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Indians Indians Archive 2009 Indians Top Prospects: #40-36
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria
We're getting down to the nitty gritty, as Tony's countdown of the Top 100 Prospects in the Cleveland Indians organization moves into the Top 40. Today's quintent of potentially future Indians consists of five pitchers, one of who will open the season in the starting rotation at the Tribe's new AAA affiliate in Columbus (Frank Herrmann), and another who could potentially start the season in the Columbus bullpen (Erik Stiller).

My 2009 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More book is now available.  Click on the hyperlink for all the details, and to order it just go to my website and click on the form to the top right to complete the order with a check or credit card.  If you wish to send a check or money order by US Mail, please contact me at and I will verify the order and provide my full mailing address for you so send payment.  
We continue today with #40-36 in the Indians Top 100 Prospect Countdown.  Here are the earlier rankings:  
100. Brian Juhl (C)    
99. Brad Hinkle (RHP)    
98. Mark Thompson (SS)    
97. Adam Davis (C/INF)    
96. Adam White (OF)    
95. Jerad Head (INF/OF)    
94. Brock Simpson (1B/OF)    
93. Ryan Blair (OF)    
92. Dustin Realini (INF/OF)    
91. Shawn Nottingham (LHP)    
90. Cirilo Cumberbatch (OF)    
89. Michael McGuire (RHP)    
88. Sung-Wei Tseng (RHP)    
87. David Roberts (RHP)    
86. Jason Smit (INF)    
85. Marty Popham (RHP)    
84. Jose Constanza (OF)    
83. Adam Abraham (INF)    
82. Isaias Velasquez (2INF)    
81. Gary Campfield (RHP)    
80. Heath Taylor (LHP)    
79. Rich Rundles (LHP)    
78. Dallas Cawiezell (RHP)    
77. Robbie Alcombrack (C)    
76. Carlos Moncrief (RHP)    
75. Nate Recknagel (C/1B)    
74. Karexon Sanchez (INF)    
73. Roman Pena (OF)    
72. Kyle Landis (RHP)    
71. John Drennen (OF)    
70. Todd Martin (1B)   
69. Santo Frias (RHP)   
68. Michael Finocchi (RHP)   
67. Kevin Rucker (OF)   
66. Matt Meyer (LHP)   
65. Bo Greenwell (OF)   
64. Paolo Espino (RHP)   
63. Jonathan Holt (RHP)   
62. Vinnie Pestano (RHP)   
61. Kevin Dixon (RHP)  
60. Randy Newsom (RHP)  
59. Chris Nash (1B)  
58. Carlton Smith (RHP)  
57. Lucas Montero (OF)  
56. Steven Wright (RHP) 
55. Michael Aubrey (1B) 
54. Delvi Cid (OF) 
53. Clayton Cook (RHP) 
52. T.J. McFarland (LHP) 
51. Wyatt Toregas (C)
50. Chris Jones (LHP)
49. Chen-Chang Lee (RHP)
48. Matt Brown (OF)
47. Ryan Edell (LHP)
46. Neil Wagner (RHP)
45. Danny Salazar (RHP)
44. Jared Goedert (2B/3B)
43. Josh Judy (RHP)
42. Jeremie Tice (3B)
41. Joey Mahalic (RHP)

40. Erik Stiller - Right-handed Pitcher

Born: 07/10/1984 - Height: 6'5" - Weight: 210 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right

 21Mahoning VyA-333.2398047.1401737221.34.20.99
 23Akron AA654.13350056.24726521553.38.71.20
  Career 15163.6882174208.01858519561682.47.31.16

Erik StillerHistory:  Stiller signed with the Indians as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton University shortly after the 2006 Draft.  At Princeton, Stiller had a career record of 15-14 with a 3.60 ERA in 38 starts.  He got a big break in that several of the Indians front office personnel are former Princeton student-athlete alumni, namely General Manager Mark Shapiro and Director of Baseball Operations Mike Chernoff.  Chernoff and Stiller were former teammates on the Princeton baseball team, as Chernoff was a middle infielder and team captain his senior year in 2003 when Stiller was a freshman. He participated in the Arizona Fall League, going 0-1 with a 9.37 ERA and in 16.1 innings allowed 27 hits, 4 walks and had 16 strikeouts in 13 relief appearances.  He also had a fantastic finish to the season last year where after a rough start getting acclimated to his callup to Double-A Akron in early May, from June 26th through the playoffs in 39 total innings had a 2.05 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and .193 BAA. 

