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03/29/2006 7:47 AM ET
Indians system is top-heavy in '06
Carmona, Garko, Marte, Gutierrez among top prospects slated for Triple-A
An already deep Indians farm system just got better over the offseason with the addition of third baseman Andy Marte, who will begin the year at Buffalo. (Kathy Willens/AP)

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The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, MiLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

The rich got richer during the offseason when the Indians nabbed third baseman Andy Marte from the Red Sox, adding the former Atlanta Braves top prospect to their stable full of promising Minor Leaguers. The 22-year-old Dominican joins a unique situation, in which nearly all of the club's top young talent is at the Triple-A level knocking on the door of the big leagues.

Right-hander Fernando Cabrera solidified his role as a Major League reliever by posting a 1.47 ERA in a 15-game audition last year, while newly converted first baseman Ryan Garko and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez both got their first tastes in 2005 as well. And two 22-year-old pitchers, right-hander Fausto Carmona and lefty Jeremy Sowers, are also right on the cusp, each trying to position himself to be on the other end of the phone if and when a call is made to Triple-A Buffalo for a spot starter.

Cleveland's player development department was confident enough in its own resources that the Indians were largely inactive on the free agent front during the offseason. Instead they opted to take a more "in-house" approach, giving their players a chance to perform at the upper levels.

The Indians' farm system had the sixth-best winning percentage in baseball last year, led by Double-A Akron, which won the Eastern League championship, and the Buffalo Bisons, who finished 82-62. And with so many prospects stockpiled at the top to begin this season, the organization's winning ways seem likely to continue in '06.

Five Faves

Five prospects whose names you should know:

Adam Miller, RHP
Heading into 2005, Miller was rolling through the Indians system and thought to be heading to Double-A Akron at the age of 20. Instead he was sidelined by a strained elbow ligament in Spring Training and was hit hard when he returned in June to short-season Mahoning Valley, in what was supposed to be a transition step. He went to Class A Kinston instead of Akron and never found his old form in a dozen starts there, going 2-4 with a 4.82 ERA and just 45 strikeouts in 60 innings. Effectively set back a year, the 6-foot-4 right-hander will get his shot at the Eastern League this year, fully recovered -- in the eyes of the Indians, anyway -- from his injury. No longer threatening triple digits with his fastball as he was in '04, Miller still reaches 94-96 mph with a lot of life and has a potentially devastating slider. The development of a third pitch will be key to him becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter, and his performance in 2006 will likely have a lot to say about what the future expectations for him will be.

2005 Organizational Record
LEVEL
AAA
AA
A (Adv)
A
R
R
LEAGUE
INT
EAS
CAR
SAL
NYP
APP
TEAM
Buffalo
*Akron
Kinston
Lake County
Mahoning Valley
Burlington

TOTAL:

W
82
84
76
72
33
25

372

L
62
58
64
66
43
43

336

PCT
.569
.592
.543
.522
.434
.368

.525

* Won the Eastern League Championship
Fausto Carmona, RHP
Arguably the most impressive pitcher in Indians camp this spring, Carmona would have, under usual circumstances, earned himself a spot in the Major League rotation. However, the offseason addition of Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson has relegated the 22-year-old Dominican to another season at Triple-A Buffalo, awaiting his first opportunity to pitch in the bigs. He was 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings during Spring Training, striking out eight while issuing no walks and no home runs. He and Jeremy Sowers could be as tough a 1-2 punch as there is in the International League.
Video: Fausto makes the bottom fall out

Jeremy Sowers, LHP
Neck-and-neck with Carmona heading into camp, or perhaps even a step ahead of his fellow-22-year-old hurler, Sowers fell behind in the pecking order as Carmona's strong spring earned him the title of Cleveland's "sixth starter," while the Vanderbilt product allowed four runs on 11 hits and six walks in 6 2/3 innings. However, since neither will start the season with the big club, their performances with Buffalo, if disparate enough, could determine which would get called into action if the need arises. The 2004 first-rounder has amassed only a quarter of the innings that Carmona has in his five-year career, but another season like his first, in which he went 14-4 with a 2.37 ERA while rocketing from Class A Kinston all the way to Buffalo, could render his lack of experience irrelevant.

2005 Organizational Leaders
Average
Home Runs
RBIs
Stolen Bases
ERA
Wins
Strikeouts
Saves
.326
32
100
33
2.37
14
149
25
Brian Barton
Ryan Mulhern
Jason Cooper
Eider Torres
Jeremy Sowers
Jeremy Sowers
Jeremy Sowers
Kieran Mattison
Complete MiLB statistics
Brad Snyder, OF
Through his first three professional seasons, Snyder's extra-base hit and home run numbers have increased each year, and he's averaged over 15 stolen bases for every 100 games played. His tools and athleticism are as good as those of any offensive player in the Indians' system. The one glaring area of concern is the left-hander's propensity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, too often getting himself out and racking up over a strikeout per game. The Indians' player development department closely tracks the location of every pitch its hitters see, and director John Farrell says that when Snyder stays within the strike zone, he is one of the system's top two offensive players, but when he chases offerings, he goes near the bottom of the list. His primary area of focus heading into the 2006 season, fittingly, is improving his two-strike approach in order to cut down on his strikeouts (158 in 133 games in '05) and reduce the number of times he gets himself out.
Audio: Snyder homers for Team USA in Olympic qualifier
Listen to Snyder collect an RBI single in AFL play
Audio: Snyder drives a two-run triple for the Mesa Solar Sox
Audio: Snyder cashes in on payoff pitch

