Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
After the best start of any team this season, Cleveland slumped badly, leading to the most intensive rebuilding project in the majors. GM Mark Shapiro changed managers after Charlie Manuel demanded an extension, honorably firing Manuel so that he'd continue to collect his salary instead of forcing his resignation. Luckily, they had an excellent internal candidate to take over the team in Joel Skinner. With only a couple veterans remaining on the team, Cleveland's main goal in 2003 is to sort out the quality prospects from their mass of quantity. Close to a dozen rookies will have the chance to earn double-digit roto value if they can break camp as starters, so I'll assess everyone based on their 2003 upside.
Either Einar Diaz or Josh Bard should keep catcher warm until Victor Martinez is ready sometime after the All-Star break. Omar Vizquel and Brandon Phillips seem likely to man the middle infield, and Cleveland hopes to re-sign Jim Thome at 1B and slot the recovering Ricky Gutierrez at 3B. Greg LaRocca, Earl Snyder, Ben Broussard, and perhaps even Bill Selby, John McDonald, or someone outside the organization will compete for time at one of those positions. Milton Bradley finally seems prepared to succeed in center, and then Karim Garcia, Alex Escobar, Coco Crisp, Chris Magruder, and Broussard should fight for time in right and left field. Ellis Burks should return as the veteran DH, and Matt Lawton, whenever he recovers from extensive shoulder surgery, should rejoin the lineup until some team offers to trade for him.
The only pitcher assured of a rotation spot is C.C. Sabathia, who finally started pitching impressively in the second half. Ryan Drese, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jason Davis, Cliff Lee, Brian Tallet, Jake Westbrook, and a half-dozen other internal candidates will fight for starts with any inexpensive off-season acquisitions.
Moving Danys Baez back to relief ranks as one of the dumber moves of the season, since while they needed dependable starters, almost anyone could have succeeded as the Indians' closer. Only Mark Wohlers seems assured of a spot in the pen, though he'll compete with Dave Riske, Chad Paronto, Jerrod Riggan, Dave Elder, Sean DePaula, and Roy Smith for late-inning time. Carl Sadler should return as the primary lefty, with Alex Herrera rising to the majors sometime in the near future.
While I don't believe Cleveland possesses the same number of elite prospects as some other teams, their depth of potentially consistent major league contributors appears unchallenged by any other organization. If Shapiro can re-sign Thome, determine the future starters during 2003, and then add one or two free agents in a year like traded ace Bartolo Colon, Cleveland should challenge Minnesota and Chicago for first in the division in 2004.
Ben Broussard, 26, OF-L
After acquiring Broussard for Russ Branyan in early June, they only gave him about six weeks in the middle of the summer to prove himself in the majors before demoting him for all of August. He appears ready to start for Cleveland now, likely at either 1B, DH, or LF depending on the situations of Thome, Burks, and Escobar, but his chances at stardom depend on his ability to improve his .76 minor league contact rate. Fortunately a .16 walk rate is fantastic, and if he impresses in Spring Training, we might keep him on one of our teams at $10 considering his long-term power potential. Of course if he returns to AAA for another few months, he's even more likely to produce once given a regular big league job.
Covelli Crisp, 22, OF-S
Crisp earned an August promotion following his splendid AA performance. While he hit .381/.435/.476 over 21 at-bats in his first five games, he quickly slipped to a .257/.325/.314 by the end of the following the week. Crisp's .260/.314/.386 on the year isn't too bad considering he accumulated only 408 at-bats in the upper minors, and his .09 walk rate, .85 contact rate, and 1.05 G-F all indicate he'll merit a starting job in the near future. I think Cleveland will leave him at AAA Buffalo for much of 2003 as they look at Milton Bradley, Alex Escobar, and other youngsters with more extensive minor league histories, however Crisp could wind up starting in center for them by Opening Day of 2004. He'll make a solid draft pick if he's eligible for your minor league or reserve rounds.
