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A Look Back: The 2008 Indians Top 11 Prospects

A Look Back: The 2008 Indians Top 11 Prospects
March 1, 2012
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Rankings play a big role in baseball.  Whether it is scouts or organizations ranking prospects, or fans and commentators ranking players for fantasy baseball or just for their amusement, players are frequently ranked based on current or projected future abilities.

With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to go back in time and take a look at some of the old prospect ranking lists. While this can sometimes be a painful experience, it is still an interesting trip back in time.

I decided to start off with the Baseball Prospectus list from 2008.  In his “Future Shock” article, BP’s Kevin Goldstein gave the following list as his top eleven prospects within the Indians organization.  After the list I have summarized the future that BP saw for each player and then the reality of what actually happened.

Baseball Prospectus 2008 Top 11 Indians Prospects

  1. Adam Miller RHP
  2. Wes Hodges 3B
  3. Beau Mills, 1B
  4. Chuck Lofgren LHP
  5. Nick Weglarz, LF
  6. Aaron Laffey, LHP
  7. Jensen Lewis, RHP
  8. Josh Rodriguez, SS
  9. Jordan Brown 1B
  10. Trevor Crowe OF
  11. David Huff, LHP

1. Adam Miller, RHP

Drafted: 1st Round, 2003, McKinney HS (TX)

2008 BP Projection:  Miller was already starting to raise a lot of questions with his injury history in 2008.  BP counted the 2007 season as the second time in three years that Miller missed significant time due to injury.  The write-up mentions that perhaps it would be best to convert Miller to a reliever to save his availability.  Placing his ceiling as a reliever as a very effective closer, and as a starter, putting his ceiling somewhere around a number two starter.

2012 Reality: Miller continued to suffer from injuries and in 2009 he was shut down with a finger issue that led to reconstructive surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand.  While many thought this was the end of Miller’s baseball career, he worked his way back to AA Akron in 2011 as a reliever, but was not consistently effective.  In January of 2012 Miller signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees with an invitation to spring training. While many root for Miller to make a comeback, the chances of that grow slimmer every day and it seems almost certain that Miller will never be able to reach his potential.

2. Wes Hodges, 3B

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2006, Georgia Tech

2008 BP Projection: Coming off an impressive pro debut in High-A, Hodges had moved up to the second spot in the 2008 list.  BP called Hodges a “highly-polished offensive player . . . that features plus power.”  However, in the same breath they mention a tendency to chase pitches, with questionable range at third, and a discussion over whether Hodges is “quietly intense, or just a low-energy player.”

2012 Reality: Hodges is now a member of the San Francisco Giants minor league system, playing with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels in the Eastern League. Hodges was DFA’d by the Indians on July 27, 2010 and claimed by the Colorado Rockies on August 3. But on August 5 he was re-claimed off waivers by the Indians and sent to Triple-A Columbus where he remained until Nick Johnson needed a roster spot and he was released by the Indians.  In 74 games last year in Double-AA Hodges hit .279/.316/.434 as a 26-year old.

3. Beau Mills, 1B

Drafted: 1st Round, 2007, Lewis and Clark State

2008 BP Projection:  After a monster 2007 season Mills shot up the Indians development system and had everyone at BP dreaming of lots of backspin off the bat of the big, broad-shouldered lefty.  BP projected that in a perfect world Mills would contribute “decent average, a good number of walks, and 30-40 home runs annually.” But not before mentioning that Mills is a below-average athlete and a poor defender who is probably destined to DH and whose power-only approach could work against him at the upper levels.

2012 Reality: After being named Carolina League MVP for Single-A Kinston in 2008, Mills started 2009 in Double-AA and never left until the tail end of the 2011 season. He played 35 games in AAA last year and went .269/.326/.496 with 7 HR’s and 18 RBI. He was Tony’s #64 prospect coming into last year and will probably be more highly regarded this year after a successful 2011 campaign. At age 25 Mills certainly has not put together the professional career that many were expecting but with his power he probably has the best chance of all the corner prospects to offer the Indians the power they have lacked since Jim Thome.  This is a big year for Mills.

4. Chuck Lofgren, LHP

Drafted: 4th Round, Serra HS (CA)

2008 BP Projection: Lofgren struggled at times in Double-A in 2007 but had his impressive stretches.  Lofgren projected out with a low-90’s fastball, a baffling changeup that was arguably the best in the system and a curveball that could be plus at times. There were a wide variety of opinions on why Lofgren suddenly began to struggle, some said he lost the feel on his curve and abandoned it, some said he wasn’t aggressive enough.  Either way BP projected Lofgren to be a third starter at best and forecasted a turnaround season for Lofgren in 2008.

