It has been tough working on this article. It has been tough writing much about the Indians over the past week, and I sincerely believe that this will be a difficult year for the front office as they struggle with attendance numbers that will more likely than not go down even further in 2010. That said, it is time to recap what has just happened in the organization after yet another trade involving one of the most popular players on the team, and one of the most loved Cleveland players in the last decade.
Victor Martinez will go down in history as one of the best catchers ever to wear the Indians uniform, right up there with recently inducted Sandy Alomar. In 821 games for Cleveland, he batted .297 while averaging 20 home runs and 102 RBI per full-season. He will be very much missed by NE Ohio fans, but with this trade in hand it is important to look at how stacked the organization’s pitching depth stands. The Indians acquired a top Boston prospect but not the one many fans wanted, as Justin Masterson came to town instead of starter Clay Buchholz. While Masterson could eventually project as a starter, I want to recap all the pieces that the Indians have traded away thus far this season.
Between Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, Ben Francisco and Martinez, GM Mark Shapiro has traded away 33.7% of the team’s current plate appearances this year. Additionally, in trading away Rafael Betancourt, Cliff Lee he also traded away 20.0% of the team’s current innings pitched, showing how much of the team in pure numbers have been given away for prospects.
The prospects however, stack up an already impressive minor league system. In acquiring 11 new players including two Major Leaguers (Masterson and RHP Chris Perez) and just two position players (SS Jason Donald and C Lou Marson), Shapiro has shaped the Indians roster for 2010 and hopefully a playoff run in 2011. Say what you want to say about the management, the front office or your preconceived notions of the players we acquired, the least I can say is that on paper it looks incredible impressive to have acquired so many top 10 prospects from other teams. Time will tell if all of these trades come back to impact the team in a signifcant way such as the Barolo Colon trade to Montreal all those years ago and for now, here is a look at the newest three members of the Indians organization:
RHP Justin Masterson – 6’6″, 250-lbs, turned 24 on March 22nd
Second-round (#71 overall) in the 2006 June Draft
The center-piece of this trade unlikely the previously reported Buchholz, Masterson has been mostly a reliever and spot-starter for the Red Sox over the past two seasons. He certainly has big-upside as he was taken in the exact same round as current Akron Aero Steven Wright, but has now worked in 160.1 innings in the Major Leagues. It is expected that the Indians will continue to stretch him out as a middle reliever for the rest of this year, while he certainly may join the rotation in 2010 with a healthy Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Scott Lewis, and possibly some combination of Anthony Reyes, Carlos Carrasco, Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey and Hector Rondon depending upon their health and performance in Triple-A. Sure that is a crowded area in the MLB rotation, but it never can be a bad thing to have too much pitching. Masterson will be a useful part of the Indians pitching staff for many, many years to come and has the attitude required of a do-it-all pitcher for any kind of team.
2008 with AA Portland: 1-3 with 4.23 ERA in 8 games (8 starts)
2008 with AAA Pawtucket: 1-0 with 2.89 ERA in 4 games (1 start)
2008 with Boston: 6-5 with 3.16 ERA in 36 games (9 starts)
2009 with Boston: 3-3 with 4.50 ERA in 31 games (6 starts)
Another big and physical right-hander just like current Aero Connor Graham, Masterson uses a three-fifths delivery to fool hitters with his hard-throwing stuff. A top prospect who has been over-shadowed by Buchholz and recent Red Sox signee Junichi Tazawa, he definitely does have elite stuff that is getting better. Last season he had a 3.16 ERA for Boston but just had a strikeout to walk ratio of 68-40 in 88.1 innings pitched. This year for the Sox the ERA is up, but it is really encouraging to see the 67 K’s against only 25 strikeouts in 72 innings. To think that the Indians got rooked beacuse of the swap between Buchholz and Masterson is a joke as this guy is for real. Being able to have him around for the next half dozen years will do wonders and along with some of the other hard-throwing young pitchers, he really will be something special.
