Coaches Corner: Ruben Niebla
Akron pitching coach Ruben Niebla took a few moments before the game on Thursday to discuss a few players on his staff this year.
On Chuck Lofgren: "He is throwing the ball extremely well. It seems he has found a rhythm with his delivery right now and he is pumping in a lot of strikes. He looks very comfortable on the mound. He went through some adversity last year and it seems that he used it in his favor to get himself ready, and he looks ready. I think there comes a point where you have to make an adjustment. It took him awhile last year to make that adjustment, and he not only has made some physical adjustments he also came to camp in much better shape. He looks a little more focused and a little more determined, and that definitely has shown."
On Hector Rondon: "The big thing is his lower half has gotten a lot stronger which allows him to maintain his delivery longer. He is doing a better job locating his fastball now, and it is all directly correlated with him getting just a little bit more mature and bigger. He has always had great arm strength and good life to his fastball, and now he is learning how to locate that pitch a little bit better which is definitely helping him."
On Josh Tomlin: "If you look back to Lake County, this guy has had nothing but success wherever he has been. He is one of those guys who has a feel to pitch and does a great job keeping hitters off balance. Those guys as they continue to go from level to level sometimes you find them having more and more success because of the more disciplined hitters, so he is able to get ahead of hitters. He had a great Arizona Fall League season and showed he could get that type of hitter out, so it is a good opportunity for Tomlin to be in the rotation."
On Neal Wagner: He has the arm strength, and shown signs of major league stuff. It all boils down to consistency with a lot of these guys. How consistent can we get them to angle that breaking ball, to locate their fastball, to have the consistent rotation on the changeup and good action. I think with Wagner it is just finding consistency of throwing the ball downhill and using that slider as a weapon.
Tice Focuses On Defense
Single-A Lake County starting third baseman Jeremie Tice has had a good camp, hitting several home runs and being a big run producer in the middle of the Captains lineup all spring. It was his first spring training experience, one that was a little tiring and long, but like so many other players can't wait to get the season going.
"Absolutely," said Tice on Wednesday. "I am from Atlanta, so I am ready to get back on that Eastern time."
While Tice has worked out some at first base in camp during pitcher fielding practice (commonly called PFPs), the 2008 6th round pick out of the College of Charleston will be a main cog in the Lake County machine both on the field at third base and in the lineup hitting somewhere in the middle of manager Aaron Holbert's batting order.
As camp winds down and he gets set to open play in his first full season, Tice wants to really hone in and improve defensively, which is something he has worked hard on during camp.
"There are some specific things I am trying to work on," said Tice. "Defensively, I am always trying to get better as it has been a big problem for me in the past. So I have worked a lot with Travis Fryman and the infield coordinators trying to stay on the ball as long as possible and gotten a lot better."
Late last season, the Indians began working on some things with him like his footwork, how to setup, and his pre-pitch movement to smooth out his defense a little bit. That continued into camp, and will continue to be a primary area of focus throughout the season.
Opening Day Pitching Staffs
Here are your 2009 Opening Day pitching staffs for the Indians four full season affiliates. I'll try and list the position players tomorrow.
Please note that while the pitching rotations are 100% accurate, there may be an error or two in the bullpen as I got all these names in one shot in conversations with players and team personnel on Thursday. The two I am not 100% on their assignment in the bullpen are Kyle Landis and Paolo Espino, and aside from Sipp, Rundles, Salas, and Meloan in Columbus the rest of that bullpen will be veteran depth that I am not 100% on.
(players are listed in random order)
Rotation: David Huff (LHP), Jeremy Sowers (LHP), Aaron Laffey (LHP), Kirk Saarloos (RHP), Jack Cassel (RHP)
Bullpen: John Meloan (RHP), Tony Sipp (LHP), Rich Rundles (LHP), Vinnie Chulk (RHP), Juan Salas (RHP), Greg Aquino (RHP), Jose Rodriguez (RHP)
Rotation: Chuck Lofgren (LHP), Frank Herrmann (RHP), Josh Tomlin (RHP), Hector Rondon (RHP), Steven Wright (RHP)
Bullpen: Erik Stiller (RHP), Randy Newsom (RHP), Scott Roehl (RHP), Neil Wagner (RHP), Carlton Smith (RHP), Michael Finocchi (RHP), Ryan Edell (LHP), Vinnie Pestano (RHP)
Rotation: Jeanmar Gomez (RHP), Ryan Morris (LHP), Eric Berger (LHP), Zach Putnam (RHP), Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP)
Bullpen: Josh Judy (RHP), Matt Meyer (LHP), Chen-Chang Lee (RHP), Gary Campfield (RHP), Dallas Cawiezell (RHP), Heath Taylor (LHP), Jonathan Holt (RHP), Kyle Landis (RHP)
Rotation: T.J. House (LHP), Alexander Perez (RHP), T.J. McFarland (LHP), Joey Mahalic (RHP), Ryan Miller (LHP)
Bullpen: Santo Frias (RHP), Danny Salazar (RHP), Matt Langwell (RHP), Russell Young (LHP), Steve Smith (RHP), Michael McGuire (RHP), Dave Roberts (RHP), Paolo Espino (RHP)
Extended Spring Training:
Eddie Burns (RHP), Sung-Wei Tseng (RHP), Rob Bryson (RHP), Adam Miller (RHP), Trey Haley (RHP), Anillins Martinez (LHP), Bryce Stowell (RHP), Brian Grening (RHP), Chris Jones (LHP), Kaimi Mead (LHP), Mike Pontius (RHP), Marty Popham (RHP), Travis Turek (RHP), Elvis Araujo (LHP), Jose Campos (RHP), Clayton Cook (RHP), Juan Diaz (RHP), Fernando Flores (RHP), Jose Flores (RHP), Guido Fonseca (RHP), Francisco Jimenez (RHP), Jose Jimenez (RHP), Carlos Moncrief (RHP), Denny Montero (RHP), Alexander Morales (RHP), Jacob Reust (RHP), Gregorio Rosario (RHP), Franklin Soto (RHP), Jose Urena (LHP), and Francisco Valera (RHP).
