"Minor Happenings" covers the important developments and news in the Indians farm system. Information in this report is collected from the various news outlets that cover each team, some national news, and in some cases from private sources connected to the Indians organization.
Today is opening day in the minors, and all four of the Indians minor league affiliates will be in action today and tonight as full-season leagues kick off in Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A.
With the start of the minor league baseball season, Minor Happenings also has returned. For those new to the site, I'll be keeping you abreast of all the news and developments in the Indians farm system throughout the season with a comprehensive weekly report which will post every Thursday afternoon or evening until the end of the season.
Also, now that the minor league season is about to kick off be sure to check out the previews for each of the Indians four full-season affiliates. I recently did previews for Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Akron this week, and previews for advanced Single-A Kinston and Single-A Lake County will post tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday.
With that, onto the news and the first installment of Minor Happenings 2007:
On The Docket
The Indians top two minor league affiliates were scheduled to start play today, but both the Buffalo home opener at Dunn Tire Park and the Akron home opener at Canal Park were postponed today because of the freezing/snowy conditions. Triple-A Buffalo will kick off play against the Richmond Braves (Atlanta Braves) tomorrow by making up todays game as part of a doubleheader starting at 4:05pm. Right-hander Adam Miller tows the rubber for the Bisons in the first game. The postponed Akron game will be made up at a later date. The home opener in Akron now moves to tomorrow against the Binghampton Mets (NY Mets) with left-hander Chuck Lofgren on the hill.
The Indians two Single-A affiliates in Kinston and Lake County luck out and will open on the road in much better weather conditions. Single-A advanced Kinston opens the season tonight in Winston-Salem (Chicago White Sox), with 2006 top draft pick and left-handed pitcher David Huff scheduled to take the mound for the K-Tribe. Single-A Lake County opens the season tonight in Charleston, West Virginia against the West Virginia Power (Milwaukee Brewers). It is not known for sure who will start for the Captains, but another top 2006 draft pick right-hander Steven Wright will probably get the call.
Indians new Farm Director Ross Atkins is getting ready for his first regular season as the man behind the wheel in the Indians farm system. Yesterday, Atkins opined on two of the Indians top prospects, outfielder Trevor Crowe and third baseman Wes Hodges.
With Crowe, Atkins likes his approach at the plate, calling him a "student of the game" and someone who understands his skill set as a player. Going into the season, there are two things Atkins wants to see out of Crowe this year to show improvement. First, he wants to see Crowe's right-handed approach shored up. Secondly, and more importantly, Atkins wants to see Crowe play a full year in the minors, which is something he has yet to do in two previous seasons in the Indians system. Crowe has battled injuries the previous two seasons, so he needs to show he can handle the workload.
On Hodges, Atkins likes his athleticism at third base and power at the plate. For someone who has yet to play any professional ball, Hodges is a player who has a very advanced and professional bat, which Atkins considers a rare find. Hodges is being fast-tracked, and if Hodges can stay healthy and on the field he will move through the system quickly.
The Next Great Prospect?
The Indians have a potential phenom in the system starting to turn heads. His name is Carlos Rivero. Make note of that name, as it could be a name you start to hear about often here as well as around baseball.
Rivero is an 18-year old shortstop signed out of Venezuela (03/30/2005) at 16 years of age, who has impressive size (6'3" 205 lbs) at such a young age. I've seen him in person, and he definitely is an imposing player as you would think with his build he would at least be in his mid-20s. Of course, size is not everything. Thankfully, Rivero has some outstanding ability to go along with that size as Rivero has all the intangibles except speed. What he lacks in speed, though, he more than makes up with his power potential, bat-to-ball ability, his hands and glovework. Rivero has it all to become an elite prospect given his abilities at such a young age, but like with so many highly touted players at such a young age, developing his plate discipline, breaking ball recognition, and staying healthy will determine his prospect status down the road.
This will be Rivero's third year in the Indians system, and his second year stateside. In 2005, Rivero played in the Indians academy in the Dominican Summer League and hit .257 with 0 HRs and 31 RBIs in 237 at bats. Last year, in combined time at rookie level Burlington and the GCL, Rivero hit .260 with 3 HRs and 29 RBIs in 200 at bats. While the power has not shown itself early, it is emerging and is something he will likely grow into as he matures. It should be noted that in his 437 at bats in 2005-2006, he only struckout 57 times.
