A look back at Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 list
If you are at all like me, when you saw the Indians traded for Lars Anderson for half a second you got excited. In the back of your mind you remembered this guy was once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and was supposed to be Boston’s first baseman of the future, and a guy who was going to be their number three hitter for a decade.
Of course after that half a second it came back to me that Anderson's bat had slowed, his power never developed, and all he really had in terms of tools was an excellent eye and approach at the plate. Plus, as a bonus, he was another lefty. Steven Wright has been a very interesting player, but still he is a 27-year old pitcher in Double-A, and those kind of players typically don’t net you a future Major League anything in a trade.
Once my brain started working, it hit me how many guys the Indians have acquired or have on roster that were once top prospects in all of baseball. For all their flaws, Baseball America is still a go to for many people on prospects, and their top 100 list is something that is heavily checked out, so I thought it would be good to look at the 2009 BA Top 100 list. It was the highest Anderson every peaked on the list, and by now the players on the list should be gradable whether they are a major leaguer, a disappointment, or a straight bust.
I am going to go from highest ranked player to the lowest, tell you what BA said, what they thought the ETA would be, and then I will point out what went wrong or right with the player in question. The Indians have nine guys in their orgnaization from the listing, almost 10% of the top talent in the minors that year, so one would think that the minors should be stacked or that the Major League team would be a contender. Unfortunaely, as I hope to show, prospects are like a lottery ticket and more often than not you lose.
Lars Anderson, 1B
Rank: 17, Between Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison
BA ETA: 2009
BA comment: .404 OBP in 252 minor league games
A guy who was expected to play in the majors that year would seem like a safe bet, but he hit .233 with a .328 OBP that year in Double-A. He had done well the previous season in only 40 games at Double-A, but with the extended look he was exposed in Double-A and never fully recovered. The next year BA still ranked him as the 87th best prospect in baseball, said his best tool was his power, and graded it a 60. They changed his ETA to 2011. He did look better in 2010 and even got some time in the majors, but by the end of the year it was obvious that Anderson had faded completely as a prospect. The power he was supposed to have was not there, he could not catch up to a fastball, and looked like a bench guy. He can play LF/1B and long term might have potential as lefty off the bench or a platoon option at first base. For what he once was considered, he is pretty much a bust.
Carlos Santana, C
Rank: 26, between Brian Matusz and Matt LaPorta
BA ETA: 2010
BA comment: .311 is the difference between his 2008 and 2007 OPS
Well for the most part everyone reading this knows about Santana, and while I must say I am surprised that he hasn’t hit for a better average in Cleveland. He in many ways has been a bit underappreciated as a player in Cleveland. People called for him to be sent to Triple-A earlier in the year, and in spite of his worst year as a pro, he is still in the upper half of catchers offensively in baseball. He is only 26, and his power potential should still be something that Indians fans should be excited about long term.
Matt LaPorta, 1B/LF
Rank: 27, between Carlos Santana and Tim Beckham
BA ETA: 2009
BA Comment: 70, his power grade on the 20-80 scale
If only the BA comment was correct, what a world it would be for the Tribe. He has failed in the majors, but unlike a Lars Anderson, he has managed to stay dominant in the minors which gives me pause from calling him a complete bust. He was known as a hitter who could work counts and would rack up walks, but this skill has never shown in the majors. He posted a .711 OPS last year in the big leagues which is almost league average, but the 70 grade power is something that seems like a pipe dream. Then again my hoping that he can become an average regular might just be my own pipe dream now.
Carlos Carrasco, SP
Rank: 52, between Josh Vitters and John Castro
BA ETA: 2009
BA Comment: 46 strikeouts in 37 innings in AAA
Carrasco was the Phillies number one spec for a few years. Last year for the Tribe he seemed to be putting it together before an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery. He should be a candidate for the Indians rotation next year, but I don’t know anyone who thinks he is a front line starting option at the moment. Still, after what the Indians have had pitch for them this year, Carrasco would be a welcomed addition to the Tribe. The question for him long term is still whether or not he can find consistency and is he mentally tough enough to survive the rigors of the majors. These two knocks have been on him for his entire career. Thanks to injury, his grade is an incomplete at this point.
Aaron Cunningham, OF
Rank: 55, between Michael Inoa and James McDonald
BA ETA: 2009
BA Comment: 55 extra base hits last year, including 9 with the A’s
Cunningham was viewed as the rare centerfielder who possessed more of a corner outfielder's power. Much like LaPorta, he hit well in every stop in the minors, and there were no true signs that he would struggle once he hit the big leagues. Yet in almost 500 at bats, he has been the definition of a quad A player. One could argue that he never had an extended look and that it might be unfair to judge him, but I think for those who have seen him, there is little doubt that Cunningham is a not a major leaguer going forward.
