pitching prospects Things That There Are No Such Thing As haven't had much success recently, but hopefully that will change in 2013. Most of the high-upside pitching prospects are at the lower levels, though there is one big prospect at the top in Trevor Bauer. The drop-off from Bauer to other AA-AAA prospects is pretty steep, though there are a few power arms with decent potential: Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Trey Haley (who may be ticketed for the bullpen).
Here is a rundown of the arms likely to be in the minor league rotations, from AAA down to A-ball. This isn't intended to be definitive, but just something for discussion. My speculation could be pretty far off.
AAA: If the Indians don't add another major league starter, one of Bauer/Kluber/Carlos Carrasco/Scott Barnes is going to be in the major league rotation. Barnes probably has a chance to make the major league bullpen as well, but I think Nick Hagadone will be in the major league bullpen with Barnes in AAA. I think the most likely scenario is that Kluber starts in the majors; the Indians will suppress Bauer's ML service time by leaving him in the minors for a couple months. They will want to limit Carrasco's innings pitched because he's coming off of Tommy John surgery, so Tony Lastoria expects them to leave him in extended spring training at the beginning of the season.
I think both Salazar and Trey Haley will be given an outside shot at making the major league bullpen, but assuming they don't, I'd expect Haley to be in the AAA bullpen and Salazar in the rotation. It would be interesting to see what Haley could do as a starter, but with his injury history I suspect the Indians will leave him in the bullpen, where he was for most of last season, and see if he can become a relief ace. Perhaps he can be turned into a starter later, like Aroldis Chapman.
Salazar pitched only 6 games in Akron last year, but he was very successful and a key figure late in the season for them. This is his second year on the 40-man roster, so I expect them to push him to Triple-A. House was added to the roster this winter after a solid AA season, so I expect him to be pushed up to Triple-A as well.
Espino was 25 in AA last year, and he's spent significant parts of two other seasons there as well. His AA rotation mates House and Giovanni Soto, flawed though they are, seem to be more highly regarded than he is. On the other hand, he's never been bad in AA; he struck out 106 batters in 116.1 innings there last year, for an 8.2 SO/9 to go along with a 2.6 BB/9. His previous seasons have been pretty similar. He really has nothing left to prove in Akron, so I'd expect someone with those peripherals to be in the Columbus rotation next season.
Matt Packer could be in AAA, but with these other options blocking him, I'd expect him to begin the year in Akron's rotation, unless he's moved to the Columbus bullpen.
T.J. McFarland, selected in the Rule 5 draft, could be in the mix if the Orioles return him to the Indians (I don't expect him to stick in the majors), but there really isn't any room for him in AAA and there's no reason to put him back in AA. I'd just as soon accept cash or minor league filler in trade for him, if I were the Indians. I'd think Espino's as good as he is, and the other AAA guys are better. So are Soto and Packer.
Scott Kazmir could throw a wrench into this, but I could see him in the bullpen (either in Cleveland or Columbus) instead. Or Barnes could be in the major league bullpen with Kazmir in the AAA rotation.
AA: The rotation in Akron I think will be Soto, Brett Brach, Matt Packer, and maybe a couple promotions from A+. Jordan Cooper was a starter/long reliever in Carolina last season. He had decent results and peripherals, so he might be in Akron next year. Mike Rayl and Michael Goodnight might be the other candidates for promotion; I'd guess Rayl because he had the lower ERA and BB/9. None of these guys are highly regarded though; all are 24 this season. Carolina was pretty barren of pitching prospects last year.
Soto's season was very similar to House's. But since he's not on the 40-man and a year younger, I'd expect him to begin the year in Akron, with House getting the promotion. Brach doesn't strike anyone out, so promoting him isn't a priority.
House, Haley, and Salazar could conceivably begin the season in Akron, but since they're all on the 40-man I think it's time to push them along to Columbus.
The rotation: Packer, Brach, Soto, Cooper, Rayl (with higher upside guys from lower levels possibly joining the team during the season).
A+-A: Down here, guys are on lower pitch counts and there is not a strict 5-man rotation; a lot of guys are swingmen, going back and forth between starting and long relief. There are so many guys who could get starts/long relief stints I wasn't sure how to organize them, but here are some who could be in the class A rotations. Some will head to the pen, some will start, some will piggyback.
Michael Goodnight, Clayton Cook, Will Roberts, Francisco Jimenez, Mason Radeke, Joseph Colon, Cody Anderson, Shawn Morimando (I would guess these are more likely to be in Carolina)
Elvis Araujo, Felix Sterling, Nicholas Pasquale, Daniel Jimenez (each of these guys were in Lake County last year)
Beyond them, there are a whole bunch of guys from Rookie and short-season ball, but I think the guys worth watching most would be Mitch Brown, Dillon Howard, Kieran Lovegrove, Jake Sisco, Dylan Baker, and Caleb Hamrick (recent high draft picks). Juan Nivar had the best K/9 and WHIP among the DSL Indians, for what that's worth. Some of them will be in Lake County and some in Mahoning Valley. Brown might be the best pitching prospect in the system outside of Trevor Bauer.