LHP Nick Hagadone – 6’5″, 230-lbs, turned 23 on January 1st
First-round (#55 overall) in the 2007 June Draft
A hard-throwing left-hander coming off season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2008, Hagadone now would project in the pitching-stacked Indians system as a reliever with back-end potential. His fastball tops out at 98 mph and since he has never really been let loose in the minor leagues (59.1 IP in 23 starts), the Indians will probably be uber-cautious as always with his handling and arm delivery. Adding yet another first-round pitcher like Hagadone will do wonders for the minor league system over the next year and a half. Projecting him as a reliever means that he will arguably shoot up the system, finishing this year with Lake County and Kinston (if he is healthy enough to even pitch) and then going strong with Akron and Columbus in 2010. As a reliever he would be yet another hard-throwing lefty that can strike guys out at will.
2007 with NCAA Washington: 6-1 with 2.77 ERA in 25 games (2 starts)
2007 with ss-A Lowell: 0-1 with 1.85 ERA in 10 games (10 starts)
2008 with mid-A Greenville: 1-1 with 0.00 ERA in 3 games (3 starts)
2009 with mid-A Greenville: 0-2 with 2.52 ERA in 10 games (10 starts)
Hagadone has been praised by scouts for his incredible work ethic and was supposedly pitching just three months following Tommy John surgery. Of course the Red Sox slowed him down from there as he has yet to go more than 3.0 innings in his starts for Greenville this season and there is always the possibility that he could be shut down by the Indians for the rest of the season (along with Jason Knapp). Either way he will come back fresh in 2010 with a geared up path to the big league club as a reliever. Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, and Zach Jackson are currently the only left-handed relievers on path for being in his way to the Indians, but Hagadone should breeze by everyone soon enough. A closer for Washington in college, he is touted as being an aggresive strong leader who also mixes in a plus slider and an improving changeup. His inclusion along with Bryan Price make me feel a lot more comfortable as just with the Phillies trade, it seems like the Indians went with a big grouping of solid arms instead of one supposed can’t-miss Major Leaguer.
RHP Bryan Price – 6’4″, 200-lbs, turns 23 on November 13th
First-round (#45 overall) in the 2008 June Draft
The final piece of the puzzle and yet another first-round pick added to the system, he is probably a lesser prospect than Hagadone, Barnes and Knapp, the three other Class A pitching prospects acquired by the Indians in the past two weeks. He is probably not that far away from the Major Leagues in terms of his decent delivery and tough fastball, but as of right now his numbers in the Carolina League seem quite disappointing. He will probably remain with the Class A Kinston Indians in the system this season, and his arrival could spark the long-impending promotion of LHP Eric Berger to the first-place Aeros (a minor detail, but one that makes me quite excited). Because of the number of quality young starting pitching, Price along with Connor Graham look better suited for possible work out of the bullpen down the road because of their tall, projectable frames with electric fastballs that could be deadly when used in spurts out of the pen.
2008 with NCAA Rice: 4-4 with 3.72 ERA in 30 games (1 start)
2008 with ss-A Lowell: 1-3 with 3.82 ERA in 12 games (9 starts)
2009 with mid-A Greenville: 3-2 with 2.45 ERA in 8 games (8 starts)
2009 with high-A Salem: 1-6 with 6.54 ERA in 11 games (11 starts)
Allowing 146 hits in your first 136.1 innings pitched in professional baseball is never a good thing. Striking out 140 and being only 22 years old makes up for that depressing stat, and thus it is way too early for fans to give up on this prospect. Price definitely has the potential to be another impact reliever in the Major Leagues, and although his development will probably be slowed down because of his sour numbers right now, he should be arriving in Akron by the All-Star Break next year as a reliever, and will be knocking on Cleveland’s door by Spring Training 2011 if all things go well with his transition back to the bullpen. Since Kinston has already lost their chances at contention this season, all the pressure will be off Price to immediately make a difference in high Class A, and a full off-season of work with the Indians training staff will do him some good. Don’t sleep on him, although his progression through the system will be a lot slower compared to Graham, Hagadone, Barnes and the other top guys just acquired.