Andy Marte, 3B
Chipper Jones was a roadblock in Atlanta, and Marte took a detour through Boston to Cleveland, where Aaron Boone seems like little more than a bump in the young Dominican's road to success. The 22-year-old will return to the International League, where he hit .275/.372/.506 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs with Richmond a year ago, but if Boone were to get off to a slow start like he did in 2005, Marte could get his first real crack at the big leagues. He shined in Spring Training, batting .359 with a team-high six doubles to go with a home run and nine RBIs. Teamed with Ryan Garko and Franklin Gutierrez at Buffalo, the Bisons will have a stout heart of the order.
Watch Marte line a single against his new team

Others to watch: Michael Aubrey, 1B; Brian Barton, OF; Andrew Brown, RHP; Cody Bunkelman, RHP; Fernando Cabrera, RHP; Jake Dittler, RHP; Ryan Garko, 1B; Franklin Gutierrez, OF; P.J. Hiser, 1B; Justin Hoyman, RHP; Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B; Aaron Laffey, LHP; Scott Lewis, LHP; Chuck Lofgren, LHP; J.D. Martin, RHP; Edward Mujica, RHP; Ryan Mulhern, 1B; Pat Osborn, 3B; Nick Pesco, RHP; Rafael Perez, LHP; Tony Sipp, LHP; Eider Torres, 2B; Matt Whitney, 3B
Watch Garko's 13th homer of 2005
Audio: Garko makes it back-to-back jacks for Mesa
Listen to Gutierrez line a double down the line
Audio: Gutierrez discusses playing for Venezuela in the Caribbean Series
Audio: Hiser pounds on a fastball for his fifth homer of the year
"Watch out Appy League, P.J. Hiser's gonna get hot"
Audio: Mulhern crushes one, gives Akron a 2-0 lead
Audio: Pat Osborn talks about his hot playoff hitting

Cinderella Story

Jason Stanford, RHP
As an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina-Charlotte, Stanford developed a handy little routine in his first few seasons, in which he would pitch well throughout the season and then even better in a late-season call-up to the next level. He did it in his first season (2000), when he went 11-7 with a 2.66 ERA between Low-A Columbus and High-A Kinston and then allowed one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings in his lone start at Double-A Akron. In 2001 the pattern was even more pronounced, when the 6-foot-2 southpaw went 6-11 with a 4.07 in 24 Eastern League starts and then tossed a three-hit, 10-strikeout complete game shutout for Triple-A Buffalo. The trend continued in '02, when Stanford went 10-4 for Buffalo and then went on to post a 3.60 ERA in 13 games for the Indians. He won a spot in Cleveland's starting rotation in 2004 and had allowed just one run in his first 11 innings when he heard his elbow pop during his second start. After "Tommy John" surgery, he made a successful return last year, going 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA at four different levels, from short-season to Triple-A. Despite being hit hard in Spring Training this year, Stanford seems to have his velocity back without any added effort, and the Indians think he could provide starter help at the Major League level by June.

Primed for breakout in 2006

Matt Whitney, 3B
A former first-round pick, Whitney has played only 180 games since being drafted out of Palm Beach Gardens High School (Fla.) in 2002, thanks to a broken leg he suffered during while playing basketball during his first Spring Training. Farrell says that by all observations, the 6-foot-4 third baseman has regained his form from '02, when he hit .286 with the 10 homers (fifth-most home runs in the Appy League) and 33 RBIs. The Indians also thinks that if Whitney gets back to where they anticipated he'd be, the 22-year-old could impact their system more than anyone.

Scott Lewis
Nursed along slowly after having "Tommy John" surgery during his sophomore season at Ohio St., Lewis has pitched just 21 innings in his first two seasons. Last year he was limited by a strained bicep, and at 22, he's yet to have risen above the short-season New York-Penn league. He's going to skip a level and start at High-A Kinston in 2006, and provided he stays healthy, the 6-foot lefty could finally realize the potential that landed him a nearly half-million dollar deal in 2004.

2005 draft recap

1. (14) Trevor Crowe, OF
.251-1-29, 11 SB, .322 OBP, .331 SLG

The Indians aren't reading too much into their first-rounder's lackluster debut last summer. Farrell thinks that Crowe's first full season after having an offseason to recuperate will provide a better barometer of his skills, and says that the 22-year-old University of Arizona product has looked much improved in instructional league and Spring Training. He'll man center field for Kinston but could move quickly.