Strengths & Opportunities:  Stiller is built rock solid after gaining 15 pounds of good weight last season and is working hard this offseason looking to add more bulk to his frame.  His dedication in improving his overall physical strength has helped add velocity to his fastball, and he also made a few mechanical adjustments which has helped aide his fastball velocity.  His fastball went from topping out at 91 MPH in 2006 to the 94 MPH it tops out to now.  In addition to the fastball, Stiller also throws a cutter, curveball, and changeup. His best secondary pitch is his changeup, but being in the bullpen and it being a feel pitch he rarely uses it.  With his height at 6'5" it helps him get on top of hitters and his ball moving on a downward plane, and he is extremely intelligent. 

Stiller has had a meteoric rise in the system considering he was an undrafted free agent signing just a little over two years ago.  After finishing the 2006 season at short-season Mahoning Valley he opened the 2007 season in extended spring training and was eventually activated and rostered at advanced Single-A Kinston in late May of that year.  Since then he has impressed and moved fast in the organization where in less than two years time he finished up in Double-A Akron.  His initial callup to Akron this year was a big jump for him, and he struggled there early, but he eventually settled in and was one of Akron's most consistent relievers the second half of the season by pounding the zone as well as using and mixing his stuff a little better which allowed him to have success. 

He can start or relieve, but at this point it looks like the Indians are pretty committed to developing him as a reliever.  His over the top delivery can leave very little room for error with his release point and he does not get a lot of left and right movement on his fastball.  His main priority for 2009 is to continue working on developing a consistent release point, being more aggressive with his fastball and commanding it down in the zone, and refining his changeup.  He also needs to make sure he is throwing out front as he is pretty long. 

Outlook:  With his size and the way he goes about his business Stiller is quietly climbing the ladder and making people take notice of him, and has shown flashes of being a good middle relief prospect.  Stiller's destination to start the 2009 season is uncertain because of the Indians bullpen depth at Triple-A Columbus.  Given the logjam of relievers in the upper levels of the system, he probably will open the season in the Double-A Akron bullpen, but provided he is performing well and is healthy he should get significant time in Columbus at some point this season.

39. Ryan Morris - Left-handed Pitcher
Born: 01/10/1988 - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 175 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left

 18GCL IndiansR154.6188027.12714212214.06.91.43
200719GCL IndiansR301.8055025.013508222.97.90.84
 19Lake CountyA025.2299039.23123223315.27.01.36
200820Lake CountyA973.7627270134.0116566571013.86.81.29
  Career 13143.9650490227.0189100101021754.07.01.28

Ryan MorrisHistory:  Morris was a 4th round pick in the 2006 Draft out of South Mecklenburg High School (NC). 

Strengths & Opportunities: Morris is more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher and is what many would call a crafty lefty because he relies on hitting his spots and getting hitters to roll over on balls and putting them in play.  He features a four-seam fastball that consistently clocks in at 87-91 MPH, is a strike thrower, and sinks the ball well pitching to the bottom of the zone.  He also throws a slurvy breaking ball and changeup, with his changeup being the better of the two secondary pitches at this time.  He likes to use his fastball to get ahead in the count and then work the corners with his changeup and breaking ball.  At 6'3" 175 pounds, he has a projectable body where as he matures and fills out he should also get stronger and add a little more velocity to his fastball.  He is a fierce competitor on the mound, creates very good deception in his delivery and does a good job pitching away to left-handed batters and especially right-handed batters.  At 20 years of age has displayed outstanding makeup, and held his own in the South Atlantic League where he was about two years under the league average age. 

The development of at least one quality secondary pitch will be a key for Morris as he moves up the minor league ladder. His 12-6 curveball is on its way to being a good pitch for him and has shown good tilt and has a lot of separation from his fastball; however, the Indians feel it has such top to bottom movement that as he moves up to higher levels more disciplined hitters will lay off it as it is often a strikeout pitch he relies on throwing in the dirt.  He also needs a change to give him a breaking pitch that he can get across for strikes more consistently, so last year the Indians had him start learning how to throw a more slurvy breaking ball. 

