We’ve already covered all the usual storylines for the Cleveland Indians before the start of the 2011 season. From projections to five main topics, to Travis Hafner, Matt LaPorta, the fifth starter and the second base conundrum, it seems that we have covered everything possible about the MLB squad.
But one item lurking on the horizon for new general manager Chris Antoinetti, manager Manny Acta and the Tribe is a plethora of minor league pitching options. The relieving corps is filled with dozens of players on the cusp of competing for a roster spot in Cleveland soon, while the a mixed crew of starters also provides plenty of hope for the future.
Today’s first part ranks the top 10 starting pitching prospects in the Indians organization, and lists another dozen players to watch. Stay tuned for contributions from all of these players this season, as they could make a huge impact on the Tribe’s success.
As prefaced above, here is a list of players who didn’t quite have the profiles at this moment to crack the top 10 ranking. Many of these players named here are just passed the usual window of being labeled a prospect, and although they have had success at Double-A or above, just probably are doing it too late for the usual curve of a player’s development. These players are not ranked in any fashion, they are only sorted based on 2010 experience level.
Other players considered for this starting pitching ranking:
RHP Zach McAllister, 23 years old, 27 games in Triple-A
RHP Paolo Espino, 24 years old, 21 games in Akron, seven games in Columbus
LHP Eric Berger, 23 years old, 18 games in Akron, five games in Columbus
RHP Corey Kluber, 24 years old, 27 games in Double-A, two games in Columbus
LHP Scott Barnes, 23 years old, 26 games in Akron
LHP Kelvin De La Cruz, 22 years old, six games in Kinston, 20 games in Akron
LHP Matt Packer, 23 years old, 24 games in Lake County, six games in Akron
RHP Austin Adams, 24 years old, 13 games with Lake County, 13 games with Kinston
RHP Clayton Cook, 20 years old, 23 games with Lake County
LHP Alexander Perez, 21 years old, two games with Kinston
LHP Felix Sterling, 17 years old, 12 games with AZL Indians
Now, before moving on to the ranking, make sure you check out the back-and-forth analysis that took place here at WFNY last month. After I covered all the various offseason rankings in The Boots, Jon countered by looking at how the quantity of Indians prospects should still help the team despite the lack of potential All-Star talent. Those are absolute must reads for Indians minor league fans. After that, check out these top 10 starters:
10. LHP T.J. House, 9/29/89, 6’2”, 215 lbs, Picayune H.S. (Miss.)
June 2008 Draft, 16th round (No. 501 pick)
2009 Lake County: 6-11, 3.15 ERA, 26 starts, 134.1 IP, 127 H, 49 BB, 109 K
2010 Kinston: 6-10, 3.91 ERA, 27 games, 135.2 IP, 135 H, 74 R, 61 BB, 106 K
House dropped to the 16th round of the 2008 draft because of a high price tag and a previous commitment to play for Tulane University, but signed an impressive out-of-slot offer by the Indians. His first two seasons have featured long looks of Single-A baseball, and the only thing concerning there are his overall WHIP numbers. The strikeouts are decent and definitely deserve optimism, and at only 21 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop more consistently. He will likely play the entire 2011 season with Double-A Akron.
9. RHP Hector Rondon, 2/26/88, 6’3”, 180 lbs, Venezuela
Signed as a non-drafted free agent in August 2004
2009 AKR: 7-5, 2.75 ERA, 15 games, 72.0 IP, 60 H, 23 R, 16 BB, 73 K
2009 COL: 4-5, 4.00 ERA, 12 starts, 74.1 IP, 83 H, 38 R, 13 BB, 64 K
2009: 11-10, 3.38 ERA, 27 games, 146.1 IP, 143 H, 61 R, 29 BB, 137 K
2010 COL: 1-3, 8.53 ERA, 7 starts, 31.2 IP, 48 H, 32 R, 10 BB, 33 K
I feel awful dropping Rondon this far down the list. A player who ranked as high as in the top 10 for overall prospect rankings in each of the past two seasons, his stock took a huge hit with an injury-riddled 2010 campaign. He was bad early for the Clippers, and now hasn’t shown much success at all in Triple-A despite all the injuries.
