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February 28, 2005
CIR UPDATE: BA Top 100 Rollout
Baseball America has started to roll-out its annual Top 100 prospect list, starting with prospects 76-100 today. The Indians Brad Snyder (#84) and Jeremy Sowers (#90) are the first (or last, depending on how you look at it) Tribe farm hands to crack the list.
Kinston skipper Torey Lovullo on Snyder: "He's a strong, physical athlete that's going to be a tremendous big league player. He's the complete package that stands up and demands your attention."
An NL scout on Sowers: ""He locates everything well, especially the fastball. He automatically becomes one of the most polished pitchers in a system deep with arms."
February 23, 2005
CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Wednesday, February 23
With everyone but Juan Gonzalez in camp, it's time for the CIR's annual Spring Training preview. Today, we'll take a look at the position players who will be getting their cuts in this spring. This will be a two-part review with the injured players, prospects, and 4A types going under the 'scope today followed tomorrow by the big leaguers and those in competition for the show. And away we go...
Continues to rehab from knee surgery. Just began running on flat ground. Targeted for a May rehab assignment. A lot can happen behind now and his "ready" date but if everyone's healthy and playing well, it's going to be interesting how the Indians work Jody back into the lineup.
Lost a good chuck of 2004 to an elbow injury suffered after being hit by a pitch but Gutierrez made up for it over the winter by hitting .227/.326/.553/.879 with 14 doubles and 13 homeruns in 53 games in the Venezuelan Winter League. Needs to learn to work the count more and cut down on the strikeouts but the physical tools are there (athleticism, defense, arm). With a crowded outfield in Cleveland, a full season of triple-A seasoning is in store for Gutierrez. He and Grady Sizemore will make for quite the dynamic outfield in Buffalo.
Shot through the system last year, hitting a combined .330/.416/.565/.981 with 33 doubles, 22 home runs, and 99 RBIs for Kinston, Akron, and Buffalo, in his first full professional season. Only problem is where does he fit in at the big league level? Challenged defensively behind the plate, he's nevertheless blocked by Victor Martinez. Likewise by Travis Hafner at DH and Ben Broussard at first. As long as he keeps hitting, the Tribe (or someone else via trade) will find a spot for him. Will likely split time between catching, first, and DH.
In camp to soak up the big league scene and let the pitchers get their early throwing in. Solid defensively, the bat still needs work. Could start the year in Akron.
Yet another backstop to catch the hordes of hurlers in Winter Haven. Not much of a prospect after hitting a combined .209 between Kinston and Akron last year but, then again, he's not headed to Buffalo either as triple-A insurance.
Returns for another season of caddying in triple-A. An injury to either Victor Martinez or Josh Bard may provide Wathan the opportunity to add to his five career major league at-bats. Although his lofty .600 career batting average may take a hit ;-).
Poster child for what harm being a Rule 5 pick can have on your career. Lost a year of development while rotting on the Orioles bench in 2003 after being plucked from the Twins in the Rule 5 in December 2002. Hit just .235 in the Carolina League and .210 in the Eastern League last year. Shortstop by nature.
4A professional hitter with gap power and little speed. Can play first and the outfield. Hit .292/.382/.468/.850 with 12 dingers for Nashville last season. Turns 33 in August.
Spent the last seven years with the Orioles, hitting .234 in AAA and .156 (5-for-32) with the Orioles last season. Former first round pick who was once considered one of the top high school running backs in the nation. Might be better served trying to back up Lee Suggs.
Solid minor league stick who spent the last eight seasons toiling in the Yankees organization. Raked to the tune of .294/.382/.542/.924 with 26 doubles, 10 triples, and 16 longballs for Columbus last year. Should be a fan favorite in the outfield at Dunn Tire Park this summer.
Veteran slugger returns to provide a veteran presence in the middle of the Bisons lineup again this season. Young hit .295/.368/.551 with 27 home runs for Buffalo last year. Man, that Bisons lineup is going to be impressive with Young, Liefer, Garko, Sizemore, Rodriguez, and Gutierrez.
February 22, 2005
Sorry but I got hung up doing the taxes for Uncle Sam last night so part two of the CIR's spring training preview will be delayed until later this evening or tomorrow afternoon.