Alex Escobar, 24, OF-R
Despite missing all of 2002 after completing tearing the ACL in his left knee, which required reconstructive surgery back at the end of Spring Training, Escobar enters 2003 as the Indians' rookie most likely to reach double-digit value. However the best course of action is probably to send him back to AAA, since by keeping him on the major league roster all year, Cleveland burned a year of service time, but they should still hold one option on him. While Escobar appears able to approach 20-20 in his first season, woeful plate discipline will keep his batting average no higher than the .250 range. Most prospect observers are probably tired of him failing to live up to the expectations set after a .310-27-91-49 year at A Capital City(Sal) back in 1998, and they're also concerned about his health since even before sitting out this year, he missed almost all of 1999. He's no longer likely to emerge into a star player, though thanks to his speed, he still offers more 2003 roto potential than most other rookies. Escobar qualifies as a post-post-hype sleeper at this point.
Jody Gerut, 25, OF-L
Gerut hit better at AAA Buffalo, compiling a .322/.401/.399 in 183 AB than he did at AA Akron where he posted a .281/.368/.461 line in 256 AB. If Escobar needs more development time as expected, Gerut should be the favorite to start in the outfield and potentially lead off if he's finally healthy and doesn't change organizations in the off-season. While I'm not sure if Cleveland will find room for him on their 40-man, I can think of a half dozen teams that could use him as a 3rd or 4th outfielder right now. Perhaps most importantly, he demonstrated great defense in committing only four errors in 117 games in the outfield, and both a 1.14 BB:K and .13 walk rate indicate he should approach a .300 BA in the majors. He's the most discipline and prepared hitter in the Cleveland system, and after touting him for the last three years, I'm looking forward to his major league debut.
Greg LaRocca, 29, 3B-R
Although he turns 30 in November, LaRocca's solid performance at both the plate and in the field(10 errors in 107 AAA games) should keep him on the 40-man roster throughout the off-season. Not only should he contribute as a utility player, but if Ricky Gutierrez isn't recovered from his neck surgery to start the season, LaRocca may be the favorite to start at third base. His solid plate discipline and moderate power suggest he could compile better numbers than established veterans like Joe Randa and Damian Easley, so assuming Peter Gammons doesn't overhype LaRocca in the spring, you might be able to steal a $15 third baseman in your draft's Dollar Days.
Victor Martinez, 23, C-S
While we didn't designate official awards at the minor league level, Martinez was our choice for Minor League Player of the Year. Not only did he win his second straight batting title after dominating the Carolina league in 2000, he added excellent plate discipline to his previously well-rounded skill repertoire. While his arm isn't fantastic, he's a solid backstop and reportedly knows how to handle a pitching staff. The presence of Josh Bard and Einar Diaz, who's signed through 2004, allows Cleveland to leave Martinez at AAA until he's ready to hit major league pitching, although his September numbers suggest he's practically ready now. He'd be my first pick in almost any minor league draft in standard leagues, and he's a great candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2004.
Brandon Phillips, 21, 2B-R
Although he's likely to begin next season as Cleveland's starting second baseman, neither his minor league stats nor skills allow me to believe he'll find immediate success. The Expos first promoted him out of the Florida State League too quickly, and then they failed to instruct him towards improving his plate discipline when they sent him back to AA to begin this season. He'd certainly help most roto teams given his power and speed upside in the middle infield, but since he only turned 21 this June, hopefully the Indians will allow him the necessary development time. Phillips has only played about two dozen games at second after a career at shortstop, and as he committed 29 errors in 125 minor league games, he could use the extra couple of months to refine his fielding. He's worth acquiring in almost any league, though approach him conservatively if he needs to make the team out of Spring Training to enable you to keep him rostered.
Earl Snyder, 26, 1B-R
Snyder really impressed us in the AFL last year, ripping a double and crushing a ball way over the left field fence, along with displaying the questionable defense that keeps him shifting positions. He's now hit 20 or more homers and 25 or more doubles in each of the last four seasons, and he could probably post similar numbers in the majors if given a chance. Of course his poor .76 AAA contact rate will limit his BA upside, although we can expect him to walk in sufficient plate appearances to keep his OBP at a respectable level. I'd like to see him spend another few months in the minors to refine his batting skills, but he owns the hitting ability necessary for an extended major league career, regardless of his defensive deficiencies.
