One of the Better Farm Systems in the Twenty-First Century


Baseball America and its prospect rankings have been around since, well, it seems forever.  But in all actuality, the company, which was founded in 1980 by Allan Simpson, has been providing its prospect rankings for a little over 20 years, since 1990.

Along with baseball’s top prospects, the company does a tremendous job providing an in-depth look for every organization’s top 30 minor leaguers, often foretelling of either major league success, or failure.  And one of the more underrated – and surprising – minor league systems of the twenty-first century was, perhaps, the 2003 Cleveland Indians.

To begin with, 22 of the top 30 prospects, including all of the top 10, went on to play in the big leagues, earning between them a total of 13 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, 15 top-25 MVP finishes, one Cy Young Award, and four top-25 Cy Award finishes.  Simply put, the Cleveland farm system was loaded.

Back then, pre-2003, Brandon Phillips, according to Baseball America, was the top prospect in the Tribe minor leagues.  After struggling – and clashing with then-manager Eric Wedge – in parts of four seasons, General Manager Mark Shapiro shipped Phillips to Cincinnati for spare parts, where, unsurprisingly, he blossomed into one of the best second basemen in baseball.  He’s a career .272/.322/.434 hitter, with 130 homeruns and 139 stolen bases.

Following Phillips was Victor Martinez, the switch-hitting catcher-turned-designated hitter who’s posted a .303/.370/.469 career line, with 143 homeruns, 741 RBIs, and 275 doubles.  Next on the list was Cliff Lee, who, simply, has developed into of the ten best pitchers in all of baseball.  Rounding out the top ten were Jeremy Guthrie, Travis Hafner, who before injuries was a top hitter in baseball, Ricardo Rodriguez, Grady Sizemore, another star-crossed, injury-plagued player, Billy Traber, Brian Tallet, and Jason Davis.

That’s seven players – Phillips, Martinez, Lee, Guthrie, Hafner, Sizemore, and Tallet – just in the team’s top 10 prospects with long, successful Major League careers, all of whom continue to play nearly a decade later.

There’s one thing about the Tribe system of 2003: It wasn’t just loaded with talent at the top, it was deep.

The fifteenth prospect, Josh Bard, continues to carve out a long career (2011 was his tenth season in the big leagues) as a backup catcher.  Ranked two spots behind Bard was Jhonny Peralta, a first time All-Star in 2011.  Peralta, one of the more underrated players in baseball, has been inconsistent, but has been worth nearly 22 wins above replacement throughout his career.

Former player Ben Broussard, who appeared as the #23 prospect, posted an OPS+ of 105 during seven seasons, with a career line of .263/.324/.450, and two spots later was Ryan Church, a solid fourth outfielder during his prime.  And the second best player ranked outside of the top 10 was Covelli “Coco” Crisp, was barely made the top 30; he was number 26.

Crisp turned in another solid season in 2011; he hit .264/.314/.379, a decent drop from his career numbers, .275/.330/.406, but led the American League with 49 stolen bases.

The team’s top 30:

  1. Brandon Phillips, 2B, career 9.5 bWAR
  2. Victor Martinez, C/1B/DH, 27.7 bWAR
  3. Cliff Lee, SP, 29.0 bWAR
  4. Jeremy Guthrie, SP, 17.4 bWAR
  5. Travis Hafner, DH,  22.8 bWAR
  6. Ricardo Rodriguez, SP, 0.4 bWAR
  7. Grady Sizemore, CF, 28.5 bWAR
  8. Billy Traber, SP/RP, -0.9 bWAR
  9. Brian Tallet, SP/RP, -0.1 bWAR
  10. Jason Davis, SP/RP, -0.2 bWAR
  11. Corey Smith, 3B, 0.0 bWAR
  12. Francisco Cruceta, RP, -0.9 bWAR
  13. Alex Escobar, OF, -0.4 bWAR
  14. J.D. Martin, SP, 0.5 bWAR
  15. Josh Bard, C, 2.7 bWAR
  16. Dan Denham, SP, 0.0 bWAR
  17. Jhonny Peralta, 3B/SS, 21.7 bWAR
  18. Travis Foley, SP, 0.0 bWAR
  19. Matt Whitney, 1B/3B, 0.0 bWAR
  20. Luis Garcia, 1B/OF, 0.0 bWAR
  21. Alex Herrera, RP, 0.1 bWAR
  22. Fernando Cabrera, RP, -0.3 bWAR
  23. Ben Broussard, 1B/LF, 2.2 bWAR
  24. Sean Smith, SP, 0.0 bWAR
  25. Ryan Church, OF, 5.8 bWAR
  26. Coco Crisp, CF, 19.9 bWAR
  27. Chris De La Cruz, SS, 0.0 bWAR
  28. Micah Schilling, 2B, 0.0 bWAR
  29. Carl Sadler, RP, 0.4 bWAR
  30. Brian Slocum, RP, -0.2 bWAR

Overall, the top 30 has been worth 185.6 wins above replacement – 185.6!  Not too bad for one farm system.  It’s a shame the organization couldn’t have captured more glory on the field.


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