With the Indians Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Akron affiliates previewed, the focus now shifts to the Single-A affiliates in the Indians farm system. First up, the Kinston Indians from the Single-A (advanced) Carolina League.
Last year, it was a fun ride for Kinston fans as they saw their team finish the season with an impressive 85-54 record, and then go on to claim the Mills Cup in winning the Carolina League Championship. Kinston's postseason run was impressive, as they went 5-0 in the playoffs and outscored their opponents 29-13. The appearance in the Carolina League Finals was their third straight, and the title was their second in the last three years (they won in 2004).
This year, several players from that championship team return, and some new names have been added to the mix. Right-hander Kevin Dixon is the only returning starting pitcher, as several new faces such as 2006 top draft pick lefty David Huff and international signing (Taiwan) Sung-Wei Tseng anchor the rotation. Outfielders John Drennen and Jose Constanza along with first baseman Steven Head return to anchor a solid starting lineup. Newcomers Wes Hodges at third base, Max Ramirez at catcher, and Josh Rodriguez at shortstop will add to the offensive firepower.
In all, Kinston boasts eight players ranked in TheClevelandFan.com Top 35 Prospect List compiled last November. From a talent standpoint, Kinston looks poised to make a run at a fourth straight Mills Cup Final, and have their sights set on defending and repeating as league champions.
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)
Kinston Indians Coaching Staff
Manager: Mike Sarbaugh
2nd season as Kinston manager, 18th season in Indians organization
Hitting Coach: Jon Nunnally
1st season as Kinston hitting coach, 1st season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Tony Arnold
1st season as Kinston pitching coach, 15th season in Indians organization
Starting Lineup & Rotation
1. Jose Constanza LF
2. Josh Rodriguez SS
3. John Drennen CF
4. Max Ramirez C
5. Stephen Head 1B
6. Wes Hodges 3B
7. Jerad Head DH
8. Brian Finegan 2B
9. Mike Butia RF
#1 Starter: David Huff
#2 Starter: Kevin Dixon
#3 Starter: Ryan Edell
#4 Starter: Sung-Wei Tseng
#5 Starter: Frank Hermann
Players to Watch
John Drennen - Outfield
Age: 20 Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Last year, Drennen combined to hit .295/.384/.425 with 6 HRs, 38 RBIs and 8 stolen bases in 98 games as Lake County and Kinston. Drennen's numbers dipped at Kinston as he was overmatched and wore down some, but earlier at Lake County he was very good as he hit .321/.409/.471 with 6 HRs and 30 RBIs. The Indians love Drennen's advanced bat and polished approach to hitting, and he has a compact build with good power, and also creates a nice smooth bat path with his swing. Although he is somewhat undersized, he packs a lot of punch in his swing and has good pop and a dynamite bat. Right now, he is more a gap hitter, but as he matures he is expected to develop more power. At the plate, he has a good inside out swing and he uses the entire field, especially against lefties. He has good instincts as a runner, but only has slightly above average speed. His biggest weakness is his defense, as his arm is below average and his range in the outfield is limited, which will eventually play him out of center field. The Indians are loaded in the organization with good outfield prospects at levels above him, so he could be in Kinston most or all of the year. For a more detailed scouting report on Drennen, click here.
Jose Constanza - Outfield
Age: 23 Height: 5'9" Weight: 150 Bats: Switch Throws: Left
Constanza had a breakout season in 2006, hitting .309/.410/.410 with 2 HRs, 36 RBIs and 39 stolen bases in 120 games combined at Lake County and Kinston. Constanza has outstanding bat control and bat-to-ball ability, and very good baseball instincts. He put himself on the radar screen back in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) in 2004 when he hit .444 and lead the league in just about every offensive category except home runs. The Indians were so impressed with Constanza's showing in the DSL in 2004, that they started him in Lake County in 2005, which is unheard of for players in the Indians academy in the Dominican Republic to start with a full-season squad in their stateside debut. The last player to do so was Jhonny Peralta. Constanza projects as a left fielder because of his speed and defense and limited pop in his bat, and may eventually break in with the Indians as a 4th outfielder down the road. Like Drenne, because of the crowded outfield situation in Akron and Buffalo he will most likely remain in Kinston most of the year.
Josh Rodriguez - Shortstop/Second Base
Age: 22 Height: 6'0" Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians took Rodriguez with their second of four picks in the second round of the 2006 Draft. In preseason college draft prospect rankings, Rodriguez was considered the top shortstop available. Like Wes Hodges, however, Rodriguez's draft stock plummeted somewhat when an elbow injury limited him to designated hitter duty at Rice University early in 2006 and he was eventually moved to third base. Once signed, the Indians assigned him to Mahoning Valley where he hit .268/.337/.465 with 4 HRs and 24 RBIs in 45 games. Rodriguez is a patient hitter with gap power. While Rodriguez lacks speed he does have an excellent throwing arm, and is versatile enough to play third base, shortstop or second-base. With the need in the system for quality, impact middle infielders, Rodriguez is one to keep an eye on going forward.
