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February 27, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Minor League Spring Training Schedule  
If you're heading down to Florida for spring training in late March or early April, here's the Indians minor league spring training schedule


CIR UPDATE: Five Indians in BA Top 100  
Baseball America released its annual Top 100 Prospects list today and the Indians are well represented with Grady Sizemore (#9), Jeremy Guthrie (#53), Fausto Carmona (#76), Michael Aubrey (#79), and Jake Dittler (#99) on the list. The Tribe was one of four organizations with five players amongst the top 100 while four other organizations had six players ranked. BA also published an internal chat transcript which contains a lot of interesting prospect talk, including a brief discussion on the depth of the Indians farm system. If you're bored this afternoon, Jim Callis will be talking prospects and the top 100 in a ESPN chatroom at 2:00 PM ET and in the BA chat room at 4:00 PM ET this afternoon. More in the next CIR.

 

February 26, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Sizemore #9 in MLB Top 50  
Grady Sizemore is the number nine prospect in baseball according to Jonathan Mayo of mlb.com. Sizemore is scheduled to appear on mlb radio this afternoon (2:00-4:00 PM ET) as part of the Top 50 show.


CIR UPDATE: Yankees release Boone  
Aaron Boone was released by the New York Yankees today approximately six weeks after tearing his ACL in a pickup basketball game that will likely force him to miss the entire upcoming season. Just prior to the injury, Boone had signed a $5.75 million contract with the Yanks for 2004 but will now only receive 30 days termination pay of $917,000 (nice work if you can get it, huh?). I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the players union will have something to say about that figure before too long.

Ok, this is admittedly a long-shot but do you think the Indians would have any interest in Boone? Preface any thought on that subject with "at the right price" because dollars would certainly be one of the dominant factors in such a move. I like Casey Blake but I'd hardly call him a sure thing to repeat last years numbers let alone show improvement (although we all hope that's the case). Boone would be an upgrade at third (.267/.327/.453/.780 with 24 HRs last season) and he's generally regarded as one of the better defensive third basemen in the league. The Reds attempted to move him to second last spring to make room for the sizzle of Brandon Larson, who soon fizzled, but think of Boone at second with the Indians. He'd be a definite upgrade over Belliard and as much as we want Brandon Phillips to be the answer at second next year, there's as many questions surrounding his development as any player in the system. I would, however, be concerned about the knee and, specifically, how it would impact his range at second.

As I said above, this entire thought is admittedly a long-shot but it's worthwhile to think about nonetheless. How the market receives Boone is going to be interesting to follow over the next several weeks. There will certainly be no shortage of minor league deals or, more likely, incentive laden major league contracts with friendly club options but how much of that will be guaranteed and for how many years? Tony Batista received a 4-year, $16 million deal from the Orioles after he was released by the Blue Jays but he was healthy. Jon Leiber, who signed for approximately two years and $4 million with the Yankees last spring after blowing out his arm, is probably a better comparison although I would think there would be a monetary distinction between pitchers and position players recovering from injury. At any rate, it's an interesting thought to ponder on a slow news day.


CIR UPDATE: Paul Dolan speaks  
Both the Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal ran articles yesterday on Indians president Paul Dolan that are definitely worth checking out. More in the next CIR.


CIR UPDATE: Neyer picks Indians to surpise  
Rob Neyer picks the Indians as his choice to surprise this season or, as Neyer puts it, "not to win, but to maybe win.

 

February 25, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Sizemore #24 in BP Top 50  
Grady Sizemore is ranked as the 24th best prospect in baseball in Baseball Prospectus' annual Top 50 Prospects list.

 

February 24, 2004  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Tuesday, February 24  
NOTE: Even though the date says Tuesday, February 24, this was actually published on Wednesday, February 25. I failed to realize that "Blogthis" would publish everything (even rough drafts) when I published today's (3/25) update on Grady Sizemore but since it's out there, it might as well stay out there. Sorry for any confusion.

The Indians announced the signing of Cliff Bartosh, Rafael Betancourt, Jhonny Peralta, Corey Smith, Grady Sizemore, and Brian Tallet to one-year contracts yesterday. All likely signed for right around (or at) the league minimum of $300,000. Twenty-one players remain unsigned for 2004 but all are expected to reach an agreement with the Indians before the organizational renewal deadline of March 8.

Scanning the non-roster invitees around the major leagues finds the following former Indians fighting for another chance at the show.

Atlanta: Tim Drew, Russ Branyan, Julio Franco
Florida: Mike Fyhrie
New York Mets: Royce Ring, Jesse Levis, Shane Spencer
Philadelphia: Jim Crowell, AJ Hinch, Mark Budzinski
Chicago Cubs: Bill Selby, Trenidad Hubbard, Calvin Murray
Cincinnati: Mike Matthews, Aaron Myette, Jacob Cruz
Milwaukee: Dave Burba, Chris Coste, Chris Magruder, Jon Nunnally
Pittsburgh: Jose Mesa, Blake Stein
St.Louis: Chad Paronto
Arizona: Luis Garcia
Colorado: Travis Driskill, Jeff Fassero, Benji Gil, Damien Jackson
Baltimore: Mark McLemore
Boston: Paul Rigdon
New York Yankees: Tyler Houston
Tampa Bay: Mitch Melusky
Toronto: Dave Maurer
Chicago White Sox: Mike Jackson, Jose Santiago
Detroit: David Cortes
Kansas City: Rudy Seanez
Minnesota: Joe Roa
Oakland: Steve Woodard
Seattle: Terry Mulholland, Pat Borders
Texas: Mike Bacsik, Chad Allen

Individual game tickets for the Lake County Captains go on sale this Saturday, February 28 at 9:00 AM at Eastlake Ballpark. Only in-person sales at the stadium will be available on Saturday. Ticket sales over the phone, fax, and internet beging on Monday, March 1.

Indians individual game tickets go on sale next Friday, March 5.

 

February 23, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians sign six  
The Indians announced the signing of Cliff Bartosh, Rafael Betancourt, Jhonny Peralta, Corey Smith, Grady Sizemore, and Brian Tallet to one-year contracts today. The signings leave the Indians with 21 unsigned players for 2004. All are expected to resign before the Indians organizational renewal deadline of March 8.


CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Monday, February 23  

This is the sixth in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Over the next several weeks, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's mid-February and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the outfield depth in the system. Today, it's the backstops who go under the 'scope.

CLEVELAND
Victor Martinez enters the spring as the Indians number one catcher after a celebrated minor league career. Last season, the switch-hitter hit .328/.395/.474/.869 with 19 doubles and 7 homeruns in triple-A (after a slow start that saw him in the .220s in mid-May) while also hitting .289/.345/.378/.732 with a longball in 155 major league at-bats that included a .344/.839 September to end the season. The Indians are expecting him to become a contributor in the middle of the lineup this season and Martinez spent the winter in Cleveland working on his conditioning and seems primed for a breakout season. Whether he can do just that will go a long way towards any hopes the Indians have of moving into contention this season.

Josh Bard will serve as Martinez' backup although it's likely that he will receive far more at-bats than a regular backup with the Indians moving Martinez to DH or first-base in order to get Bard some at-bats. Bard began the 2003 season as the starting catcher but struggled at the plate and found himself in Buffalo in the second half. Instead of pouting, Bard mashed triple-A pitching in 115 at-bats, hitting .330/.408/.522/.930 with 7 doubles and 5 homeruns while drawing 14 walks to 17 strikeouts. Joining the Tribe to end the season, Bard had a tremendous September, hitting .400 (16-for-40) with an unbelievable 1.205 OPS (3 HRs). That performance raised his season-ending numbers to .244/.293/.373/.666 and 8 longballs. The subject of trade rumors involving both his hometown Colorado Rockies and the Oakland A's, the Indians chose to keep Bard and will enter the season with two young, talented catchers on the major league roster.

BUFFALO
Tim Laker and Dusty Wathan will likely share the catching duties for the Bisons this season. Laker hit .241/.281/.364/.645 with 3 homeruns for the Indians last year in a backup role and he'll serve as triple-A insurance should either Victor Martinez or Josh Bard be injured or struggle enough to warrant a trip to Buffalo. Wathan is a career minor-leaguer who hit .277 with a pair of dingers for the Bisons last year.

AKRON
Victor Valencia and Brian Luderer are likely to return to Akron to share the catching chores for the Aeros although I suppose it's possible that one of them could be moved up to Buffalo to start the season. Valencia hit .251/319/.444/.763 with 9 homeruns for Akron last season in 58 games while Luderer hit .241/.320/.355/.675 with four longballs for the Aeros in 76 games behind the dish. Neither is considered a prospect.

KINSTON
Javi Herrera advanced all the way to low-A ball last season after being drafted out of the University of Tennessee in the 2nd round last June. The former Volunteer hit .289 (13-for-45) in 12 games in the Valley before moving up to Lake County where he finished the season by hitting .240/.324/.351/.675 with 14 doubles and a dinger. Herrera is skilled defensively and that alone could get him to the big leagues someday but, ultimately, it's his bat that will determine what type of prospect and major leaguer he will (or can) become. The Carolina League will be a good challenge for him.

Dave Wallace emerged as a prospect last year after hitting .291/.413/.453/.866 with 14 doubles and 6 homeruns in the first half of the season for Lake County. A promotion to Kinston followed but Wallace struggled against the advanced competition, falling to .224/.321/.354/.675 and two homeruns. More importantly, his plate discipline fell from 37 BB / 52 K in Lake County to just 16 BB / 43 K in Kinston. The Indians then challenged Wallace by sending him to the Arizona Fall League where he hit just .192 in 26 at-bats. He'll play this entire season at age 24 (which means his breakout last year came at age 23 in the Sally League which tempers the enthusiasm) and with Javi Herrera and Ryan Garko coming behind him, Wallace needs to make the most of his at-bats this season.

Armando Camacaro (.236 in 182 ABs) could fit into the mix as a backup.