In other Tribe news, Juan Gonzalez was officially added to the 40-man roster yesterday while Jason Stanford was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40 for Juan Gone. Nice move by the Tribe in adding language to Gonzalez's contract to keep him off the 40 until players were eligible to be moved to the 60-day DL, thus preventing the possible loss of a designated player via waivers.
Ho, ho, hey, hey, position players report today (although most of them have been in camp for awhile).
Carlos Baerga signed a minor league contract with the Nationals (it's going to take awhile to get used that name) and will report to spring training as a non-roster invitee. The former Indians number three hitter (too legit, too legit to quit) hit .235 in 79 games for the Diamondbacks last year.
Peter Gammons reports that Mark Shapiro gave Victor Martinez a copy of this Gordon Edes' article from the Boston Globe on Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. It's a good read.
February 18, 2005
CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Friday, February 18
With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp yesterday, it's time for the CIR's annual Spring Training preview. Today, we'll take a look at the pitchers toeing the slab in Winter Haven. On Monday, we'll examine the position players, and later in the week, we'll look at 20 questions that Eric Wedge and company need answered by Opening Day. It's good to have baseball back. Onto the pitchers...
GUARANTEED TO HEAD NORTH
This is a big year for CC. With four years in the bigs, bigger dollars coming his way, and two years out from free-agency, it's time for Sabathia to post numbers equal to the ace status that has been bestowed on him, unfairly or not. There hasn't been a whole lot of growth over these four years but the arm and stuff is there.
Breakout campaign for Westbrook in 2004. Now, can he do it again? With the added pressure of a bigger contract, a larger presence in the rotation, and a young shortstop behind him in the field. Since he allows so many balls in play, Jake needs to continue to improve his control and keep runners on base (i.e., he can't help them with the free passes) as he did last season. Likewise, while the hard sinker may he his "out" pitch, continued development of a strikeout pitch (he did improve his K/9 IP ratio in '04) is a key for long-term success.
The Tribe's big free-agent signing brings a veteran presence to the rotation. Aside from his 2002 campaign with the Braves, Millwood has not been a star pitcher since his 1999 season in Hotlanta. Serviceable, yes. Decent, yes. Star, no. If he's healthy (and that's a somewhat murky "if" given his recent elbow problems), Millwood should serve as an innings-eater and rack up 12-13 wins with an ERA in the 4.30 range. Note that there could be a lot of variance in those numbers. Statheads will add that his xERA indicates that Millwood's pitched better than his actual numbers suggest in four of the past five seasons so consider that a point for optimism.
Well documented struggles late in the year tarnished an otherwise solid debut season. Lee simply left too many balls over the plate in the second half as evidenced by the improvement in command (less walks per nine innings) coupled with an increase in hits and homeruns allowed (batters were teeing off on pitches left in the zone that should have been on the corner or off the plate). Stuff was still there, though, as he punched out more than a batter per inning. Lee will likely break camp in the non-pressure role of 4th starter. Lots of potential here.
As 5th starters go, Elarton's not that bad. In fact, his numbers with the Indians last season suggest that he could be a nice sleeper for the Tribe this year. The right-hander allowed less than a hit per inning (107 in 117.1 IP) and in the second half had a solid BB/IP ratio (24 BB in 91.2 innings) and K/BB ratio (62 K, 24 BB). Not great, but we're talking 5th starter here. The longball is what's preventing him from taking the step to the next level. 25 dingers in 117.1 innings with the Tribe led to a 4.53 ERA despite an otherwise nice .240 BAA and 1.270 WHIP. If he can keep the ball in the Jake (15 HR in 68 IP), Elarton could surprise this year. Again, we're talking 5th starter here.
Converted 13 of 14 save opportunities after his return last summer but lived dangerously in doing so. Hmmm, Bobby Dangerously. I kind of like that. Anyway, his health and, ultimately, success as the Indians closer is one of (if not) the key to the Indians season. If the elbow holds up and he saves 30-35 games, the rest of the bullpen should fall in line nicely. If it doesn't, however, everyone moves up a notch and we could see a repeat of last season with otherwise solid relievers struggling in new and uncertain roles.
Helped solidify the 'pen with his arrival in the second half and is now viewed by many as the primary setup man for Bob Wickman and the likely closer if Wickman's elbow is not up to the rigors of a full season. Solid ratios across the board, although righties did give him some trouble (.291 BAA, .790 OPSA).