This is a huge season for him to get back on track as he turns a dangerous 23 years old next week. He will likely begin 2011 with Columbus and will be watched carefully. Duh, thanks folks. Rondon had Tommy John surgery last August and is likely out for all of 2011. The struggles continue.
8. LHP T.J. McFarland, 6/8/89, 6’3”, 190 lbs, Amos Alonzo Stagg H.S. (Ill.)
June 2007 Draft, 4th round (No. 137 pick)
2009 Lake County: 9-4, 3.58 ERA, 25 games, 120.2 IP, 128 H, 58 R, 42 BB, 85 K
2010 Kinston: 11-5, 3.13 ERA, 24 games, 126.2 IP, 121 H, 50 R, 40 BB, 92 K
The second of three high school picks in this list, McFarland had a solid 2010 in the Carolina League. He is tall and has shown some promise with his strikeouts, but struggled mightily in one spot start for the Akron Aeros. Once again, time is on his side because he won’t turn 22 until June, but you would have to hope for the WHIP and ERA numbers to continue to stay low this year. He will likely play the entire 2011 season with Akron.
7. RHP Cole Cook, 10/18/88, 6’6”, 200 lbs, Pepperdine University
June 2010 Draft, 5th round (No. 150 pick)
2009 Pepperdine: 7-3, 3.69 ERA, 16 games, 83.0 IP, 57 H, 36 R, 20 BB, 79 K
2010 Pepperdine: 5-6, 2.93 ERA, 14 games, 104.1 IP, 103 H, 44 R, 24 BB, 87 K
2010 Mahoning Valley: 0-3, 5.40 ERA, 4 starts, 15.0 IP, 14 H, 12 R, 8 BB, 14 K
Now beginning the trend of very recent draft picks, Cook is an intriguing fellow who is third on the list of 2010 Cleveland starting pitcher selections. He has tremendous size and can hit 94 mph with his fastball, but will likely need work on his delivery and off-speed pitches over the next year or two. He reminds me of a right-handed version of Nick Hagadone, who just wasn’t able to show scouts anything in 2010. Expect Cook to begin 2011 with Lake County, and he should stay there all year depending upon how wild he gets.
6. LHP Giovanni Soto, 5/18/91, 6’3”, 155 lbs, Puerto Rico
June 2009 Draft, 21st round (No. 630 pick)
2010 West Michigan: 6-6, 2.61 ERA, 16 starts, 82.2 IP, 75 H, 29 R, 25 BB, 76 K
2010 Lake County: 3-2, 3.77 ERA, 6 starts, 31.0 IP, 22 H, 13 R, 11 BB, 31 K
2010 Total: 9-8, 2.93 ERA, 22 starts, 113.2 IP, 97 H, 42 R, 36 BB, 107 K
Soto might be the most intriguing prospect on this entire list, or even in the Indians system. Acquired for Jhonny Peralta from the Detroit Tigers last season, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the 2010 Midwest League despite some early injuries. Incredibly long and lanky, his minor league statistics look very impressive because he still hasn’t hit 20 years old. He will likely play the entire 2011 season with Kinston.
5. RHP Kyle Blair, 9/27/88, 6’3”, 200 lbs, University of San Diego
June 2010 Draft, 4th round (No. 120 pick)
2009 San Diego: 3-2, 3.13 ERA, 10 games, 54.2 IP, 47 H, 33 R, 18 BB, 62 K
2010 San Diego: 8-4, 2.84 ERA, 15 starts, 98.1 IP, 79 H, 44 R, 28 BB, 126 K
Continuing with last year’s draft picks, Blair absolutely jumped out of nowhere to be a star for San Diego last season. Those strikeout and walk numbers are normally unheard of at any level, and were definitely worthy of his high selection in June. His off speed pitches are all the rave, and he has a big frame that scouts usually drool over. Not sure how to explain those 2009 numbers, but it should be exciting to watch his minor league career begin with Single-A Lake County in 2011.
