It's been 58 years and counting since we last won the World Series. I'm almost three times as old as my father was when the Indians knocked off the Braves in 1948. A little impatience can be excused at this point. So I was thinking about our chances of winning it all in the next couple of years. More specifically, I was thinking about who there was in our minor league system who could help us achieve that goal. The result - a prospect list.
First, a caveat. This is not a typical prospect list. It isn't about who is going to have the longest career, the best career, or who has the best tools (though tools help). It's about which players have the best chances of making a contribution to a Cleveland Indians World Series victory in 2007 or 2008. Most of these guys will not be regulars in the major leagues in the next couple of years; some of them never will. That doesn't mean that can't help us win a World Series though. If the Indians had been on the edge of the playoff race last year, Garko's half season might have been enough to get them to the post-season, and that has value even if the guy never has a decent full year. Besides, if a team with resource limitations like the Indians is going to win the World Series, they're going to need a few of these 'no sure thing'-guys to come through.
OK, I didn't consider the guys who already have a fair amount of big-league exposure - Marte, Garko, Shoppach, and Inglett. Marte and Garko would be 1st and 2nd if I had considered them, and Shoppach would be in the top 6, probably around Choo/Crowe. Inglett? I don't know. He's 28, so I'm not considering him a prospect (although I think he's a decent player). My list, my rules.
Here it is (age as of 7/1/2006):
- Franklin Gutierrez - CF, 23, 806 OPS at Buffalo. It surprised me, but his 806 OPS was 13% better than the IL average. He has decent speed, a good defensive reputation, and was fairly young for the league. His bat could improve enough to make him a contributor.
- Shin-soo Choo - RF-CF, 23, 893 OPS at Tacoma. Choo's raw numbers look good in 375 AB at Tacoma in the PCL, but the league OPS was about 760, so he was only about 17% better than the league. He's got more power than Gutierrez, and a higher upside, but his numbers in 2006 were well above the trend of 2003-2005 (and his defensive rep isn't as good), so I'm putting him below Franklin.
- Trevor Crowe - CF, 22, 798 OPS between Kinston and Akron. Awesome at Kinston, he got hurt and struggled a bit in AA, but put up some good numbers in the AFL. Excellent speed, decent pop for somebody his size. I don't think he'll make it to Cleveland this year, but he could help in 2008.
- Brian Barton - OF, 24, 923 OPS between Kinston and Akron. Awesome at Kinston, awesome at Akron. No longer a sleeper, he's got power, speed, talent, a good work ethic, and intelligence. His OPS at Akron was about 31% better than the league. He's a little bit old for the level of competition he faced, but given the relatively late start to his professional career and the ease with which he has handled each promotion, it's not too much of a knock on him. If he hits in Buffalo for the first half of the year, we could see a trade deadline deal to dump one of our veteran spare part outfielders and a Barton promotion.
- Asdrubal Cabrera - SS, 20, 632 OPS at Buffalo. His bat seems weak (OPS 12% worse than league at Buffalo, about 10% worse than league in Tacoma) but that's not the most important number. 20. That's the important one. He's only 20. That's actually pretty good hitting for a 20-year old shortstop at AAA. He has a great defensive rep, so if age and experience bring his bat up to league average at AAA and Jhonny struggles again, we could see Cabrera as a part-timer.
- Ryan Goleski - OF, 24, 948 OPS between Kinston and Akron. Destroyed the Carolina League, merely very good in the Eastern League. He's the same age as Barton, but lacks his tools and may have been expected to advance a little further since he started his pro career in 2003 (vs 2005 for Barton). Also, that down year at Kinston in 2005 makes me a little leery. His defense isn't so good, he doesn't run very well, but he has lots of power. Sort of reminds me of former Tribe prospect Luke Scott (Astros). Scott had a great half year in Houston, probably playing way above his head, but, like Goleski, has a legit bat and can produce respectable offensive numbers in the outfield for a couple of years in his prime.
- Brad Snyder - RF, 24, 796 OPS at Akron. Meh. Disappointing. Still has tools, hit OK in the second half, strikes out a lot. But, with those tools, if he puts it together he could boost production at a corner outfield spot. What's with all the outfielders though? We really don't have many infield prospects that are anywhere near ready.
- Ben Francisco - OF, 24, 799 OPS at Buffalo. Ben does a little of everything and had a pretty good year at Buffalo, with an OPS 12% better than the IL average. 17 HRs, 32 2Bs, stole 20 bases while being caught only 5 times. 4th outfielder possibility in the bigs. We need to package some of this outfield depth for some relief pitching.
9. Jonathan Van Every - OF, 26, 814 OPS between Akron and Buffalo. Drafted way back in 2000, in the 29th round, he signed in May, 2001 and began a long trek up the minor league ladder. He's never been a heralded prospect, held back by low batting averages and tons of strikeouts. He's been old for his league in all of his strongest years. However, he draws quite a few walks, runs well, hits for power (475 SLG in his minor league career) and Baseball America recently called him the Indians best defensive outfielder in the minors. He's still on the roster at Buffalo, so I don't think he's a minor league free agent yet.
Others - Wyatt Toregas (C), Jordan Brown (OF), Jose Constanza (OF), and Max Ramirez (C/1B/DH) aren't really far enough along to expect anything from them by 2008.