With the start of the minor league baseball season two weeks away, we kick off our previews of the Indians four full-season affiliates today. The first stop, Triple-A level Buffalo.
Last year, Buffalo finished 73-68 and in 4th place in the North Division of the International League. It was a disappointing season all around for the Bisons, especially after making the playoffs in 2005 and 2004 with the league's best record over that two-year span, and winning the League Championship in 2004.
Much like the parent club, the Bisons did not live up to expectations and several key prospects had down years. Also, when the Indians raised the white flag on their season, several of the players who were playing well at Buffalo were called up, which left very little ammunition for Buffalo to compete with.
This season, the Bisons roster will be loaded with holdovers from last year and many of the Indians best prospects. With an abundance of talent now in the upper-levels of the minors, the Indians Triple-A affiliate will benefit, especially with so many players repeating. The Bisons roster is loaded with players at virtually every position in the lineup and in the pitching staff who can help the Indians this season, which is something you could not really say last year.
And, there are several players not listed here who figure to get a lot of action in Buffalo this year. Injuries to players at the major league level opened the door for right-hander Fausto Carmona and right-hander Tom Mastny to start the year with the Indians, and others like infielder Joe Inglett and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez are currently on the disabled list.
Minor League Affiliates
Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
Akron Aeros (AA)
Kinston Indians (High A)
Lake County Captains (Low A)
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Short Season A)
GCL Indians (Rookie)
Buffalo Bisons Coaching Staff
Manager: Torey Lovullo
2nd season as Buffalo manager, 7th season in Indians organization
Hitting Coach: Dave Meyers
1st season as Buffalo hitting coach, 1st season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Scott Radinsky
1st season as Buffalo pitching coach, 3rd season in Indians organization
Starting Lineup & Rotation
(estimated batting order)
1. Ben Francisco CF
2. Shin-Soo Choo LF
3. Brad Snyder RF
4. Keith Ginter 3B
5. Mike Rose C
6. Jason Cooper DH
7. Ryan Mulhern 1B
8. Hector Luna SS
9. Luis Rivas 2B
#1 Starter: Adam Miller
#2 Starter: Brian Slocum
#3 Starter: Rafael Perez
#4 Starter: Jason Stanford
#5 Starter: Jeff Harris
Players to Watch
Ryan Mulhern - First Base
Age: 26 Height: 6'2" Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right
After a sensational 2005 campaign where he won the Lou Boudreau Award as the organization's top hitter, Mulhern took a step back in 2006. After he hit .315/.390/.640 with 32 HRs and 94 RBIs in 112 combined games at Kinston and Akron in 2005, Mulhern struggled at Akron in 2006 hitting .268/.335/.438 with 15 HRs and 69 RBIs in 121 games. Mulhern has very good power, but lacks good plate discipline. Much of his problem in 2006 was a lack of aggressiveness early in the count in not attacking fastballs, and then late in the count being over-aggressive when the pitchers were throwing more breaking balls. He tended to over-think his at bats and just did not have a good plan of attack when he stepped into the batters box. Of note, Jason Cooper could also get some time at first base.
Ben Francisco - Outfield
Age: 25 Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Francisco returns to Buffalo after a very good year there last year when he hit .278/.345/.454 with 17 HRs, 59 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. The Indians love his bat, and feel he would be further along if not for several trips to the disabled list over the past few years. Francisco's bat provides very good extra base hit production, and he is a versatile defender who can play all three outfield positions well. His speed is average, but he is an excellent base-runner as his instincts on the base-paths lead to many of his stolen bases. The Indians were impressed with his play in spring training, and feel he is capable of a major league opportunity right now. He may initially break in as a 4th outfielder sometime this season.
Brad Snyder - Outfield
Age: 24 Height: 6'3" Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Snyder's stock fell somewhat last year, hitting .270 with 18 HRs and 72 RBIs, with an Akron record 158 strikeouts. Snyder's compact stroke generates excellent bat speed, and the power and physical abilities are still there. Snyder has good speed, which plays up due to his very good instincts on the basepaths. Snyder has mostly played center field during his time with the Indians, but his power bat and plus arm project him as a major league right fielder. Still, the strikeout total is a huge concern. Recently, Snyder met with an eye specialist to fix some vision problems he had last year, so we will see if that helps cut down on some of the strikeouts. For a more detailed scouting report on Snyder, click here.
