"Minor Happenings" covers the important developments and news in the Indians farm system. While most of the information in this report is from my own research and through interviews I have conducted with organizational personnel, some information in this report is collected and summarized from the various news outlets that cover each team.
Short update today due to me being in transit to Kinston yesterday and today. I will be at Grainger Stadium tonight (Friday) in Kinston to see the K-Tribe in action, and then catch them the following weekend in Myrtle Beach.
As a reminder, Paul and I hosted our weekly radio show on Wednesday this week because of my travel situation. Also, I had a few player feature pieces this past week on the likes of Nick Weglarz and Chris Jones.
In case anyone missed it, the Indians on Thursday traded right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt to the Colorado Rockies for minor league right-handed pitching prospect Connor Graham. I'll have more soon on Graham once I have some time over the weekend to get some comments on him and do some research. Initial take: decent upside power-armed pitcher who has backend bullpen potential. I am not bowled over by the guy, but am satisfied with the trade considering I did not expect much for Betancourt. He's certainly an intriguing prospect, and I will have more on him soon.
Last, in my hurry to post this piece while I am holed up in a hotel room and trying to get some sleep before a long day of travel and a game tomorrow, please excuse any typos in this posting.
Onto the Happenings...
Indians Minor League Player Of The Week(for games from July 16th through July 22)
Nate Recknagel (First Baseman - Lake County).550 AVG (11-for-20), 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K
Wow, talk about a hot week for Single-A Lake County infielder Nate Recknagel. The former University of Michigan product taken in the 19th round of the 2008 Draft completely tore up South Atlantic League pitching for the week, and now on the season is hitting xx. In just five games he piled up four different multi-RBI games and homered in three different games for the week. He has only played in 55 games for Lake County, but has been very productive as for all players in the league with 40 RBI or more his .82 RBI per game played is tops in the league.
Recknagel is finally getting comfortable at the plate and seeing the ball well, which shows in the numbers of late. That said, he still is a man without a position in the organization. In his short stint at High-A Kinston earlier in the season he did manage to play all 25 of his games at first base. After free agent first baseman Ole Sheldon was signed, Recknagel was moved back to Low-A Lake County and in 55 games there this year has started just 18 games at first base and two games at third base while playing as the designated hitters in the other 35 games. In his defense, Lake County first baseman Chris Nash is an exceptional defensive first baseman so he usually gets precedence at first base.
Recknagel has very good power and strength, and set a Michigan home run record with 23 last year. The Indians worked on him as a catcher in Instructional League last year and spring training earlier this year because he is challenged defensively at first base and considered a below average defender who needs a lot of work there. On the season he is hitting .281 with 11 HR, 53 RBI, and a .823 OPS.
Paolo Espino (RHP - Kinston): 2-0, 2 games, 0.64 ERA, 14.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 14 KHector Rondon (RHP - Columbus): 1-0, 1 game, 1.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 KMatt LaPorta (OF - Columbus): .364 AVG (8-for-22), 4 R, 4 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 3 KAndy Marte (3B - Columbus): .364 AVG (8-for-22), 7 R, 1 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 4KJose Constanza (OF - Akron): .421 AVG (8-for-19), 7 R, 0 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 2 K, 2 SBJesus Brito (3B - AZL Indians): .500 AVG (8-for-16), 6 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 2K
07/09 to 07/15: Matt McBride (OF - Akron)07/02 to 07/08: Marty Popham (RHP - Mahoning Valley)06/25 to 07/01: Andy Marte (3B - Columbus)06/18 to 06/24: Nick Weglarz (OF - Akron)06/11 to 06/17: Trey Haley (RHP - (Lake County)06/04 to 06/10: Michael Brantley (OF - Columbus)05/28 to 06/03: Donnie Webb (OF - Lake County)05/21 to 05/27: Jordan Brown (1B/OF - Columbus)05/14 to 05/20: Paolo Espino (RHP - Kinston)05/07 to 05/13: Lonnie Chisenhall (3B - Kinston)04/30 to 05/06: Nick Weglarz (OF - Akron)04/23 to 04/29: Matt McBride (1B - Kinston)04/16 to 04/22: Eric Berger (LHP - Kinston)04/08 to 04/15: Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP - Kinston)
Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins was in Columbus this past week and upon returning offered up some comments on two of the most important pitchers in the organization and (in my view) who have a strong bearing on how successful this team can be in 2010:
On Fausto Carmona: "I think Fausto was really impressive and in my opinion was better than his line. He got most of his outs on the ground that were not strikeouts. His strikeouts were dominant strikeouts. They were not locating pitches, they were put away pitches that overmatched Triple-A hitters and a couple of hitters with major league experience. It was a very impressive outing overall. Some of the things he is doing is he is staying within his delivery, staying more on line, and using a pre-pitch routine attacking hitters and thinking it through what he wants to do to hitters and not relying on the catcher so much. Being a pitcher so to speak. Some of the finer things we want to see him do and make sure he is doing is repeating the things I mentioned we are asking him to do, holding the ball from the set position, controlling the running game, and making sure the game is at his pace and not at the pace dictated by the outcomes of at bats. So he is doing those things, is aware of them, and talking about them and it is really impressive how he has handled it. I am sure he is anxious and wants to contribute, but he is sticking to the process and staying focused and has been a very big influence on our younger players."
