"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.
While this may be the last true edition of Minor Happenings this year, the coverage won't end here. Things surely will slow down as the offseason hits, but baseball is very much a year-round sport to follow. I have several player articles to clear out of the queue and I will be posting news updates as they happen all offseason on the Indians Prospect Insider. There are still lots of things to talk about this offseason with roster decisions, the Rule 5 Draft, minor league free agency, and of course my annual scouting reports and ranking of players in the system.
I also will be providing box scores and updates on my site about the Happenings in Instructional League, the Arizona Parallel League, the Arizona Fall League, and all the other winter leagues this offseason.
Don't forget that next week I will be posting my annual Tony Awards. For those new to the piece or who may have forgotten, here are links to the previous editions from 2008, 2007, and 2006.
It was certainly a fun year to follow the Indians future hopefuls, and I hope that my weekly farm report provided some insight into the talent coming in the short and long term. Thanks again for reading!
With that, onto the final Happenings of the season...
Indians Director of Player Development Ross Atkins usually fills this section with comments on some players he made in the previous week, but this week we will change things up and go with a little different approach with the Director's Cuts. Director of Scouting John Mirabelli recently made some comments on the draft, their operations in the Dominican Republic, and their process in finding and signing Latin free agents:
On the organization's biggest strength: "We do feel like [our pitching] is a definite area of strength. We have implemented a lot of arms, not only via the trades but our draft this year was very pitching heavy. It also had a power-arm emphasis. You never know with pitching. It is a game of attrition with injuries and developmental timeframes and guys progressing at different rates. You never can have your hands around your pitching, but we do feel right now that is probably an area of strength for us from top to bottom."
On other areas of strength in the organization: "With catching being a premium position I think we are very well situated there for the short term and the long term. And all the flanks in the corners at left, right, first and third I think we are in a pretty good spot in terms of depth and guys close to the big leagues. I think down the road we have some guys who we are excited about with their upside. We are always trying to emphasize and prioritize the priority positions, the guys who can play on the dirt and the middle of the diamond. Some are a little further away than others, but I feel we definitely have some strength in those positions I mentioned."
On working out potential Latin free agent signings: "We have a complex in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It is sort of our base of operations for everything we do in all of Latin America. Whether it is Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, that's where we work out of with our coaches with our players. We use it not only for the development of our players we have under contract since it is a year round facility, but we also use it whenever we want to work players out. We bring 16-year old prospects that we are thinking of offering a contract to from all over Latin America to that one spot where we can have them interact not only on the field but also off the field with our current players there. It gives us a good basis of comparison to see how they play against guys who are a little older or have been in professional baseball for a year or year and a half. It is also convenience as we can bring the players to that one spot. It is a first class facility where we have multiple diamonds and everything you need to evaluate a player."
On the difference between draft workouts domestically vs. internationally: "The players internationally you can work those guys out and bring them to your academy and pay for all their expenses for up to 30 days in your academy working them out, coaching them, teaching them, and evaluating them. That is part of the deal internationally and every team is free to do that. Domestically it is a whole different story. You are only allowed limited access to players. The players have to come at their own expense and you can only have them for a 48 hour period. It is a much more difficult endeavor to work guys out prior to the draft domestically than it is for international players. We try to see guys in settings in the summer when they are away from their college or away from the high school where you have a little more flexibility and freedom to work players out, but once again, it is always going to be at the player's expense. So you are restricted a little bit in what you can do domestically versus internationally, but then again on the international side there really is no game competition. All we do is basically [conduct] workouts. We do setup games once we get them to the academy, but there are no [showcase games] it is all basically working off the individual workouts that each teams does in their academies."
On projecting such young, undeveloped talent: "Fausto Carmona was there six months before his 16th birthday, and he does not look anything like he does now [compared to] when we first put our eyes on him. I can tell our fans just for comparison sake, when Fausto was there he was probably about 175 pounds. His velocity might have touched 82 MPH with his fastball, but his arm was loose, we could project with his body, and our scouts liked the way his arm worked and the way he threw the ball over the plate. [Our scouts] said we'll get this guy in strength and conditioning and a throwing program, and low and behold eight to nine years later he is throwing 94 MPH. So, these guys are far away, they are long projections, and it takes a lot of experience and good scouts who can project down the road to know what you are going to have, but it happens quite a lot."