Last season Morris did a good job keeping the ball down and using his changeup to setup his fastball.  The Indians also worked with him on his arm slot to make sure he maintains a consistent arm slot with his pitches by making sure he leads with his hips since he has a tendency to coil his body around.  He has a violent delivery where as he goes through his windup and cocks his arm back behind his head he quickly jerks and whips the ball to home plate by throwing across his body. It is a pitching style that requires sound mechanics and constant attention by the coaching staff to ensure Morris' arm slot remains consistent, which could lead to command or injury issues down the road.  In addition, he needs to continue working on refining his control and command by learning to throw quality first pitch strikes, finish hitters off, and be more aggressive in getting guys out instead of nibbling. 

Outlook:  Morris is a solid left-handed pitching prospect in the system.  His lack of a true plus pitch or surgeon-like command keeps him down on the prospect list ranking, but he should be a consistent performer in the organization for the next several years and could develop into a backend rotation major league starter.  His growth both physically and as a pitcher bears watching the next few seasons, and he should open the 2009 season at advanced Single-A Kinston.

38. Mike Pontius - Right-handed Pitcher
Born: 10/26/1987 - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 235 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right

200719GCL IndiansR002.897029.111311131.012.51.29
 19Lake CountyA035.84130024.22216312274.49.91.38
200820Lake CountyA110.82160233.0163015394.110.60.94
 20Kinston A+416.26250041.24229439428.49.11.94
  Career 554.226104108.291518671215.610.11.46

Mike PontiusHistory:  Pontius was a 43rd round pick by the Indians in the 2006 Draft out of Wentzville Holt High School (MO).  Pontius signed in August of 2006 and did not make his professional debut until halfway through the 2007 season.  Before signing with the Indians, he was set to go to college at Division-II Central Missouri State.  He was a football player in high school who decided his senior year he wanted to commit to playing baseball and has made an unbelievable transition to professional baseball. 

Strengths & Opportunities: Pontius is a strongly built kid and is armed with power stuff and a no fear mentality that projects him as a late-inning reliever - possibly a closer - down the road.  He has plus-plus arm strength with a blazing plus-plus fastball that consistently clocks in at 94-96 MPH and tops out at 97 MPH.  He has some natural cutting action and movement on his fastball even though he is not a three-quarter angle guy.  His fastball is part of a three-pitch mix where he also throws a curveball and changeup.  His knee-buckling projectable curveball is a plus-plus pitch with some good depth and bite to it.  The curveball has a sharp 11-5 break and is a swing-and-miss out pitch at the major league level.  The development of his straight changeup has been slow since he has used it sparingly and because he has spent a lot of time focusing on his fastball command.  It is a pitch that is clearly still a work in progress, and one that has gotten a lot of attention in the offseason and will continue to get attention in spring training. 

A big reason for Pontius' breakthrough last year is due to the hard work he put in last offseason by shedding about 35-40 pounds off his draft weight of 275 to a more slimmed down 240 pounds.  He has the mental skills and tools for a major league setup role, and the football mentality plays into it.  One scout compared him to a John Wetteland type where he might end up being a closer.  His delivery is compact and he pitches at an over-the-top angle so he leverages down on hitters well and creates a good angle.  He does a good job reading bats, and when he sees the hitter scuffling he goes right after that weakness.  He is able to apply instruction well and is very coachable. 

The Indians were very high on Pontius going into the season after his work in Instructional League in 2007, and he showed it early in the season last year at Single-A Lake County where through his first nine appearances he was 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA (21.1 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 6 BB, 29 K).  His dominating start forced the Indians to prematurely push him up a level to advanced Single-A Kinston in early May where the competition in the Carolina League would offer him a better challenge, but upon arriving in Kinston the wheels fell off.  He was over-excited and too amped up and struggled as a result.  The loss of his command was his undoing (39 BB, 41.2 IP), and was eventually re-assigned to Lake County in the middle of August. 

