Indians Top 10 Prospects
By Jim Ingraham
The Indians spent the second half of the season replenishing their minor league system and evaluating the young players they acquired in those trades. They now have more prospect depth than any franchise in the game.
The midseason deals landed five players who made 2002 Top 10 Prospects lists with their previous organization: Expos infielder Brandon Phillips and outfielder Grady Sizemore, Dodgers righthander Ricardo Rodriguez, Cardinals outfielder/first baseman Luis Garcia and Reds first baseman/outfielder Ben Broussard. Cleveland also got players whose stock rose during the season, including Expos lefthander Cliff Lee, Dodgers righthander Alberto Cruceta and lefty Lance Caraccioli, Cardinals outfielder Covelli Crisp and Athletics infielder Marshall McDougall.
That influx of talent, coupled with emerging prospects already in the system and products of a strong 2002 draft gives the Indians hope their rebuilding can be completed sooner rather than later.
With the new players comes a new manager, Eric Wedge, whose background is in player development. He served Cleveland as a minor league manager for the last six years and has worked with many of the prospects.
Expectations for 2003 will be way down, especially with the departure of Jim Thome as a free agent to the Phillies. The Indians would be content if Wedge can work several of the young players into key roles and have them show progress by the end of the season.
General manager Mark Shapiros administration enters its second year hoping it will be quieter and less eventful than its first. The turbulent 2002 season included the firing of manager Charlie Manuel, the death of longtime trainer Jimmy Warfield, injuries to several key players, a failed effort to retain Thome, and the acknowledgment that the clubs yearly waltz to a division title is no longer a given. Its time to look at kids, lots and lots of kids.
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSStone Mountain, Ga., 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Darryl Monroe (Expos).
Background: Of all the prospects the Indians reeled in with trades in 2002, Phillips was clearly the biggest trophy. Rated the Expos No. 1 prospect before the season, he was the marquee name in the package of prospects the Indians acquired for Bartolo Colon. It didnt take Phillips long to establish himself as the best prospect in the Cleveland organization. After settling in at Triple-A Buffalo, Phillips flashed the five-tool ability that has always excited scouts. He earned a cameo on the big league roster in September and made several eye-popping plays at second base, his new position. He moved from shortstop because of Omar Vizquels presence on the big league club.
Strengths: Phillips is a premier athlete who projects as an all-star at either middle-infield postion. As a shortstop, Phillips has drawn comparisons to a young Barry Larkin or Derek Jeter. Hitting out of a Jeff Bagwell-style crouch, Phillips has the bat speed and athletic skill to be a top-of-the-order hitter. Few middle infielders offer his combination of hitting for average and power. He has average range and plus arm strength at shortstop, and those tools play even better at second base. Phillips also has a charisma about him that stamps him as a special player. His confidence and flair sometimes annoy opponents. But he also enjoys playing the game and doesnt hide it.
Weaknesses: Phillips sometimes tries to do too much. Hell overswing when ahead in the count. He needs to drive the ball to right-center to counter the adjustments pitchers have made to attack his holes. Hes an average runner to first base and could develop into a basestealing threat, though hell have to read pitchers more effectively. Hes still learning how to turn the double play as a second baseman. Most important is his weight transfer as he comes across the bag, which can lead to him short-hopping throws to first.
The Future: Phillips will get a long look for Clevelands second-base job, especially with incumbent Ricky Gutierrez a question mark following spinal surgery. Even if he returns to Triple-A, it wont be long before he joins the Indians for good.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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