Stephen Head - First Base
Age: 23 Height: 6'3" Weight: 220 Bats: Left Throws: Left
After a very good debut in 2005 where he hit .308/.349/.513 with 10 HRs and 50 RBIs in 57 combined games at Mahoning Valley and Kinston, Head had a disappointing 2006 campaign at Kinston hitting only .235/.319/.377 with 14 HRs and 73 RBIs. But, for as much as Head struggled last year, he still profiles as a good major league first baseman. He is a smooth defender, has above average power, and even with his struggles last year still had a healthy 54:73 walk to strikeout ratio in 477 at bats. His numbers suffered mostly as a byproduct of his swing mechanics getting overhauled. With the new revamped approach to hitting, Head was slow to adapt to the adjustments and at times was overly aggressive by trying to do too much too soon. Head should bounce back in 2007, and is a top candidate for a comeback season similar to what Ryan Goleski did last season in a return trip to Kinston.
Max Ramirez - Catcher
Age: 22 Height: 5'11" Weight: 170 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians obtained Ramirez last year when they traded closer Bob Wickman to Atlanta. In 117 combined games at Rome and Lake County, Ramirez hit .292/.417/.454 with 13 HRs and 63 RBIs. Ramirez is a disciplined hitter with a very advanced, mature approach at the plate, as evidenced by his 84:99 walk to strikeout ration in 2006. He has an excellent eye, very good bat control, and his power is developing. The questions with Ramirez lie solely on his defense and if a position can be found for him. Ramirez converted from third base to catcher in 2005, and has adapted well to the new position. Right now, the Indians are focused on developing Ramirez's receiving skills and game calling, and are evaluating his arm strength and defense behind the plate. While Ramirez is very athletic, he lacks a strong arm and his mechanics behind the plate still need a lot of work. Ramirez is an exciting hitting prospect, but much like they did with Ryan Garko, the organization will likely continue to evaluate Ramirez at catcher and also possibly experiment with him at third base and first base to find out what position may suit him best long-term.
Wes Hodges - Third Base
Age: 22 Height: 6'2" Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Hodges has the potential to be the biggest impact player from the Indians 2006 Draft, and would have been taken higher in the draft if he did not have some injury concerns. Going into 2006, Hodges was ranked as a preseason Top 10 college draft prospect and sure fire first round pick, but that ranking took a hit when he came down with a stress fracture in his left leg. Hodges initially thought he had a calf strain when the pain surfaced in March, but because the pain continued to get worse as the season wore on he was evaluated further and the stress fracture was found. Hodges fell on draft day, and the Indians gambled and selected Hodges with their third of four second round picks. The Indians signed him for $1 million and to a 2007 contract to hold him out of action the rest of the season and give him more time to mend from the injury. Even though he basically played on one leg almost all season, Hodges still hit .329 with 11 HRs and 68 RBIs in 219 at bats at Georgia Tech last year. Hodges is a very disciplined hitter with great bat-to-ball ability, and has a nice line drive stroke with good power potential. As a defender, Hodges does it all with good hands, a strong arm and very good range at third base.
Sung-Wei Tseng - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 5'10" Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians signed Tseng out of Taiwan last year. Last Spring, the 21-year old Tseng went 7-0 with a 0.36 ERA for the National Taiwan College of Physical Education, pitching 73.2 innings and only allowing 3 earned runs and 29 hits, while walking only 8 batters but striking out 73. Shortly after signing Tseng, Indians Scouting Director John Mirabelli commented that had Tseng been in the draft, he would have been taken late in the second round and that he physically resembles major league pitcher Tom Gordon. Tseng has a compact build with above average velocity and good movement on his fastball which consistently clocks in the 91-94 MPH range. His best pitch is a splitter which bottoms out well and is considered a swing-and-miss pitch at the major league level. Tseng is a very refined pitcher, and he also has very good control. He is also not afraid to come inside on hitters, and has very clean arm action on his fastball. Tseng will be given the opportunity to start in Kinston, but he currently projects as an exciting arm at the backend of the bullpen.
