I was in Kinston, North Carolina this past weekend, and in addition to the several players I talked to, I had the chance to sit down with Indians Minor League Pitching Coordinator Dave Miller for about 20 minutes to talk about a slew of pitchers in the system from the major league team on down to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League (GCL) team.As the pitching coordinator, Miller serves as another set of eyes to help the pitching coaches at each affiliate. Also, pitching coaches typically change leagues each season, so Miller provides stability while the coaches at each affiliate turnover just about every year. He has a pretty good feel for the 80 pitchers the Indians have in the system, and from year to year when the pitchers go to different pitching coaches he can give the pitching coaches information about when the players struggle or when they had success what they can do.What Miller will do is visit each affiliate several times a year, and when he comes into town he will visit for five days to see all the pitchers in the rotation and bullpen. He will try to see each of the four full-season clubs three times by seeing them early in the season, the middle of the season, and the end of the season. Early in the season to kind of see where the pitchers are at, the middle of the season to see if the pitchers are progressing or regressing, and at the end of the season to see where the pitchers finished off and get an idea of what the organization is going to do with them next year. Also, Miller checks out the short-season squads in Mahoning Valley and the GCL just once to make recommendations for instructional league or make plans for next year.I asked Miller about several players up and down the system, and a few of them I did not ask about but he made it a point to mention them as the organization is very excited about them (Kelvin De La Cruz, Jeff Stevens, Aaron Laffey, and Jim Deters). Here is what he said, word-for-word on each player:On Fausto Carmona: "I'll go up to Cleveland once a year and just talk to our major league pitching coach and watch some games up there. I mostly watch all the big league games on TV through the big league baseball package. The thing is, Fausto has always been our number one guy in the minor leagues. He wet out and never missed a start in the minor leagues. The biggest thing for him is his delivery. When he stays under control and keeps his effort level good, he is good. Last year he got into some of those close games and his effort level got a littler high and his delivery fell apart and he got flat, where this year he has done a really good job of maintaining his delivery and effort level. You'll watch a lot of the games where in the game you'll see Fausto be a little bit out of control and then you'll see Victor kind of say ‘hey slow down a little bit and stay within your delivery'. He can throw 95 nice and easy and stay within his delivery, where he was just trying to do too much last year. To Fausto's credit he bounced back from that. We always knew he was going to be a big time starter. Out of necessity the big league club needed him to pitch out of the bullpen, and when he was setting up he was great."On Adam Miller: "He is close to being 100% healthy. Every outing he is getting a little bit better in his relief appearances. Every outing has been a little bit better velocity-wise, the way he is feeling, durability, everything. He's going to stay in the bullpen the rest of the year. We are going to sit down as a group and talk about playing somewhere this fall (because he missed time with the injury)."On Chuck Lofgren: "The one thing with Chuck is he had such a good year last year, that there was no way he could duplicate that. So, anything he did was not going to be as good as last year. The year he had last year, not many guys have years like that in the minor leagues. The thing that Chuck's gotta do better to pitch and have success in the big leagues is he has to command his fastball. He commands it okay, but its gotta be better than what he has shown so far."On Scott Lewis: "He looks good. We increased his pitch count. Last year we stayed 65-70 the whole year, this year he has progressed up to 95 pitches, he has made every turn and has not missed a start. Actually his velocity the last game was the highest it was all season at 90. His fastball is his best pitch, as that is what he strikes out a lot of guys out on. His curveball has gotten better, we are trying to firm it up a bit and make it more of an out pitch. He is doing good. Record-wise it doesn't look good because early in the season he got pulled from a lot of games because of pitch counts. But as far as making the turns, keeping teams in games, Scotty has had a good year."On Reid Santos: "Last year, he came up to Akron and I don't think he walked a guy and struckout like 21 guys. So he finished off really well last year. He came in this year and he has kind of picked it up right where he left off. He's got velocity, and he has pitches. He has a good slider, curveball and changeup. He throws strikes. He's done really well in Double-A, and he is a guy that we see as an early lefty out of the bullpen. We had to start him out of necessity this year, but out of the bullpen he's been good. That's what we kind of see him as, an early lefty...a guy that can attack right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters. He has the pitches to attack both guys, and has a good fastball too. He can strike guys out with his fastball, slider, and change. So he can strike guys out with three pitches, so that is what makes him a guy that can really be versatile. He gets it up to 92, is a low effort guy which helps with the durability factor. He's maintained his velocity. He is not a big guy but he throws harder than you think."On Frank Herrmann: "He looks a lot better this year. Last year he was raw, and it was almost like re-developing a high school or junior college guy last year. To Frank and the pitching coaches credit, he re-did his delivery. We overhauled his pitches as he was throwing four pitches last year and overhauled his pitch development and simplified it to a fastball, slider and change. Last year he was a collapse, drop and drive guy, and we have gotten him to stay taller. Last year he made a lot of adjustments and had a decent year, and this year it has been more refining his delivery and how he attacks hitters. The one thing that is good to see with Frank is durability, as his velocity he had last night (Saturday) was the highest it was all season as he topped 93 and he had averaged 90 last year."On Ryan Edell: "We just try to monitor guys (when asked about him being removed from the starting rotation). We try not to jump them more than 20% (innings pitched) from one year to the next. If a guy threw 100 innings last year, we try to take him to 120. He only threw a little last year and the year before he threw about a 120, so we kind of took the two years and we said ‘hey we are going to cut this guy off' because he threw 110 the year before and cut him off at 125-130 this year. So that is what he is kind of projected to get through this year. So, next year he can go all the way up to 160 if we needed him to do that. He's had a really good year. He is a three pitch guy. He can be a bullpen guy for us or he could also be a starting candidate for us in the future depending on where we need him. He has that versatility where he has a slider that can attack lefties and a changeup to attack righties. He had that elbow issue and went out to Arizona last year, and went out and pitched about four or five games in the Arizona Fall League and competed really well in a league where he pitched in the Sally League (South Atlantice League, Low-A) and he was facing mostly Triple-A and Double-A players."
