 5 bait, his age notwithstanding.
(5) LHP Rafael Perez
Acquired: Non-Drafted Free Agent, 1-25-02
2005 Stats (A+): 77.2 IP, 3.36 ERA, 54 H, 48 SO, 32 BB
(AA): 27.1 IP, 0.99 ERA, 20 H, 21 SO, 5 BB
ETA: Late 2006
Speaking of LOOGYs, Perez looks like a perfect candidate if the Indians convert him to relief. His 2004 Baseball America Prospect Handbook entry mentions " a slider [that] is tough on lefthanders," which is a staple of most good left-handed relievers. He was fairly old for his league this year, but upon a promotion to Akron seems to have gotten a bit better. I'd almost guarantee he gets taken in the Rule 5 Draft, so I would think the Indians would aggresively promote him in order to make a good decision on whether to protect him or not. Perez could start or relieve in the majors, but I'd probably lean towards relief right now.
(6) RHP Edward Mujica
Acquired: Non-Drafted Free Agent, 10-22-01
2005 Stats (A+): 26.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 17 H, 32 SO, 2 BB
(AA): 12.1 IP, 1.46 ERA, 10 H, 14 SO, 1 BB
Trend: Way Up
When you combined strikeouts with control, you have yourself a nice relief prospect, especially considering how young he is. Mujica was a fairly medicore starter until this season, when he was thrust into Kinston's closer role. He performed above expectations, going a perfect (I think) 14-14 in save opportunities. Now he's in Akron, and peripherals look similar or even better when compared to his Kinston line.