2012 Reality: Lofgren repeated Double-A in 2008 and responded with a dud, going 2-6 with a 5.99 ERA. In 2009 a quality start at Double-A earned Lofgren a promotion to Triple-A where he responded by going 6-10 with a 5.31 ERA.  Lofgren was taken in the Rule 5 draft in 2009 by the Milwaukee Brewers where he spent the year in Triple-A going 7-8 with a 5.19 ERA.  In 2010 he filed for free agency, and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants. He spent the year in the Giants organization, splitting most of his time between High-A and Double-A, and finishing the year with a bad outing in Triple-A Fresno where he pitched three innings, gave up five runs and walked six.

5. Nick Weglarz, LF

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2005, Lakeshore Catholic HS (ON)

2008 BP Projection: Weglarz missed almost all of his first professional season due to injury, but he definitely impressed in his 2007 season slugging 24 home runs and racking up 83 walks as a 19-year old in Single-A. BP commented on Weglarz’s linebacker build and raw power and his unusually developed plate approach for a Canadian hitter saying that he routinely waits for a pitch he can drive and then punishes it. That was the good. The bad is that BP warned us that Weglarz’s upper-cut swing would probably always limit his contact and his outfield play would be an adventure at times, leading many to see a future for him at 1B or even DH.  In the end though, BP assured us that despite his fielding, his bat can certainly play.

2012 Reality: Injuries have been the only dominant force thus far in Weglarz’s baseball career.  He has spent seven seasons in the minors and most scouts would have had him making major league contributions at least two or three years ago.  With such an advanced eye and such raw power potential Weglarz still remains one of the most intriguing prospects in the Indians’ system, though many wonder if injuries have sapped some of his power.  In his seventh season Weglarz was sent back down the development ladder, returning to Double-A Akron.  If he can’t stay healthy and put together a solid season this year, his eighth year as an Indian may be his last.

6. Aaron Laffey, LHP

Drafted: 16th Round, 2003, Allegany  HS (MD)

2008 BP Projection: Laffey paid dividends in 2007 by moving through the upper levels of the Indians minor league system and earning a position on the Tribe’s postseason roster.  In his only postseason appearance he pitched 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball.  BP accurately projected Laffey as a lefty with excellent control and solid offerings that would blow no one away but who pitches without fear and is “greater than the sum of his parts.” BP projected that in a perfect world, Laffey would be a capable 4th or 5th starter.

2012 Reality: By the time BP projected Laffey to become a capable 4th or 5th starter he had basically become just that.  Although he lost the spring training battle that year for the 5th spot to Cliff Lee, Laffey returned later that year to replace the injured Jake Westbrook and pitched fairly effectively.  Over the next several years he would bounce between Triple-A and Cleveland as well as the starting rotation and the bullpen, pitching adequately but unimpressively in either role.  On March 2, 2011 Laffey was traded to Seattle for Matt Lawson.  He pitched 42 2/3 innings for Seattle with a 4.01 ERA before being DFA’d in August.  Laffey was claimed by the Yankees, pitched once, and was DFA’d the next day.  He finished the season with the Kansas City Royals and was non-tendered in December 2011 and is currently under contract with the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2012 season.

7. Jensen Lewis, RHP

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2005, Vanderbilt

2008 BP Projection: In 2007 spring training Lewis was moved to the bullpen, a move that paid off as he became one of the Indians best relievers down the stretch in 2007.  His best pitch was his changeup to set up his low-90’s fastball. His plus changeup, with his very deceptive delivery made it extremely difficult for many hitters to make good contact. BP concluded by saying that Lewis doesn’t have the traditional stuff of a late-inning reliever, but he has had success thus far so it’s worth a shot.  Just two years after being drafted BP declared Lewis all but a finished product.

2012 Reality: Lewis remained a dependable reliever for the Tribe for the next three seasons making 135 appearances with 3.95 ERA, 14 saves and a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.  However, a disastrous spring training in 2011 (10 runs on 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings) led to an assignment at Triple-A Columbus to open the season.  In Columbus he posted a 5.14 ERA in 28 innings and was released on June 24.  In November of 2011 Lewis signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

8. Josh Rodriguez, SS

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2006, Rice University

2008 BP Projection: After starting off slow in 2007 Rodriguez finished his pro debut with a bang, belting 10 home runs in August. BP projected that Rodriguez had the bat speed and coordination to hit for power and average in the big leagues with a patient approach. In the field, BP writes that Rodriguez turns the twin-killer well and has an above-average arm.  They did point out though that while Rodriguez’s arm is suited for shortstop, his range is more suited to second and he is only an average runner on the base paths.  In a perfect world BP projected Rodriguez as an offense-first second baseman.