Finished strong with a 1.75 ERA (25.2 IP, 15 H, 11 BB, 22 K) in August and September after his failures in the closer role in April set the tone for the '04 season and the bullpen from hell. Overall numbers, though, were solid, although down from 2003. Note the rising HR rate too. Removed from the closer role, it will be interesting to see how Riske responds with a known role in the 7th and 8th innings. I think he could emerge as one of the best setup men in the American League.
Four consecutive years of decline do not portend a rosy future for the 35-year old Arthur Lee. Still, he was bothered by injuries last year and a return to health and a return to a setup role (he bombed as Oakland's closer last season) could be what the doctor ordered for resuscitating Rhodes' career. It's spring so we can be optimistic, right? Let's not kid ourselves, though, if the Indians get anything out of Rhodes over the next two years, view it as a bonus. His value was in allowing the Indians to dump Matt Lawton on the Pirates and free up an outfield spot.
Sat out all of '04 while recovering from shoulder surgery. So what's the attraction? Or, rather, why the guaranteed roster spot? A .192 BAA, .631 OPSA in 2003 and a .147 BAA and .430 OPSA in 2002 versus lefties. Yes, that makes Sauerbeck a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). I'll caution that he does walk a lot of batters (career 5.78 BB/9 IP) and he is recovering from shoulder surgery, although he did toss 10 scoreless innings this winter in the Dominican. Could be very effective if used correctly. Think a Paul Assenmacher type-role from back in the day. On the bright side, he's not costing the Indians much compared to last years lefty relief hope Scott Stewart.
Could emerge as the 5th starter if injuries sideline one of the top five but the Indians seem pretty intent on letting Davis establish himself out of the bullpen. Considering his regression last season as a starter (107 IP, 141 H, 48 BB, 65 K, 5.80 ERA, .316 BAA) from a less than stellar rookie campaign, that's probably a wise move. Davis' power arm could play well in the back of the pen although talk of him emerging as the Indians closer in the second half or some version of K-Rod or Brad Lidge is very premature. Personally, I'd like to see him used in the middle innings for multiple frames, sans late inning pressure, to let him experience sustained success at the major league level. I'd be surprised if that's not how Eric Wedge handles him in the first half.
BULLPEN (ONE OPEN SPOT)
Struggled in the closer role but, otherwise, put together a strong season in the back of the Indians bullpen last year. Still, with the addition of Rhodes and Sauerbeck from the south side and Jason Davis from the rotation, B-Court finds himself fighting for the final spot. 78 K's in 66.2 innings with 18 walks speaks for itself, however, and I have a feeling the Indians may field a few trade inquiries late this spring if Betancourt's roster status appears uncertain.
Last year's bullpen surprise (3.09 ERA, .216 BAA, 55K, 55.1 IP) finds himself again on the outside looking in for a spot on the opening day roster, although his chances this season are much better than in years past. Given his age (33) at break-through, he's going to have to answer whether he can do it again. Along with Betancourt, he's a favorite for the final spot in the 'pen.
Struck out 92 in 75 innings in his first full season working out of the bullpen. Also posted a healthy H/IP ratio with 57 hits allowed in 75 innings. Needs to improve his control (43 walks) and would benefit from an extended stint as the Bisons closer and dealing with end of the game situations. But a good spring could force the Indians hand.
Is he a starter or is he a reliever? In four starts, Tadano had a 3.27 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 22 innings, including one memorable 10 punchout performance against the Reds in the Queen City. In 10 relief appearances, the right-hander had a ERA with 34 hits allowed in 28.1 innings. He'll compete for the final relief spot, it will be interesting to see how the Indians use him if he starts the season in Buffalo.
For all his struggles with the Indians last year (7.45 ERA thru July), he still struck out 25 in 19 innings and pitched well in September (7 IP, 9 K, .167 BAA). He also posted impressive numbers in Buffalo (2.80 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 46 K, 35 IP). Barring injury to either Rhodes or Sauerbeck, Bartosh will likely start the season in Buffalo but I have a hunch he could surprise over the summer. His numbers are definitely intriguing.
Spent the last three seasons in Colorado after once being considered a decent prospect in the Mariners organization. Has a 5.78 ERA in 254 career MLB innings. Long shot to make the roster but his ability to fill a variety of roles on the staff (start, long relief, etc) could work to his advantage with a good spring.