LAKE COUNTY
Ryan Garko hit .273/.337/.406/.743 with 8 doubles and 4 homeruns in the Valley after being drafted in the 3rd round out of Stanford last June. The biggest question surrounding Garko as he moves up to Lake County is whether or not his defensive skills (or lack thereof) will allow him to stay behind the plate or force him to move out from behind the dish to another position. In that regard, he's kind of the opposite of Javi Herrera one level above. If he hits, and his bat is his calling card, the Indians will find a position for him somewhere in the lineup.

Caleb Brock hit .288/.361/.373/.734 in Burlington after signing with the Indians as a non-drafted free-agent out of the University of Kentucky.

Clint Chauncey hit .241 in limited duty in the Valley last year.

Clayton McCullough hit .165 in 109 at-bats for the Captains last season backing up Dave Wallace and Herrera.

SHORT-SEASON
Ryan Spilman (15th round) signed late and did not play professionally last season. He reportedly possesses strong defensive skills but needs to develop with the bat. Spilman will begin his pro career in Burlington. Omar Casillas hit just .174 (8-for-46) in his first professional season (signed late and did not play in 2002) and seems a likely candidate to return to short-season ball. Likewise, Mike Woodson hit .226 (19-for-84) and should return to Burlington. Tanner Munsey went 1-for-9 with the B-Tribe last year. The Indians also hold the DFE (draft-and-follow) rights to Cypress JC backstop Joe Huskins (19th round) who is regarded as one of the better catching DFEs from the 2003 draft class. If he signs, he'll likely start in short-season ball.

OVERALL
The Indians have two potential major league catchers in Josh Bard and Victor Martinez and this should be the year in which we learn which one of the two will be the Tribe backstop for the rest of the decade. They also used two high draft picks last season on Javi Herrera and Ryan Garko to start the next wave of catching talent moving through the system. In between that foursome is a sea of mediocrity and organizational players. There's a lot of promise, however, among this group and the Indians appear to be in good shape behind the dish for the foreseeable future.

Need help preparing for your fantasy draft? There's no better pair of resources than Baseball Prospectus and the Baseball Forecaster to help you dominate your league. I purchase both annuals every spring and the information and analysis they provide are second to none. Additionally, if you make your purchase through the above links or through the CIR Bookstore, a small referral fee will be provided to the CIR from amazon.com at no extra cost to yourself. Support like this helps to keep the newsletter and website free of charge and is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your support.

In other Tribe news...

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Friday and went through their first workouts yesterday. Position players are due in camp this week.

Most of the news this time of year consists of health reports and injury updates and here's where the Indians stand:

Ryan Ludwick told Sheldon Ocker in the ABJ that a change in his anti-inflammatory drug therapy has him believing that he will be 100% by mid-March and that he will be able to compete with Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar for a spot in the outfield. Meanwhile, Eric Wedge told Paul Hoynes in the PD that he'd rather have Ludwick miss a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season than to rush him back and lose him for the rest of the year. Ludwick, incidentally, does have an option remaining.

Billy Traber told the ABJ that he's behind schedule in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and that he'll remain in Winter Haven through extended spring training for physical therapy. Nothing to really be concerned about at this time as Traber is not scheduled to throw until late this season, if at all.

Bob Wickman told the ABJ that he doesn't have any pain in his elbow and that he's not sore the day after throwing. He's still not throwing 100% but that's his usual spring preparation as he doesn't throw all-out until the exhibition games start.

Omar Vizquel reported no soreness in his knee as he reported early and started taking groundballs.

Bob Howry, expected to contend for a spot in the bullpen, will not join the Indians until sometime in March as he continues to rehab at home in Arizona. This definitely puts Jack Cressend and Rafael Betancourt in the drivers seat to claim two of the open spots in the 'pen.

Ron Belliard reported in shape, according to the PD, and is probably about 200 pounds right now but wants to get down to 192-195 by the start of the season. Their were reports (concerns) this offseason that Belliard had ballooned into the 220 range.

Carl Sadler strained his rotator cuff in winterball and has returned home to continue his rehab. He'll return later in March when the minor leaguers report to camp. Sadler was a long-shot to make the opening day roster so this obviously makes his chances even slimmer. Let's just hope this does not turn into a season-ending injury.

Giovanni Carrara left camp to return to Venezuela following the death of his father-in-law. Condolonces to the Carrara family.

Lonnie Soloff, the Indians new trainer, expanded on the above in this report.

Peter Gammons previews the AL Central and spends a good chunk of it discussing the type of organization that Mark Shapiro and company are trying to build. Gammons also notes in another article that Josh Byrnes (now with the Red Sox) and current Tribe front office members John Farrell, Chris Antonetti and Mike Hazen could soon join John Hart, Paul DePodesta, and Dan O'Dowd as former Indians turned rival General Managers.

Speaking of DePodesta, you have to read this presentation he gave to an investment group. Lots of interesting stories from his days with the Indians along with his insights into Moneyball and philosophy on how an organization should be run. I stumbled across the link while reading the excellent Futility Infielder.

Greg Swindell signed a minor league contract with the Royals that includes an invite to spring training.

Sad news to report again regarding former Indians outfielder Otis Nixon as he was arrested this past Friday for allegedly fondling a woman at his house. Nixon, 45, also was arrested on January 8 for allegedly threatening his bodyguard with a knife.

Next Report: Starting Pitchers

 

February 22, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Gammons previews the AL Central  
Peter Gammons previews the AL Central for espn.com and spends a good chunk of it discussing the Indians and the type of organization Mark Shapiro and company are trying to build.

 

February 20, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Howry to report late  
The Indians reported today that reliever Bobby Howry will report to spring training in March as he continues to rehab in Arizona from right elbow surgery last July. Howry signed a minor league contract with the Tribe this offseason.


CIR UPDATE: Steinbrenner Buys Fenway Park  
Homeless Red Sox Cry Foul

George Steinbrenner's buying spree continued unabated today as the New York Yankees owner purchased Fenway Park, the legendary home of the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.

For more, visit www.borowitzreport.com.

P.S. If you've never read Andy Borowitz, you're in for a treat. The daily e-mails are hilarious and highly recommended.

 

February 19, 2004  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Thursday, February 19  

PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT TOMORROW!!

This is the fifth in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Over the next several weeks, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's mid February and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we concluded our review of the infield by examining the third-base depth in the system. Today, we'll move to the outfield and put the flycatchers under the 'scope.

CLEVELAND
Milton Bradley returns after a career year in 2003 where he hit .321/.421/.501/.923 with 34 doubles, 10 homeruns, and 17 stolen bases and established himself as one of the best young centerfielders in the American League despite missing the last six weeks of the season with a stress reaction in the lower back. At the time of the injury, Bradley ranked 3rd in the league in average, 3rd in OBP, 11th in OPS, 7th in doubles, and 9th in stolen bases. Nice. He's had some issues this offseason but, hopefully, that will be resolved during the spring and Bradley can concentrate on playing ball. Note: I'm not trying to minimize his legal troubles, I'm just saying resolve it legally and if he has to serve time, get it over with now so the sentence and appeal are not on his thoughts during the season.

Jody Gerut returns after a tremendous rookie season in which he hit .279/.336/.494/.830 with 33 doubles and 22 homeruns and finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year balloting despite not joining the big league club until late April. Gerut led AL rookies in OPS (.830), SLG (.494) and was second in doubles (33) and homeruns (22) despite having 50 less at-bats than the other top rookies. Lefties gave him fits last season (.209) and both his power and eye were down significantly against southpaws as opposed to right-handers. That's something he'll need to continue to work on, as well as continued improvement in working the strike zone. He doesn't strike out a whole lot (75) but he needs to draw more walks (35). And, of course, Gerut is recovering from a torn rotator cuff and his status for the start of the regular season is a question mark although the Indians seem to think he'll be ready to go, even if it's only in a DH role.

Matt Lawton is the favorite for the final spot in the outfield as he returns for year three as an Indian. For the second straight season, Lawton's year was cut short by injuries (this time by a dislocated middle finger that left him unable to grip or throw a baseball) and, for the second straight season, he posted below-average numbers, finishing at .249/.343/.420/.762 with 15 homeruns. To his credit, Lawton can still get on base (47 walks) when he's not swinging the bat well and he was hot before the injury last July, hitting .313 with 8 homeruns in the 25 games prior to being disabled but, overall, his first two years in Cleveland have been a major disappointment. His contract guarantees him a spot on the roster (they're not just going to cut him and eat $15 million, are they?) but the Indians have sent the message that his performance will ultimately dictate how many at-bats he receives this year. As I mentioned in one of the recent reports, Lawton is not a bad player if he's healthy (physically and mentally), he just has a bad contract and is being paid far more than he's worth. I hope he gets the message because I still think he can help the Indians.

Ryan Ludwick returns after hitting .247/.299/.438/.737 with 7 homeruns after being acquired from the Rangers last summer for Ricardo Rodriguez. While demonstrating an ability for late-inning heroics with several clutch extra-inning baseknocks he also demonstrated that he needs to improve his command of the strike zone (12 BB vs 48 K). Ludwick brings right-handed power to the table as evidenced by the .303/.372/.558/.930 (24 2B, 17 HR) he mashed at in triple-A last season. He could also fit into the mix at first-base, giving Ben Broussard or Travis Hafner a rest against tough left-handers. Ludwick is recovering from off-season knee surgery and it's unknown whether he'll be ready for opening day.

Coco Crisp returns after hitting .266/.302/.353/.655 for the Indians last year. Looking at the stats, I didn't realize that he had over 400 at-bats with the big league club last year. Combined with what he did at Buffalo, Crisp had 639 at-bats and just under 700 plate appearances last year. That's a lot of cuts. Speaking of Buffalo, Crisp absolutely dominated the International League last year, hitting .360/.434/.511/.945 with 19 doubles in 225 at-bats. As evidenced by the above major league numbers, though, Crisp left his eye in Buffalo as he posted a 26 BB / 24 K ratio in AAA that fell off sharply to a 23 BB / 51 K ratio in the big leagues. He did hit lefties well (.321) but needs to restore that plate discipline he showed in the minors.