2012 Reality: Rodriguez made it to Triple-A Columbus in 2010 where he would hit .296 in 86 games. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft and made the Pirates opening day roster the following season.  However, he only appeared in 7 games with the Pirates before being returned to the Indians in April of 2011. The Indians traded Rodriguez to the Pirates for cash in June of 2011 and he remains in the Pirates minor league system although he has essentially lost all status as a prospect.

9. Jordan Brown, 1B

Drafted: 4th Round, 2005, University of Arizona

2008 BP Projection: In 2008 Brown was coming off an impressive string of accomplishments. In 2006 Brown won the Carolina League MVP for his Single-A performance. In 2007, he won the same honor for Double-A Akron in the Eastern League and was named Indians’ Minor League Player of the Year. But despite those accolades, Brown was not rocketing up the organizational ladder. BP called Brown, “the definition of the term ‘professional hitter”, who can hit any pitch, but with only gap power and average defense at first base.  In a perfect world BP projected Brown to be the next Lyle Overbay.

2012 Reality: Brown started the 2008 season in Triple-A and never got his first taste of the big leagues until 2010 when he underwhelmed in 92 plate appearances. Brown was designated for assignment by the Indians in January of 2011.  He passed waivers and was sent to Columbus. In May of 2011 Brown was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash.  In November Brown was granted his free agency and has signed with the Houston Astros.

10. Trevor Crowe, OF

Drafted: 1st Round, 2005, University of Arizona

2008 BP Projection: In 2007 Crowe was considered one of the best leadoff prospects in baseball. However, his 2007 season got off to a rough start as Crowe struggled to get his average over the Mendoza line until mid-season. Crowe did bat an impressive .314/.384/.428 after the All-Star break. BP forecasted that Crowe has “top of the order skills . . . gap power, and the speed to turn singles into doubles . . . and a good base stealer.” The other side of the coin however was Crowe’s center field defense, with BP writing that some are, “criticizing his jumps and routes.” BP concluded that Crowe could have the on-base skills to justify playing every day, but should be valuable enough to have as a fourth outfielder.

2012 Reality: Crowe missed almost all of 2011 with a shoulder issue, and in doing so, missed what might have been his last real opportunity with the Tribe. Crowe has never developed into a top of the order hitter and he profiles only as a borderline 4th outfielder.  In 2010 Crowe got a full season look, registering 442 plate appearances but managing only a .251/.302/.333 line. BP’s doubts about his defensive abilities have come true, with bad routes and jumps being many fans primary complaint about Crowe. Crowe was out-righted off the Indians 40-man roster in November of 2011 but made it through waivers and is in spring training as a longshot to make the team out of camp.

11. David Huff, LHP

Drafted: 1st Round, 2006, UCLA

2008 BP Projection: Coming off a solid year in High-A Huff projected out to a fourth or fifth starter if he kept working on his secondary offerings.  Huff relies on his changeup for success since his fastball tops out around 89 MPH with BP forecasting that if he can develop a breaking pitch to compliment his changeup, the lefty could become a solid, back of the rotation option.

2012 Reality: In 2008 Huff was named Indians Minor League Player of the Year and was rewarded the following year with 23 starts in Cleveland. Unfortunately, he struggled in those outings, finishing the year with an 11-8 record and a 5.61 ERA.  In 2010 and 2011 Huff has bounced back and forth between Triple-A and Cleveland, posting a combined 4-17 record with a 5.39 ERA. Huff is back in camp this spring, hoping to grab the last spot in the rotation after a strong showing at the tail end of 2011. Huff is getting awfully old to still be waiting for a rotation spot and he may be running out of chances.

User Comments

Tony
March 1, 2012 - 2:48 PM EST
Much agreed Steve. I actually just talked to Lofgren last week.....I keep in touch with him even though he is out of the org. It is going well so far, though if we are being honest he has a very, very long shot.

Dan.....interesting idea for an article. A look back at some past Top Prospect lists and comparing what they were and what they SHOULD have been. But I agree, these lists are just what they are, lists. I always make mention that the rankings should not be taken as gospel as once the season begins they change dramatically anyway by 2-3 months into the season. They should only be but guidelines to know who to keep an eye on and also who may be climbing/falling.
Dan Quinn
March 1, 2012 - 9:45 AM EST
It would be interesting to compare this list to a what the list would actually be had we knew then what we do now.

Anyways great idea article. Its a humble reminder about how fickle prospects can really be, and why deals for players like Ubaldo may not be as painful as the seem at the beginning. Of course he'll need to produce these next couple of years for that to be the case.
Steve
March 1, 2012 - 8:56 AM EST
The best story about the prospects listed above has to be Chuck Lofgren. He is making the switch from P to 1b with the Giants.

His original contract with the Indians allowed him to pitch and hit but after a home plate collision the Indians pulled the plug on that idea.

Here's a story plucked off the internet about it:

http://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/star_pitching_prospect_chuck_lofgren_to_become_hitter/8441647

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