On comparisons of Carmona and Hector Rondon: "They have different fastballs as Hector has a fastball that is late jumping and can get outs at the top of the zone, where Fausto was a sinkerballer in Triple-A and the major leagues and has more natural sink than Hector. They are similar in the confidence in the fastball, and similar in the confidence to put the ball on the plate. Hector is 21 years old and is in Triple-A and has already cruised through two starts. He is not yet all of what he is going to be. There is a slider to come, he flashes a good slider, but he is gonna have a very good slider. His changeup is still too hard. With really just one pitch - his fastball - he is able not only to compete but pitch very well at Triple-A. That's what is similar to Fausto is the success. How they are having the success is a little bit different. It is interesting to see pictures of Fausto when he was at that age and at that level and look at Hector and there are some similarities. But mostly what it comes down to is they both love to compete and put their fastball on the plate."
King Of No-Decisions
Double-A Akron left-handed starting pitcher Ryan Edell is having a very good return trip around the Eastern League this season. He opened the season in Akron, but was quickly reassigned to Triple-A Columbus on April 12th and inserted into the bullpen there. He made just nine appearances and went 0-2 with a 6.91 ERA there, and was returned to Akron on May 12th. Since his return to Akron, he has settled into the starting rotation and has been fantastic where in 14 starts he is 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA, and in 74.1 innings as a starter has allowed 72 hits, 15 walks, and has 79 strikeouts. He has not allowed more than four runs in any start and has allowed two runs or less in nine of them. Yet, with such consistent performances and limiting the opposition to so few runs, he has 11 no decisions in those 14 starts.
Edell is a strikethrower with an advanced feel to pitch, as evidenced by his 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio this year. The surprising development with Edell is he is averaging over a strikeout an inning this year (9.43 K/9) in 24 combined appearances between Columbus and Akron (90.2 IP, 95 K). The bump in strikeouts is due to his more aggressive approach this year attacking the zone and his fastball has shown more life compared to last season. He has actually seen a bump in his velocity this year where this season his four-seam fastball has averaged about 87-88 MPH topping out at 91 MPH, which is an improvement over last season's 85-86 MPH average velocity and topping out at 88-89 MPH. Also, his fastball command to the inside part of the plate is better and his changeup has improved and become a good weapon for him giving him a pitch to keep hitters off balance.