Alex Escobar is the final outfield candidate. Up until last week, it had been thought that Escobar was guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster due to a lock of options (i.e., if they wanted to send him down to triple-A, he would have to be exposed to waivers where he would likely be claimed). That changed, however, when major league baseball informed the Indians that they had a fourth option for Escobar which means that they can send him down to Buffalo this year without exposing him to waivers. The process for this "special option" is a bit murky but here's what I have in the roster management FAQ:

"In some rare cases, a player is entitled to four option years. Players with less than five professional seasons are eligible for this fourth option year. This generally comes into effect only when a player signs a major league contract immediately upon being drafted, because most players will not be added to the 40-man roster until their third or fourth pro season."

Now in the case of Escobar, he has played professionally in 1996 (24 G), 1997 (26 G), 1998 (112 G), 1999 (3 G), 2000 (122 G), 2001 (129 G), 2002 (0 G), and 2003 (146 G). That's eight pro seasons with 2002 and 1999 essentially being "non-seasons" due to injury. Furthermore, according to Paul Hoynes in the Plain Dealer last Sunday, "a full season under major league rule 11c consists of 90 days on the active list" and that Escobar failed to reach that level of service time in both 1996 and 1997. So that means that Escobar only has four full seasons of professional service (1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003) and the Indians are, therefore, entitled to an extra option. Confusing? Absolutely. But it works out well for the Indians. As for me, looks like I need to update that FAQ.

Ok, back to Escobar. He hit .251/.296/.472/.768 with 24 homeruns last season in Buffalo and .273 (27-for-99) with 5 homeruns for the Indians. As expected due to the knee injury which shelved him for all of 2002, Escobar's stolen base totals fell off from previous seasons as he swiped only 8 bags in 11 attempts in triple-A. His plate discipline remained non-existent with 133 strikeouts and just 24 walks in Buffalo and 33 whiffs to 7 walks in the big leagues. Whether or not he can learn to control the plate (even a little) will ultimately determine whether or not he becomes anything more than a role player in the big leagues. To his advantage, he can play anywhere in the outfield and has a great arm which could give him the edge over Crisp and/or Ludwick if their performances are close this spring.

BUFFALO
What can I say about Grady Sizemore that you haven't already heard? He's the Indians top position prospect, one of the best outfield prospects in the game, Futures Game MVP, and dominated in the US Olympic Qualifying trials. For the record, Sizemore hit .304/.373/.480/.853 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, and 13 homeruns for the Aeros last year while playing most of the season as a 20-year old. With all the outfielders battling for playing time ahead of Cleveland, the Indians will likely be patient with Sizemore and let him spend most of the season in triple-A although big league injuries and a strong performance from Sizemore could change that as the season progresses.

Depending on how things shake out at the major league level, either Coco Crisp or Alex Escobar could see time in triple-A this year. Maybe Ryan Ludwick too (not sure if he has options remaining). When any of these three are in Buffalo, they'll obviously play every day. Other candidates include...

Veteran Ernie Young who hit .264 with 21 homeruns last year for the Tigers triple-A affiliate in Toledo. He's a power source for the middle of the lineup and will likely serve as protection for Grady Sizemore.

Mark Little is a career minor leaguer who hit .281 in 146 at-bats after signing with the Indians late in the season. He also struck out 45 times with only 5 walks.

Nate Grindell hit .283 with 11 homeruns for Akron in 2002 but fell off to a combined .228 last season at Akron and Buffalo after losing at-bats to a slew of younger outfielders. Scott Pratt had almost 400 at-bats last year for the Bisons but hit just .246 and lost all signs of plate discipline, striking out 70 times versus just 14 walks after posting a 62 BB to 88 K ratio the previous year. Both can become minor league free-agents after this year and are likely in their final season with the Indians.

Adam Piatt (discussed in the third-base review) has spent time in the outfield in the past and could do so again for the Bisons. Eric Crozier (discussed in the first base review) has also been considered for outfield duty (2002 AFL) but his back may prevent that from moving beyond the discussion stage.

AKRON
Jason Cooper will make the jump to double-A after hitting a combined .302/.386/.542/.925 with 34 doubles, 9 triples, and 21 homeruns last year for Lake County and Kinston. Most impressively, he maintained those averages after his mid-season promotion to Kinston. Alright, there was a minor dip in OBP and SLG but when you're still at .380 and .528, who's complaining, right? This should be the year that Cooper emerges front and center on the prospect radar.

Like Cooper, Ben Francisco will also make the jump to double-A this year although he'll take the more challenging route of skipping the high-A Carolina League (this according to Jim Ingraham in a recent Baseball America chat) in the process. He would have been on track for this move anyway as he was slated to start last season at Kinston before he injured his hand in spring training last March. When he returned in June, the Indians chose the cautious route and sent him to Lake County where he proceeded to hit .287/.359/.481/.840 with 21 doubles and 11 homeruns in 289 at-bats (prorated to 36 2Bs and 19 HRs over 500 ABs). He also swiped 15 bases in 21 attempts and made only one error in 65 games in the outfield. Aside from diehard Indians fans, Francisco is an unknown at this point. That will change this season.

Luke Scott should return to Akron after hitting a combined .276/.336/.498/.858 with 25 doubles and 20 homeruns last year at Kinston and Akron. Impressive numbers but Scott played half of the season at age 25 which is old for double-A, let alone single-A Kinston. He also struck out 99 times versus 38 walks which leaves room for improvement. In an encouraging sign, Scott did hit .352 with four longballs in Arizona this fall against tougher competition. He turns 26 in June so the clock is tick, tick, ticking if he wants to avoid being branded as a minor league slugger. For Aeros fans, though, he should post some impressive numbers this season.

Willy Taveras is the wildcard in the Aeros outfield equation after being selected by the Astros in the Rule 5 draft last December. With zero games played higher than the high-A level, Taveras is a longshot to make the Astros opening day roster although his excellent defense and speed gives him a fighting chance. More than likely, though, I suspect he'll be returned to the Indians late in the spring and take his spot in the Akron outfield (with Scott likely spending most of his time at DH). Taveras hit .282/.381/.350/.731 for Kinston last year with 57 stolen bases in 69 attempts. His OBP (.381) is impressive but he's going to need to add strength (17 extra-base hits) to be anything more than a role player in the big leagues. As noted above, his defense is excellent and Aeros fans should enjoy watching him patrol the outfield.

Tyler Minges (.223, 10 HRs) probably saw his last opportunity for full-time at-bats last season and will likely return to Akron in a backup role this season.

This is going to be a very good outfield.

KINSTON
Like Jason Cooper and Ben Francisco, Nathan Panther is another outfielder from the 2002 draft (15th round) who quietly posted impressive numbers in his first full professional season. Considered a rawer prospect (Muscatine, Iowa JC) than Francisco (UCLA) or Cooper (Stanford), Panther flashed an intriguing combination of speed and power at Lake County last year, hitting .285/.356/.456/.812 with 22 doubles, 13 homeruns, and 38 stolen bases. He also demonstrated decent knowledge of strike zone, drawing 45 walks as opposed to 75 strikeouts. Panther's not young (turns 23 in July) so I wouldn't be surprised if the Indians aggressively move him this season if he shows he can handle Carolina League pitching.

JJ Sherrill is one of my favorite prospects and the epitome of what I like to call a boxscore monster. Even if he goes 0-for-3, his name is going to appear somewhere in the boxscore, whether it's via a walk, hit-by-pitch, stolen base, sacrifice, etc., and at 5-7", 170 lbs, Sherrill is a tough guy not to root for. JJ was the spark plug for the Lake County offense in the first-half last season, hitting .259/.374/.481/.854 with 20 doubles, 8 homeruns, and 12 steals but those numbers fell off dramatically when he was promoted to Kinston (.249/.309/.387/.696) with the most telling numbers being the huge increase in strikeouts (50) and the decrease in walks (16). Sherrill turns 24 in August so that raw potential the Indians see needs to turn into production in a hurry. I'll be rooting for him.

Brian Wright is yet another outfielder from the 2002 draft (7th round) but unlike Cooper, Francisco, and Panther, his first full professional season was largely a disappointment. This was mostly due to injury as Wright played in only 54 games for the K-Tribe last season, hitting .263/.348/.402/.750 with four home runs. His plate discipline was solid at 24 walks versus 35 strikeouts so we'll see what he can do with a full-season worth of at-bats. Like Panther and Sherrill, Wright is not young (24 in April) so it may be a race to see which one gets the promotion to Akron (and that's if a spot opens up in a crowded Aeros outfield).

Ricardo Rojas hit .232/.277/.348/.625 for Lake County last season with five homeruns and 29 steals. He strikes out a ton (99), doesn't walk (26), and needs to add strength. He does, however, have tremendous speed and is gifted defensively. His bat (or lack thereof) may call for a return to Lake County but I have a hunch the Indians may be aggressive in moving him up due to a crowded outfield in Lake County. A return to Eastlake would not be a surprise though.

LAKE COUNTY
First round pick Brad Snyder heads to Lake County after an impressive debut in the Valley last season where he hit ..284/.393/.467/.860 with 11 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, and 14 steals. Moved to center after signing, Snyder also showed that he can handle the middle of the outfield after playing in right at Ball State. I had originally thought the Indians might send him straight to Kinston this season (and I suppose that could still happen) but the Indians likely want to see him make better contact (82 strikeouts in 225 at-bats last year) before sending him up against the more advanced Carolina League players. For half a season, at least, Snyder will be the main man in the Captains lineup.

Ryan Goleski should also make the trip from Niles to Eastlake and join Snyder in the Captains outfield after hitting .296/.358/.473/.831 with 15 doubles and 8 homeruns for the Scrappers last year. The Eastern Michigan product also struck out 66 times versus just 21 walks and that will need to improve for Goleski to experience continued success as he climbs the ladder.