Pontius is only 20-years old, so the struggles he endured at Kinston are nothing to worry about at this point especially when you consider he was almost three years younger than the average player in the Carolina League.  At his age and with his talent he is already a lot further along as a reliever than most players. The large increase in walks after his promotion to Kinston is a byproduct of the hitters being more disciplined in the Carolina League, but also the result of Pontius putting too much pressure on himself.  Still, the Indians are continuing to work with him on consistently getting the ball in the zone and tightening up his breaking ball for strikes.  He has had a hard time repeating his delivery, which has given him some issues with his fastball command.  Also, when he loses his composure he tends to start overthrowing and has trouble duplicating his release point which leads to the walks.  He worked a lot with Kinston pitching coach Greg Hibbard on controlling his effort level and emotions on the mound, and also former Lake County pitching coach Ruben Niebla has helped him with his mechanics to get him to throw the ball more down in the zone and downhill.  Going forward, he just needs to pitch and pile up innings to continue working on his fastball command and cleaning up his delivery mechanics. 

Outlook:  Pontius came out of the gates strong last year at Lake County, but fizzled the last four months of the season upon getting a callup to Kinston.  He brings a little bit of that football mentality to the field as he has the intensity, focus and drive the Indians are looking for in a player, and he may have the highest projection of any reliever in the Indians system and is one of the tops arms in the Indians minor league cupboard.  If he can harness his fastball and control it and continue developing his curveball he has the potential to be a dominating backend reliever in the big leagues.  He should open the 2009 season in the bullpen at advanced Single-A Kinston.

37. Ryan Miller - Left-handed Pitcher
Born: 12/14/1986 - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 195 - Bats: Left - Throws: Left

200720GCL IndiansR422.4099045.02612112442.48.80.84
 20Mahoning VyA-0218.693304.19918316.66.23.93
200821Lake CountyA873.7226240125.21235213941605.38.11.57
  Career 12113.7538360175.01587315941604.88.21.44

Ryan MillerHistory: The Indians selected Miller in the 36th round of the 2006 Draft out of Blinn College (TX).  He was a draft and follow player and had a commitment to pitch for and attend the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2007, but chose to sign with the Indians in May 2007.  As a freshman at Blinn College, Miller went 6-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 68.2 innings in 2006, and as a sophomore in 2007 went 9-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 85.1 innings (15 starts). 

Strengths & Opportunities:  When Miller is locating his fastball to both sides of the plate and throwing his curveball for strikes, he displays some nasty stuff that often leaves opposing hitters reeling.  A medium frame performer, he throws a four pitch mix of a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup.  His solid-average 89-91 MPH fastball showed more life last year and he created good deception with it.  His power slider is quickly developing into a swing-and-miss pitch at the next level as while it has less break it is quicker and more of a pitch he uses to backdoor right-handers and to attack left-handers.  His curveball has good traditional 12-6 break and he commands it well to where the Indians feel that it will be a good serviceable major league pitch in the future.  He has a good feel for a changeup and it has the potential to develop into an average pitch.  The changeup showed a lot of improvement last season, and was a pitch he would even use with two strikes to punch hitters out. 

Scouts feel Miller's potential is as a depth major league starter, and that if he can refine his secondary stuff he could have greater major league value in a specialist role.  If he tightens up the slider he could throw several of them in a row consecutively and retire left-handed hitters.  He burst onto the prospect scene last year where after eight starts he was 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9.  The key to his early success and hot start was his ability to throw strikes and have good command of his fastball around the zone which helped set up and make his secondary stuff more effective.  After that hot start, however, his fastball command dropped considerably and his numbers took a serious nosedive as in his final 18 starts he was 1-7 with a 5.08 ERA, 6.8 K/9, and 6.2 BB/9. 

Miller has electric stuff, but often got a lot of hitters out on pitches that were not even close to the zone.  As a result of this, he did not earn a promotion to advanced Single-A Kinston as some expected may happen in late May because it is something he needed to hone in on because as he moves up the minor league ladder hitters will start to lay off those pitches.  Going forward, he needs to continue working ahead of hitters and consistently staying in the zone with his fastball so he can use his good secondary stuff to get batters out.  He needs to work on eliminating the big misses by consistently staying down in the zone and not missing so much up and away.  His changeup is a work in progress, and he will continue to get a lot of work in developing the pitch to see where it goes. 