David Huff - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: Switch Throws: Left
Huff was a supplemental 1st round pick and the first player the Indians selected in the 2006 Draft. After signing, Huff reported to Mahoning Valley, but since he logged so many innings at UCLA earlier in the year he only made four appearances going 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in 7.2 IP. At UCLA, Huff compiled a 7-4 record and a 2.98 ERA in 16 starts, while striking out 100 in 129.2 innings pitched. Huff often is compared to Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Jeremy Sowers. The comparisons to Zito not only come from his approach and repertoire, but Huff's coach at UCLA (John Savage) was also Zito's pitching coach at USC. Huff is a strike-thrower who has excellent command of his pitches. His fastball consistently clocks in at 87-90 MPH, and his changeup is a plus pitch and ranked one of the best in the country last year. The key to Huff's future will be the development of an effective breaking ball as a third pitch to use against left-handers. He does throw a curveball, but it still needs a lot of work. The Indians feel Huff has a chance to advance through the farm system rapidly like Jeremy Sowers did, so his time in Kinston could be short.
Mike Butia (Outfield): Butia was tabbed as one of the top hitters in the 2004 Draft, but that has yet to materialize since being drafted. Butia actually walked away from the game last spring and quit, but came back a few weeks later. Since his return, he has been a completely different player and more focused. Last year in 250 combined at bats in Burlington and Lake County, Butia hit .308 with 7 HRs and 28 RBIs.
Nathan Panther (Outfielder): Panther is a versatile outfielder with good speed who can play all three outfield positions. After a very nice season at Lake County in 2003 when he hit .285 with 13 HRs, 52 RBIs and 38 stolen bases, he has struggled at Kinston and Akron the last three years, bottoming out to .228 with 3 HRs, 33 RBIs and only 3 stolen bases last year.
Brian Finegan (Shortstop): Finegan is an excellent defensive shortstop with decent speed who saw his season end prematurely last year when he suffered a broken foot in June. With Josh Rodriguez in Kinston, Finegan is expected to split time at second base and shortstop. He hit .266 with 2 HRs, 23 RBIs and had 14 stolen bases in 47 games last year for the K-Tribe.
Jerad Head (Infielder): Head is a jack-of-all-trades who can play almost anywhere in the field. He has good pop, and last year with rookie-level Burlington he hit .242 with 10 HRs and 52 RBIs in 60 games.
Chris Gimenez (Catcher): Gimenez was converted to a catcher last year, and at Lake County hit .255 with 11 HRs and 40 RBIs in 91 games. Down the road, Gimenez might be in line for a super utility role as he has played every position in the outfield, and also can play catcher, third base and first base.
Kevin Dixon (Right-handed Pitcher): At 6'3" 225 lbs Dixon is big and strong, but he is not an overpowering pitcher since his fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range. Last year, in 20 combined starts at Lake County and Kinston, Dixon went 8-4 with a 3.80 ERA.
Ryan Edell (Left-handed Pitcher): Edell was a disappointment in 2006, as a sprained left elbow sidelined him from mid-April until mid-August. He ended up only pitching in six games, going 0-1 with a 3.44 ERA for Single-A Lake County. Edell's bread and butter pitch is a devastating curveball.
Frank Herrmann (Right-handed Pitcher): Herrmann has an Economics Degree from Harvard University, but still is living his dream as a professional baseball player. At 6'5 and 220 pounds he is a physically imposing pitcher, armed with a power sinker, slurvy breaking ball and decent changeup. Last year at Lake County, Herrmann went 4-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 26 starts.
Randy Newsom (Right-handed Pitcher): Newsom was the player to be named later the Indians received in the Coco Crisp trade, and he turned out to be an important player as he was the Mills Cup Finals MVP last year for Kinston. Newsome is a side-arm/submarine-style pitcher, and in 39 total appearances in the minors last year went 4-3 with two saves and a 3.24 ERA.
James Deters (Right-handed Pitcher): Deters throws a fastball that tops out around 90 MPH, and compliments it with a curveball and changeup. Last year in Lake County he started 28 games and went 12-9 with a 3.11 ERA, but he will be in the K-Tribe bullpen to start the season and most likely as a swingman and spot starter.
Scott Roehl (Right-handed Pitcher): Roehl will be the closer in Kinston, although that role will also likely be shared with Newsom and Burton. Roehl has good command of a fastball that hovers around 93 MPH consistently. Last year with Lake County and Kinston, Roehl pitched in 44 games and was 4-6 with four saves and a 4.42 ERA.
Jeffrey Stevens (Right-handed Pitcher): Stevens has the distinction of being the infamous player to be named later the Indians received when they dumped Brandon Phillips to the Cincinnati Reds last spring. Stevens, 23, will not blow anyone away with his 90-91 MPH fastball, but does have four quality pitchers and commands them well. In 30 games last year in the Red and Indians systems, Stevens went 9-7 with a 4.42 ERA.
And the rest: Chao Kuan Wo (Catcher), Chris De La Cruz (Infield), Chris Niesel (Right-handed Pitcher), Michael Finocchi (Right-handed Pitcher), and T.J. Burton (Right-handed Pitcher).
The final minor league preview, for Low-A Lake County, which will post tomorrow afternoon (Saturday).