Quite A Project Projecting Prospects

Jake Gautreau at the 2005 Triple-A All-Star Game.

No farm director ever expects every one of his top prospects to follow a smooth path up the minor league ladder. This year is no exception.

Based upon Indians Ink's Top 50 prospects in the Cleveland organization published prior to the start of the 2005 season, it is safe to say that probably half of the blue-chip players from that list have not performed as anticipated. Some of that is as a result of injury, while others have struggled as the competition level has gotten a bit tougher.

Some from the Top 50 list have played better than expected; still others have performed about as expected, and some who did not even make the Top 50 have played well enough to merit mention now.

For example, Jake Gautreau of the Buffalo Bisons wasn't on the list due to the fact he didn't arrive in a trade until just a few weeks before the start of training camp. The Top 50 list was put together last December at a time when former first-round draft pick Corey Smith was still with the organization.

Smith, who was rated No. 1 by Indians Ink a few years ago, had slipped all the way to No. 28 on this year's list. The reality of the matter is, the only reason he was even that high was because he was living off his draft status, which was the No. 1 selection for the Tribe in 2000.

When Smith, a natural third baseman, scoffed at the notion of moving to the outfield, the Indians decided it was in their best interest to part ways. Fortunately, the Tribe found another organization, the San Diego Padres, who also were looking to move a former No. 1 choice, in this case Gautreau.

Gautreau, who was the Padres' first-round choice (No. 14 overall) in 2001, had been bothered for much of his career by an intestinal problem. But now that he's healthy, Gautreau, a natural third baseman who has also seen extensive action at second base for the Bisons, looks to have regained the form that led to his being selected as a first-rounder out of Tulane University.

His ability to play second has helped fill what was a fairly big hole in the organization in terms of second base prospects. Frankly speaking, that was probably the weakest position in the organization coming into the season.

Another player who was off the radar screen before the year but is now making a name for himself is Ryan Mulhern, an 11th round draft choice in 2003 out of South Alabama University.

In 59 games at short-season Mahoning Valley in 2003, Mulhern, a 6-2, 215-pound right-hand hitting first baseman, batted .279 with five homers and 30 RBI. But he slipped to just .255 with seven homers and 42 RBI in 103 games at Lake County last year and truly failed to show the type of power you'd like to see from a corner infielder.

This year at high-level Class A Kinston, Mulhern caught fire to the tune of 17 homers and 48 RBI in just 45 games. That performance, which also included a .321 batting average, earned him a ticket to Class AA Akron, which has been hurting at first base due to highly-touted Michael Aubrey's continuing string of injuries.

Aubrey, the top-rated position player in the organization, has missed considerable time with back pain after having spent time on the disabled list the past two years with leg injuries.

The first base situation was so dire for the Aeros that they were forced to play Shaun Larkin at that spot for a considerable amount of time the first half of the year. Nothing against Larkin, but he might be the smallest first baseman in the Eastern League, standing just 5-9 and weighing 170 pounds.

Larkin, despite his size, did hit 20 homers at Lake County in 2003 and 12 last year at Kinston, but this year had just four in his first 48 games for the Aeros this year.

The combination of Larkin's lack of power and Mulhern's incredible offensive display, earned a promotion for Mulhern much sooner than most people anticipated. His numbers at Akron haven't yet come close to those he was putting up for the Little Indians – 4 homers, 14 RBI, .227 average in his first 18 games – but the mere fact he's already at Akron bodes well for his future.

When you look at the list of the Top 50 prospects, most of the blue-chippers who have struggled can point to injuries as a key factor.

In addition to Aubrey, No. 1-rated Adam Miller spent more than two months on the disabled list with elbow problems encountered in spring training. After a few unimpressive starts at Mahoning Valley, Miller moved up to Kinston in early July and has looked a lot more like the guy who last year blew away opponents at Lake County and Kinston.

Miller was 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his first two starts for Kinston, fanning seven and walking just two in 11 innings.

No. 3 prospect Fausto Carmona, despite a mediocre 6-5 record and 4.07 ERA in 14 starts for the Aeros, was promoted to Class AAA Buffalo, where he has seemed to respond very nicely to the increased level of competition.

In his first three starts for the Bisons, he was 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA. He fanned 13 and walked two in his first 21 innings, during which he allowed just 19 hits. He also was chosen to play for the World Team in the Future's Game when Fernando Cabrera was called up to the major leagues. Carmona did not get to pitch in the game.

Speaking of Cabrera, he definitely showed he deserved his No. 8 ranking and probably even better, He was nearly unhittable at Buffalo this year after coming off a disappointing spring training in which he was very hittable.

Cabrera believes the fact he didn't play winter ball resulted in his poor spring training performance that may have cost him a major league roster spot coming out of camp. But now that he is back to the majors – he made a brief appearance at the end of 2004 – it doesn't look like he'll be part of the Buffalo shuffle, ala Brian Tallet, who has been called up twice to the majors this year and sent down twice without ever making appearance.

Next week, we'll take a look at a few more of the top-rated prospects, as well as some of the guys who were on the back end of the list but have proven they deserve higher status, as well as a few guys who will likely drop off the chart at the end of this year.

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