Outlook:  Miller is part of some deep, talented starting pitching depth in the lower levels of the Indians system, and will need to show an improvement in his command to separate himself from a very crowded starting pitching situation at advanced Single-A Kinston.  He showed some good potential when he dominated the first two months of the season last year at Single-A Lake County, and it should be enough to keep him in the rotation in 2009 where he should open at advanced Single-A Kinston.

36. Frank Herrmann - Right-handed Pitcher
Born: 05/30/1984 - Height: 6'4" - Weight: 220 - Bats: Left - Throws: Right

200622Lake CountyA463.9026260122.112253847893.56.51.38
  Career 26194.0278780418.1446187341182812.56.01.35

Frank HerrmannHistory:  An economics major at Harvard, Herrmann went undrafted and was signed by the Indians in August of 2005.  He was actually heavily recruited coming out of high school as a football player to play quarterback and safety, and at Harvard he was supposed to play both football and baseball but ended up just playing baseball because of the demands academically. 

Strengths & Opportunities:  Herrmann is a physically imposing pitcher, armed with a power sinking fastball that sits at 91-92 MPH and tops out at 94 MPH.  He also throws a hard slider and a decent changeup that has good movement.  The key to Herrmann's success is his bulldog mentality and his intelligence in coming up with a good game plan to attack hitters. He may not have the best stuff, but he is an innings eater and just seems to get stronger over the course of a season and deep in games where his velocity is still peaking in the 6th or 7th inning.  The Indians love his exceptional strength, athleticism and durability on the mound, and like his ability to control his fastball to both sides of the plate.  At times he can be too quick to the plate which can lead to him leaving the ball up in the zone, but he is a consistent strike thrower.  He doesn't miss many bats in that he pitches to contact, and even though he throws his hard sinker he is a fly-ball pitcher (0.69 G/F ratio in 2008, 0.87 G/F in 2007 and 1.05 G/F in 2006). 

Herrmann is extremely intelligent, and his aptitude is off the charts.  He came into the organization very raw and with little understanding of how to "pitch", and in just three seasons he has adjusted well to the professional game and made huge strides in learning the intricacies of pitching.  The Indians also had to break him down by completely re-developing his delivery and overhauling his four pitch mix to a more simplified three pitch mix of a fastball, slider and changeup.  He was also more a collapse, drop and drive guy when he came into the organization, but the refined delivery has gotten him to stay taller.   

If Herrmann is able to develop more consistency with his secondary pitches (slider and changeup), he could become a solid middle of the rotation pitcher in the big leagues.  He has always been a pitcher who relied heavily on a fastball-changeup mix and had lacked a good breaking ball as his third pitch until this past season.  He dedicated himself to working on his slider, and it paid off as his slider was reworked from more of a finesse-loopy slurve type pitch to a hard, power slider where it sits down in the zone at 83-84 MPH.  His confidence in his slider has improved and he has become so much more consistent with it that he now has that third pitch to allow him to attack hitters better.  The focus with him is to continue working on his delivery and how he attacks hitters. While he is comfortable throwing his changeup to lefties, he needs more work on throwing his changeup and two-seam fastball in on right-handers to get them off the plate. 

He got a small cup of coffee with Triple-A Buffalo in early July and made the most of the opportunity going 0-2 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts, and was the first Buffalo pitcher to strike out ten batters in a game since right-hander Jason Davis did so on August 12, 2005.  The stop at Buffalo seemed to jumpstart his season as prior to the callup to Buffalo he was 8-3 with a 5.44 ERA in 16 starts between advanced Single-A Kinston and Double-A Akron, but upon going to Buffalo he carried that success with him back to Akron where he finished out the year going 3-5 with a 2.23 ERA in 10 combined starts at Akron and Buffalo.  This past season was the second straight year he has reached double-digit victories as he won 11 games for Kinston in 2007. 

Outlook:  When it comes to consistency in the Indians farm system, Herrmann is at the top of that list.  He has lived up to his nicknames of "Frank the Tank" and "The Herrmannator" because of his ability to eat innings, seemingly never give in, and his durability where he has made exactly 26 starts in each of his three seasons in the organization.  That strength, durability and ability to throw strikes are definitely key assets for him where even with average stuff he could be a solid backend of the rotation innings eater in the majors.  He should open the 2009 season in the Triple-A Columbus starting rotation, and is now considered a depth starting option for the big league team.

Photos courtesy of Ken Carr

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