In case you missed them, the Indians affiliates in Triple-A Buffalo, Double-A Akron, and Single-A (advanced) Kinston were previewed earlier this week. I wrap up my minor league previews today with a look at the last of the four full-season minor league affiliates in the Indians system, the Single-A Lake County Captains of the South Atlantic League.
When Classic Park opened in Eastlake, Ohio in 2003 and the Lake County Captains debuted, they took the area by storm by winning just short of 100 games and eventually lost in the South Atlantic League Championship Series to Rome.
Since that magical debut season, however, Captains fans have experienced two non-payoff seasons in 2004 and 2005 where the Captains finished over .500 (73-66 in 2004, and 72-66 in 2005), and then endured what was really a bad team last year that eventually finished 64-74. And that record probably should have been worse than it was considering the talent in Lake County for most of the year was lacking.
What a difference a year makes.
This year, Lake County is recharged and filled with several of the Indians top draft picks from the 2006 Draft, and also several of their top prospects from their academies in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. In all, eight of the Indians 2006 draft picks will be in Lake County, and another four from the 2005 draft class as well.
And you can see new Farm Director Ross Atkins' new philosophy already taking hold. Atkins is the Indians former Director of Latin Operations, and you can see how he is pushing his Latin players from the academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela through the system more aggressively. An unheard of seven Latin players will make their full-season debut with Lake County this year, many of which have little previous experience stateside with the Indians short-season affiliates.
There is a definite change in the talent and makeup of this roster from 2006 to 2007. Last year's team looked like an afterthought and a team completely dismissed by the Indians player development officials. This year, however, the team appears to have promise. They are very young, inexperienced, and still learning, so it remains to be seen how that translates on the field as far as wins go. But one thing is certain: the Captains have talent, and will be a fun team to watch grow this year.
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)
Lake County Captains Coaching Staff
Manager: Chris Tremie
1st season as Lake County manager, 2nd season in Indians organization
Bench Coach: Jim Rickon
3rd season as Lake County coach, 9th season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Ruben Niebla
2nd season as Lake County pitching coach, 7th season in Indians organization
Starting Lineup & Rotation
1. Adam Davis 2B
2. Jared Goedert 3B
3. Matt McBride C
4. Matt Whitney 1B
5. Nick Weglarz LF
6. Carlos Rivero SS
7. Roman Pena RF
8. Lucas Montero CF
9. Felipe Garcia DH
#1 Starter: Carlton Smith
#2 Starter: Steven Wright
#3 Starter: Jeanmar Gomez
#4 Starter: Mike Eisenberg
#5 Starter: Hector Rondon
Players to Watch
Matt McBride - Catcher
Age: 21 Height: 6'2" Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians selected McBride with the last of their four second round picks in the 2006 Draft. McBride signed quickly, and was assigned to Mahoning Valley where he showcased the talent that had scouts excited about him going into the draft. McBride finished the year hitting .272/.355/.402 with 4 HRs, 31 RBIs and 5 stolen bases in 52 games. McBride provides a rare combination of defense and offense at the catching position, and he was so impressive that Baseball America tabbed him the third best prospect in the NY-Penn League last year. While he is a big and strong catcher, McBride is also athletic and runs very well for a catcher. His strengths as a player are his catch-and-throw skills, especially his plus arm. But, he also has a very cerebral approach behind the plate, and has shown good leadership qualities. McBride is a very patient hitter with good power potential, and has a very good eye and bat-to-ball ability. McBride's potential as an offensive and defensive catcher led many to believe he was the top catcher available in the 2006 Draft, and to date he has backed that up.
Matt Whitney - First Base
Age: 23 Height: 6'4" Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Whitney is a one time top prospect who many scouts thought would zoom through the Indians system and provide the Indians with a potent right-handed bat for years at third base. But, a broken leg in 2003 sidetracked his career, and ever since he has struggled to regain the mobility to effectively play third base. Whitney was taken in the first round of the 2002 Draft out of high school, and he had Indians scouts excited when at 18 years of age he showed exceptional power in rookie level Burlington where he hit .286 with 10 HRs and 33 RBIs in 45 games. Whitney came back from the broken leg in 2004 and played in Lake County primarily as the designated hitter because he was still recovering from the injury, and because Kevin Kouzmanoff was a monster at third base. There is no question Whitney has a potent bat, but in addition to the injury woes he has had a hard time with his plate discipline. In the last three years, he has 276 strikeouts in 817 at bats, good for a strikeout every three at bats. The leg injuries have caught up with Whitney, so the Indians moved him over to first base this year. The move to first base was long overdue, and the move may help him concentrate more on his hitting since first base is a much less demanding position.