On Jensen Lewis: "This is kind of where guys start to separate themselves (High-A). We'll start to identify guys in the winter time who we think they can be (reliever or starter). With a guy like Jensen we just thought he was a guy who could come quick in the bullpen. He's a hyper guy, he gets loose quick. We just kind of said ‘hey he is fundamentally sound and controls the running game and fields his position and throws strikes'. We just saw that this is a guy who could probably be better facing a lineup once than flipping around through it three times. We want to start a guy as long as we can, just to develop their pitches and develop their running game and the defense, but with Jensen he had knocked all that stuff out last year as he was good with the defense and running game. There was really not a lot of development left for him, so that is where you kind of look at putting guys in the bullpen or decide if they are going to start. You try to start guys as long as you can, because obviously you get bullpens inbetween starts and you throw more pitches and have a chance to develop the little things.On Santo Frias: "He's a guy Ross [Atkins, Farm Director] really liked when he was heading up the Latin Operations. He threw a ton of strikes, is a big framed kid, and they really liked him in the DSL (Dominican Summer League) last year. He's a guy who has gotten better. He throws strikes, now his velocity has come up a little bit, and he has developed a good slider. He is really a guy who is real interesting to us. He's got the frame and the pitches, and is still only 19-years old. He reminds me in some ways of Carmona because of the frame he's got, he's got a big back, he's got room to put on weight, he's got a loose arm. You never know how hard somebody is going to throw, but if you ever project somebody that is going to have a big fastball that's the guy you look at that has a chance to have a big fastball."On Kelvin De La Cruz: "He is another kid, our Latin American people signed him, and he is a 19-year old kid. He just was not getting challenged in the Gulf Coast League (this year), and we sent him to Mahoning Valley and he has responded really well. This guy has a chance to be really good. He's got really good stuff. His velocity has jumped up where he is 88-92 where last year he was 84-86. He has the making of an average breaking ball and plus changeup. This is a kid who has a chance to be really good in the future. He has size, he has pitches, he has intelligence. This is a kid who a couple years down the road has a chance to be a pretty good guy."On the young Lake County staff: "I love having young kids at that level. This level (High-A) is a good level for college guys to come to right out of the Penn League, and then coming out of the GCL that's a good challenge for them going to Lake County. Those guys have really done well. It is a tough league, a lot of teams have a lot of college players there and they took their lumps early on. But in the second half those three 19-year olds Espino, Gomez and Rondon have had really good second halves. They have made every start, we have never had to back them off their starts , they've been healthy, they've gotten better, and they are strong as all of their velocities are higher now than where they were at the beginning of the season. So those guys hung in there, they competed and in the second half they have made a lot of strides."On some of the young kids in the GCL and draft: "That's the thing that is exciting. We got some younger kids out of the draft this year, (Chris) Jones, (T.J.) McFarland, (Joey) Mahalic, and we got some young Latin kids in the GCL. I heard the report on Jones and Mahalic have been really good. We got some kids that are gong to start next year in Lake County and extended that are 18-19 years old that have a chance to be starting pitchers. That's the biggest thing we have to do is develop starting pitching. These kids have a chance to down the road be pretty good guys."On some of the other pitchers the organization is high on: "(Aaron) Laffey has had a great year. Jim Deters has had a great year too. He is a guy who I think was second in the organization in innings pitched last year. This year he has gone back and forth from the starting rotation and the bullpen. He has been really good and consistent whatever he has done. The other kid is Jeff Stevens, the kid we got in the Brandon Phillips trade, has been really good. This is a kid who started last year with Cincinnati and then the second half with us in Lake County we put him in the bullpen and he has been great. He has had a great year out of the bullpen and he is somebody we are excited about also. His fastball reminds me of (Rafael) Betancourt's a little bit where it is 92-93 and occasionally he'll hit 95, but it gets on the guys. It has some life to it, and is a four-seamer. He is a competitor and goes right after guys and throws strikes and he has been a guy that has been a real nice surprise for us this year."I just wanted to give a quick thanks to Dave Miller for taking the time to talk about the pitchers in the Indians system, and for the assistance of the Kinston Indians staff and Assistant Director of Player Development Meka Asonye in setting up the interview.