Some of these players are biding their time to fill in when a player is injured or under-performs, some will continue to get work for short-season leagues, and some like Stowell and Pontius are rehabbing injuries and will be back soon. By the way, I have Rosario listed here, but gotta say I do not recall seeing him in camp. He is on the roster sheet, and while I have not actively looked for him or even thought about him until I just typed his name, I don't recall ever seeing him in practice like I have with all these other pitchers.
Housecleaning: Well, before the Indians could officially announce the rosters on Thursday morning they had to release a handful of players. The following players were released on Thursday morning: Greg Jones (RHP), Matt Esquivel (OF), Todd Moser (LHP), Brandon Pinckney (INF), Jansy Infante (INF), Joanniel Montero (RHP), Cirilo Cumberbatch (OF), Mauro Zarate (RHP), and Jeff Hehr (INF). There were a couple of others I believe, but I did not catch who they were. Aside from cutting a catcher or two, final cuts have pretty much been made.
Moving Day: Two large 18-wheelers were backed up in the player development complex yesterday morning packing away all the belongings to all the minor leaguers who had been assigned to one of the Indians full season affiliates in Columbus, Akron, Kinston or Lake County. One truck loaded up everything going to Ohio, so it had a majority of the equipment to load as it will make its first stop in Columbus, then Akron, and then to Eastlake. The other truck is going directly to Kinston. Both trucks have about a 35-40 hour trip of actual driving time, so the trip is expected to last three days to where they eventually pull into the ballparks to unload all the stuff sometime on Sunday.
Silence: Boy, did camp have an empty feel to it on Thursday. I don't know if it was the moving trucks packing everything away, the release of so many players, or the sorrow and disappointment of so many who did not make a full season team or ended up repeating a level, but in any case it was a very subdued atmosphere yesterday.
The Spectacular Rondon: I watched Akron play on Thursday, and wow was right-hander Hector Rondon unbelievable. He was smoking, and while the velocity was not recorded he was hitting 95 MPH on the gun again and blowing hitters away with his nasty fastball/slider combination. He finished the day throwing 80 pitches and going six innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits, a walk, and had nine strikeouts. He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of 23 batters. He keeps putting outings like this together, and the rumors I hear of him being a potential callup to CLEVELAND by midseason may in fact come true. With Adam Miller sidelined, the Indians need Rondon to be legit due to the lack of top quality right-handed pitching depth in the system.
More Game Notes: I watched Akron and Columbus yesterday, and in addition to Rondon above I was really impressed with left-hander Tony Sipp. He only worked an inning for a total of nine pitches, but even still he blew away the three batters he faced racking up two strikeouts and getting the third on a weak pop out to second base. ... Third baseman Wes Hodges absolutely hammered a no doubt home run to left field in his second at bat. ... Akron super utility man Jerad Head bombed a first pitch home run to left in his first at bat. ... Catcher Carlos Santana ripped a laser beam down the first base line and showcased his good wheels by legging it out into a triple. ... Have I mentioned yet how sick the lineups at Columbus and Akron will be 1 through 6? Wow.
Videos & Pictures: I will have lots of video and pictures to share tomorrow. My family got into town on Wednesday evening, and my son ended up getting sick tonight after we were at the fields all day on Thursday. So, due to time constraints, I'll post lots of videos and pictures in tomorrow's update.
Today: I will be at the fields and will watch Kinston and Lake County play their 1pm games at the Goodyear complex. I will also talk (hopefully) with rookie-level manager Ted Kubiak about the whole extended spring training process.