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Top Prospects, part 1: The Injured

2010 Top Prospects 4 Position Players
1 The Injured 5 Pitchers 1
2 Fringe Position Players 5.5 Pitchers 2
3 Fringe Pitchers 6 Santana & Recap


Today's piece is the first in a series which will outline my view of the Indians top prospects.  As a preface, my rankings are based on a combination of age, position, performance and level.  I am not a scout so I am not projecting how their tools will develop, but rather making an assessment based on how they have performed thus far in their pro careers relative to their peers and with respect to their defensive position.  Because of my emphasis on pro performance, none of the 2009 draftees will appear here, although certainly a guy like Alex White is one of the Indians "top prospects".  Instead of a traditional numerical ranking I will provide a categorical breakdown of the Indians prospects, beginning with some of the significant players who missed significant playing time in 2009 because of injury.  Most of these guys, if healthy, would have appeared somewhere later in the series.  But as for any prospect, injuries are particularly problematic -  limiting opportunity for development, diminishing the potential ceiling of skills, and wasting time on their prospect clock - making them a strong negative for each of these guys.

1. Adam Miller

2009: 0 innings pitched

2008: 28.2 IP, 1.88 ERA, 4.10 aFIP, 16.4 K%, 9.8 BB%, 54.5 GB%

Adam Miller just turned 25 yesterday, but in baseball years he might as well be Satchel Paige.  After a brilliant 2006 campaign in Akron in which Miller established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, Miller has been one injury after another.  The most recent setback an unprecedented operation to repair the pulley system in his middle finger, the most important finger in a power pitcher like Miller.  Given the nature of the operation and length of recovery, there is little reason to think Miller will be appearing on the mound in Cleveland anytime soon, if ever.  Instead of being the heir to CC Sabathia, Miller instead likely represents a lasting cautionary tale and paradox regarding young pitchers.  On one hand, Miller is the perfect example of getting a pitcher to the majors as quickly as possible.  In August of 2006 the Indians could have brought up the then 21-year old and given him a shot at major league hitters.  His stuff was probably good enough to get by, but they instead let him develop.  But at the same time Miller was just 21 at the time.  Because he was drafted as an 18-year old high school senior, the Indians were still in the process of stretching out Miller's innings.  In some ways Miller developed too quickly, from too young a starting point to know what was the best approach.  I feel as if the Indians draft team keeps a picture of Miller on their draft board just to remind them of the perils of drafting high school pitchers.

2. Kelvin De La Cruz

2009: 19.2 IP, 4.58 ERA, 2.11 aFIP, 29.3 K%, 8.5 BB%, 32.0 GB%

2008: 130.0 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.79 aFIP, 24.5 K%, 11.2 BB%, 52.9 GB%

Added to the Indians roster last week, De La Cruz is an intriguing 6'5" lefty signed out of the Dominican in 2004.  Kelvin started 2009 in Kinston and dominated in his first two starts, striking out 19 in 12 innings, only allowing 6 hits and 2 walks.  After those starts De La Cruz began having some elbow discomfort which led to an eventual elbow strain diagnosis.  De La Cruz never had any surgery and came back and pitched a few innings late in the season and in the Fall instructional league, but elbow strains are not an encouraging sign.  The potential for additional season ending surgery to that elbow has to be considered elevated at this point, with the additional concern that Kelvin's stuff was not at his best when he did return late in the season. De La Cruz won't be 22 until the new year, so time is still somewhat on his side, but a healthy 2010 would be a big step forward for him.

3. Joey Mahalic

2009: 32.0 IP, 3.94 ERA, 4.05 aFIP, 16.3 K%, 12.6 BB%, 50.6 GB%

2008: 101 IP, 4.19 ERA, 4.03 aFIP, 16.8 K%, 7.1 BB%, 60.7 GB%

Mahalic, who turns 21 tomorrow, was one of my favorites coming into this season.  As a 19-year old Mahalic had a very successful 2008 campaign as a GB-specialist on Lake County's pitching staff.  Mahalic was given six starts at the beginning of 2009 in Lake County putting together an impressive 1.81 ERA with increased K:BB numbers from his previous season.  Promoted to Kinston in early May, Mahalic had to leave his first start for the K-tribe after just 3.2 innings with a disastrous 8 walks and no Ks.  Sure enough, Mahalic was diagnosed with a right elbow strain.  Like De La Cruz, Mahalic avoided surgery, but did not make it back to the mound during the season.  According to the most recent updates Mahalic's recovery is on target and he is expected to be ready for Spring Training.  If he can put the injury past him Mahalic will have the chance to follow the Aaron Laffey-Jeanmar Gomez trajectory.

4. Rob Bryson

2009: 3.0 IP, 12.00 ERA, 2.98 aFIP, 33.0 K%, 13.3 BB%, 40.0 GB%

2008: 68.0 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.50 aFIP, 29.9 K%, 9.3 BB%, 42.8 GB%

It is easy to forget about Rob Bryson.  The least recognizable component of the Sabathia trade, Bryson went down to injury shortly after joining Cleveland's system in July 2008.  Eventually diagnosed as a partial labrum tear, Bryson underwent surgery and has been in rehab ever since.  Bryson's progress has supposedly been good, though, and the Indians expect him to be at 100% for this upcoming season.  A bullpen power arm, I would expect the Indians to be as aggressive with his promotion as his recovery allows.  His interest as a prospect should be considered a function of how many steps away from Cleveland he is, the closer the better.

5. Mike Pontius

2009: 6.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, 5.88 aFIP, 23.5 K%, 23.5 BB%, 27.3 GB%

2008: 74.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.11 aFIP, 24.3 K%, 16.2 BB%, 63.1 GB%

Pontius would not make a regular prospect list.  For the first half of 2008 he looked like a promising relief arm in Lake County, with a K-rate above 30% and a near 3:1 K:BB ratio.  His control fell apart after a promotion to Kinston mid-season, though.  Pontius just turned 22 last month and should he ever find his control and health again, will join the large cluster of potentially interesting bullpen arms floating through the Indians system.

6. Josh Rodriguez

2009: 131 PAs, .295/.426/.333

2008: 621 PAs, .241/.335/.359

Josh Rodriguez was listed by many as one of the Indians top prospects following a 2007 season in which he had 49 extra-base hits while playing second base.  Since then it has been all downhill.  A terrible 2008 followed by a 2009 in which he missed most of the season with a bad right hamstring injury.  Rodriguez is comparable in many ways to recently acquired Jason Donald, though with one additional year of disappointing development.  If he can show he is healthy and that the leg injuries have not affected his ability to play middle-infield Rodriguez becomes a lesser tier utility candidate (but then again I bet you did not expect to see Niuman Romero last season).

Next up: Fringe position players