On the thought of a worldwide draft: "That's a good question. I think the element of beating the bushes and the freedom and creativity that you want your scouts to have, I certainly would not want to lose that. If you are a good organization with a solid scouting department internationally you feel you can beat some people by out scouting them. That's something we don't want to take away from our guys as we feel that is one of our strengths. On the other hand the bonuses are astronomical right now. What is happening with most of the players is their agents are taking them to the big dollar teams. So you are kind of losing that ability to out scout people because the agents are involved and they are sort of delivering them to the big market teams and they can outbid us. I am not sure if I am for a pure international draft, but I am for some kind of clearing house where you register the players, you register the agents, and this guy is who he says he is and the agent is who he says he is, and those guys all go into a pool and they are eligible to sign with any team. I think that is something that can make things a lot more efficient than it is right now."
Congrats To Akron
Congratulations go out again to the Double-A Akron Aeros for winning the 2009 Eastern League Championship. A minor league title may not be considered a big deal to the casual fan, but these guys really wanted that win and they were more than deserving of it after they dominated the Eastern League from wire to wire this year this season.
After a tough 8-7 loss last Friday - their first loss in almost three weeks - Akron came back on Saturday night to win convincingly 10-6 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. They won the best-of-five series against Connecticut three games to one. It was Akron's third title in franchise history (2003, 2005) and in each case they have celebrated the championship win in front of the home fans at Canal Park. Several videos and pictures are posted on the Indians Prospect Insider showing the celebration on the field and in the clubhouse.
Akron always has a strong team, and that has shown itself with some of the success the big league club has had from 2005-2007. This was arguably the most talented and deepest Akron roster in a long time, if not ever, as they really had no weakness to speak of with a potent lineup, deep rotation, and dominating bullpen. Over half of these players should see major league action at some point in the near future, so it will be exciting to see what kind of impact they have in Cleveland or with another organization.
Head Of The Class
Left-fielder Jerad Head took home MVP honors for his outstanding performance in the 2009 Eastern League Playoffs. In seven games he piled up eight extra base hits and knocked in nine runs while hitting .345 with a 1.065 OPS. He finished the postseason as the leader in doubles, extra base hits, and RBI, so it was only fitting for him to win the award. His strong playoff performance piggybacked a very good regular season where he hit .282 with 6 HR, 47 RBI, and .782 OPS in 98 games.
Head has made quite a journey through the Indians system. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Washburn University (KS) in 2005, and since that time has worked his way up through the system and has really found a niche with the organization as a super utility player. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder played many different positions this year, getting time in at left field, center field, right field, first base, second base, and third base. The only two non-pitching positions he did not play were shortstop and catcher, but he worked at both of those positions in spring training the past two years and is considered an emergency option at both of those positions.
The only thing Head lacks as a utility player is speed, though he is very athletic. He also does not switch hit, but he has proven over the past few seasons he has a consistent approach at the plate whether he is facing a left-handed pitcher or right-handed pitcher. With his ability to handle every role on the field, he has value as a utility player. With his bat starting to do some talking, he should open the 2010 season in Triple-A Columbus in the same role and who knows, if he keeps it up he could get a shot with the big league club sometime next season.
Barnes & Noble
Left-handed starter Scott Barnes was impressive in the series clincher on Saturday night. He only went five innings, but it was easily his best start since joining Akron five weeks earlier on August 12th. In five innings of work, he limited Connecticut to two unearned runs on two hits, three walks, and struck out seven batters.
Barnes set the tone right from the start, had a little bit of extra life with his fastball, and his secondary stuff was great all night as just about every one of his seven strikeouts came off his breaking ball and changeup. It was really an excellent outing considering he was also coming off an 11-day layoff, but he showed no signs of rust and the tenacity he displayed on the mound is exactly what the Indians liked when they traded Ryan Garko for him back in late July.
In an odd twist of fate, the Connecticut team Barnes was facing is also the San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate, so he was pitching against a lot of former teammates and friends. It is quite possible that had he not been traded he would have been in the other dugout pitching against Akron in the series.
Here are the final playoff stats for short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley and Double-A Akron: