Indians top prospect hurlers Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, and Andrew Brown
Click here for Part I - 2006 Buffalo Bisons Preview: The Lineup
Like the Buffalo lineup, the pitching staff will be loaded with young high ceiling players. The Indians should have several options available to turn to in Buffalo to address a need at the major league level with not too much of a drop-off, whether the need be in the starting rotation or bullpen. Four of the five rotation spots are set with Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Stanford, while the picture is a bit unclear on who the #5 starter will be between Jake Dittler, Dan Denham, Ben Howard, and Jason Young. If Young or Howard don’t win the #5 spot, one or even both could be released. With Sowers and Carmona, the Indians have two young high ceiling starters who are ready to pitch now in the big leagues, and a third starter in Stanford who has experience at the big league level. These three pitchers should makeup the 6th, 7th and 8th starting pitching options for the Indians this season.In the bullpen, there are still a few question marks on who exactly makes the Bisons roster, but the bullpen should mainly be setup with Eddie Mujica as the closer, Andrew Brown in a setup and occasional closer role, and Kaz Tadano in his middle relief/long relief role. Some of the starting pitchers mentioned above will be used in the bullpen, and others like Travis Foley and Chris Cooper will be middle relievers. Brown is major league ready and could be a fixture in the Indians bullpen for years to come, while Tadano has experience at the major league level as a long reliever. Like Stanford, Tadano could be moved up and down between Cleveland and Buffalo throughout the 2006 season as the need for a fresh arm presents itself.Others like Jason Davis, Steve Karsay, Danny Graves and/or the newly signed Felix Heredia could also figure into the pitching mix at Buffalo; however, the premise here is that Jason Davis will open the season on the Indians roster, while Grave, Heredia and Karsay either are released or start in extended Spring Training. If Davis does not make the Opening Day roster, then he’ll be optioned to Buffalo and pitch out of the bullpen.Here is a breakdown of each starting pitcher (SP) and relief pitcher (RP) projected to makeup the Buffalo pitching staff:
SP: Jeremy SowersSowers is the crème de la crème as far as pitching prospects go in the Indians system, and ranked the #2 prospect in the Indians system by Baseball America. Drafted in the 1st round (6th overall) of the 2004 Draft out of Vanderbilt, in only one professional season Sowers moved through three levels in the organization starting in Kinston and eventually finishing in Buffalo. Over the course of his three stops, he compiled an impressive 14-4 record with a 2.38 ERA and 149:29 K/BB ratio in 159 inning pitched. His impressive season led to him being named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2005. Sowers is not an overpowering lefty (fastball ranges 88-92MPH), but his excellent command and intelligence helps him work all four corners of the plate to keep hitters guessing. John Tudor and Tom Glavine are some common comparisons thrown around by scouts to past and current players, which shows the craftiness and pitching ability Sowers possesses. With the signing of free agents Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson, the starting rotation in Cleveland is set to start the season. Sowers will start in Buffalo, and likely will not see time with the Indians until September since he is not on the 40-man roster and the Indians may want to limit his service time this season.SP: Fausto CarmonaCarmona was signed as a 17 year-old undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, and is ranked as the Indians 4th best prospect in 2006. While Sowers is the most hyped pitching prospect in the system, Carmona is still highly regarded, just with a little less fanfare. As a 19 year-old at Lake County in 2003, he posted a 17-4 record and 2.06 ERA and was named the 2003 Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He had two decent seasons in 2004 and 2005, going a combined 9-10 with a 4.01 ERA at Kinston and Akron in 2004, and then followed that up last year going a combined 13-9 with a 3.68 ERA at Akron and Buffalo.Carmona has impeccable control as he has yielded only 101 walks in 565.1 career minor league innings pitched; however, while he consistently throws 92-95 MPH he does not miss many bats as he only averages 5.64 strikeouts per nine innings over his career. One of his big keys to development in 2006 will be to unsettle the hitters at the plate and not be such a strike-thrower. Carmona is in line to be the first callup as the 6th starter in the event one of the Indians starters goes down due to injury, or the Indians need a spot start. Carmona and Sowers likely go into 2007 in a head to head battle for the #5 spot in the rotation. SP: Jeremy GuthrieBarring a trade in the last week of Spring Training, per Farm Director John Farrell, Guthrie is in line to return to Buffalo in the starting rotation. In 2005, Guthrie went 12-10 with a 5.02 ERA at Buffalo, and in his career is 31-31 with a 4.75 ERA in 80 career games in the minors. His struggles mainly are attributed to not being able to get hitters out consistently, having a poor career 1.45 WHIP, as well as averaging a not-so-good 6.08 strikeouts per nine innings.Guthrie is easily the most disappointing pitching prospect in the Indians system the past 2-3 years. Once a Top 10 ranked prospect, even as high as #2 in 2004, the Indians envisioned him being a part of the starting rotation sometime in 2004. Guthrie was considered an advanced and more polished pitcher coming out of college who would need very little seasoning in the minor leagues. Drafted in the 1st round out of Stanford in the 2002 Draft, the Indians gave him the highest draft bonus in team history in the amount of $3 million, yet to date Guthrie is line to begin his 4th season at AAA Buffalo.SP: Jason StanfordStanford was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 1999. After going 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA at Buffalo in 2003, Stanford landed a job in the Cleveland starting rotation out of Spring Training in 2004. Unfortunately, Stanford’s career took a turn for the worse as he went down with an elbow injury after two starts and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, resulting in 2004 and 2005 becoming lost seasons for him while he rehabbed. In 15 rehab appearances in 2005, Stanford went 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA. He is considered to be 100% healthy, and will be one of pitchers the Indians look to shuffle back and forth between Cleveland and Buffalo to be used as a spot starter or as a long relief option in the bullpen.SP/RP: Jake DittlerThe Indians drafted Dittler in the 2nd round of the 2001 Draft out of high school, and he was once one of the prized pitching prospects in the organization. After Guthrie, Dittler might be the next most disappointing pitching prospect of the last few seasons. Once the #4 ranked prospect in the system in 2004, Dittler’s stalled development and so-so seasons the last two years have dropped him to the 24th ranked prospect in the organization in 2006. In 2004, Dittler battled injuries and had a forgettable season posting a 5-12 record with a 5.02 ERA in 21 games for Akron. Dittler returned to Akron in 2005 and bounced back to post respectable numbers going 10-9 with a 3.64 ERA. Going forward, Dittler is somewhat lost in the mix of quality young pitching the Indians have, and the Indians are toying with the idea of temporarily moving Dittler to the bullpen.SP/RP: Dan DenhamDenham is another pitcher the Indians took at the top of the 2001 Draft as he was taken in the 1st round out of high school. Denham has been steady in each of his five minor league seasons, and goes into 2006 as the Indians #21 ranked player. In 2004, Denham had a combined record of 12-8 with a 4.78 ERA in Kinston and Akron, and then in 2005 was 9-7 with a 3.15 ERA in Akron. With the rotation being crowded in Buffalo, Denham could move to a bullpen role in 2006. One interesting note, is Denham's brother Jason was drafted by the Indians in the 13th round of the 2004 Draft out of high school. Jason played at Burlington the last two years.SP/RP: Ben HowardHoward was signed in the offseason as a minor league free agent. Just two years ago, Howard was a Top 10 rated (#6) prospect in the Padres organization, so he has the talent, but may be suffering from the Jeremy Guthrie syndrome of just not being able to take his game to the next level. Sill only 27 years old, Howard will be looked at to fill the gaps in the rotation and relief corps throughout the season in Buffalo. In his 8 year minor league career he is 43-51 with a 4.93 ERA, and last year at AAA Albuquerque he was 6-3 with a 4.63 ERA and notched 87 strikeouts in 83 IP.SP/RP: Jason YoungThe Indians acquired Young off waivers from Colorado last August. Like Howard, Young was