4. RHP Joseph Gardner, 3/18/88, 6’4”, 220 lbs, University of California-Santa Barbara
June 2009 Draft, 3rd round (No. 94 pick)
2010 Lake County: 1-0, 3.24 ERA, 6 starts, 25.0 IP, 17 H, 13 R, 11 BB, 38 K
2010 Kinston: 12-6, 2.65 ERA, 22 starts, 122.1 IP, 85 H, 51 BB, 104 K
2010 Total: 13-6, 2.75 ERA, 28 starts, 147.1 IP, 102 H, 62 BB, 142 K
Another player with a very high floor as a pitching prospect is Gardner. I expected the Indians brass to trust him with a promotion to Double-A Akron last season just like another player ranked higher on this list, but I suppose they just wanted to play it safe. No worries however, as his organization-leading 142 strikeouts in 2010 should transition to another successful full year with the Aeros in 2011.
3. LHP Drew Pomeranz, 11/22/88, 6’5”, 190 lbs, University of Mississippi
June 2010 draft, 1st round (No. 5 pick)
2009 Ole Miss: 8-4, 3.40 ERA, 16 starts, 95.1 IP, 85 H, 47 R, 37 BB, 124 K
2010 Ole Miss: 9-2, 2.24 ERA, 16 starts, 100.2 IP, 71 H, 27 R, 49 BB, 139 K
Pomeranz has everything a top pitching prospect should have. He has the unbelievable collegiate success record, tall frame, solid off speed pitches, potential to get even stronger, and could easily have the top ceiling of any player in the system. The main caution I have with him is how he will transition in his first year in the minors, the potential injury concern, and that he is older than some other players here. But he’ll likely begin with Kinston and could be in Akron by the end of the 2011 season.
2. RHP Jason Knapp, 8/31/90, 6’5”, 235 lbs, North Hunterdon H.S. (N.J.)
June 2008, 2nd Rd (No. 71)
2009 Total: 2-7, 4.18 ERA, 21 starts, 97.0 IP, 73 H, 55 R, 47 BB, 123 K
2010 Total: 1-2, 2.86 ERA, 9 starts, 28.1 IP, 17 H, 12 R, 12 BB, 47 K
I’m not sure what it is about Knapp, but I continue to be enamored by his potential. He has been hampered by injuries ever since arriving via the Cliff Lee trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, but he should be at full health for 2011. His strikeout numbers were dominant in the South-Atlantic League in 2009, and it is scary to think this monster project is only 20 years old. Watch out for him in Kinston to start this season, and depend upon how careful the Indians are with his recovery, he could finish in Akron.
1. RHP Alex White, 8/29/88, 6’3”, 200 lbs, University of North Carolina
June 2009 Draft, 1st round (No. 15 pick)
2010 Kinston: 2-3, 2.86 ERA, 8 starts, 44.0 IP, 32 H, 18 R, 19 BB, 41 K
2010 Akron: 8-7, 2.28 ERA, 18 games, 106.2 IP, 91 H, 45 R, 27 BB, 76 K
2010 Total: 10-10, 2.45 ERA, 26 games, 150.2 IP, 123 H, 63 R, 46 BB, 117 K
White is the closest pitcher to a sure major league contributor on this list. He might not have the best stuff or the highest ceiling or even best statistics right now, but you can’t ignore what he did in 2010. It’s tough to increase your value that much in your first professional season, but he did everything possible to capture this top spot heading into 2011. Many were surprised he didn’t earn a promotion to Columbus earlier last year, but expect him to be with the Clippers for the majority of this upcoming season. And just like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, he could be a candidate for a big league call-up by September.
(Picture of Alex White above via Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer, picture of Hector Rondon above via Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer, and picture of Jason Knapp above via Indians.com)