Coaches Corner: Tony Arnold
I had a chance to sit down with Single-A Lake County Pitching Coach Tony Arnold before the game on Sunday to talk about some of his pitchers:
On Alexander Perez: "What we saw in spring training, we were excited about the kid. A young kid that had a feel for all three of his pitches and can throw them for a strike whenever he wants to. He left here partly because of his age and partly to try and get him to understand to pitch and get outs with his fastball. Over the course of the season he has started to get better and better at that and has allowed him to get deeper into games. He is another that I watched mature, and when you can throw three pitches for strikes along with his demeanor and the person he is it was fun to have him. We knew we were probably not going to have him for long, but that is what we are here for. You want many of the guys you have to leave, and he was very excited when he got called up and that is what you like to see. Very deservingly so. When you can do what he can with the ball, and as long as you understand hitters and how to attack them and stay with a gameplan, I see him being very successful. He is hitting 90-91 MPH a few times, but when you look at Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Rondon [when they were here two years ago] their bodies blew up. I mean I looked at Rondon in spring training and was like ‘my gosh, that's a man'. I see him being able to gain strength, and that should translate to him gaining a MPH or two. But with his stuff, to be successful he doesn't necessarily need MPH. He just needs the knowledge on how to attack the swing because he can command three pitches. We are hoping it happens for him and if it does maybe you might have a #1 starter, and if it doesn't then you still have a quality starter."
On Anillins Martinez: "He has had ups and downs throughout the year. [Lower Level Pitching Coordinator] Steve Lyons came in and he was pretty generic as far as delivery and his arm action and we wanted to get him to lower his arm action. So we actually got him across himself a little bit to get him a little better lower angle and see if that would help him command the ball down as he was real high and not able to command his stuff as well. Since he has made that adjustment, within each outing he has been more comfortable and it seems like with him dropping his arm slot a little bit it has allowed him to have more deception and he has had some really good innings lately and they are not getting a lot of good swings off of him. He is still battling himself on command with his slider down there, but he is getting more consistent. He throws a fastball-slider mix. He has been 92 MPH tops, but since he has dropped down he been a little lower at 86-90 MPH. He is a strong and durable kid and he just takes the ball and gives you whatever he has got."
On Danny Salazar: "He is coming along. When he first got up here he was up in the zone with his fastball command and he was getting a little bit across himself with his delivery which did not allow himself to leverage the ball down in the zone consistently. His last few outings his stride direction has been much more consistent which has allowed him to command his fastball. Now it is just a matter of getting consistent with his secondary pitches. He has been able to predominantly pitch with his fastball. He has had a couple of rough days where he has elevated and got hurt, but overall he has thrown the ball well."
On Chris Jones: "The one thing he has got is he is a left-hander with a more unconventional delivery, which allows him to have some deception to the plate. When he has come in and commanded his stuff down in the zone, he has thrown the ball really well. I really think he has only had one or two outings where he has not kept us in a ballgame and given us a chance to win since. You can see some maturity in him as the season has progressed. He has done really well. He has the pitches that he needs to attack hitters. He has a good breaking ball, he has a good changeup, and he has a pretty good fastball, it is just a matter of him being able to control his delivery to all him to consistently command the ball down in the zone."
On T.J. McFarland: "He's been solid. Going from last year where once they started getting hits he struggled getting through the inning to this year where he has gone out and been able to manage innings and after having a tough inning being able to pitch deeper into ballgames. He is another one you are seeing mature between the white lines as well as off the field. He is able to retain some of the lessons he has learned by hard knocks and apply them later on down the road which he has been getting pretty consistently deep into games."
On Matt Langwell: "I think it was an adjustment for him to go out there at the start of the year. He worked through some delivery issues himself, but since he has solidified his delivery and feels comfortable with what he is doing he is commanding the bottom of the zone consistently with his fastball each outing. He has his slider and splitter behind that and he pounds the zone and has no fear of the bat. He goes right after them and to his credit he has thrown pretty well."
On Eddie Burns: "In spring training you saw him have a couple good games and then saw him just be okay, and then when he got here he was feeling his way around his first couple of outings. Then he just started locking it in and he has been getting three innings as easy as anybody once Roberts, Frias, and McGuire went up. He kind of fell into an opportunity to get more opportunities to get out there and pitch and he has run with it. Unfortunately, he has had the setback with his arm and hopefully it is nothing major and he can get back in there soon."
Slowly but surely, short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley third baseman Kyle Bellows is getting things going offensively. After dropping to a season low hitting just .188 with a .544 OPS as of July 2nd, in the last 19 games he has hit just under .300 and raised his batting average 62 points to where he is now hitting .250 (28-for-112) with 3 HR, 16 RBI and a .707 OPS.