Shin-Soo Choo - Outfield
Age: 24 Height: 5'11" Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Choo came over from Seattle in the Ben Broussard trade, and impressed the fans and organization by showing a good overall game and hit .295 with 3 HRs and 22 RBIs in 146 at bats in Cleveland. Choo was in line to be the left-handed hitting part of the platoon in right field before the Indians signed Trot Nixon late in free agency. Choo is a versatile player who can play anywhere in the outfield, has decent speed, and a good arm. Scouts are divided on how much power they believe Choo will showcase, as some believe he could hit 20-25 home runs annually, while others believe he will only hit around 10-15 home runs a year. Choo needs work against left-handed pitching, and will play everyday in Buffalo to work on that part of his game. If David Dellucci or Trot Nixon go on the disabled list, Choo will likely get the call to Cleveland.
Adam Miller - Right-handed Starting Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'4" Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Miller is the crème de la crème as far as prospects go in the Indians system. Last year, Miller was 100% healthy and put up a great season at Akron, going 15-6 with a 2.75 ERA as well as tallying up 161 strikeouts in 158.1 IP. And, in spring training this year, he impressed by throwing 14 shutout innings. Even though his velocity was down a little last year, he still consistently cranks his fastball up to 96 MPH late into games, and this spring he hit 100 MPH in a minor league game. In addition to that, he has developed his secondary pitches and has become more of a pitcher rather than thrower. Miller is the prize of the organization, and with that he likely will be in Buffalo most of the year. Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro has a penchant to coddle his prized-prospects, and when you consider that Miller is not on the Indians 40-man roster it is safe to say that barring a major rash of injuries, Miller won't be in Cleveland until at the earliest as a September call-up. For a more detailed scouting report on Miller, click here.
Rafael Perez - Left-handed Starting Pitcher
Age: 24 Height: 6'3" Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Perez is one of the Indians top left-handed pitchers in the system. Last year, Perez went a combined 4-8 with a 2.76 ERA and held opposing batters to a .213 batting average against (BAA) in 25 appearances (12 starts) at Akron and Buffalo. In brief action with Cleveland, Perez was 0-0 with a 4.38 ERA in the 12.1 innings he pitched, and he held batters to a .204 BAA. Perez throws a powerful 92-94 MPH live fastball with great action, and his slider is rated as the best in the entire system, which many scouts feel will be a devastating pitch in a major league bullpen. He will begin the season in the Buffalo starting rotation to stretch him out, but the Indians have a great need for young left-handed relief pitching and he could get several opportunities with the Indians in such a role throughout 2007. For a more detailed scouting report of Perez, click here.
Tony Sipp - Left-handed Relief Pitcher
Age: 23 Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Sipp is a power-armed pitcher who has an impressive three-pitch arsenal that make him more than just a matchup lefty, but instead a potential late-inning reliever. Last year Sipp went 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 29 appearances (4 starts) with 80 strikeouts in 60.1 innings pitched with Akron. He has big-time stuff, fronted by a 92-94 MPH fastball that grades out as a plus pitch, and a devastating slider that grades out as a plus-plus pitch. And, his changeup has taken big steps to being a very good weapon. Sipp could spend much of 2007 in Buffalo fine tuning his game, and probably will not make his Indians debut until sometime this September or in 2008. Although, since he is being fast-tracked, with the Indians need for left-hand relief pitching Sipp could surprise and be with the Indians by mid-season this year. For a more detailed scouting report on Sipp, click here.
Juan Lara - Left-handed Relief Pitcher
Age: 26 Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Left
Lara is another good left-handed reliever on the Buffalo pitching staff. Last year, Lara went 5-3 with 8 saves and a 2.77 ERA in 53 combined relief appearances at Akron and Buffalo. Lara was also impressive in his short stint in Cleveland, going 0-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 9 appearances. Lara's durability makes him very attractive, especially as a lefty specialist. He throws a 92-94 MPH fastball, and compliments it with a nice low to mid 80s slider. While he is still developing his changeup, it proved to be an effective pitch for him last season. Like Perez, Lara undoubtedly will get a few looks as a lefty in the pen with the Indians this season. Lara will be the first lefty reliever the Indians turn to.