Still recovering from hip surgery, Shuey may not make it out of camp if his body can't hold up. If healthy (enough), likely to start the season in Buffalo where the Indians and Shue-Dog will make a determination on his status in May.
Made it back from the TJ late last season. Will contend for the last spot in the Indians bullpen but will more likely continue to build arm strength in Buffalo to start the season.
Back with the Indians after a brief off-season stint with the Red Sox. A Tommy John rehabee, Traber needs the innings that the minor leagues can provide.
Dropped from the 40-man roster this off-season, the left-hander has thrown only 22 innings since July 2003. Great promise but his hand ailment needs to clear up for Gomez to have a chance to fulfill it.
You have to admire his comeback determination.
Out for most of 2005 (if not all) as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Dominated the Southern League (58K, 40.1IP) before joining the Indians after being named the PTBNL in the Milton Bradley trade. Did not pitch horrible for Akron but did not dominate either. Health remains a concern (two elbow injuries) and I wouldn't be surprised to see him move to the bullpen somewhere down the line.
After breakout campaign for Lake County in 2003, pitched well in the first half at Kinston last year before being hit hard in Akron (87 IP, 114 H, 4.97 ERA). Still, his walk rates were solid and he did show an increase in his K/IP ratio although it's still below what you would expect from a pitcher with his reported stuff. He'll pitch all of next season at the age of 21 and a full season of success in double-A would be a nice springboard toward a potential major league shot sometime in 2006.
Little chance to crack the rotation. Needs a strong year in Buffalo to avoid being bypassed by the other young guns. Could be attractive trade bait this summer.
You have to believe the Indians expected Guthrie to be a major component of their 2005 rotation when they signed him to a $4 million, major league contract in the late summer of 2002. Scouts say the stuff is there for him to be successful but two consecutive years of triple-A struggles leave his major league future very much in doubt. Extreme long-shot to break camp with the big league club.
Considered by many to be the Indians top pitching prospect entering last season, 2004 essentially was a lost season as injuries limited Dittler to just 21 starts. He's back under the radar with an opportunity to rejoin the Indians elite prospects again this year in Akron.
A bit old to be considered a prospect, true, but I've always liked Denney. Last year was probably his best shot to join the Indians rotation but poorly timed injuries took away that opportunity. With younger pitching prospects joining him in triple-A this year and Adam Miller coming fast in Akron, look for 2005 to be Denney's last as an Indian as he can be a minor league free-agent in the off-season. On that note, if he's willing, don't be surprised if he takes the Jason Phillips and Jason Beverlin route and heads to Japan.
Veteran lefties ability to start or work out of the bullpen will be a plus for the Buffalo staff. Longshot to break camp with the big club if he tosses zeros and either Rhodes or Sauerback start the season on the DL.
Former Indy leaguer has pitched well since joining the Tribe in the summer of '03 (14-5, 3.51, 1.279 WHIP). Poor IP/K ratio (172 IP, 93K) prevents him from being viewed as anything more than triple-A insurance.
Former Padre averaged a strikeout per inning last year between AA and AAA with a 3.37 ERA.
Similar story as Rayborn, minor league free-agent has pitched well in two seasons with the Tribe (15-5, 2.78, 1.148 WHIP), but low K/IP ratio (149 IP, 100K) hints at big league struggles.
For the first time in years, the Indians pitching staff appears to be fairly set with only one real opening up for grabs this spring. That's not to say that competition and/or injuries can't change those plans but, barring a spring surprise, 11 pitchers are pretty guaranteed to be heading North with the big club come April. That said, the competition for that final bullpen spot should be pretty intense between Betancourt, Miller, and Cabrera, among others. The real story on the mound this spring is going to be the health of Bob Wickman and Kevin Millwood. If they're not able to go, than Eric Wedge is going to have some major shuffling to do. If their arms are fine, then spring training should be relatively uneventful on the mound. The early part of spring should also provide some entertainment as the young guns (Carmona, Brown, etc.) make a few big league appearances before heading out to minor league camp.
PROJECTED OPENING DAY PITCHING STAFF
ROTATION: CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Kevin Millwood, Cliff Lee, Scott Elarton
BULLPEN: Bob Wickman, Bob Howry, David Riske, Jason Davis, Arthur Rhodes, Scott Sauerbeck, Matt Miller
Coming Monday: Position Player Preview
February 14, 2005
Much like pitchers and catchers, the CIR reports to spring training on Thursday. See you then!