Before the 2007 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now, it's time to recap all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.
It was a great year for several organizations that have developed reputations for consistently building from within. The Colorado Rockies made it all the way to the World Series with a club that was largely homegrown. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the National League West with a squad that was also made up largely of its own farm system products.
But the best record in baseball overall? That was shared by the world champion Boston Red Sox and the upstart Cleveland Indians, who both finished the season at 96-66.
And the Indians, who won the AL Central before falling to the Sox in the playoffs, are yet another team that has ridden a strong commitment to an outstanding farm system all the way to the postseason.
In fact, in our preview, we called the Indians "the poster child for building from within."
The Indians are one of the names that always come up quickly in any discussion about a loaded and crowded farm system and one that always has been willing to bring its prospects to the big leagues rather than automatically turn to the free-agent market.
Among its top homegrown products this year, look no further than 2007 Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, a former first-round pick by the Indians, as well as catcher Victor Martinez and Cy Young vote-getter Fausto Carmona.
As we explained early, it doesn't hurt that Indians GM Mark Shapiro came up through the system via the player development route. So he certainly understands the value of that department.
In fact, even Shapiro's staff has turned into top prospects, with newly minted Pirates GM Neal Huntington a perfect example.
The Indians compiled a .522 winning percentage in the Minors this year, seventh overall, with Double-A Akron making it to the Eastern League Finals (a spot they seem to reach perennially) and Class A Advanced Kinston finishing with an 87-52 record, second in the full-season ranks.
The organization's depth was particularly apparent during the recent Rule 5 Draft at baseball's Winter Meetings. In a pitcher-heavy draft, two position players were taken in the first round and both were Indians prospects -- outfielder Brian Barton, who was taken by the Cardinals, and first baseman Matt Whitney, who went to the Nationals.
Organizational Players of the Year
Brian Barton, OF: After hitting .324 in two professional seasons coming and coming off a 2006 campaign in which he combined for 19 homers, 83 RBIs and 41 steals between Kinston and Akron, we gave the multi-tooled Barton the nod for '07. His numbers dipped, but not that much -- he combined to hit .305 with 10 homers, 66 RBIs and 21 steals between Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in the late summer of 2004 out of Miami, where he was an aerospace engineering major -- he scared off teams who thought he'd complete his degree before turning pro -- the Indians snuck in and grabbed him. However, that early sign made him 40-man eligible this past winter. He underwent surgery for a chronic knee injury, the Indians left him off their roster and the Cardinals took him with the 10th pick in the Rule 5 Draft (a healthy Barton likely would have been on the 40-man or taken with the first pick).
Video: Barton blasts a two-run shot
Chuck Lofgren, LHP: The young southpaw was Carolina League Pitcher of the Year in 2006 as he went 17-4 with a 2.32 ERA at Kinston. This year, in a full season at Double-A Akron, those numbers dipped to 12-7 and a 4.37 ERA, but his 130 strikeouts led the organization and his 12 wins tied for second. He struggled a bit with his consistency, but as one of the youngest pitchers in the Eastern League at 21, the 2004 fourth-rounder still has a huge ceiling.
Audio: Lofgren gets his eighth K
As chosen by the author, not the organization
Jordan Brown, 1B: Brown has been overshadowed by players with bigger names and glitzier stats, but no one has been better or more consistent across the board in the last two seasons than the 2005 fourth-round pick out of Arizona. And he's backed it up by winning back-to-back league MVP awards, this year in the Eastern League. At Akron, the left-handed batter won the batting title with a .333 average and led the loop with 161 hits. His gap power provided 11 homers and 36 doubles and he drove in 76 runs. He returned to his original position at first base after playing the outfield at Kinston in 2006.
Audio: Brown blasts one
Audio: Brown hits the foul pole
Aaron Laffey, LHP: Maybe the pitching version of Jordan Brown, Laffey is a guy who always seemed to be in the shadows of bigger names but always put up the numbers in whatever role he was placed. This year, he put them up all the way to Cleveland. In our preview, we said, "It's almost hard to believe someone with Laffey's consistently impressive numbers could still be under the radar, but he has always been pitching in the shadows of some very highly regarded teammates." This year, he came out of those shadows, posting a 2.31 ERA in six games at Akron and a 3.08 at Buffalo, combining to go 13-4 before moving up to Cleveland. A 2003 16th-round pick out of high school, Laffey led the organization in wins and was second in ERA. He's a finesse guy who gets ground balls and has great mechanics.