Carlos Rivero - Shortstop
Age: 18 Height: 6'3" Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Rivero is a potential phenom in the system that by the end of the first month or two of the season, could be turning some heads. Rivero was signed out of Venezuela in March of 2005 at just 16 years of age, and now at age 18 he is an impressive physical specimen at such a young age. To go along with his size, Rivero has some outstanding abilities in that he 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. 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. 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.
Nick Weglarz - Outfield
Age: 19 Height: 6'3" Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Weglarz is one of the best power prospects to come out of Canada in some time. His size combined with his raw power have often had him compared to fellow countryman Justin Morneau. He has some flaws in his swing that need to be tinkered along the way, but his long arms and good bat speed generate tremendous power. Weglarz also has experience at first base, which is a position he may be more suited to play in the long run because he is a below average runner and lacks much athleticism. In his pro debut in 2005 at rookie level Burlington, at 17 years of age Weglarz held up well and hit .231 with 2 HRs and 13 RBIs in 141 at bats. Last season he started with the Indians new minor league affiliate in the rookie level Gulf Coast League (GCL), but played only one game and totaled just two at bats as he was sidelined for virtually the entire season with a broken hand.
Roman Pena - Outfield
Age: 20 Height: 6'0" Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left
The Indians drafted Pena out of high school in the 9th round of the 2005 Draft, and after not playing professionally in 2005 he made his professional debut last year with the GCL Indians. In 205 combined at bats in the GCL and Lake County, Pena hit .302 with 7 HRs and 26 RBIs. Pena is an exciting left-handed hitter who has line-drive power to all fields. He has average range in the outfield, but has a very strong arm due to his experience as a pitcher in high school where he consistently clocked around 85-88 MPH. With his power arm and electric bat, he projects as a prototype major league right fielder. Going forward, Pena will need to work on his approach at the plate, namely his plate discipline since he struckout 67 times last year, which is almost once every three at bats.
Steven Wright - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'2" Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Wright was the first of four second round picks for the Indians in the 2006 Amateur Draft, but he did not pitch for the Indians in 2006 since he signed a 2007 contract. Last year, with the University of Hawaii, Wright went 11-2 with a 2.30 ERA, and in 109.2 innings only allowed 19 walks while striking out 123. He also was tabbed the WAC Pitcher of the Year in 2006, and also received the Russ Ford Award as the Cape Cod Baseball League's best relief pitcher in 2005. Wright has very good makeup and a fastball that hovers in the low 90s, but the best pitch in his arsenal is a slider that grades as a plus pitch. He'll be a starter early in his professional career, but as he climbs up the minor league ladder many feel he will eventually end up in the bullpen.
Mike Eisenberg - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'7" Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Right
The Indians drafted Eisenberg in the 8th round of the 2006 Draft, and after signing quickly Eisenberg went on to make 13 starts in short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley going 3-1 with a 4.29 ERA. Eisenberg has a fastball that hovers around 88-92 MPH, and compliments it with a spike curveball and changeup. Eisenberg's best pitch is his curveball, and is a big reason for his success at Marietta College which ultimately helped him get drafted. Last year at Marietta College, he pitched the school to the Division III College World Series Championship, was named co-MVP of the Series, and was also the Division III leader in wins (13) and strikeouts (138). At 6'7" he gets on top of hitters as his balls come in on a downward plane, but at this size there are a lot of moving parts so the Indians are working on smoothing out his delivery and arm action. His aptitude is off the charts, and he has a short memory on the mound which helps him bounce back from rough appearances. The Indians are working with Eisenberg on developing better command of his pitches, and learning how to better repeat his delivery. For those unaware, Eisenberg also has a blog he updates often, and can be found here.
Neil Wagner - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 23 Height: 6'0" Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Wagner might be a sleeper, and someone to keep an eye on. Last year at Mahoning Valley, Wagner went 0-0 with 17 saves and posted a 1.39 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .143 average and struckout 50 hitters in 32 innings. Wagner closed in college, and at this point it appears the Indians intend to develop him as a closer. Outside of Adam Miller, Wagner arguably has the most explosive fastball in the system that touches 96-98MPH consistently. He controls his fastball well, but the key to him becoming a bonafide relief prospect will be the development of at least one secondary pitch, which he has struggled with. Also, Wagner will need to work on developing more consistent command of his pitches to both sides of the plate.
