If you’ve been following the Cleveland Indians prospect talk this year, you know that the Tribe’s farm system isn’t what it used to be. Promotions, trades, injuries, and underperformances have turned what looked like one of the best organizations in baseball a year ago into one of the worst now.
But a lack of impact prospects shouldn’t be mistaken for a dearth of young talent. The Indians have plenty of high-ceiling building blocks who are still green behind the ears, and that’s reflected in this year’s edition if USA Today Sports Weekly‘s “100 Names You Need to Know” list. Rather than listing each organization’s top prospects, Sports Weekly‘s staff listed the players who had more innings or plate appearances in the minors last year than in their entire MLB careers (a player who had 200 MLB at-bats last year would no longer be considered a prospect, but he’d qualify for this list) who are “most likely to make a mark in 2012.”
When I opened my issue of Sports Weekly a few days ago, I found six Cleveland players listed as among the brightest burgeoning stars in the game. To put that number in perspective, I haven’t seen a single Top 100 prospects list this winter that included more than one Tribe prospect. Only the Athletics (eight) and Padres (seven) had more representatives than the Indians.
The first Cleveland player to make the list is Jason Kipnis, who comes in at No. 17. He’s followed by No. 37 Lonnie Chisenhall. A year ago, these two were the best position-player prospects in the Indians’ farm system, but both got too much experience with the parent club in 2011 to qualify as rookies. If they were still prospects, the Tribe’s farm system would probably rank significantly higher in most analysts’ eyes.
Coming in at No. 51 is a less obvious candidate for this list: Ezequiel Carrera. Paul White praises Carrera’s tools, calling him a “contact hitter with good speed” and a “solid center fielder.” Behind him is No. 62 Jeanmar Gomez—the most surprising pick, in my opinion—who will be in the mix to win a rotation spot this spring.
Finally, two Indians players who still count as prospects make appearances on the list: No. 80 Nick Hagadone and No. 82 Cord Phelps. White sees Hagadone as “an effective late-innings guy,” and says Phelps would be “a top second-base prospect” for a team that didn’t have someone like Kipnis blocking him.
These rankings aren’t authoritative, and the fact that Bryce Harper is not on this list emphasizes that these rankings are just about 2012 and are not statements about which young players will have the best futures. But in the case of the Indians, this is a more accurate way to judge their crop of young players than ignoring the ones who have lost rookie eligibility.