Bellows is still adjusting to wood bats and playing third base, but his approach at the plate with 15 walks and just 17 strikeouts has been encouraging. He has good power potential, and as he adjusts to the wood bats and develops a more consistent swing it is expected to show. Last weekend he also showed a penchant for coming through in the clutch in back-to-back games with a key late inning two-run home run on Friday and then a game winning two-run single on Saturday night in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Bellows has also shown some very good athleticism be it running the bases (five stolen bases) or moving around at third base. He was drafted as a shortstop in the 4th round of this year's draft out of San Jose State. The transition from shortstop to third base is something Mahoning Valley Manager Travis Fryman is becoming an expert in teaching. He helped prepare top pick Lonnie Chisenhall last year for his eventual move from shortstop to third base, and Bellows is his next student with the early returns very positive largely from the work he has had with Fryman.
Low-A left-handed pitcher T.J. House missed a start last week as a precaution after he was hit on his pitching elbow with a line drive. That said, if not for the minor injury he would have likely had his July 17th (or July 22nd) start skipped because with 88.0 innings pitched on the year he is fast approaching what I am told is about a 120-125 innings threshold. He'll be limited more in his last several starts to likely five innings max because right now with the amount of games left he could make about 10-11 starts, but he only has about 32-40 innings left for about 7 more starts. So, he will have a start or two skipped in August as well.
As reported here several weeks back, young Latin left-handed pitching prospect Elvis Araujo was shutdown when he had discomfort in his pitching elbow. He is currently rebuilding his arm strength after his shut down, though is a long way from any game activity. It is likely that he will not pitch again this year until the fall Instructional League.
High-A Kinston outfielder Matt Brown is still working his way back from a left knee patella tendon strain, and is expected to be back sometime in August.
High-A outfielder Tim Fedroff returned to action on Tuesday night for the first time since July 10th when he went on the disabled list because he had reaggravated a nagging hamstring injury.
Here is a quick rundown of some noteworthy transactions in the system from the past week:
July 19: Jeremie Tice reinstated from 7-day DL and placed on rehab assignment in AZL.
July 17: Francisco Jimenez transferred to Lake County from AZL; Masa Kobayashi granted unconditional release; Carlos Santana reinstated from temporary inactive list (Futures' Game); Nick Weglarz reinstated from temporary inactive list (Futures' Game); Jerad Head placed on 7-day DL with right shoulder dislocation.
July 16: Jesus Merchan placed on rehab assignment in AZL; Eddie Burns placed on 7-day DL with right shoulder inflammation.
July 15: Francisco Valera transferred to Lake County from AZL.
July 14: Gregorio Rosario reinstated form 7-day DL and active in AZL.
Columbus Notes (43-54, 4th place, 12.5 GB): On Saturday, left-hander Chuck Lofgren had yet another strong outing for the Clippers going seven innings and allowing three runs on six hits, two walks, and had three strikeouts. He allowed all three runs in the first inning, but after that settled in and was sensational as he notched six shutout innings the rest of the way. It was another very encouraging outing for Lofgren, and he is strongly making a case to be a depth starting option for the Indians in 2010. On the season in 17 combined starts between Double-A Akron and Columbus, he is 7-6 with a 3.40 ERA (98.0 IP, 77 H, 33 BB, 64 K). ... Since his awesome debut on July 8th where he threw six shutout-hitless innings, right-hander Hector Rondon continues to roll as in his two follow up starts he went six innings in each allowing three runs total. In three starts at Columbus he is now 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, and sports an incredible two walks and 20 strikeouts in 18.0 total innings. On the season in 18 combined starts between Double-A Akron and Columbus he is 10-5 with a 2.50 ERA (90.0 IP, 76 H, 18 BB, 93 K). ... Third baseman Wes Hodges has been cleared to play third base and will take over regular duties there from Andy Marte. Marte is expected to rotate between third base, first base and designated hitter. Speaking of Marte, he hit two home runs last night and is now hitting .329 with 17 HR, 64 RBI, and a .958 OPS in 78 games. ... Outfielder Trevor Crowe's 18-game hitting streak came to an end last weekend.
