Okay, lots to cover today since I was not able to update as much as I wanted to over the weekend because of internet problems at the place I was staying at. Now that the issue has been cleared up, let's get right into today's notebook:
Releases: The following players have been released in the past few days: right-handed pitcher Brad Hinkle, left-handed pitcher Garrett Rieck, left-handed pitcher Candido Jesus, and left-handed pitcher Wilfredo Ramirez. Reportedly, six players were released on Saturday morning, but I am not aware at the moment who the other two players are. The only real surprise of the bunch was Hinkle, who I thought may get a crack at a bullpen spot in Lake County.
McBride At First: Former catcher Matt McBride is learning another position. In the offseason the Indians moved McBride out from behind the plate to left field in the hopes that it would save his arm and keep his bat in the lineup. If anyone has been looking at the box scores, they will see that McBride has also been playing some first base. This is true, as I watched him workout at first base on Saturday, and he put a lot of work in on picking and getting in good position to field the ball. No word yet on if this is his new permanent home and that the outfield trial has been nixed, or if the work at first base is to give him more flexibility. In any case, he had a lot of trouble with the picks at first base, which is to be expected, and will be a year long adjustment for him if indeed he sticks there. It looks like he will be starting the year in Kinston.
House Call: Left-hander T.J. House was dominating in his start on Saturday going four shutout innings and allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out five. He topped out at 93 MPH on the gun, and his secondary stuff was very good. In his 59 pitches, all of his outs came via the strikeout or groundball. One person who had a front row seat of the performance was Indians GM Mark Shapiro who stood about five feet from me and surely had to like what his prized left-handed pitching prospect showed him. House pitches well beyond his age (19), and I am hearing that he is all but certain to open the season at Single-A Lake County in the starting rotation.
Little Abner: Wow. Not only did Shapiro get to see firsthand how spectacular House was, but he also got to see outfielder Abner Abreu's raw power put on full display. In his first at bat, Abreu crushed a home run to deep left field into the wind. In his next at bat he crushed a line drive to the base of the left field wall for a double (video below). In his third and fourth at bats he scorched to line drives which were hit right at the defense for outs. In every at bat he squared up the ball with his bat beautifully. He is still tall and lanky, and it is amazing how much power he has with such a frame. He just has excellent bat speed and very strong wrists which help him generate that raw power. Abreu will be the right-fielder at Single-A Lake County this year.
Injury Slows Head Down: Outfielder Stephen Head is working his way back from an injury that he suffered in the third game of the spring four weeks ago. He has been held out of game action, and got some swings in with the Mahoning Valley group during an intrasquad game on Saturday. He is supposed to be back in the Columbus lineup on Monday, and he is expected to be fully healthy for the season opener in less than two weeks. He will open the season at Triple-A Columbus.
Playing Time In Columbus: Speaking of Stephen Head, he also wonders like most of us how playing time will be worked out considering he along with Michael Brantley, Trevor Crowe, and Matt LaPorta will be in the Columbus outfield. On top of that Michael Aubrey and Jordan Brown will be at first base, and Chris Gimenez will get some work in at DH and first. That is seven players for five positions (including the DH). This actually may work well in that everyone gets a game off a week, and we know at some point injuries will crop up.
Single-A Rotation Makeup: One of the more interesting things to see shake out this spring is who in fact opens the season in the Kinston and Lake County starting rotations. From what I am hearing, the givens to open in the Kinston rotation at the moment are left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz, right-hander Zach Putnam, left-hander Eric Berger, and left-hander Ryan Morris, and the only given to open in the Lake County rotation at the moment is left-hander T.J. House. This is what I am hearing, though the Indians are known to make last minute changes. In any case, it looks like one of right-hander Joey Mahalic or left-hander Ryan Miller may return to Lake County, maybe even both if right-hander Bryce Stowell opens in Kinston, though Stowell has not pitched much this spring (not injured as far as I can tell). One of these three will join House along with likely Lake County rotation placements left-hander Chris Jones, left-hander T.J. McFarland, and right-hander Alexander Perez.
Cid Slowed By Injury: Outfielder Delvi Cid is noticeably bigger, and looks to have added about 10-15 pounds of weight at least. He hasn't been playing in games as it appears he has some sort of leg injury which he is working his way through. No official word on that, but I mention it because I have observed him doing side work and testing out the leg.
Head Becoming Even More Versatile: Utility man Jerad Head has been working out some at shortstop. He initially came to the Indians as a shortstop, but had never really played there since signing. Being able to play the corner outfield positions, along with anywhere in the infield including catching makes him extremely valuable as a utility player. He has some pop in his bat, but the key with him is going to be going to Double-A Akron this year and getting more consistent as a hitter.
Abraham Catches On: Catcher Adam Abraham is really having a hard time finding balls after he blocks them in the dirt. At least three times in a game I saw him block a ball, but could not find it, and thus allowed a baserunner to take the next base. Abraham is foreign to the whole catching thing, so it will be an ongoing, frustrating process for sure as he learns all the techniques and nuances to be a good defensive backstop. He should open the season as the catcher at Single-A Lake County.
Kinston Bound: Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall officially will open the season in Kinston, and other 2008 Draft classmates like outfielder Tim Fedroff and second baseman Cord Phelps are expected to join him there.
Veterans In AAA: While the Triple-A Columbus lineup is going to stacked with high end prospects, I am hearing that the pitching staff in Columbus will be loaded with many veterans. This means that pitchers like Matt Herges, Kirk Saarloos, Tomo Ohka, Greg Acquino, etc are expected to be a part of the pitching staff, and that some guys like right-hander Randy Newsom and others may end up getting bumped down and opening in Double-A Akron.
Prospect Videos: Here are some videos I have shot over the last two days: Abner Abreu, Bo Greenwell, T.J. House, Mike McGuire, Josh Judy, Ryan Morris, Nate Recknagel, Jeremie Tice, Adam Abraham, and Steve Smith.
Did You Know: I learn something everyday. One thing I learned yesterday is that minor leaguers do NOT get paid during spring training. They only get meal money and their accommodations paid for, with the meal money amounting to $12 a day. Also, they are only paid in-season and do not get paid in the offseason. In other words, they get a weekly paycheck from April through about the first week of September (five months) and do not get paid from September through March. Ouch. When the average A-baller gets about $1000-1200 a month, that comes out to about $6000 a year in salary. Making so little over the course of their minor league career is why these guys hold out so much for those higher bonuses, and why so many wash out and retire because they need to pay the bills.
Did You Know II: I also learned that the Indians do not pay any of the travel expenses for the affiliates. For example, when Akron goes on the road, it comes out of Akron's pocket to pay for the bus, gas, hotels and anything else that goes into getting the players to where they need to be. The only thing the Indians pay for with their affiliates is the salaries and meal money, and also a three-night stay in a hotel for players just assigned to an affiliate. After three days, the players are on their own to find housing.
Today: I will be at the complex all day watching the minor leaguers in the early morning practice and then the 1pm games. It is a camp day, so all players will be available to see in action. I may focus more on the Akron squad. I also plan to make my one stop to the big league field to see the Indians play at Goodyear Ballpark in the 4pm game.
Tomorrow: I will have another notebook detailing what I saw in camp on Monday, and also small stories on right-handers David Roberts and Marty Popham.
Photos: I am taking lots of photos and will have thousands by the end of camp, and several of just about every player. If any family member would like some professional quality photos of your son, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know and I will be glad to forward what I have. Or, if I don't have any photos of him, I will make it a point to get some of him when I go to the park the next day.
Here are some photos from the past two days: