Lonnie Chisenhall once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
The Indians had a pretty successful year across the minors when it comes to hitting. With the exception of fringe prospects Beau Mills and Carlos Rivero, most of the Indians top hitting prospects performed well and a few dark-horse prospects had break-out seasons. Also, don't forget that Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Lou Marson and Jason Donald - members of last seasons prospect list - all spent substantial time in Cleveland.
Michael Brantley (23.1, MLB)
I include Brantley here only because he did log more than 60 games in the minors and it is worth pointing out that he did a very good job during that time. In 2010 he had more walks than strikeouts, an OBP just below .400, and a much higher rate of extra-base hits than the previous two seasons.
Chun-Hsiu Chen (21.8, A+)
I don't think there was a bigger, out-of-nowhere breakout than Chen in the Indians system last year. The Indians thought highly enough of Chen to sign him out of Taiwan, but I think even they must have been surprised by how it came together for him in 2010. Splitting his time between C (60 games) and DH, Chen was able to earn a midseason promotion to Kinston on the back of extremely strong hitting, which actually got better after being promoted (.887 in LC, .996 in Kinston). Chen is still learning how to manage a pitching staff in English, but comments from the front office were positive on his positional adjustment. With Santana and Marson in Cleveland, the presence of Chen coming up in the system is potentially a very nice safety net.
Nick Weglarz (22.5, AAA)
The only number Weglarz put up this season that was really disappointing was 372, his total number of plate appearances. Declining every season since 2007, Weglarz's history of nagging/freak injuries is a concern. But his performance was arguably his best ever, including a 50-game stint in Columbus. If healthy (and he is playing in Venezuela now), Weglarz is on the cusp of Cleveland, and a likely candidate to make his debut in late 2011.
Cord Phelps (23.4, AAA)
Cord, a 3rd round pick from Stanford in the 2008 draft, decided to take matters into his own hands this season. Undeterred by the attention given to Jason Kipnis (see below) and the Indians rotation of second basemen in Cleveland, Phelps took advantage of an organizational need for a second baseman in Columbus and hit like a crazy man (.317/.386/.506) following his promotion to the Clippers. The Indians have given him time in the AFL to get his hands wet at 3B, and after a rough beginning - 7 errors in his first nine games at 3B - he has gone six consecutive games without an error. Whatever the success of his 3B experiment, it has not hurt Phelps at the plate, as he is currently hitting .366/.483/.535 (plus an 18% walk rate). Put those numbers together with his regular season performance and Phelps current season line is .316/.379/.468 with 32 2Bs, 8 3Bs and 10 HRs. It is still only abou 2/3 of a season, but it is 2/3 of a great season on the cusp of the majors. It will be interesting to see what Phelps does next year and where he does it (position and city).
Lonnie Chisenhall (21.8, AA)
Chisenhall continues to put up solid numbers while garnering the praise of scouts for his compact, powerful swing. The biggest concern about Chisenhall from a development standpoint is his health. Chisenhall spent some time on the DL this May, but came back healthy, hitting 16 of his 17 HRs from June onwards. A healthy 2011 will open the door to a possible late season call-up to Cleveland.
Jason Kipnis (23.3, AA)
The Indians thought highly enough of Jason Kipnis to draft him in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft and have him make an off-season switch to 2B before the start of his first full-season campaign. So far the plan is working. Kipnis hit his way out of Kinston by mid-season and became a central cog in Akron's offense for the remainder of 2010. Joining Cord Phelps in the Peoria Javelinas infield mix for the AFL, Kipnis continues to mash the ball with 15 extra-base hits in just 17 games (.275/.324/.623).
Josh Rodriguez (25.5, AAA)
Following a lost 2009 season and an abysmal 2008 year, you can be forgiven if you have forgotten who Josh Rodriguez is. The former 2nd round pick out of Rice actually was once a prospect, appearing on Kevin Goldstein's 2008 Indians top 10 list (#8) and Jon Sickels top 5 (#4) following a strong season. Rodriguez is getting a little long in the tooth to be a prospect, and the stackup of middle infielders above him is not really helping his cause, but Rodriguez's 2010 season should go a long way towards getting him a chance to play somewhere in the majors sometime in the future. Finally healthy for the better part of a season, Rodriguez kept his excellent plate approach and regained some of the power he showed earlier in his development. Rodriguez was a college SS who had elbow surgery between his junior and senior year, raising some concerns about his ability to stay at that position as a pro. 5 years later his primary position is back at SS (59 games this year, 23 at 2B, 9 at 3B) and may be the ace in his sleeve when it comes time to earning a big league roster spot. The Indians will have an interesting choice with Rodriguez this off-season.
The Indians have an interesting collection of hitting prospects near the top of the system. The emergence of Phelps and Kipnis, as well as Rodriguez's strong season, give the Indians a surplus of middle-infield players high in the system (including Cleveland, where some combination of Asdrubal Cabrera, Jayson Nix, Jason Donald, Luis Valbuena fill in the holes...). How the Indians manage this group will be part of the current off-season and should be part of the 2011 decision-making process, as well.
The Indians have less depth at the corners, without much backing behind either Weglarz or Chisenhall. My next piece will cover the Indians more fringe positional prospects, but the list is not nearly as long or interesting as the corresponding pitchers piece. Hopefully the 2010 draft, in which the Indians spent heavily on prospects like LeVon Washington, Tony Wolters, Alex Lavisky and Tyler Holt, will pay dividends.
The other area poorly represented by this group is defensive quality. None of the guys above is considered, at the moment, to be much above average in the field. Absent turning these guys into plus defenders (not wholly out of the question), it would be nice if the Indians could add a few high-quality, above average fielders going forward.