Nick Weglarz, OF
Rank: 58, between Greg Halman and Ben Revere
BA ETA: 2010
BA comment: 71 walks, the number he drew in 106 games last season only 7 less than his strikeout total
This is the first guy on this list you truly have to wonder what might have been. Weglarz suffered through multiple injuries in his minor league career, which derailed his power and seemed to rob him of his eye at the plate. He was a revelation in the minors with his huge walk numbers and tape measure shots. Then his stock got another major boost when he played for Team Canada which included great numbers at the Olympics playing against the best talent in the world. He has rebounded this season to a degree, but his 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio along with level and age concerns means that he is sadly a bust at this point.
Lou Marson, C
Rank: 66, between Michael Saunders and Jake Arrieta
BA ETA: 2009
BA comment: 9 errors at AA highest total among catchers in the Eastern League, though he threw out 36 percent of base runners.
Marson had killed it at Double-A in 2008 with a good average and a great walk rate. The thought on Marson is that he might be a future two-hitter, an on-base machine with no power who should throw out a ton of runners. His arm until this season had lived up to the billing, and was his best skill since he reached the majors. He is down to 13% of caught basestealers this year, after averaging over 40% for his career before this year. The upside is that Marson has shown this year with his bat that he is a major leaguer. Marson has never had a bad year in the minors and has only had one extended look as a starter in the big leagues, so he still does have some intrigue and could maybe end up becoming a league average player. So while he might not be a great player, it is hard to call a major leaguer a bust.
Jason Donald, SS
Rank: 69, between Nick Adenhart and Jordan Walden
BA ETA: 2009
BA comment: 19, the number of extra base hits he had in the Arizona league, which like his average (.407) ranked second in the league.
Donald looked like a potential very good Major League starter after his 2008 year at the Double-A level for the Phillies. He had 14 home runs, 19 doubles, and a .391 OBP. He followed it up with a rough year at Triple-A, but since then really has done well in the minors. The big question with him is what would have happened if he had not got hurt prior to last year which opened the door for Hannahan. When he did return he looked good in the majors, but had a rough start to this year and lost his job to Jose Lopez. I still think he is a solid backup type, whose right handed bat could help the Indians going forward. He needs to work on his defense, because that is what has kept him from turning into a solid utility type. Still, as a 27-year old stuck in Triple-A, he probably leans more to the bust side. He has a decent bat, but seems to be a man without a real position.
Chris Perez, RHP
Rank: 91, between Daniel Cortes and Andrew Brackman
BA ETA: 2009
BA Comment: 6 saves in his first six big league save opportunities during his MLB debut last August
So the last ranked player from the nine listed for the Tribe is the one who has by far had the most success. He has made two All Star games and this year has been considered one of the top players at his position. Yes, he was ranked lower because he was a reliever, but as a guy who had already had Major League success, one would think he would have been higher than other relievers on the list. I know a lot of people are not Perez fans, but you can’t argue with his results. He has settled into the closer role, and being only 27-years old he should be doing it for years to come. My only concern with him would be his hits per nine have gone up every year and this goes along with a strikeouts per nine rate that has shown some variance as well. Still, he is a guy that is a multi-time All Star and the only All Star of this group, so he has to be a major success.
So there it is, a look at all nine players who are in the Indians system that were members of the 2009 BA Top 100.
Some might argue this is the Indians fault for either failing to identify talent or develop it, yet if you looked closely at the names noted that were ranked before and after the player a total of 25 players were mentioned and only two of them have been All Stars. I would go so far as to argue that 11 of those players are busts.
This is a small random sample size, but it goes to show that prospects are reaching a point of being overvalued in baseball. Right now a star prospect would not be traded for a star player; the top prospects in all of baseball are untouchable. Look at the trade deadline this year as the best prospect moved was Jacob Turner whose stock is down.
The Indians managed to land two starters from a list of nine players. It goes to show that while it’s nice to get the blue chip big names, that sometimes you’re better off being lucky. I mean look back at the C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee deals, there were seven players the Indians got in return (not counting Zack Jackson) and of those players the best one is Michael Brantley who along with Rob Bryson were the only players from those trades to never make a BA Top 100 list.
So why is it that the perception on these players ends up being so off? In Anderson’s case, we saw why it’s important to not get super excited by a player's performance below the Double-A level. In the case of Weglarz, we saw that injuries can just ruin a player. LaPorta showed how some guys can destroy the minors but never can make the transition to the big leagues. The other players can typically be fit into one of those three areas.
In closing, I want to try and give some hope to Indians fans. Don’t give up. Alex Gordon was the top prospect in all of baseball a few years ago. After two mediocre years, he then spent two years bouncing between the majors and Triple-A. Then at the age of 27 things clicked, and while he has not made an All Star team, he has played at an All Star level by getting on base and producing extra base hits for the Royals. For some guys it just takes longer, and right now I think all Tribe fans are going to need a little patience and hope that is the case with some of these guys.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lots of prospects put up great numbers in the low minors or even AAA but never achieve big league success. Others, like Abner Abreu, have raw tools that blow you away but never manage to translate the athletic ability into production.
Following the progress of prospects is interesting, but until they make it at the major league level you never really know what you have. Matt LaPorta excelled at every stop, including AAA, but couldn't hit much in the bigs.
I still have no idea why the Indians wanted Lars. If his bat is too slow to play at the ML or even the AAA level, what good is he?