Mike Conroy should make his first appearance in a full-season league after spending the last three seasons in short-season ball after being selected with a 1st round sandwich pick in the 2001 draft. He finally showed signs of life at the plate last year in the Valley, hitting .292 with 7 homeruns and 44 RBIs, after hitting just .212 in his first two years with the Tribe. He's still a long ways away (.778 OPS) but at least there was progress last season.

Like Conroy, Jonathan Van Every showed signs of life at the plate last year in the Valley, hitting .262 with six doubles in 65 at-bats. Unlike Conroy, however, JVE also saw time at Lake County where he hit an anemic .193 and struck out an incredible 89 times in 197 at-bats. Raw skills need to turn into production in a hurry.

Jose Cruz has spent the last two years in Burlington, hitting .253/.358/.416/.774 with 10 doubles last year. Encouragingly, Cruz drew 24 walks to 25 strikeouts last season.

Teodoro Encarnacion also has spent the last two years in Burlington, hitting .272/.330/.380/.710 for the B-Tribe last year. Unlike Cruz, though, Encarnacion struck out 44 times as opposed to 14 walks.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Luis Hodge also has spent the last two seasons in Burlington, hitting .253/.283/.362/.645 with 10 walks and 46 strikeouts last year.

Matt Colin hit .228 with two homeruns in limited duty for Burlington last year after signing as a non-drafted free-agent.

SHORT-SEASON
Chad Longworth seems a good bet to return to short-season ball after hitting .206 in his debut with Burlington last year. He may head to the Valley. Juan Valdes should return to Burlington after hitting .223 after being selected in the 5th round last year. Tim Montgomery did not play after signing late last summer and seems a likely candidate to start in the Valley. Junior Garcia hit .256 and struck out 44 times (versus 6 walks) for the B-Tribe last year.

OVERALL
I love the Indians outfielders. There is quantity and, more importantly, quality at virtually every level in the system. That's the wave of talent you keep hearing Mark Shapiro say that the Indians want headed to the big leagues every year. The only knock is that there's not a dominant Albert Belle or Manny Ramirez type hitter in the bunch but then you could probably say that about most teams in baseball. The challenge facing the Indians now is to make sure they make the right decisions regarding which players to build around and which players to use in trades to build-up the big league roster. They have plenty of options and it's going to be fun watching the young players develop this summer.

In other Tribe news...

Milton Bradley's three-day jail sentence, that was scheduled to begin yesterday (Tuesday) was delayed pending a ruling on Bradley's appeal. If the sentence sticks, it's going to be interesting to see if he's forced to serve it during baseball season.

Former Indians executive Paul DePodesta is the new General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. DePodesta began his career in 1996 as an intern with the Indians after graduating from Harvard. Within two years he had risen to the ranks of special assistant to the general manager with the Tribe before leaving for Oakland in 1998. He now joins the ranks of former Indian turned rival General Manager which also includes John Hart in Texas and Dan O'Dowd in Colorado.

Correction from the last report (posted on the website early Monday morning): Jason Dickson signed with the Indianapolis Indians (Brewers triple-A affiliate) last week not the Cleveland Indians. This isn't the first time the two Indians teams have been mixed up on the transaction wire and probably won't be the last either. Over the past two years, I've been lucky enough to catch the other incidents before posting but Dickson somehow managed to sneak past my investigative team. Heads will roll, I assure you. If you're a big Jason Dickson fan, sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

Eric Johnson signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox. He hit .281 for Mahoning Valley and .216 for Lake County after returning from the NFL. Benj Sampson signed with the Rockies and Jesse Levis with the Mets.

How funny is it that Dennis Rodman won Celebrity Mole? I had him pegged as the winner but thought Mr.Cooper was Molelicious.

Next Report: Catchers

 

February 18, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Bradley's Sentence Delayed  
Milton Bradley's three-day jail sentence, that was scheduled to begin yesterday (Tuesday) was delayed pending a ruling on Bradley's appeal. If the sentence sticks, it's going to be interesting to see if he's forced to serve it during baseball season.

 

February 17, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: DePodesta named Dodgers GM  
Former Indians executive Paul DePodesta is the new General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. DePodesta began his career in 1996 as an intern with the Indians after graduating from Harvard. Within two years he had risen to the ranks of special assistant to the general manager with the Tribe before leaving for Oakland in 1998. He now joins the ranks of former Indian turned rival General Manager which also includes John Hart in Texas and Dan O'Dowd in Colorado.

 

February 16, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Jason Dickson correction  
Jason Dickson signed with the Indianapolis Indians (Brewers triple-A affiliate) last week not the Cleveland Indians. This isn't the first time the two Indians teams have been mixed up on the transaction wire and probably won't be the last either. Over the past two years, I've been lucky enough to catch the other incidents before posting but Dickson somehow managed to sneak past my investigative team. Heads will roll, I assure you. If you're a big Jason Dickson fan, sorry for any confusion this may have caused.


CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Monday, February 16  

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This is the fourth in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Over the next several weeks, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's early February and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the shortstop depth in the system. Today, we'll finish our trip around the horn by putting the third basemen under the 'scope.

CLEVELAND
Casey Blake returns for his second season as the Indians starting third basemen after hitting .257/.312/.411/.723 and blasting 35 doubles and 17 homeruns last year. He provided the Indians with steady, if not spectacular, play at a position that had been a major concern entering spring training last March. Blake as talked this offseason about hitting 25 homeruns this year which would be a major boost to the lineup. I'd be happy, however, if he could just repeat last years overall numbers, especially after noting he hit just .240/.285/.322/.667 in the second half and .202/.269/.266/.535 in September. Let's hope that fade was more an indication of him wearing down after his first full-season in the big leagues and not an indication that he failed to make adjustments once "the book" started to make its rounds. It's also interesting to note that Blake hit much better on the road (.276/.815, 15 HRs) than he did at Jacobs Field (.235/.620, 2 HR) which seems kind of odd.

John McDonald and Lou Merloni will battle for the utility job this spring with the winner spelling Blake at third this season. If healthy, Ricky Gutierrez could fit into the mix as well.

BUFFALO
Third-base in Buffalo could be a revolving door with Adam Piatt, Kevin Orie, and Chris Clapinski all candidates to see time at the hot corner for the Bisons this season. Piatt is the most intruiging name of the bunch as the one-time top A's prospect boasts big-time power potential but has been bothered by injuries throughout his career and has yet to display in the major leagues the plate discipline that made him such a force in the minors. Piatt could also see time in the outfield and first base. Clapinski can play anywhere in the infield and provides veteran insurance. Orie is another former top prospect (Cubs) who sat out all last year with a shoulder injury. He's expected to return early in the season and will see time at first until the shoulder strengthens and he can make the move across the diamond.

As always, the wildcard in this situation is the Rockies Rule 5 pick, Luis Gonzalez. He played extensively at third base this winter in Venezuela and it would not surprise me if he becomes the Bisons everyday third basemen if he doesn't stick in Colorado.

Jhonny Peralta has also been mentioned as a candidate to move over to the hot corner sometime in the future although the Indians give no indication that will happen this season. He'll need to show more with the stick before that moves beyond the discusson stage.

AKRON
Corey Smith will return to Akron this year for his second taste of double-A ball after hitting .271/.340/.397/.737 with 27 doubles and 9 homeruns last year while committing 45 errors in the field. While those numbers may not be all that impressive on the surface, they do represent somewhat of a growth season as Smith posted his highest batting average (.271 versus career .257), cut his strikeouts by almost a third (99 versus 141 in '02), maintained a steady walk rate (50 versus 59 in '02), maintained a steady doubles rate (27 vs 26 and 29 the previous two years), and committed the majority of his errors in the first half of the season. He also hit .350 over the last 38 games and followed that up with a .367 average in the Aeros post-season championship run. Quantum leap? No. But not bad for a kid making what is generally regarded as the biggest developmental leap, the jump to double-A ball. Of course, he did sacrifice power (9 HR vs 13 in '02 and 18 in '01) in order to make contact and he hit just .238 in the Arizona Fall League which left many to wonder why the Indians chose to protect him from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster in November. While he's still too young (22 in April) to have a make-or-break season, this shapes up to be a huge year for the former first round pick. With his return to Akron, the Indians will be looking for Smith to improve substantially on the above numbers as is expected of anyone who repeats a level. He's started off with a hot April the past two seasons so watch for the adjustment later in the month and in May to gauge his progress.

Rodney Choy Foo and/or Joe Inglett could spell Smith when they're not playing second. Todd West could see time there as the utility infielder.

KINSTON
Pat Osborn played in only 60 games last year due to injury, hitting .254/.333/.346/.679 with 1 homerun for the K-Tribe after skipping low-A ball in his second pro season. The Indians love his defense but he's hit just two homeruns in 399 professional at-bats and needs to show more power for the hot corner. With Corey Smith locked in at Akron, Osborn seems a good bet to repeat Kinston to start the season.

Depending on Osborn's health, last years 6th round pick Kevin Kouzmanoff is also a candidate to start the season at third. He displayed a decent bat last year in the Valley, hitting .272/.342/.437/.779 with 8 doubles and 8 homeruns, although you would expect a college senior to post (at least) decent numbers in a short-season league. Kouzmanoff may be a man without a (natural) position to start the season if Osborn is healthy and Matt Whitney is healthy enough to start the season in Lake County. A move to first or the outfield may be needed to get Kouzmanoff at-bats.

Shaun Larkin moved over from second after Matt Whitney was injured last spring and spent the entire season at third base in Lake County. After reading the above, however, you can see why I included him in the second base portion of the review although it's still possible the Indians could keep him at third, depending on the health of Osborn and Whitney this spring.

LAKE COUNTY
Matt Whitney is expected to be the Captains main third basemen although he may start the season in extended spring training as he continues to recover from the broken leg he suffered after stepping on a sprinkler head last spring. Even though he sat out all of last season, Whitney remains the Indians best power-hitting prospect after hitting .286/.359/.537/.896 with 12 doubles and 10 homeruns in his debut at Burlington in 2002. I can't wait to see him in Eastlake this summer.

If Whitney starts in extended spring, Kouzmanoff would likely start the season in Lake County. Chris Clem and Domingo Vasquez (who we have talked about previously) are also candidates to see time at third for the Captains this season.

SHORT-SEASON
DSL, VSL, and June draftees will likely fill the third-base position for Mahoning Valley and Burlington this summer.

OVERALL
The Indians have taken great steps over the past two seasons to shore up what had been a gaping organizational hole at third-base but, due to injuries, third base remains an organizational question mark. I guess that's better than gaping hole, though, huh?. Casey Blake was brought in to man third in the big leagues and, for the price, responded with a solid season. With no one in the system ready to move into the big leagues in the foreseeable future, Blake could solidify his immediate future with the Indians with a good year at the plate. Otherwise, we could see the Indians in on the Eric Chavez and Troy Glaus free-agent pursuit next winter if the dollars don't get too out of hand (likely wishful thinking on my part, but you never know). Matt Whitney and Pat Osborn were drafted in the first and second round respectively of the 2002 draft but Whitney missed all of last season with a broken leg and Osborn managed to play only 60 games due to injury. Their health, and subsequent return, will be one of the major stories to follow in the minor leagues this year. Kevin Kouzmanoff was selected in the sixth round last June and offers a potentially potent bat although we really need to see what he can do against more advanced competition. And then, finally, there is Corey Smith, who returns to Akron (repeating a level for the first time) with plenty of question marks surrounding him at the plate and in the field. Questions, questions, and more questions. That's the theme for third base this year. Hopefully, we'll like the answers as the summer progresses.

In other Indians news...

The Tribe signed former all-star right-hander Jason Dickson to a one year contract. No further details have been provided but I would have to assume that this is a minor league contract. Originally drafted by the Angels, Dickson debuted in 1996 and made the all-star team as a rookie in 1997, finishing with a 13-9 record and 4.30 ERA but allowing 236 hits in 203 innings. His shoulder first caused trouble in the spring of 1999 when surgery was required to repair a torn labrum which caused him to miss the entire season. Attempting to come back way too soon, Dickson was pitching eight months after the operation, surgery was performed on his shoulder again in June of 2000. Since then, he's bounced around the Blue Jays and Devil Rays systems and pitched for the Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League last year, going 10-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 23 starts (149 IP, 152 H, 41 BB, 115 K). He also pitched for the Canadian Olympic Qualifying team this past fall and got pounded by Cuba in the tournament and the US in an exhibition game. Dickson has a 26-25 career major league record with a 5.00 ERA in 396 innings and, at his best, has good command of his pitches and keeps hitters off balance. I would imagine that he'll be in the mix for a spot on the Bisons pitching staff.

Fausto Carmona is the subject of an mlb.com profile in which John Farrell says ""What a year, man! He’s a tremendous athlete. … His velocity continues to increase. In the Instructional League, his velocity was up to 95 (mph), and he was pitching at 93 to 95. He’s 19 years old, and the development of his slider is still the one thing that needs the most work compared to the three pitches he has -- fastball, changeup and slider. But he’s developing into a blue-chip prospect.”. That's what I like to hear.

Paul Hoynes reported in the Plain Dealer yesterday that the Indians were informed by major league baseball that they hold an extra option on Alex Escobar which means that he could be sent down to triple-A this season without exposing him to waivers. I'll get into the specifics of this during the outfield review in the next report but this will obviously provide another option for the Indians to alleviate the roster logjam this spring if Jody Gerut and Ryan Ludwick are healthy enough to start the season.

Cuban defector Yobal Duenas signed a minor league contract with the Yankees for $60,000. We had talked about him earlier in the offseason as a possible Indians acquisition for second base. It had been reported that Duenas was signed to replace the NFL-bound Drew Henson at triple-A Columbus but could he now find himself in the mix to play second-base in the Bronx with Alfonso Soriano reportedly on the verge of being dealt to Texas for Alex Rodriguez? Hmmm...

Pitchers report on Friday. Spring Training is almost here!

Next report: The Outfield

 

February 13, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Fausto Carmona profile  
"What a year, man! He’s a tremendous athlete. … His velocity continues to increase. In the Instructional League, his velocity was up to 95 (mph), and he was pitching at 93 to 95. He’s 19 years old, and the development of his slider is still the one thing that needs the most work compared to the three pitches he has -- fastball, changeup and slider. But he’s developing into a blue-chip prospect.” -- John Farrell

Yeah, baby! You can check out the entire profile on the Indians prized young right-hander here.


CIR UPDATE: Indians sign Jason Dickson  
According to the PD transactions this morning, the Indians have signed former all-star right-hander Jason Dickson to a one year contract. No further details have been provided but I would have to assume that this is a minor league contract. Dickson pitched for the Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League last year, going 10-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 23 starts, after missing much of the five seasons due to shoulder problems. he also pitched for the Canadian Olympic Qualifying team this past fall (and got pounded by Cuba in the tournament and the US in an exhibition game). I would imagine that he'll be in the mix for a spot on the Bisons pitching staff. More in the next CIR.

 

February 11, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Mulholland signs with Mariners  
The Seattle Mariners signed Terry Mulholland to a minor league contract that includes an invite to spring training. He'll compete for a spot in the M's bullpen.


CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT -- Wednesday, February 11  

This is the third in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Over the next several weeks, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's early February and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the second-base depth in the system. Today, we'll move to the other side of the bag and put the shortstops under the 'scope.

CLEVELAND
Omar Vizquel returns for his 11th, and likely final, season as the Indians starting shortstop. The lone remaining link to the "Era of Champions", Vizquel was nearly traded to Seattle in December before the M's voided the deal due to concerns about his right knee which went under the knife twice last year to repair torn cartiledge. That knee is crucial to any hopes the Indians may have for contending this season as the team desperately needs a healthy Vizquel to rebound from the .244/.321/.336/.657 numbers he posted last year in his worse season as an Indian. If he can't, the alternatives are not that attractive. John McDonald, while slick in the field, would love to have a .657 OPS to his credit (.577 career OPS in 500+ at-bats), Lou Merloni is a journeyman, and both Brandon Phillips or Jhonny Peralta, while blessed with potential, would appear to need at least a half-season of triple-A seasoning before they're ready to take over on a full-time basis. It's also going to be interesting to see how much the combination of the knee and Father Time (Omar turns 37 in April) reduces Vizquel's range in the field. The flash may still be there (diving stops, bare-hand grabs) but would that flash have been a routine play three or four years ago? Omar is already number two on the all-time Indians stolen base list (260) and if he plays his normal full season with the Indians this year, he could move into the top ten in a number of other categories, including ABs (currently 9th with 5141, needs 514 for 5th), 2B (currently 9th with 260, needs 28 for 8th), games played (currently 13th with 1330, needs 72 for 10th), hits (currently 10th with 1451, needs 110 for 7th), singles (currently 8th with 1102, needs 109 for 5th), runs (currently 8th with 824, needs 93 for 5th), and walks (currently 12th with 555, needs 39 for 10th).

As discussed during the second base review, John McDonald and Lou Merloni will battle this spring for the utility infielder position and the right to backup Omar Vizquel. Ricky Gutierrez remains the wildcard in the infield equation.

BUFFALO
Everyone talks about what a HUGE season this is for Brandon Phillips but I have heard very few people talking about fellow middle infielder Jhonny Peralta, let alone what a HUGE season this will be for him as well. Shuffled back and forth between Cleveland and Buffalo last year, Peralta (who hit .281/.343/.457/.800, 28 2B, 15 HR as a 20-year old in Akron in 2002) hit just .257/.330/.329/.659 with 12 doubles and 1 homerun for Buffalo and .227/.295/.326/.621 with 10 doubles and 4 homeruns for the Indians. That's not exactly setting the world on fire, even if you're a 21-year old making your triple-A and major league debut. Still, there's a lot to like with Peralta including the fact that he handled himself well in the big leagues even though he was clearly not ready for the show. He also rebounded a bit this winter, hitting .257 with four longballs in the Dominican winter league. With Omar Vizquel likely in his final season with the Indians and Brandon Phillips remaining at second base for the time being, Peralta is the heir apparant for the shortstop position and it's likely that he could enter 2005 with it being his job to lose if he has a good showing this year in triple-A. That's why 2004 shapes up as a huge season for Peralta. If he struggles, and (gulp) Brandon Phillips also struggles, the Indians will have two gaping holes up the middle just when they're expecting to make the leap to annual contender. That's not good. So while you're watching the progress of Brandon Phillips in triple-A this year, don't forget to cast a glance across the bag towards Peralta. He may be lower profile but he's no less important to the future of the Indians.

Hector Luna, rule 5 selection by St.Louis, is the wildcard in the Bisons infield. This is the second consecutive season that Luna was picked in the Rule 5 draft after he was selected with the first overall pick by Tampa Bay in 2002. Returned to the Indians late in the spring, Luna started off slow at Akron, particularly in the field, but rebounded to post averages of .297/.368/.359/.727 with 19 doubles and 17 steals. He improved his plate discipline from 2002, posting 48 walks versus 64 strikeouts (39 BB vs 79 K in '02) and increasing his average and on-base percentage in the process. He did sacrifice some power, however, as his extra-base hits fell from 32 (11 HRs) in '02 to 23 (2 HRs). In the field, he made 35 errors but the majority of those were committed in the first half of the season when he was still dealing with the effects of jumping from organization to organization. It's likely the Indians left him unprotected because they felt that he was the most likely to be returned this spring between he and Ochoa (who offers more speed and better defense which makes him a more attractive option as the 25th man on the big league roster). The other issue that likely factored into the decision is where would Luna have played this year if he remained in the organization? Peralta and Phillips are locked in at Buffalo (at least for the first-half), Ochoa is headed for Akron, and the Indians have three other candidates to play second in Akron this year as well. If everyone remains healthy this spring, I have no idea where the Indians would play him if he's offered back by the Cardinals. For that reason alone, if the Indians and Cardinals can agree on a player, I would not be surprised to see them work out a trade so the Cardinals can keep Luna and send him down to the minor leagues. We'll see what happens.

As discussed during the second base review, Zach Sorenson and Chris Clapinski are likely to serve as the Bisons utility infielders this year. Rule 5 pick Luis Gonzalez remains the wildcard in the Bisons infield equation if he is returned by the Rockies this spring.

AKRON
Ivan Ochoa moves to double-A after being the surprise addition to the 40-man roster this offseason. Ochoa battled hamstring problems last year in Kinston but still hit .253/.336/.314/.650 which was a big improvement from the .217 career average he had posted in his previous two years in the States. He can also draw a walk and has good speed and double-A will be a nice challenge for him. Defensively, Ochoa is ready for the big leagues now according to most observers but he'll need to continue to show improvement at the plate while adding strength (5-10", 140). The comparisons to a young Omar Vizquel are obvious, slick defense, good speed, and a weak stick. His option clock starts ticking this spring so we'll have three years to figure out whether he is the next Omar or a faster Johnny Mac. I'm looking forward to seeing him in the field at Canal Park this summer.

Todd West can play all around the infield and looks to assume the Jim Goelz role of utility infielder and designated "placed on DL with a pulled hamstring to create a temporary roster spot" guy.

KINSTON
Chris De La Cruz opened some eyes when he hit .367 in his US debut at Burlington in 2002. Moved up to Lake County last season, his numbers fall off to .264/.327/.296/.623 and he managed only 11 extra-base hits in 402 at-bats, three less than he had in Burlington in 222 fewer at-bats. His stolen bases also fell off (6 in 13 chances vs 13 in 17 in 2002) and he committed 26 errors in the field. Still, it was his first full year in the States and that's a big adjustment for any player. The Carolina League should provide us an indication of what type of prospect we have in De La Cruz.

Luis Cotto (.160) and/or Bryan Kent (.215) could fill the utility role. So might Anthony Lunetta if they decide to push him up a level.

LAKE COUNTY
Brandon Pinckney (.272/.333/.327/.660) was named to the Appy League all-star team as a utility infielder last year after being drafted in the 12th round out of Sacramento City College last June. He's another speed/defense middle infielder and he could share time with Anthony Lunetta (.249/.307/.373/.680, 3 HR), last years 9th round pick out of USC who offers a little more pop but is also 18 months years older. Brett Parker (29th round, South Alabama) may also fit into the picture. He ws limited to 27 at-bats (.185, 1 HR) last year in the Valley after signing.

SHORT-SEASON
DSL, VSL, and June draftees will likely fill the shortstop position for Mahoning Valley and Burlington this summer.

OVERALL
If either Brandon Phillips or Jhonny Peralta develop as hoped, the Indians will be set at this position for the rest of the decade. If both develop, they'll be set up the middle for the next decade and we'll all be worrying about getting our hands on playoff tickets. Well, that may be overly optimistic, but you know what I mean. Ivan Ochoa and Chris De La Cruz offer long-term potential and how much their respective bats develop will eventually determine what kind of major leaguers they (can) become. It's a deep position in the system and one that may become deeper this summer if the Indians select Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew (brother of JD and former Indian first-rounder Tim) in the June draft. Most observers say that this draft will lean heavily toward college pitching, especially in the early part of the first round and Drew, who is regarded as one of the top two college hitting prospects, may be available when the Indians are on the board with the number six pick in the first round. Impact pitching is always tough to pass up but so is an impact bat for the middle of the diamond. Keep an eye on Drew and the Seminoles this spring.

In other news...

Ron Villone signed a one year, $1 million contract with the Mariners. He'll start the season in the bullpen but could see time in the rotation sometime during the season.

Pedro Astacio threw for major league scouts last Saturday in the Dominican Republic according to the Denver Post. He's one of the veteran pitchers (along with Scott Erickson and El Duque) that Mark Shapiro had previously indicated the Indians were interested in but felt may be out of the Indians price range. Astacio is not 100%, according to the article, and threw for 10 minutes, reaching 88 mph on his fastball. Paul Hoynes noted in the PD on Sunday that John Farrell, Chris Antonetti, and Ross Atkins were in the Dominican last week for the Caribbean Series and I wonder if any of them hung around for Astacio's outing.

Next Report: Third Base Review

 

February 09, 2004  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT -- Monday, February 9  

One of the surest signs of spring is the departure of the Indians truck for spring training. With all the snow and freezing rain we've had this winter, seeing that big rig pull out of Jacobs Field could not have come at a better time. We're now t-minus 13 days until the first spring workout and t-minus 26 days until the first game of the spring. I can feel it getting warmer already.

(The positional reviews will return tomorrow with a look at the shortstops in the system.)

Baseball America released it's annual ranking of the Indians Top 10 Prospects on Friday. Here's the list...

1) Grady Sizemore
2) Jeremy Guthrie
3) Fausto Carmona
4) Jake Dittler
5) Fernando Cabrera
6) Michael Aubrey
7) Jason Cooper
8) Brad Snyder
9) Adam Miller
10) Matt Whitney

Biggest surprises: Jake Dittler at number four as he continues his rapid ascent up the prospect charts. I thought Michael Aubrey would be a couple of spots higher. Fernando Cabrera at number five but no Kazuhito Tadano? Hmmm...

Notables likely to be in the 11-30 range in the Baseball America 2004 Prospect Handbook: (in no particular order): Kazuhito Tadano, Corey Smith, Francisco Cruceta, Travis Foley, Dan Denham, Ben Francisco, Mariano Gomez, Rafael Perez, Nick Pesco, Aaron Laffey, Shaun Larkin, Kyle Denney, Ivan Ochoa, Luke Scott, Nathan Panther, Nelson Hiraldo, Ryan Garko, Javi Herrera, Eric Crozier, Beau Allred (see below for clues as to the 11-20 spots).

Jim Ingraham, who put together the BA Top 10, conducted an online chat on Friday and here's some of the highlights (you should still read the chat transcript, lots of good questions were asked)....

Opening Day Assignments: Ryan Garko (Lake County), Javi Herrera (Kinston), Brad Snyder (Lake County), Michael Aubrey (Kinston), Adam Miller (Lake County), Rafael Perez (Kinston), Jake Dittler (Akron), Nathan Panther (Kinston), Ben Francisco (Akron). Not a whole lot of surprises here, although I thought Brad Snyder may be pushed up to Kinston. Rafael Perez skipping low-A and moving right to Kinston would be a surprise. Ben Francisco would also skip a level (high-A) if he starts at Akron but this would actually put him back on schedule as I believe he was slated to start last season at high-A Kinston before he broke his hand last spring.

Other notes: Rafael Perez could move fast (which may explain his projected jump to Kinston), Shaun Larkin is a candidate to return to second base (as we talked about last week), Francisco Cruceta throws as hard as Bartolo Colon (I wonder if he was thinking about Fernando Cabrera?), Mariano Gomez speaks three languages and is very emotional on the mound, Wily Taveras and Hector Luna would have been in the Indians top 30 prospects, Matt Whitney may start the season in extended spring training, Nick Pesco, Kauhito Tadano, Sean Smith, Francisco Cruceta, Brian Tallet, Sean Smith, and Dan Denham are ranked in the 11-20 range, and the Indians may have more legit pitching prospects (top-to-bottom) than any other organization.

Note: BA subscribers who click on the Top Ten link above can view the entire list. Non-subscribers can only see the Sizemore profile. If you're a baseball fan, there is no better magazine then Baseball America (both online and in print). I can't recommend it enough.

John Farrell says that Francisco Cruceta has "some fundamental things that need to be improved on, particularly his fastball command" and "that will clearly outline what his future role is." I'll take that to mean a switch to the bullpen is not out of the question in the next year or so.

While Kazuthito Tadano did not make the Indians top 10, Farrell says that "he would go into Major League camp in '04 and compete for a Major League spot."

Congratulations to Baseball America's Josh Boyd who is leaving the magazine to become an area scout for the Padres. I've been following Josh since his days on the old AOL Stats Inc site and he will definitely be missed.

Injury updates from Hal Lebowitz (my thoughts in parenthesis)...Bob Howry has experienced pain in his forearm as he recovers from surgery and, as a result, the Indians are not going to push him this spring (if Howry starts the year in extended spring training, that would obviously improve the chances of Jack Cressend, Rafael Betancourt, and one of the other longshot spring invitees to break camp with the big league club). Bob Wickman was deemed 100% after throwing for Eric Wedge and the coaching staff (a healthy and effective Wickman could be a nice trading chip this summer). Jason Bere is 75-80%. Omar Vizquel is "progressing well" in Seattle. Cliff Lee is fine after offseason hernia surgery (pencil him in for the number three spot). The Indians are concerned about the approach Matt Lawton has taken to rehabbing his knee this winter and quotes one Tribe exec as saying "I don't understand Matt. He should be motivated. He has two years reamining on his contract, and if he finishes decently with us, he might get another contract from some team. When he was healthy for about a month last season, he was a good hitter" (I agree, both with the concern, and the last statement. I like Lawton as a hitter and think he can help the Indians, he's just being paid way too much for too many years).

Hal also adds that many of the players who participated in the Indians offseason conditioning program in Cleveland are already on their way to Winter Haven even though pitchers don't have to report until February 20 and position players until February 25. David Riske was the first to arrive (Jan 30), according to Paul Hoynes, for the second straight year.

Of course, the big injury news was the recent revelation that Jody Gerut tore his rotator cuff last September and may not be ready for the start of spring training and, more importantly, the start of the regular season. This is a lot more serious than the "sore shoulder" that had been previously reported. Gerut has spent the offseason rehabbing the shoulder in Arizona after he and the Indians elected to forego surgery and he's saying that he will ready for opening day but that's what you would expect a player to say. It's possible he could start the season in a DH role but that's nothing more than speculation at this point. I'm sure we'll learn plenty more as players start reporting to Winter Haven in two weeks. His health will be one of THE stories to follow in camp this spring.

Baseball America notes in their minor league transactions that the Indians recently signed RHP Will McCrotty, LHP Dave Martinez, and LHP Patrick Barnes to minor league deals.

McCrotty is a 24-year old catcher-turned-pitcher who hit .227 in four minor leagues seasons before converting to the mound in 2001. Used as a reliever in his first full season on the bump in 2002, the right-hander struck out 57 in 52.2 innings in double-A while posting a 2.39 ERA. BA listed him as a possible Rule 5 selection that offseason and noted that he throws 95-96 mph. Last year, McCrotty made 15 starts out of 36 appearances, posting a combined 4.05 ERA and fanning 80 in 113 innings. Four of those starts were in the high-A Florida State League and I'm not sure if that was due to an injury rehab or just to make it easier for him to adjust to the extended innings of a starting pitcher. McCrotty also has a twin brother Wes who has spent some time in the Marlins system and the independent leagues. I would expect that he'll compete for a spot on the Akron roster. Guys who can throw in the upper 90s are always worth a look.

Martinez is a 23-year old southpaw who was once ranked as high as #11 on the Yankees prospect list (2002) by Baseball America before a balky shoulder sidetracked his career. A native of Venezuela, Martinez first appeared on the prospect scene in 2000 when he posted a combined 2.75 ERA in 81.2 innings while punching out 77 and allowing just 53 hits. I suspect the low innings were due to his starting the year in extended spring, debuting in the short-season NY-Penn league in June, and then finishing in the Sally League later in the summer but an injury may have been a part of that as well. That performance earned him a #14 preseason NYY ranking from BA and he built on that by absolutely dominating the South Atlantic League early in 2001 to the tune of a 6-0 record and 1.13 ERA in 11 starts (79.2 IP, 54 H, 67 K). A promotion to the high-A Florida State League soon followed but he threw only 19 innings before shoulder problems (and eventual surgery) shut him down for the season. He returned to the GCL in 2002 but threw only 25 innings (1-3, 5.04) and his work was limited again in 2003 as he made 14 appearances (12 starts) in the FSL, posting a 5-4 record and 4.79 ERA in 56.1 innings. A google (I forget the source) found that he throws 89-92 mph with a curve and change but I don't recall if that was pre-or-post surgery. He's still relatively young and his history (when healthy) is impressive so I think he's worth a look. Given the injury history, his durability has to be questioned so I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved him into the bullpen. I suspect he'll compete for a Kinston or Akron roster spot.

Patrick Barnes is another 23-year old left-hander who has been plauged by injuries throughout his career. Drafted by the Mariners in the 16th round of the 1998 draft, Barnes has thrown only 79 innings in his pro career and only 25 since 2000. He didn't pitch in 2000 (injury unknown), tossed 11 innings in 2001, 14 innings in 2002 (shoulder), and did not pitch in 2003 as near as I can tell. He did sign with the Mid-Missouri Mavericks of the Frontier League sometime early last year but was cut in May. Given his lack of experience, Kinston or Lake County would seem to be the likely destinations if he makes a roster.

BA also notes that Brian Luderer, Mark Little, and Jake Robbins have re-signed with the organization and that Scott Threinen (11th round, 2000) was released. In three injury-plauged seasons with the Tribe, Threinen hit just .215 in 177 career ABs.

Jose Jimenez was named to the Carribean Series All-Star Team after tossing six shutout innings (3H, 6K) against Puerto Rico in game two of the series. Jimenez' Licey team won the championship yesterday with a 4-3 victory over Puerto Rico.

Scott Radinsky was hired by the Indians as a roving instructor. He made two appearances for the Tribe in 2001 before being released during spring training the following March.

Ellis Burks officially signed a one-year, $750k contract with the Red Sox yesterday. The Boston Globe reports that the Mariners made a late offer for a reported $1.25 million but Burks felt the Red Sox had a better chance of winning the World Series this year. He'll provide a solid bat off the bench while also spelling David Ortiz at DH.

Tyler Houston signed a minor league contract with the Yankees that will pay him a reported $900k if he breaks camp with the big league club. Hard to believe, but with Aaron Boone out for the season, Houston may be the front-runner looking at the current roster. Ha Ha, I think we'll see that change via trade in the next two months. And we did, somewhat, as the Yankees dealt for former Ranger Mike Lamb last week.

Jolbert Cabrera avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one year, $1 million contract with the Dodgers. The deal also reportedly includes an option for 2005 (likely club option).

Former Tribe front office member Paul DePodesta (now the A's assistant General Manager) is a candidate for the Dodgers general manager position now that Oakland has granted Los Angeles permission to talk to him about the opening. Or, rather, the "position" since the Dodgers currently have a general manager, Dan Evans, who has to interview with the new ownership to keep his current job.

Shane Spencer signed a minor league contract with the Mets that includes an invite to spring training. With Karim Garcia also in the mix, the Mets outfield is starting to look eerily similar to the group that headed north with the Tribe last year.

Jose Mesa will head to spring training with the Pirates after signing a minor league contract with the Buccos last week. Pittsburgh is still talking to Ugueth Urbina but if those talks don't result in a signing, Mesa stands a decent chance of being the Pirates closer to open the season. Since it's a minor league deal, it's not a bad sign by the Pirates in seeing if Mesa has anything left in the tank. When he's throwing well, he can still be pretty effective. Whether or not he can still throw well, remains to be seen.

Wil Cordero signed a one-year, $600k contract with the Marlins where he'll likely spell Hee Seop Choi against tough left-handers and serve as insurance in case Choi struggles at the plate.

Mark McLemore signed a minor league contract with the Orioles that will pay him a reported $725,000 if he sticks with the big league club.

Scott Erickson officially signed a minor league contract with the Mets. It wasn't a bad week for the former 20-game winner as one day earlier he wed MNF reporter Lisa Guerrero in Hawaii.

Jason Boyd was sentenced to one year of court supervision, fined $200, and ordered to seek anger management counseling by a judge on Monday for hitting a man outside an Illinois bar in November. Boyd signed with the Pirates in October after he was placed on waivers by the Indians.

A slew of additional former Indians also signed minor league deals recently. Steve Woodard signed with the A's, Jeff Fassero with the Rockies, Dan Neil with the Orioles, Paul Rigdon with the Red Sox, Calvin Murray (is he still around?) and Kevin Sullivan with the White Sox, Mike Matthews with the Reds, Jed Hansen and Travis Chapman with the Royals, Tim Byrdak with the Padres, and Alberto Garza with the Pirates.

FYI for anyone headed to Florida to catch the Tribe this spring. The Indians game on April 2 against Tampa in St.Pete has been cancelled and the Indians will play the Tigers in Lakeland instead. The change was necessitated by the D-Rays opening the season in Japan against the Yankees on March 29-30. The Indians will also play Montreal on March 15 (instead of Boston) and will play the Red Sox on March 18 in Winter Haven.

If you're home Saturday nights around 10:00 (yeah, we have no life), you have to check out Last Call Cleveland. The website FAQ will answer your questions on who they are but the short answer is that they're a local comedy group and their show is on Adelphia channel 21 (the website will guide you to other times for other cable systems). If you have the bandwidth, make sure to check out some of their online skits. Funny, funny stuff. Hard.

 

February 06, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: BA Live Chat  
Baseball America's live chat with Jim Ingraham on the Indians top 10 prospect list starts at 3:00. Hey, that's in five minutes!


CIR UPDATE: BA Top 10 Indians Prospects  
Baseball America released it's annual ranking of the Indians Top 10 Prospects today. Here's the list...

1) Grady Sizemore
2) Jeremy Guthrie
3) Fausto Carmona
4) Jake Dittler
5) Fernando Cabrera
6) Michael Aubrey
7) Jason Cooper
8) Brad Snyder
9) Adam Miller
10) Matt Whitney

Biggest surprises: Jake Dittler at number four as he continues his rapid ascent up the prospect charts. I thought Michael Aubrey would be a couple of sports higher. Fernando Cabrera at number five but no Kazuhito Tadano? Hmmm...

Notables likely to be in the 11-30 range in the Baseball America 2004 Prospect Handbook: (in no particular order): Kazutito Tadano, Corey Smith, Francisco Cruceta, Travis Foley, Dan Denham, Ben Francisco, Mariano Gomez, Rafael Perez, Nick Pesco, Aaron Laffey, Shaun Larkin, Kyle Denney, Ivan Ochoa, Luke Scott, Nathan Panther, Nelson Hiraldo, Ryan Garko, Javi Herrera, Eric Crozier, Beau Allred.

Baseball America will host an Indians chat at 3:00 today.

Note: BA subscribers who click on the Top Ten link above can view the entire list. Non-subscribers can only see the Sizemore profile. If you're a baseball fan, there is no better magazine then Baseball America (both online and in print). I can't recommend it enough.

 

February 05, 2004  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Thursday, February 5  

This is the second in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Over the next several weeks, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's early February and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the first-base depth in the system. Today, it's the second sackers who go under the 'scope.

CLEVELAND
Ron Belliard will be the Indians second basemen this season after signing as a free-agent in December. A former top prospect with the Brewers, Belliard hit .277/.351/.409/.760 with 31 doubles and 8 longballs for the Rockies last season. Decent numbers but any discussion of a Colorado player warrants a look at his home/road splits and Belliard (like most players) posted better numbers in Coors Field (.311/.387/.505/.892, 6 HRs) than on the road (.251/.321/.335/.656, 2 HRs). He hits left-handers well (.345/.426/.584/1.010) but struggled against righties last year (.254/.324/.350/.674). Belliard is generally regarded as solid defensively although his range has increased over the years as his weight has increased. The Indians put him on a conditioning program after signing and his current weight ranges from 200 to 220 depending on the source. We'll see what kind of shape he's in when he arrives in Winter Haven in a few weeks.