once a Top 10 prospect (#4 in ’03, #7 in ’04) and will provide some experience to what is a very young Buffalo pitching staff. Last year, with AAA Buffalo and Colorado Springs, Young combined to go 11-8 with a 6.30 ERA. For his minor league career, he has a 41-33 record and 4.39 ERA. At this point, Young is roster filler, and could be one of the first players purged to pare down the Buffalo pitching staff or to make room for an Akron callup.RP: Andrew BrownIn the Buffalo bullpen, Brown is the most high-profile pitcher and one viewed with the highest ceiling at this point. The Indians acquired the hard-throwing right-hander in the Milton Bradley trade along with Franklin Gutierrez back in April of 2004. Brown possesses a powerful mid-90s fastball that touches 96-98 MPH, and projects as a late inning reliever with the Indians beyond 2006. Currently, he is ranked as the Indians 15th best prospect, after being ranked 10th in 2005.Last year in Buffalo, Brown started slow but finished strong as he had a 1.43 ERA and only surrendered 12 hits in his final 31 innings pitched. On the year, he went 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA at Buffalo, and finished with an impressive 1.02 WHIP and 81:19 K/BB ratio in 69.2 IP. Of note, his walk rate dropped as he gave up 53 walks in 122 IP in 2004, but only walked 19 batters in 69.2 IP last year. Brown has one option remaining, so this will be his last season in the minors. He likely will bounce up and down between Cleveland and Buffalo this season, before settling into a permanent bullpen role in 2007.RP: Eddie MujicaMujica was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2001, and was one of the breakthrough prospects for the Indians in 2005. After being average as a starter in 2003 at Burlington and 2004 at Lake County, the Indians moved Mujica to the bullpen in 2005. The results were phenomenal, as in a combined effort at Kinston and Akron he went 3-1 with 24 saves, and had a 2.54 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 60.1 IP. Mujica comes in as the Indians 20th ranked prospect, and with his 92-94 MPH fastball and power slider, excellent control (7 walks in 2005), and fearless attitude, the Indians will continue to groom him as a closer. Still only 21, the Indians have been aggressive moving him up the minor league ladder and he is a potential closer candidate for the Indians in the coming years.RP: Kaz TadanoThe Indians signed Tadano as a free agent out of Japan in March 2003. Tadano blazed through the minors in 2003, going 6-2 with a 1.55 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 99 innings combined at Kinston, Akron, and Buffalo. Since 2003, however, Tadano has struggled. Tadano bounced around between Buffalo and Cleveland in 2004 and 2005, and in Buffalo the last two seasons is a combined 7-9 with a 4.72 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 141 IP. Tadano has experience as a long-reliever, and will be used exclusively for 2-3 innings each appearance with Buffalo, and will be used in spot duty for such a role by the Indians throughout the 2006 season. The 2006 season will be the final season the Indians have options on Tadano, so they will need to make a decision on his future with the organization very soon.RP: Chris CooperThe Indians drafted Cooper in the 35th round of the 2001 Draft out of the University of New Mexico. Cooper is one of those prospects you very seldom hear about, as he has dominated the minor league landscape at just about every stop yet because he is a reliever and he is 27 years old he does not get much recognition in the prospect rankings. In 2004, at Kinston and Akron he went 8-4 with a 1.68 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 75 IP, then last season at Akron and Buffalo went 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 72 IP. He is a LOOGY candidate for the Indians, and could be an option (along with Tony Sipp) at some point this season to fill the Indians need for a second left-hander in the bullpen.RP: Travis FoleyFoley was drafted in the 4th round of the 2001 Draft out of high school, and at age 23 will be yet another young player on the Bisons roster this season. Formerly a starting pitcher, the Indians moved him to the bullpen late in the 2004 season after he struggled to stay healthy and his velocity decreased. Foley faired well in his first full season in the bullpen in Akron last year, going 6-2 with a 3.86 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 53.2 IP.Up Next: Preview of the lineup and pitching staff for AA Akron.