1s. (33) John Drennen, OF
.238-8-29, 6 SB, .325 OBP, .435 SLG

Drennen's first 20 games were certainly forgettable, as the 5-foot-11 outfielder was held hitless in 11 of them and collected a single safety in the other nine. He was batting .138 at that point, but rallied to hit .301 the rest of the way out and ended up with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 51 games. Still just 19, the left-handed swinging outfielder will probably be a half-step behind Crowe, playing center at Low-A Lake County.

2. (62) Stephen Head, 1B
.308-10-50, .349 OBP, .512 SLG

Just the opposite of Drennen, former Ole Miss two-way star Stephen Head got his rookie season off to a blistering start by hitting six home runs in his first 10 games at Mahoning Valley before being bumped up two steps to High-A Kinston. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman more than held his own there, too, batting .286 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 47 games. Overall, he hit .308/.349/.513 with 10 roundtrippers and 50 RBIs. Based on that success, Head could have a monster year as he returns to the Carolina League to start 2006.
Listen to Head drive a double down the line
Stephen talks about the Carolina League playoffs

3. (94) Nick Weglarz, 1B
.231-2-13, .313 OBP, .347 SLG

Of the Indians' top five picks in '05, Weglarz was by far the youngest -- he was still 17 when the season ended -- and has the furthest to go. He went 0-for-4 with four whiffs in his professional debut setting the tone for what would be a trying season as the youngest player in the Appy League, especially against southpaws, against whom he hit just .185 with one RBI in 54 at-bats. He was likely going to stay at extended Spring Training anway, but he's also recovering from a bone bruise in his wrist and will probably return to Mahoning Valley in June.

3. (102) Jensen Lewis, RHP
4-2, 3.20 ERA, 59 IP, 11 BB, 59 K

Due to his maturity on the mound and a solid rookie campaign, Lewis will be one of just three players to make the jump from last year's Mahoning Valley squad straight to Kinston to start 2006 (the other two are Scott Lewis and Joe Ness). A teammate of Sowers at Vanderbilt, the 6-foot right-hander is similar in that he's not overpowering and doesn't have great stuff but is smart and crafty. Lewis documented his first trip to Spring Training for MLB.com.

Best of the rest: RHP Joe Ness (6th round) was a NYPL All-Star, going 4-2 with a 1.67 ERA and 68 Ks in 59.1 IP while holding Mahoning Valley opponents to a .234 average ... RHP James Deters (7th) posted a 2.97 ERA in 14 starts for Mahoning Valley ... RHP Ryan Edell (8th) had a 2.95 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning for the Scrappers in the NYPL ... 3B Nicholas Petrucci (11th) showed some power at Burlington, hitting eight homers in 58 games ... LHP Thomas Cowley (26th) was 3-3 with two saves and a 3.43 ERA while striking out 47 in 42 IP and holding opponents to a .205 average at Mahoning Valley ... LHP Matt Loberg (31st) recorded seven saves, a 2.29 ERA and a .244 OPP AVG for Mahoning Valley.

PREDICTIONS

Organization MVP: Snyder. Both Snyder and Head will be returning to levels at which they proved themselves capable in a small sample size last year, but Snyder has the more proven track record, giving him the slight advantage over the younger slugger.

Cy on the farm: Tony Sipp. A darkhorse pick, to be sure, with all the proven arms in the system, but Sipp has dominated hitters at each of his first three stops and has far exceeded all projections and expectations to this point. The Indians feel like he's ready to burst onto the scene in 2006 even more so than he did in '05 when he went 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA, 130 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings and a .200 opponents' average. If he tops those numbers, he should be toward the front of the line for organizational pitcher of the year honors.

Buffalo roam: With most of the Tribe's top prospects being more advanced players like Carmona, Garko, Gutierrez, Marte and Sowers, Cleveland's top-level team should enjoy success again in 2006. Buffalo finished 20 games over .500 in the International League in 2005, while Double-A Akron took home the Eastern League title after going 84-58 (.592) in the regular season. Mix in the fact that last year's EL Manager of the Year, Torey Lovullo, has graduated from the Aeros to the Bisons, too, and the Herd seems destined for a third straight trip to the playoffs. And a Triple-A championship would be a logical progression since Lake County won 97 games in Low-A before losing in the 2003 Sally League finals, and Kinston took the Carolina League title at High-A in 2004 before Akron won it all at Double-A last year.

QUOTABLE

John Mirabelli, assistant general manager
"We took this approach in the offseason to go with our own guys. You know, we weren't active in Minor League free agents; we didn't look at a lot of guys from outside our organization to come in here. We wanted to just go with our guys and give our guys an opportunity at the upper levels. And in turn, we think those guys are at the point where they could be Major League insurance, but they've also got some development ahead to be more than just a contributor at the Major League level. So we've sort of taken an in-house approach."

Jason Ratliff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.