John McDonald and Lou Merloni will battle for a utility spot. Both can play anywhere in the infield with McDonald having the edge defensively and Merloni having the advantage at the plate. I have a hunch that the Indians are looking for more punch off the bench this year and if that's correct, Merloni would seem to be the favorite entering the spring. If both Travis Hafner and Ben Broussard make the opening day roster, then it's unlikely that both McDonald and Merloni can also make the opening day roster (barring injuries, of course) so this should be a good battle. Note to John McDonald fans, he's out of options so don't be surprised if a trade happens late in the spring if Merloni is awarded the job.

Note: We've crunched the roster numbers before but 12 pitchers and 2 catchers leave room for 11 infielders/outfielders (Hafner, Broussard, Belliard, Vizquel, Blake, Merloni/McDonald, Bradley, Gerut, Lawton, Escobar, Ludwick/Crisp).

The major league wildcard is Ricky Gutierrez, who will be attempting another comeback this spring. If he's healthy, his contract virtually guarantees that he will be on the roster and that puts both McDonald and Merloni in jeopardy. That's a mighty big "if" however.

BUFFALO
The only good thing that you can say about Brandon Phillips' 2003 season is that it's over. Save for a six-game stretch from May 8-14 when he hit .476 (10-for-21) and his game-winning three-run homer against the Tigers on May 20, Phillips was an extreme disappointment for the Indians at the plate last year, finishing with averages of .208/.242/.311/.553, six homeruns, and 14 walks versus 77 strikeouts. Incidentally, that longball against the Tigers was the beginning of the end for Phillips as his average nose-tied from .248 into the low .200s over the next month and a half and not even a midseason demotion to Buffalo could shake him out of his struggles as he hit just .175/.247/.279/.526 in 154 at-bats with the Bisons and followed that up with a .203 September after rejoining the Indians for the final month. Phillips chose not to participate in the Indians offseason workout program and, while the Indians publicly say that they are fine with his decision to workout in his hometown of Atlanta, you have to think privately they wish he was in Cleveland under their watchful and instructional eye. With the signing of Ronnie Belliard, Phillips is ticketed for at least a half-season (and likely a full-season) of triple-A experience which may be the best thing for him at this stage of his career. Plenty of players have struggled in their initial exposure to the big leagues and it's important to remember that Phillips is just 22 years old (turns 23 on June 28) and still possesses a ton of raw talent. Whether he can make the necessary adjustments, both mentally and at the plate, will be one of the more interesting stories to follow this season. I'm optimistic.

Zach Sorenson (.239 BA, .652 OPS in Buffalo, .135, 1 HR in Cleveland) and Scott Pratt (.246 BA, .585 OPS) are candidates to see time as Phillips backup this season. The former 1998 2nd and 3rd round picks are likely in their final year in the Indians organization as they'll both be eligible for minor league free agency after this season. It also wouldn't surprise me if one (or both) are no longer with the organization on opening day.

Veteran minor leaguer Chris Clapinski will also likely see time at second while playing all over the infield for Marty Brown.

The wildcard in the infield for the Bisons is Luis Gonzalez, who was selected by the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft this past December. Gonzalez will spend the spring battling Aaron Miles, Damian Jackson, Denny Hocking, and Benji Gil for a utility role in Colorado after hitting an impressive .321/.417/.539/.956 with 8 homeruns and 51 RBIs this winter in Venezuela (and displaying power for the first time in his career). His competition isn't that impressive by name but they all have big league experience and can match Gonzalez' biggest strength as a rule 5 selection: versatility. They also leave very little margin of error for Gonzalez so if I'm a betting man, I'd say he's going to be offered back but a good spring could definitely change that. If he is offered back, he could serve as a super-sub in the Bisons infield or start at third-base. His return would likely have an impact on Sorenson, Pratt, and Clapinski above. Check out this MLB.com article on Benji Gil for a closer look at the Rockies second-base/utility situation.

Another wildcard that needs to be considered is fellow rule 5 draftee Hector Luna, who was selected by the Cardinals. We'll address his situation when we review the shortstops in the next report.

AKRON
This is where it starts to get interesting.

Joe Inglett doesn't show up on any prospect lists but that didn't keep him from having an impressive 2003 campaign, hitting a combined .294/.438/.396/.834 with 26 doubles last season for Kinston and Akron. The Stanford product also displayed impressive plate discipline, drawing a combined 57 walks to 50 strikeouts and, most importantly, maintaining that ratio after being promoted to double-A. That discipline helped him reach base in 45 consecutive games which likely would have garnered far more attention if not for the record-tying 71 straight games posted earlier in the season by the Greek God of Walks (Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis). Inglett was ticketed to extend his season in the Arizona Fall League but a dislocated left elbow suffered in late August shelved those plans. He'll likely follow his path of the last two seasons in beginning the year at the level he ended at the previous season and then moving up in a midseason promotion.

Eider Torres was aggressively pushed from short-season ball to the high-A Carolina League last year when the Indians ran out of spots at low-A Lake County (Chris De La Cruz and Micah Schilling) and he responded with a decent season considering the circumstances, hitting .248 with 43 steals. He needs to continue to add strength (.284 SLG, 13 2B, 1 HR) to bring his power numbers up to a minimum level and his plate discipline fell from previous seasons although he still walked 39 times. Defensively, aside from his work at second, Torres also spent a considerable amount of time at shortstop while Ivan Ochoa was injured and that versatility will help him as he climbs the ladder. There's no doubt that Torres would benefit from another half-season (at least) of class-A seasoning but (as you'll see below) the Indians may not have a roster spot for him at Kinston and have to aggressively push him up a level again this year.

Rodney Choy Foo is the third Akron second-base candidate. He also spent last season in Kinston, spending the majority of his time at third and subbing at second while Torres was subbing at short. Choy Foo (.257/.342/.378/.720) has an intriguing mix of skills, some pop (17 2B, 11 HR), some speed (11 HR), and a decent eye (53 BB) but he has yet to put it all together over the course of a season. With Corey Smith entrenched at third in Akron and the above two players candidates for second, could a position switch be in the offing for Choy Foo this spring? Just speculation on my part.

Todd West can play all around the infield and looks to assume the Jim Goelz role of utility infielder and designated "placed on DL with a pulled hamstring to create a temporary roster spot" guy.

And finally, we'll talk about Hector Luna more in the next report but if he is returned from St.Louis, where he is going to play? Phillips and Peralta are in the middle of the diamond in Buffalo, Ivan Ochoa is headed to Akron to play short, and Inglett, Torres, and Choy Foo need to find a home somewhere. Hmmm....

KINSTON
Shaun Larkin spent all of last season at third base for Lake County in place of the injured Matt Whitney but I'm going to take a chance and move him back to second (he was drafted as a second basemen) this year in anticipation of the return of Pat Osborn to the hot corner for Kinston (which we'll talk about more during the third base review). Larkin put together a fine offensive campaign last year for the Captains, hitting .266/.373/.471/.844 with 26 doubles, 20 homeruns, and 80 RBIs. He also displayed impressive plate discipline, walking 73 times versus 70 strikeouts. Despite 2004 being only his second full professional season, Larkin is already 24 (and just starting high-A ball) which means this is a huge year for him developmentally. He needs to reach Akron this summer and be on his way to Buffalo next year or risk being labeled with the dreaded "organizational" tag.

It's possible that either Choy Foo or Torres could return to Kinston and rotate in a three-way platoon with Larkin and Osborn at second and third.

Luis Cotto (.160) and/or Bryan Kent (.215) could fill the utility role. So might Anthony Lunetta if they decide to push him up a level.

LAKE COUNTY
Micah Schilling was labeled as one of the top pure hitters in the 2002 draft after the Indians snagged him with a first round supplemental pick. Since signing, however, Schilling has done nothing but struggle at the plate, including a .231/.336/.300/.636 season last year for Lake County. Those averages did pick up over the second-half and that fact and the 55 free passes he drew offer some hope for the future. His first longball this year will be the first of his career (homerless in 486 career at-bats) so strength is obviously a concern. Like Fernando Pacheco, it's too soon to label Schilling a bust (he just turned 21 in December) but it's pretty accurate to label his first two seasons as a disappointment. Given the roster issues the Indians will likely face at Akron and Kinston above, I think the Tribe will take this opportunity to give Schilling a second shot at South Atlantic League hurlers and let him build up his confidence and experience some success before moving him up to the more advanced Carolina League.

Anthony Lunetta hit .249/.307/.373/.680 with 3 homeruns last year in the Valley after being drafted out of USC. He's a likely candidate to serve as the Captains backup infielder this year although Argenis Reyes, Chris Clem (20-year old Australian), and Julio Garcia may have something to say about that. Reyes hit .276 and stole 14 of 15 bases last year for Burlington but had only two extra-base hits in 152 at-bats. Clem (who can also play third) hit .273 with a .386 OBP for Burlington last year while Garcia hit .220 in 100 at-bats last year.

SHORT-SEASON
One of Reyes or Clem may be a numbers victim and start the season in extended spring training with a return to short-season ball in the summer. DSL, VSL, and June draftees will fill in the rest of the roster spots.

OVERALL
Brandon Phillips is, by far, the cream of the Indians second-base crop and if he develops as expected, the Indians will be set at this position for the next six years. After Phillips, the Indians have a nice collection of players although none of them profile as more than utility types at this stage in their development. Finding positions and at-bats for all of these guys will be a difficult chore this spring and it's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out come opening day. I'm particularly interested in seeing where Inglett, Choy Foo, and Torres start the season and if we can see an organizational pecking order start to develop amongst all these players. It's a deep position within the system but one lacking in potential impact players below the triple-A level.

Next Report: Shortstop

P.S. I've received several responses in regards to my asking in the last report if anyone would be interested in helping with the minor league recaps this season. If you're interested in learning more about this opportunity, please send me an e-mail. I'll be in contact with everyone who responded early next week.

 


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