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Indians should benefit from former Phillies' prospects

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - New Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta goes to the plate to hand in his lineup card. It has Carlos Carrasco pitching, Lou Marson catching and Jason Donald playing second base.

Cleveland starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco throws batting practice at Indians spring training yesterday. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Cleveland starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco throws batting practice at Indians spring training yesterday. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)Read more

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - New Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta goes to the plate to hand in his lineup card. It has Carlos Carrasco pitching, Lou Marson catching and Jason Donald playing second base.

It could happen this summer. It's not out of the question that the Indians will field a team with three players who were considered among the best the Phillies' minor league system had to offer at this time a year ago, before they were traded for Cliff Lee.

It's one thing to have the vague notion that the defending National League champions have stripped the topsoil from their farm system over the past couple of years. Seven of their top 10 prospects from a year ago, as rated by Baseball America, have since been dealt away. Only three of the top 10 from 2008 remain.

In the new BA list of the top 100 prospects, five were drafted and signed by the Phillies. Only one, outfielder Domonic Brown, is still with the organization.

As startling as these numbers might be, they're just stats. It's only when these names become actual big-league players that the real impact will start to sink in.

Some went to Oakland for Joe Blanton in 2008, and he helped the Phillies win the World Series for just the second time in franchise history. Some went to Cleveland for Lee and Ben Francisco last year and they helped the Phillies return to the Fall Classic. Still more were shipped to Toronto to fetch Roy Halladay. The Phillies are hoping he'll be a key to helping them become the first National League team to win the pennant three straight seasons since the St. Louis Cardinals did it nearly 70 years ago.

But Franklin Roosevelt said there's no such thing as a free lunch, an observation Ruben Amaro Jr. would certainly concur with. That's one of the reasons he flipped Lee to the Seattle Mariners in conjunction with acquiring Halladay. Lee brought prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez to begin repopulating the farm system.

The Indians' player-development complex is as good a place as any to take a sampling of what the Phillies have given up. In addition to the three players who could contribute this year, the Phils also parted with righthander Jason Knapp. Although he is coming off shoulder surgery and isn't in big-league camp, he might have the highest upside of all.

Marson has the best chance to make an impact in the short term.

"Lou's coming into camp with an opportunity to be our starting catcher," said assistant general manager Chris Antonetti. "He did have some exposure at the major league level with us last year for a more extended period than he'd had in the past and we saw some good things. We were encouraged by some of the things he's done both at Triple A with us and in a short time at the major league level."

Marson hit .373 in his last 23 games for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs before the trade. He played in 14 games for the Indians last year, and batted .250.

Born and raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., the trade means that he can live at home and only has about an hour's drive to the Goodyear complex. Since the Phillies are happy enough with Carlos Ruiz to extend his contract, it also means that he is getting a chance with the Indians that might not have been available with the Phillies.

"Absolutely," Marson said. "You look and see that they just gave Ruiz that 3-year deal. And he definitely deserves it. He's done a great job over there. But getting an opportunity here is all I can ask for. Now it's going to be all up to me and how I perform during spring training."

And during the season. The Indians have another well-regarded catching prospect, Carlos Santana, who is expected to start the season at Triple A Columbus but could soon challenge for playing time.

Marson traveled with the Phillies during the postseason in 2008, although he wasn't active, and appeared in seven games early last year. So he has a World Series ring and will soon also have a National League championship ring to go with it.

"The Phillies took care of me," he said. "They really did."

Carrasco is entering his seventh professional season, but doesn't turn 23 until the end of this month. After the trade he was 5-1 with a 3.19 earned run average at Columbus, but went 0-4, 8.87 in five September starts in the big leagues.

"You know, that was a big step for me, getting the opportunity to throw in the big leagues. I didn't [pitch well enough] to have a chance to win my first game, but I got a lot of experience," he said.

There appear to be two openings in Cleveland's rotation, and Carrasco is competing with Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Hector Rondon and Mitch Talbot for one of them.

"We do have a number of guys competing for that spot so we'll have to see how camp takes shape," Antonetti said. "But we're very encouraged by what we saw developmentally with him last year when he came over and pitched for us in Columbus. He pitched deep into games a number of different times and showed some really good stuff."

Antonetti said the team wasn't turned off by Carrasco's struggles after he was called up.

"It's very difficult to make the transition from Triple A to the major league level, especially on the pitching side," he said. "Carlos needs to do some of the things that made him very successful in the minor leagues. Commanding his fastball to both sides of the plate, working down in the strike zone, mixing in his secondary pitches. I think as part of the transition for a younger pitcher, he'll eventually make that transition successfully."

Donald was coming off left-knee surgery and had played just one game since being activated when he was traded. He is trying to make the club as a backup middle infielder, at positions that in Philadelphia are held by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

"Unfortunately, after we got him last year he had some back tightness that's been fully resolved," Antonetti said. "He's 100 percent now. He's coming into camp with the opportunity to potentially make the club as a utility guy, but we have to weigh the benefits of that and him fitting on the major league team in a part-time role vs. playing every day because last year he only had 250 plate appearances.

"But in a brief time with us and consistent with our scouting reports he made a very favorable impression on everybody. Staff and teammates. By the way he carries himself and the way he approaches the game. His toughness. It's been fun to watch."

Said Donald: "I'm competing for a job. Obviously, the Indians made all these trades to continue with a youth movement. And I feel like I fit in well here . . . I never thought that a trade of that magnitude would happen, but I'm thrilled to be here and excited for the opportunity I have here.

"I'll miss the [Phillies] organization. I developed a lot of great relationships. But I'm certainly very excited to be here. It's definitely different being here, but a good different."

The Indians continue to have high hopes for Knapp, who, despite his surgery, is ranked as the 64th-best prospect in baseball.

"He'll come into spring training on the minor league side and continue his rehabilitation and we're hopeful he'll get back on the mound this year in a competitive setting," Antonetti said. "He won't be ready going into the season. He'll be behind. How much behind, we'll get a much better sense when he gets into camp."

The Phillies have clearly given up a large chunk of their future. It's the price they've paid for all the success they're having in the present.