Josh Bard, 24, C-S
Victor Martinez and Bard give the Indians the chance to roster two switch-hitting backstops with excellent defense for the next several years, an almost ridiculous wealth of riches that will tempt them to either deal one to upgrade elsewhere or experiment with one of them at a different position. Colorado drafted Bard in the third round in 1999 out of Texas Tech, and he's somehow played for seven different teams in the last three seasons, joining the Indians after the Rockies dealt him with Jody Gerut for Jacob Cruz. Unfortunately Bard's weak plate discipline indicates he's not adequately prepared for the majors, but his .297 BA at AAA and solid game-calling skills should entice Cleveland into beginning 2003 with Bard sharing catching duties with Einar Diaz in the majors. Neither catcher will likely hit at the level necessary to hold the job, so instead of developing at the necessary rate, Bard will probably sink into a back-up role for a few years, biding his time until switching organizations after reaching arbitration and then challenging for an All-Star spot in a new uniform.
Ryan Church, 23, OF-L
I'm concerned about his disastrous .21 BB:K and .05 walk rate in 291 AA at-bats, but he continued to display power after his mid-season promotion. Along with only 4 errors in 115 games in the outfield, Church's 56 extra-base hits suggest he should continue developing into a viable offensive threat in Cleveland's outfield. John Sickels likens him to Brian Giles, although Giles never struggled with his plate discipline to this extent. While a somewhat risky prospect, he's probably more likely to reach the majors than any other Indian who hasn't seen time in the majors.
Chris Coste, 29, 1B/3B/C-R
No team drafted Coste after he finished college, so he spent a year in the Prairie League and four seasons in the Northern League before the Indians signed him prior to 2000. He definitely continued his development this year, spending all season at AAA Buffalo for the first time while continuing to improve his plate discipline. I don't believe he's ready for the majors yet, but as he can handle first, third, and catcher, he should emerge as an intriguing 25th man.
Luis Garcia, 23, 1B/OF-R
After entering the season as the Cardinals' top position prospect following his trade from Boston in the Dustin Hermanson deal, Garcia might not even crack the Indians' top thirty prospects. He's not particularly strong defensively and strikes out too much, but he's still fairly young and only in his fifth minor league season of playing regularly after converting from pitching. I expect Garcia'll begin 2003 in AAA, and he seems likely to see some time in the majors next season if they need any injury replacements. However unless he develops more power over the winter, he'll need additional seasoning before he'll have much roto value.
Maicer Izturis, 22, 2B-S
He missed most of his first three years after signing due to various ailments, but he demonstrated solid skills in 2002 while earning a mid-season promotion to AA. Izturis only committed 19 errors in his second year at second base after moving from shortstop so he wouldn't strain his arm; he's suffered both shoulder and elbow injuries that limit his throwing. While he isn't developing any power, both a 76% SB success rate and solid plate discipline indicate some potential for success in the upper minors. Although he needs more AA time, he's finally earned his status as a promising prospect.
Marshall McDougall, 23, IF-R
He's now played all four infield positions in each of the last two seasons, and he only committed 13 errors in 93 games. McDougall's continually underrated by scouts, but he also improved his contact rate from .79 to .83 despite reaching AA for the first time. While he needs more development time, I like his long-term future and definitely think he'll emerge as a valuable roto contributor.
John Peralta, 20, SS-R
Peralta performed impressively in his first year in AA despite only turning 20 in May. Scouts love his defense as he only committed 21 errors in 130 games at Akron. Forty-eight extra-base hits indicate solid power potential, and only a middling .79 contact rate will prohibit him from earning a starting job in the majors by 2004. He's maintained a walk rate of .10 or better at every level of the minors, so the only weakness in his game appears to be a lack of speed. Like every other Indians' prospect, the depth of the system might prevent quick advancement, but nearly all these prospects still seem likely to succeed at higher levels.
Scott Pratt, 25, OF/2B/3B-L
Pratt's one of the oldest hitting prospects in the Cleveland system that still possesses a solid shot at contributing in the majors. He's finally developing offensively after spending a third year at AA, and with a .70 BB:K, .14 walk rate, and 79% SB success rate, he looks ready to succeed at AAA. His position flexibility at least leaves him a great opportunity to emerge as a utility player, and while he needs more seasoning, he's finally demonstrating the skills necessary for a big league career.
Zach Sorensen, 25, 2B/SS-S
No one with a .689 OPS at AAA deserves a long look in the majors, however Sorensen never even demonstrated the talent to maintain this level of production above AA prior to 2002. He only committed 13 errors in 120 games split almost evenly between second base and shortstop, so he'll definitely emerge as a utility infielder within the next couple of years. Unfortunately his lack of power, plate discipline, or impressive speed drastically limits his roto value, so don't roster him unless you see unexpected skill development.
Jamie Brown, 25, RH Starter
Brown's now spent most of the last five years at AA, but he hasn't appeared fully healthy in any of the most recent four seasons, compiling only a total of 363 innings despite starting in nearly all of his appearances. Perhaps the combination of good stats and continually solid skills will finally allow him to begin 2003 in AAA, since while his dominance is a little weak, anyone with a 4.2 K:BB in AA and quality secondary numbers deserves a promotion. I suspect he'll settle into a relief role eventually, however he certainly appears able to contribute in the majors in the near future.
Fernando Cabrera, 20, RH Starter
Cabrera owns a great arm but barely registered as a prospect prior to this season. However after improving his skill ratios as a 20-year-old while moving to A+ and then AA without any loss in skill, he's probably the most intriguing Cleveland pitching prospect who hasn't reached AAA. While his 2.6 K:BB, 8.9 K/9, .5 HR/9, and 7.2 H/9 don't rank him with the best minor league pitchers, he could vault to the top of the prospect charts if he maintains these numbers in a full season of AA.
Lance Caraccioli, 24, RH Starter
Caraccioli simply lacks the command to continue succeeding at the upper levels of the minors. He needed over three years to master A-ball, and while his AA numbers weren't horrible at 4-2 on 48:25 K:BB in 61.2 IP with 53 H and 2 HR allowed, he slumped at AAA to a 72:47 K:BB. Given the tremendous number of solid starting prospects, I'd like to see Caraccioli converted to relief in the hope that he'd improve both his command and dominance. He doesn't seem far away from the majors, but he's certainly not ready to contribute to a roto team without skill improvement.
Jason Davis, 22, RH Starter
He neither looked particularly impressive in his two previous seasons nor his 17 starts at Kinston, but Davis' skills drastically improved at Akron to a 2.8 K:BB, 6.7 K/9, and .3 HR/9. While his respectable performance in the majors should earn him a promotion to AAA at the beginning of 2003, I'd like to see him spend most of next year in the minors as he's only started 12 games above A-ball. Scouts project him to continue developing dominance since he's 6'6", and his skill improvement merits sleeper status, although I'm uncertain as to whether he'll emerge as a contributor in the Indians' rotation or bullpen.
David Elder, 27, RH Reliever
Cleveland wisely converted Elder to relief after acquiring him from Texas for John Rocker, and now Elder should emerge as one of the more effective setup men in the league by the end of 2003. He maintained his excellent dominance in the majors while only suffering from some control problems, but since he didn't miss any target ratios in either AA or AAA, I'm not worried about his 5.5 walk rate in only 23 innings. I'll be comfortable rostering Elder at a buck or two, especially as he's probably the second best Cleveland candidate for saves after Danys Baez.
Alex Herrera, 22, LH Reliever
Herrera should spend most of 2003 in AAA after a solid season at AA, however he also struggled in his brief time at Buffalo, only managing a 5:8 K:BB in 7 IP over 5 G with 10 H and an 11.57 ERA. He owned a 3.2 career walk rate prior to this year before slumping to a 4.4 BB/9 in AA, so he'll need to continue developing his command if he wants to remain successful in higher levels. Like nearly all lefty relievers, you should probably wait to see both his effectiveness and role in the majors before looking to add him.
Ryan Larson, 23, RH Reliever
Since the Indians selected him in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, he's compiled a ridiculous 210:52 K:BB in 203.1 innings. While I'm unsure if he can maintain his dominance at higher levels, I also see little reason he shouldn't continue developing into a solid middle reliever. Larson should spent most of 2003 at AAA refining his skills, and I suspect he'll be ready to contribute to the Indians' pen by the end of the season.
