Last season, Burning River Baseball did a month by month ranking of the top minor league prospects (which can be found here, here, here and here). This year there will be even more with a top ten list coming out each month after the season starts in addition to today's. Like last season, players are only eligible to be ranked once per year and are not considered prospects once they have played a game in the Major Leagues (Chris McGuiness is also disqualified this season because for him to remain on the Indians he needs to start the season on the Major League roster). This first top ten contains the players most likely to make their Major League debuts during the 2013 season. Last season, Cody Allen, Juan Diaz and Thomas Neal each made their debuts and saw varying amounts of success. Here are a few that may do the same this year.
1. Chen-Chang Lee – RP – AAA Columbus – 2008 International Free Agent
An injury shortened 2012 season is the only thing keeping Lee from competing for a spot in the bullpen straight out of Spring Training. In more than 150 innings at the upper minor league levels, Lee has always maintained an ERA under 3.00 and has already struck out 286 minor league batters. C.C. Lee will be in camp this year as a member of the 40 man roster, but is more likely to break onto the team mid-season if he can stay healthy.
Salazar pitched just 34 innings at Akron last season, but only allowed 7 runs and less than a single base runner per inning. Salazar is a very exciting young starter, possibly the best in the entire Indians minor league system. He will likely spend most of 2013 in AAA and may not make his debut until 2014, but he is already on the 40 man roster and could be a September call up this year.
3. Cole Cook – RP – AAA Columbus – Drafted Round 5 in 2010
Cook flew through the Indians minor league system last year and excelled the entire way. Combined over four levels, Cook held a 2.64 ERA through 78 innings. He looks to be a solid starter in the future and could definitely be used by the Indians this season if the starting rotation struggles. He could also be used in the bullpen early on, but the Indians should remain wary of that as he is a much more valuable player as a starting pitcher and shouldn't get used to pitching in short inning situations. If he makes the pros this year he will likely be the second player (after Drew Pomeranz) from the Indians 2010 draft to make it to the Majors.
Fedroff is the Indians top outfield prospect and could easily see time in the Majors this year as the roster works itself out. After having some struggles base running early last year, Fedroff went 9 for 9 in steals after being promoted to AAA. The greatest part about Fedroff is that he hits for a high batting average, something no Indian has been able to do since Victor Martinez left town. Having a utility outfielder who can reach base more than three out of every ten at bats could be extremely useful, so expect to see Fedroff very soon.
Aguilar was a top player for the Mudcats last season and made the move to Akron for the end of the year. He excelled there, playing 20 games and knocking in 13 runs. He is one of few players in the Indians minor league system with any power and is only decent first base prospect in the farm system. He should spend most of 2013 in Akron, but is definitely a player to keep an eye on. There is a reason that he was invited to Major League camp this year and didn't look out of place at all.
House had a fantastic 2012, placing himself among the Indians top starting pitcher prospects, but don't expect to see him in Cleveland this year unless things go very badly. He has yet to pitch in AAA and should need at least a full season there before he is ready for the bigs. There is a chance he could be called up this September and is definitely one to watch this Spring.
7. Trey Haley – RP – AA Akron – Drafted Round 2 in 2008
Haley played at three levels last season, ending in Akron, but only threw 38 innings. He is very efficient, striking out more than 13 batters per 9 innings at his highest level while maintaining an ERA of 2.33. He was originally meant to be a starter but has been converted to relief pitcher in recent years. The Indians protected him from the rule five draft this year by placing him on the 40 man roster and brought him to Spring Training as well. He has been assigned to Columbus this year and has little chance to see the Majors until 2014 or later.
8. Eric Berger – SP – AAA Columbus – Drafted Round 8 in 2008
Berger has a much lower ceiling than the other starting pitchers listed above, but is further advanced in his development and has had fewer injury issues. Berger performed on the World stage last fall playing for team Israel and will look to lead the 2013 Clipper staff. He is unlikely to break the Indians' starting rotation this season, but could be an option at long reliever at some point during the year.
9. Chun-Hsiu Chen – C – AA Akron – 2007 International Free Agent
Chen is the Indians top catching prospect, but has yet to play above the AA level. After two years of dominance in Akron (.285 AVG and 21 home runs in 221 games) he is certainly ready for Columbus this year and could eventually (think 2014 or later) be the future back-up catcher of the Cleveland Indians.
10. Mike McDade – 1B – AAA Las Vegas – Drafted Round 6 in 2007
McDade was a minor league, Spring Training invitee in 2013 after playing his entire career to this point in Toronto's minor league system. He had the best Spring of any Indians batter for the time he spent with the team, including an impressive walk-off hit in the Indians first game against the Reds. He is a serviceable defensive firstbaseman and has a decent amount of power. He has already hit 76 career minor league home runs, despite being just 23 years old. If the Indians tire of Jason Giambi and would like a pinch-hitter/DH/first baseman who can actually play the field, McDade could be a good fit.
This is just the upper crust of the Indians farm system. Unless the Indians pull a random player from AA this year (like they did with Juan Diaz in 2012), any new rookie is likely to come from this list. Look out for the next list of ten prospects coming out at the end of the first month of minor league play.