Eddie Mujica - Right-handed Relief Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'2" Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right
In two years, Mujica has gone from a struggling starting pitcher to a flourishing reliever and one of the Indians top bullpen prospects. Last year, Mujica went 4-1 with 13 saves and a 1.57 ERA in 34 combined appearances at Akron and Buffalo. Mujica features a mid 90s fastball which he locates very well, a good mid-to-high 80s slider, and a nasty split-finger fastball he developed last year. He is fearless on the mound with excellent physical and mental makeup, and also has outstanding durability to handle multiple appearances. His confidence and short-memory, to go along with his fearless mentality and pitching abilities, make him a natural fit for a backend bullpen role. With Tom Mastny in Cleveland, Mujica will be the first right-handed relief pitcher the Indians will call upon if a need arises.
Mike Rose (Catcher): Signed as a minor league free agent. 30 years old, and is primarily in Buffalo for depth purposes, and will be the Indians third catcher. Is a career minor leaguer (1025 games) and has very little major league experience (27 games). Hit .231 with 17 HRs and 42 RBIs in 347 combined at bats in the St. Louis Cardinals system last year.
Hector Luna (Shortstop): After losing out on the utility gig in Cleveland, Luna will go to Buffalo and primarily play shortstop. Luna is a versatile player, so in addition to playing shortstop at times he could play some third base, second base, and outfield. He could be the first callup to Cleveland if an injury occurs at third base, shortstop, second base or utility.
Luis Rivas (Second Base): Rivas, 27, has played in 565 major league games and owns a career .262 batting average. Rivas has good speed and plays good defense, but his bat is very questionable. Rivas will most likely play at second base, but considering he is a utility option for the Indians he will also get work at shortstop and third base.
Keith Ginter (Third Base): Ginter will primarily play third base, but could also see some playing time at second base. He turns 31 in May, and is a veteran with some major league experience (325 games) signed for depth purposes. Ginter hit 19 HRs and had 60 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers in 386 at bats in 2004.
Jason Cooper (Outfield): Cooper, a left-handed hitter, is hanging on by a thread in the organization. Cooper has very good power, and put up a very good year in 2005, hitting a combined .255 with 25 HRs and 100 RBIs at Akron and Buffalo. But, in a return to Buffalo last year hit only .228 with 13 HRs and 61 RBIs in Buffalo. He will likely also play some first base this year.
Brian Slocum (Right-handed Pitcher): Last year at Buffalo, Slocum went 6-3 with a 3.35 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .227 BAA. Slocum will be in the Buffalo starting rotation, and has a good low-to-mid 90s fastball and above average changeup which make him effective. He should only see time in Cleveland as a spot starter or if a rash of injuries befalls the Indians starting rotation.
Jason Stanford (Left-handed Pitcher): Stanford came back from Tommy John surgery last year and made 21 starts in Buffalo, going 6-6 with a 4.01 ERA and .242 BAA. Stanford provides quality depth in the starting rotation in Buffalo, and could be a spot starter or long relief option for the Indians this season.
Jeff Harris (Right-handed Pitcher): Harris, 29, is a Quad-A pitcher who has spent virtually his entire career in the minors. He has been effective in the minors, as in 384 career appearances he has a 75-39 record with 19 saves and a 3.35 ERA. Harris will provide veteran leadership to an otherwise young Bisons rotation.
Mike Koplove (Right-handed Pitcher): Koplove, 30, is a side-armer who has major league experience. In 217 appearances over his major league career he has compiled a 15-7 record and two saves with a 3.76 ERA. Koplove's best years were in 2002 (6-1, 3.36 ERA) and 2003 (3-0, 2.15 ERA).
Brian Sikorski (Right-handed Pitcher): Sikorski is a holdover from last season who actually was released by the Indians and resigned to a minor league deal. Last year with the Indians, Sikorski went 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA, and impressed with his high 90s heat in striking out 24 batters in 19.2 inning pitched.
An the others: Dave Wallace (Catcher), Alan Zinter (First Base), Jake Gautreau (Infielder), Trent Dunrrington (Infielder), Dan Denham (Right-handed Pitcher), and Travis Foley (Right-handed Pitcher).
Previews for the three other Indians full-season minor league affiliates in Akron, Kinston, and Lake County, which will post this week.