Cody Bunkelman - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'3" Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Bunkelman was dominant in 24 games at Lake County last year where he went 1-2 with a 2.82 ERA, held batters to a .169 BAA and struckout 48 batters in 44.2 IP. He struggled with his first taste of advanced Single-A at Kinston last year going 3-1 with a 6.65 ERA, and struckout 23 hitters in 23 innings pitched. Bunkelman was moved to the bullpen last year, and the results were mostly positive. He has a raw power arm, which features a mid 90's fastball and a nasty slider. His changeup is still a work in progress, but it won't be needed if he sticks in the bullpen. Bunkelman's strong lower half of his body provides a launching pad for additional velocity on his pitches, and his mechanics in his delivery are smooth and provide deception. Bunkelman may not be in Lake County for long, as he will most likely be one of the first relievers moved up to Kinston.
Adam Davis (Second Base): Davis is a switch-hitter taken in the 3rd round of the 2006 Draft out of The University of Florida. He has very good speed and works counts well, which is why he will be the primary leadoff hitter in the Captains lineup. He sprays the balls to all fields, and has some pop in his bat. Last year at Mahoning Valley, Davis struggled to get untracked and hit only .218 with 1 HR, 15 RBIs, and 9 stolen bases.
Lucas Montero (Outfielder): Montero was signed in January 2004 out of the Dominican Republic. He is a versatile outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and has a nice speed/power combo at the plate and on the bases. Last year Montero made his stateside debut in the GCL, and hit .263 with 6 HRs, 26 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases in 171 at bats.
Jared Goedert (Third Base): Goedert is a shaky defender at third base, which many scouts feel he will eventually get him moved to first base. After being drafted last year in the 9th round out of Kansas State, he made his professional debut in The Valley and hit .269 with 3 HRs and 27 RBIs in 238 at bats. Of note, he did show a good eye at the plate and the ability to consistently put the ball in play since he struckout only 28 times.
Felipe Garcia (Catcher): Garcia was picked up as a minor league free agent in June 2006 after he was released by the Yankees, and played well at rookie level Burlington by hitting .298 with 7 HRs and 41 RBIs in 235 at bats. Garcia is big and has good power, but lacks athleticism and has below average speed. A right-handed hitter, he will likely split time at first base, catcher, and designated hitter.
Carlton Smith (Right-handed Pitcher): Carlton is the brother of former Indians #1 prospect, third baseman Corey Smith. Smith throws both a two- and four-seam fastball which hover in the low 90s and top out at 93 MPH. He also throws an above average slider and is still working on developing a changeup. This will be a return trip to Lake County for the 21-year old Smith, as in 11 starts last year with the Captains he went 3-3 with a 4.09 ERA.
Jeanmar Gomez (Right-handed Pitcher): Gomez was signed out of Venezuela in April 2005, and in two seasons in the Indians system has been outstanding. The lanky Gomez (6'3", 168 lbs) went 5-3 with a 1.33 ERA in 13 games (61.0 IP) for the Indians Dominican Summer League team in 2005, and followed that up by going 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 11 games (54.1 IP) for the rookie level GCL Indians. Gomez just turned 19 years old, and has a good fastball and very good command of it.
Paolo Espino (Right-handed Pitcher): The Panamanian righty showcases a fastball that tops out at around 89 MPH, and compliments it with a solid breaking ball. However, durability is a concern with him. Espino was drafted in the 10th round last year, and did not pitch in the Indians minor league system after getting drafted, so he will be making his Indians debut in Lake County this year.
Josh Tomlin (Right-handed Pitcher): Tomlin was drafted in the 19th round of the 2006 Draft out of Texas Tech and made 15 starts for Mahoning Valley last year, going 8-2 with a 2.09 ERA. He has a low 90s fastball that he compliments with a good curveball. Even after the impressive performance in The Valley, Tomlin will start the year in the Lake County bullpen and will likely be used as a swingman.
Matt Meyer (Left-handed Pitcher): Meyer was drafted in the 19th round of the 2006 Draft out of Boston College, and to start the season will be the only left-handed pitcher on the Captains roster. Meyer has trouble with right-handers but is very tough on lefties, which is why scouts project him as a lefty specialist down the road. He throws a low 90s fastball that gets up to 93 MPH, and compliments it with a deceptive slider. Last year out of the bullpen in Mahoning Valley, Meyer was 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 19 games (27.1 IP) and punched out 31 batters.
Luis Valdez (Right-handed Pitcher): At 6'4" 175 lbs, Valdez is yet another tall, lanky Latin American pitcher on the Captains roster. Valdez can bring it, and he has excellent command. He has the ability to put hitters away, as evidenced by his 278 career strikeouts in 298.1 career inning pitched, but he has also only walked 50 batters in his career. Last year at Mahoning Valley, Valdez went 7-5 with a 2.62 ERA.
And the rest: Alex Castillo (Catcher), Andrew Lytle (Infielder), David Uribes (Infielder), Ramon Hernandez (Outfielder), Hector Rondon (Right-handed Pitcher), and Luis Perdomo (Right-handed Pitcher).