I actually shot some video of Rivero in spring training, and it can be seen here and here. Fans in Northeast Ohio are in for a treat this summer in Lake County, as Rivero will start the year with the Captains.
The injuries keep piling up in the pitching department for the Indians. The newest casualty was a big blow, as left-handed stud reliever Tony Sipp is expected to be out until at least the All-Star break with a medial elbow injury. Since being sent down from the big league club to minor league camp in spring training, Sipp started to experience discomfort in his left elbow. Initially, he was shut down with a sore elbow, but the Indians deemed it serious enough to shut him down for half the season. At this time Sipp will not need surgery, and the hope here is he can recover without having to go under the knife later this year.
The loss is not particularly crippling to the Cleveland Indians as far as needs go in 2007, but this may have more an effect on 2008 and beyond. Sipp was not expected to make it to Cleveland until at the earliest mid-season this year, and even then would only have been rostered had he pitched well and a need shown itself in Cleveland. With fellow left-handers Rafael Perez and Juan Lara both to get first and second cracks at any left-handed relief openings, it was not very realistic to see Sipp in an Indians uniform unless a rash of injuries hit or he debuted as a September call-up. How this hurts the Indians is that Sipp now loses at least a half year of development, maybe more. And, it means he is not the sure thing to start in the Indians bullpen in 2008 as many probably thought he would be.
Rule 5 Returnees
Right-handed reliever Jim Ed Warden and outfielder Ryan Goleski were returned to the Indians a week ago. Both had been selected in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason, but since both were not going to make the opening day roster in Philadelphia or Oakland, they had to be returned to Cleveland. Rule 5 draft picks are required to be returned to their original team if they do not make a 25-man roster out of spring, unless they are hurt and put on the disabled list or a trade can be agreed upon with the original team.
Oakland worked hard to make a deal to keep Goleski, but the Indians were determined to get Goleski back. Goleski was very disappointed with the news in that he went from having a shot as a bench player on a major league club, to being stuffed back into a deep pool of outfielders in the Indians farm system. But, bottom line, Goleski just did not hit in spring training, as he only hit .153 with Oakland. Goleski will start the year in Double-A Akron, and Warden in Triple-A Buffalo.
Carmona Set To Go
In an exhibition game in Eastlake on Tuesday between the Indians Single-A affiliate Lake County and Double-A affiliate Akron, Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona pitched seven innings and only allowed one run on one hit. He also walked two and struck out six, and the lone hit and run came off a Ryan Goleski wind-aided solo home run. The exhibition game was played under the circumstances that it would end after Carmona pitched seven innings or reached a 95-pitch limit. He ended up pitching the seven innings, and finished with 91 pitches on the night. To the delight of the 1000+ fans in attendance, the Captains and Aeros played an extra inning after Carmona departed.
Former Indians right-handed pitcher Tim Drew is a free agent, and recently contacted the Indians for a tryout to get back into baseball. Drew was the Indians' top pick in the 1997 draft who never came along as expected, and he was part of the package the Indians sent to the New York Mets in the Roberto Alomar trade back in December 2001. Drew has not pitched since June 2005 when he had surgery to repair a torn labrum, and is currently 14 months into rehab from the surgery. Drew is now 28 years old, and wants to get his career going again.
Drew had been throwing bullpen sessions for the Indians late in spring training, and is expected to hang around in extended spring training and pitch a game or two. To date, Drew has not signed a contract with the Tribe, nor is there any news of his whereabouts, but he probably will continue to workout in extended spring training. The Indians will only consider signing him if they believe he is an option for the Indians as depth for the major league staff.
An unknown fact hardly mentioned in spring training was how Ryan Garko and Ben Francisco were once high school teammates at Servite High School in Orange County, California. Both graduated the same year (1999), and on the baseball team Garko hit third in the lineup while Francisco hit cleanup. After high school, Francisco attended Cypress Junior College and then transferred to UCLA, while Garko attended Stanford University. To show how small the world is sometimes, the former high school teammates found themselves in a battle for the final bench spot with the Indians the final week in spring training.