Audio: Laffey fans his ninth
Audio: Laffey K's two in a row
Climbed the Ladder
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Acquired from the Mariners in 2006 in a midseason trade for Eduardo Perez, Cabrera hit a .310 with eight homers, 57 RBIs and 25 steals between Akron and Buffalo before going up to the big leagues and making a huge splash down the stretch. A shortstop in the Minors but a second baseman in Cleveland in September, he can play both positions well and has a strong arm. The switch-hitter has gap power.
Audio: Cabrera slams the Curve
Audio: Cabrera rips a walk-off shot
Ben Francisco, OF: A consistent hitter who batted .274 down the stretch for the Indians, Francisco was second to Brown in the system this year, hitting .318 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 95 games at Buffalo. The 2002 fifth-round pick out of UCLA has a nice combo of power and speed.
Video: Francisco hits a go-ahead slam
Audio: Francisco clears the fence
Rafael Perez, LHP: Perez spent minimal time in the Minors this season, coming up to Cleveland in late May, limiting opponents to a .187 average and posting a 1.78 ERA in 44 games. A starter in the Minors, he posted a 3.66 ERA in eight games at Buffalo before moving into the Indians' bullpen, where he was one of the most reliable left-handed specialists in the bigs. Somehow, he did not receive a single vote in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Perez came into 2007 with a 2.86 ERA over five pro seasons, thanks to a fastball in the 90s and a plus slider.
Kept Their Footing
Adam Miller, RHP: The team's top pick in 2003 is still its top pitching prospect, despite stumbling a bit in 2007. Coming off of a season in which he was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, going 15-6 with a 2.75 ERA with an organization-best 157 strikeouts, he had his share of injuries in 2007, including finger trouble in May and elbow problems in July that also plagued him in the past. His once-100 mph fastball is now in the mid-90s and he still has a plus changeup, but he barely pitched after June, posting a 9.64 ERA in three games at Buffalo after that. He did throw for Akron in the Eastern League playoffs and saw limited time in the Arizona Fall League. Overall, he was 5-4 with a 4.82 ERA in 19 games, including 11 starts.
Audio: Miller fans his eighth
Video: Miller chats with MiLB.com
Trevor Crowe, OF: A 2005 first-round pick out of Arizona, the speedy center fielder was third in the system with 28 steals. He hit .259 but after struggling mightily the first half, he put things together and batted well over .300 from June on. He has good plate discipline and can play all three outfield spots.
Audio: Crowe clears the bases
Video: Crowe checks in with MiLB.com
David Huff, LHP: The club's supplemental first-round pick in 2006 out of UCLA threw a handful of innings that summer and 2007 would have been his full-season coming-out party had elbow trouble not put him on the shelf for the second half. He was 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 11 starts at Kinston and walked 15 while striking out 46 over 59 2/3 innings. A polished pitcher with consistent mechanics, he proved himself healthy in the AFL and should be ready to go to start 2008.
Audio: Huff registers back-to-back K's
Scott Lewis, LHP: The 2004 third-rounder out of Ohio was added to the 40-man roster last month after posting a 3.68 ERA at Akron, fourth among Cleveland's full-season starters. His 121 strikeouts over 134 2/3 innings ranked second in the system behind Lofgren. In 2006, after missing virtually all of 2004-05 due to Tommy John surgery and biceps tendinitis, he led the Minors with a 1.48 ERA. He's not an overpowering pitcher, getting people out with a plus curveball and changeup and outstanding control.
Audio: Lewis fans his sixth
Audio: Lewis gets another punchout
Matt McBride, C: A supplemental second-rounder out of Lehigh in 2006, McBride slipped in the draft due to shoulder trouble but showed himself to be healthy in his full-season debut, hitting .283 with eight homers and 66 RBIs at Class A Lake County. He has great work ethic and makeup.