Akron Notes (60-39, 1st place, 4.5 GU): Right-hander Josh Judy has been one of the hotter relief pitchers in the system of late as he has five straight scoreless outings (9.0 innings) and eight of his last nine outings have been scoreless. During those last nine games he has pitched 12.1 innings allowing six hits, three runs, three walks and has 22 strikeouts. In 27 combined appearances between Akron and High-A Kinston he is 4-3 with a 3.35 ERA (37.2 IP, 30 H, 12 BB, 45 K). ... Infielder/outfielder Jerad Head was placed on the disabled list last Friday with a dislocated right shoulder. He was hurt on Thursday night diving for a ball in left field. On the season he is hitting .286 with 4 HR, 26 RBI, and a .773 OPS in 67 games. ... Outfielder Jose Constanza had just 29 walks in his first 78 games, but in his last 11 games he has 14 walks. He is now hitting .289 with 0 HR, 30 RBI and a .718 OPS. He also has 26 stolen bases. ... Outfielder John Drennen is having a solid campaign this year at Akron hitting .286 with 3 HR, 31 RBI and a .778 OPS in 65 games. He has been very hot since returning from High-A Kinston several weeks ago and hit .330 in June and is hitting .324 so far in July.
Kinston Notes (10-17, 4th place, 6.5 GB): Right-hander Paolo Espino has been very good in his last two starts going a combined 14.0 innings and allowing just one run on six hits, one walk with 14 strikeouts. On the season he is now 5-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 20 combined appearances in Kinston, Single-A Lake County and Double-A Akron. He is someone who could soon be on the move to Akron to fill a starting pitching role there. ... Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall had his season-high 16 game hitting streak come to an end last weekend. The streak lasted from June 26th to July 16th, and over that stretch he was 20-for-63 (.318) with 2 HR and 10 RBI. It was his third hitting streak of 11 or more games this season, as he had streaks of 11 and 12 games earlier in the campaign. He has not gone more than two straight games without a hit, and has just four back-to-back hitless games this season. On the season he is hitting .281 with 15 HR, 64 RBI and a .850 OPS. ... On Saturday, left-hander Russell Young put up another solid outing 6.2 innings and allowed two runs on four hits, a walk and had four strikeouts. In 14 starts with Kinston he is 2-4 with a 4.25 ERA.
Lake County Notes (13-14, 5th place, 3.5 GB): Right-handed reliever Eddie Burns (2-1, 2.38 ERA) was placed on the disabled list last Thursday with a shoulder injury. His spot on the roster was filled by promising 20-year old Latin left-handed reliever Francisco Jimenez. In seven combined appearances between Lake County and with the rookie-level AZL Indians he is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA (21.1 IP, 15 H, 2 BB, 29 K). ... On Sunday, right-hander Trey Haley struggled with his command lasting just three innings allowing six runs on four hits, six walks and had two strikeouts. He is very much a work in progress and is working on a few adjustments to his delivery on the fly in competitive games, so the struggles are to be expected. This is certainly a growing experience for Haley this year as he learns to compete at the professional level. ... All Star infielder Karexson Sanchez is in a freefall offensively, hitting just .182 in June and only .194 so far in July. He is hitting .236 with 8 HR, 40 RBI and a .722 OPS in 89 games.
Mahoning Valley Notes (20-13, 1st place, 0.5 GU): On Saturday, 2009 9th round pick out of Arizona right-handed starter Preston Guilmet had his best outing to date in his short time in the Indians organization going seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits, no walks and had two strikeouts. On the season in six starts he is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA. ... Outfielder Greg Folgia - a 2009 40th round pick out of Missouri - had one of the biggest hits early in his professional career on Sunday when he hit a walkoff game-winning grand slam home run. The highly regarded Folgia is hitting .250 with 2 HR, 15 RBI and a .735 OPS. ... First baseman Ben Carlson has made some adjustments to his swing and since then has shown signs of improvement. He was dropping his hands resulted in a more defined uppercut and him hitting up through the ball, so he has worked on making a more consistent level swing and is starting to come along. He is hitting .227 with 1 HR, 13 RBI, and a .598 OPS in 23 games.