Minor League Rotations
The starting rotations for the four full season minor league affiliates are as follows (pitching hand in parentheses):
Triple-A Buffalo: Adam Miller (RHP), Brian Slocum (RHP), Rafael Perez LHP), Jeff Harris (RHP), and Jason Stanford (LHP).
Double-A Akron: Chuck Lofgren (LHP), Scott Lewis (LHP), Aaron Laffey (LHP), J.D. Martin (RHP), and Shawn Nottingham (LHP).
Single-A (advanced) Kinston: David Huff (LHP), Kevin Dixon (RHP), Ryan Edell (LHP), Frank Hermann (RHP), and Sun-Wei Tseng (RHP).
Single-A Lake County: Carlton Smith (RHP), Steve Wright (RHP), Jeanmar Gomez (RHP), Hector Rondon (RHP) and Mike Eisenberg (RHP).
Utility infielder Joe Inglett has been bothered by hamstring and quadriceps strains for almost all of spring training, and was officially put on the 15-day disabled list.
Michael Aubrey is still MIA. He did not appear in a game since being sent down to minor league camp during spring training over three weeks ago. Aubrey is still struggling with a severely strained hamstring, which is yet another injury to his laundry list of injuries over his career. He will start the year on the disabled list.
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez opened the season on the disabled list because of a pulled hamstring. He was expected to be part of a four-man outfield rotation in Buffalo. No word on when he is likely to return.
Infielder Jake Gautreau wa supposed to report to Triple-A Buffalo, but is currently being treated for skin cancer. No word on how long he could be out, or how serious the skin cancer is, but our thoughts and prayers at TheClevelandFan.com go out to Gautreau in the hopes he is okay and the cancer is not serious.
Catcher Max Ramirez is still scheduled to start the year with Kinston, even though he was sidelined the last week of spring training with elbow soreness. He will start the season as the Kinston designated hitter and backup catcher Chris Gimenez will become the starter.
The Indians had seven minor league affiliates last year when they added their Gulf Coast League (GCL) rookie league team in Winter Haven, but at the end of the year they pulled out of Burlington (rookie league) in the Appalachian League. With the system so stuffed with players last year, and the loss of a farm team for this year, the Indians had to trim off a lot of the fat in their system and slim it down by 20 or so players.
Here is a list of known players released from the farm system recently:
Brett Andrade (RHP)
Janel Arias (INF)
Evandy DeLeon (OF)
Richard Fairchild (RHP)
Matt Fornasiere (INF)
Chuck Hargis (OF)
Daniel Miltenberger (RHP)
Trevor Mortensen (OF)
Jason Schutt (RHP)
Mike Storey (LHP)
Albert Vargas (RHP)
Alfred Ard (OF)
Omar Casillas (C)
Brett Kinning (INF)
Ryan Knippschild (LHP)
Derrick Loop (LHP)
Brandt Sanders (RHP)
Brent Thomas (OF)
Jose Chavez (INF)
Keoni DeRenne (INF)
Micah Schilling (INF)
Matt Davis (RHP)
Right-handed fireballer Adam Miller touched 100 MPH in a minor league spring game against Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate Toledo over a week ago. ... When Trevor Crowe goes to Akron to start the season, the plan is for him to rotate at all three outfield positions. Crowe will be on a rotation where he will start four games in a row in right field, then two games in a row in left field, then one game in center, and then repeat the rotation. ... MiLB.com recently did an American League Central Top Prospects list at each position. The Indians placed three players on that list (Toregas, Crowe, and Sipp). ... Indians highly regarded outfield prospect John Drennen buffed up this winter, up from the 175 pounds he ended last season to the 195 pounds he will start this season. I saw him in camp, and he looks great. ... While Kinston shortstop Brian Finegan is the listed starter, he will actually split time between shortstop and second base this year. ... Kinston will also carry a third catcher, Chao Kuan Wu who is from Taiwan. He will likely play when fellow countryman Sung-Wei Tseng's spot in the rotation comes up each week. ... Former Kinston third baseman Matt Whitney has been moved to first base, and will start the season in Lake County as he adjusts to the new role.