Audio: McBride doubles twice
Slipped A Rung
J.D. Martin, RHP: Once the club's top pitching prospect, elbow trouble slowed Martin to the point that he was taken off the 40-man roster following the recent trade for infielder Jamey Carroll. He posted a 4.25 ERA at Akron this year but appeared in only nine games. A 2001 supplemental first-round pick, he dominated when healthy but was healthy too infrequently. His last uninterrupted stint was 10 starts at Akron to open 2005, when he posted a 2.38 ERA.
On The Radar
James Deters, RHP: The 2005 seventh-rounder led the organization with a 2.88 ERA after topping the Carolina League with a 2.24 ERA while going 12-4. After starting full-time at Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley in 2005 (2.97 ERA) and Lake County in 2006 (3.11), he actually began the summer in Kinston's bullpen but moved into the rotation in late July, going 7-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 10 starts.
Audio: Deters strikes out the side
Jensen Lewis, RHP: Although he was overshadowed by "the other Lewis," his teammate Scott, it was Jensen who made it up first among that impressive group of Kinston hurlers. He posted a 1.38 ERA in 10 relief appearances at Buffalo after compiling a 1.85 mark in 24 games out of the Akron bullpen, combining to strike out 61 in 52 innings while walking 17. He posted a 2.15 ERA for the Indians after a mid-July callup.
Audio: Lewis gets an inning-ending K
Frank Herrmann, RHP: Undrafted out of Harvard due to elbow trouble, Herrmann throws a sinking fastball in the low-90s and a changeup. He made his pro debut at Lake County in 2006, posting a 3.90 ERA, and was the No. 2 man in the Kinston rotation this year to help lead the K-Tribe to the second-best record in the Minors. He was 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 28 walks in 146 innings.
Audio: Herrmann fans two in a row
Wes Hodges, 3B: The Indians' fourth overall pick in 2006 out of Georgia Tech hit .288 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs in 104 games at Kinston in his pro debut this year. A stress fracture in his leg at the end of his college season sidelined him for the remainder of 2006. He has good plate discipline and power to all fields, but his defense is not yet up to his bat.
Audio: Hodges flirts with the cycle
Josh Rodriguez, SS/2B: A 2006 third-round pick out of Rice, Rodriguez can play second, short and third and has some good power for a middle infielder. He hit .262 with 20 homers and 82 RBIs, tying for fourth in the organization in homers and third in RBIs.
Audio: Rodriguez hits a walk-off blast
Jared Goedert, 3B: One of the hottest hitters the first several weeks of the season, the 2006 ninth-rounder had 16 homers at Lake County before June was over, and batted .364 there. Promoted to Kinston, he slowed a bit and was hobbled by shoulder issues, batting .256 with four more homers and 23 RBIs in 56 games while missing six weeks. A patient hitter, he can play first and second as well.
Video: Goedert caps a two-homer effort
2007 Draft Recap
Beau Mills, 1B: The 13th overall pick out of Lewis & Clark State is the son of former Major Leaguer and current Red Sox coach Brad Mills. A left-handed slugger who can also hit for average, he batted .271 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 44 games at Lake County. His baseball instincts are outstanding.
Audio: Mills homers, triples
Audio: Mills' spectacular Carolina League debut
Timothy McFarland, LHP: The high school pitcher from Illinois signed late, so his pro debut will come in 2008.
Jonathan Holt, RHP: The University of Tampa product posted a 4.32 ERA in 16 games at Mahoning Valley and showed great command, walking four while striking out 27 over 33 innings.
Audio: Holt strikes out the side
OTHERS OF NOTE: LHP Brandon "Heath" Taylor (10th round) posted a 2.35 ERA in 12 starts at Mahoning Valley. ... RHP Kyle Landis (18th round) out of Pittsburgh posted an 0.33 ERA in relief at Mahoning Valley, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities and striking out 37 over 27 innings. ... LHP Garrett Rieck (29th round) out of Cal State-Chico had a 2.00 ERA in relief at Mahoning Valley, where he walked four and struck out 31 over 36 innings.