Cliff Lee, 24, LH Starter
Most analysts considered him the sleeper in the Bartolo Colon trade after a fantastic early season at Harrisburg where he went 7-2 on 105:23 K:BB in 86.1 IP with 61 hits. His numbers were far less impressive after joining Cleveland, and he just managed a 54:40 K:BB between the three highest levels of the system. However, Cleveland appears set to rush him to AAA after the trade, though he should continue emerging as a dominant starter. Lee desperately needs at least a half season at AAA, and after posting a 1.2 HR/9 this year, he'll need to work on limiting the longball next year. He'll struggle if forced into the rotation before at least midseason, so while he's a very solid prospect, don't expect much from him in 2003.
Dave Maurer, 27, LH Reliever
Although he's now a free agent after Cleveland outrighted him off the roster, he owns some impressive career ratios at AAA, including a 2.9 K:BB, 9.9 K/9, and a 7.6 H/9. His problem is a 1.2 homer rate, which doesn't look particularly bad but still limits his value. I'd rather see Maurer on a big league team than most of the two-dozen left-handed free agent relievers, but he's not reliable for roto purposes until he establishes himself over a few months in the majors.
Ricardo Rodriguez, 23, RH Starter
With only six AAA starts under his belt, Rodriguez is not ready for the majors, and his almost non-existent command at the big league level demonstrates his need for more development time. The Dodgers promoted him to AAA due to his 1.99 ERA and 3.4 K:BB, completely ignoring his unimpressive 5.8 K/9 and the fact most pitchers need more than 11 starts at AA. Rodriguez remains an impressive prospect with a very bright future, but do not bid on him with the expectation of more than a couple dollars of positive value in 2003.
Ted Rose, 29, RH Starter
Montreal moved him back into the rotation last year after three years exclusively in relief, but despite his decent numbers, Rose's 2002 performance suggests he has a better shot of reaching the majors out of the bullpen. Both his weak dominance and inconsistent command indicate he needs to return to relief work in AAA before anyone will give him a promotion, but his 2003 upside depends entirely on which franchise he joins next season. Avoid Rose until he demonstrates better skills than he managed this year.
Carl Sadler, 26, LH Reliever
Sadler turns 26 today, and right now he appears likely to enter Spring Training as Cleveland's primary left-handed reliever. He demonstrated very little in four minor league seasons until exploding with a 78:18 K:BB in 62.1 IP at A+ Kinston in 2001, however he's also only allowed 10 homers in 310.1 professional innings for a fantastic .3 homer rate. Even though he only managed a 13:8 K:BB in 18.2 AAA innings, I liked his early performance with the Indians so much that I rostered him as inexpensive roster filler for the last month and wasn't disappointed with his 4.43 ERA or 1.28 WHIP. While I'd like him to see another month or two in the minors, he produced sufficiently in Cleveland where I'm confident in recommending him when you need a cheap reliever for two weeks who won't hurt you.
Roy Smith, 26, RH Reliever
He was ready for the majors this season after an 86:29 K:BB in 74 IP with 59 H and 2 HR allowed in his first year of AAA in 2001. Of course aside from a drop in dominance, he registered another impressive set of numbers in 2002. I see no reason for Smith not to spend at least the first couple of months of 2003 in Jacobs Field, and I'd be comfortable drafting him in Dollar Days if I needed an inexpensive reliever with a marginal chance for saves. Cleveland needs to promote him since Smith has nothing left to prove at AAA.
Jason Stanford, 25, LH Starter
Like the Mariners, who lost five players in last year's Rule 5 draft, Cleveland appears likely to lose a few pitchers this December. I haven't seen Stanford discussed in the same class with Lee, Tallet, and Traber, but this lefty starter owns skills to rank with any of the more heralded prospects. He excelled in both the AFL and the World Cup while pitching for Team USA last season, and he continued improving his ratios while repeating AA for most of 2002. With a solid performance for a couple of months at AAA next year, Stanford should be ready to join Cleveland's rotation and find almost immediate success.
Brian Tallet, 25, LH Starer
None of Cleveland's upper level pitching prospects so far, including Cliff Lee, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Jason Stanford, appear ready for the majors, and Tallet also needs another couple of months at AAA after only compiling a 25:16 K:BB in 44 IP over 7 GS. A 6.4 K/9 at AA is far below what we expected after a 9.2 K/9 in his first full season at A+ Kinston in 2001. Given his lack of dominance and his command problems at AAA, the Indians need to resist the temptation to promote him until he demonstrates solid skills in the minors. The combination of his questionable readiness and the competition from his teammates also makes him a poor selection in most minor league drafts.
Billy Traber, 23, LH Starter
Although Traber's 5.4 K/9 at AAA is far less than what I'd like to see from a prospective major leaguer, he's the lone Indians' left-handed starter that appears ready to start in the majors. Hopefully Cleveland signs a couple of inexpensive veterans so that Sabathia, Drese, and Traber will be slotted lower in the rotation, since otherwise Traber will struggle to win many games. He certainly possesses the command necessary to succeed with the Indians now, although even Traber would benefit from more minor league time. However with over a half-dozen prospects deserving to pitch at AAA next year, I'll be very surprised if he doesn't start in Cleveland before the end of April. Consider a minimal bid if he's in the middle of the rotation, but he'll have more roto value if the Indians can slot him again weaker opponents.
Minor League Draft
Grady Sizemore, 20, OF-L
Sizemore is developing as a classic leadoff hitter and should reach the majors in late 2004, essentially filling the role Cleveland expected Matt Lawton to occupy before his injury. While a terrible stolen base success rate of 59% and relative lack of power certainly worry me, Sizemore's great plate discipline, including a .97 BB:K, .16 walk rate, and .83 contact rate, all suggest he at least should maintain a good batting average as he reaches the upper levels of the system. I also expect him to develop power in the next couple of years since he only turned 20 in August. His offensive profile makes him a solid draft pick as long as you recognize that he won't reach the majors for even a brief look until next September.
Travis Foley, 19, RH Starter
I almost lumped Foley with the prospects listed below until I saw that John Sickels also really liked his debut last year. A 4th round pick in 2001, Foley won't even turn 20 until next March, and both his stats and skills in his first year of full-season ball were fantastic. A 3.1 K:BB, 9.0 K/9, .6 HR/9, and 7.1 H/9 all indicate he possesses both the command and dominance to continue succeeding in higher levels. My only concern regarding Foley is that he's not likely to reach the majors until mid-2004 so Cleveland won't need to protect him for the 2003 Rule 5 draft. Only draft him in the deepest of leagues since he also seems like potential trade bait as Mark Shapiro looks to add veteran contributors to the major league roster in a year or two.
J.D. Martin, 19, RH Starter
While Dan Denham, Cleveland's first selection in the 2001 draft at 17th overall, didn't demonstrate the expected command or dominance in his first year of full-season ball, Martin, selected last year at 35th overall, is on the track for stardom. He struck out 14 of the 16 batters he faced in his fourth professional start, and he may own one of the best fastballs of any pitching prospect. However all four of his primary skill ratios were slightly below Travis Foley's, although they're still good enough to indicate he'll continue this performance next season in the Carolina League. I also believe he's more likely to reach Cleveland before Foley, since teams prefer to keep their first round draft picks in the system when they're successful, especially those that received a $975K signing bonus like Martin. If you're looking to draft Foley, take Martin one pick sooner since even though I prefer Foley at the moment, their respective situations give the latter slightly higher upside.
Wait 'til 2004
Eric Crozier, 24, AA Akron(EL) 1B-L
Jose Colon, 25, AA Akron(EL) RH Reliever
Current organizational ranking by potentially helpful fantasy depth, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, and consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from lower in each system:
1. Cleveland Indians(B.Phillips, V.Martinez, A.Escobar, & a dozen young SP)
Aside from Brandon Phillips, nobody else in the Cleveland organization, except perhaps Victor Martinez, is guaranteed to find enough playing time to succeed with the Indians. While several of the pitchers are certainly attractive prospects, I'd generally rank all of them slightly lower than similar prospects in any other system since we don't know which youngsters will emerge over their teammates.
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