With the Indians season all but over as far as the playoffs are concerned, the Indians need to make some decisions at key roster spots for next season. One of those positions is closer. The Indians have several in-house candidates to fill the role, and could very well turn the duties over to one of the young kids the rest of the season when Bob Wickman is likely dealt before the July 31st trading deadline. One of those kids is Eddie Mujica.
When Mujica takes the mound, he believes there is not a player that is going to beat him. When he gives up a hit, he bears down and goes right after the next hitter. This in-your-face fearless mentality is something the Indians saw in the 2004-2005 offseason. In 2004, Mujica had a so-so season at Lake County going 6-7 with a 4.03 ERA in 19 starts, and 1-0 with a 7.01 ERA in 7 relief appearances. But, in the Spring of 2005, John Farrell made a role change for Mujica that since then has jumpstarted his career. Mujica went from an unknown and struggling pitcher, to one of the best bullpen prospects in the Indians system and baseball in just over a year’s time.
Farrell liked Mujica’s propensity to go right after hitters, his mid 90s fastball, his good mid-to-high 80s slider, his physical and mental makeup, and his durability to handle multiple appearances. Mujica was a perfect fit for a late-inning relief role, which is what led to Farrell’s decision to make the change. The decision to move him to a bullpen role worked out well, as in 2005 Mujica pitched exclusively out of the bullpen and racked up a combined 24 saves and 2.54 ERA at Kinston and Akron. The 2.54 ERA was 5th in the organization for pitchers with more than 60 IP.
With a change to the bullpen, Mujica also was not required to find a third pitch, which he had been struggling with. As a reliever, you can get by with only two pitches since you generally only work 1-2 innings at most and never roll through a lineup a second time. But, Mujica ended up finally developing a third pitch this past Spring, and it may have been the final piece to the puzzle for him. With the development of a nasty split-finger fastball he now has a pitch in his repertoire to consistently get out left-handed batters because of its late action. The results have been staggering. In 2006, he has pitched a combined 43.1 shutout innings at Akron, Buffalo and Cleveland.
While Fausto Carmona has shown the late inning moxie that should give him the first shot at closing, don’t be surprised if when the dust settles that Mujica ends up being the #1 in-house closer option for 2007. His confidence and short-memory, to go along with his fearless mentality and pitching abilities, make him a natural fit for the role. The Indians still may look to fill the spot from outside the organization with a trade or by signing a free agent, but it is nice to know they do have options internally to fill the role going forward.
Indians Farm Director John Farrell provided some insights this week on a few Indians prospects:
On Adam Miller: Farrell mentioned Miller has been removed from the Futures Game roster. His removal from the roster had nothing to do with Miller’s health, but basically because the Indians want to cut down on his innings and provide him some extra rest over the All-Star break. Miller only threw 95 total innings last year, of which 25 of those innings were accrued in the Arizona Fall League. Currently, Miller is on pace to throw about 160 innings, so the Indians want to reduce the percentage increase in innings pitched from 2005 to 2006. Miller will skip his next start in the rotation before the All-Star break, and will pitch the first game after the All-Star break. By doing this, he will get about a 10-day break.
On Trevor Crowe: Crowe is currently on the disabled list for a strained oblique, he is currently at the end of a rehab assignment at Lake County. He is expected to be activated off the disabled list today (Friday) and be re-assigned to Akron. The callup to Akron for Crowe is well-deserved as he hit .329 with 4 HRs and 31 RBIs along with 48 walks and 29 stolen bases in 60 games at Kinston. Crowe will hit leadoff at Akron, and is on the fast-track to the majors. It has also been mentioned by Farrell that Crowe will be assigned to the Arizona Fall League this winter as the Indians primary prospect.
On Wyatt Toregas: A roster decision looms for Toregas after this season as he is up for roster protection from the Rule 5 Draft. He is a player on the rise in the farm system, and has improved physically since last season. There is no question about Toregas’ offensive abilities, and he is a good defensive catcher that can control a running game. Currently, he averages 1.85 seconds on throws to 2B, which is much better than the major league average of 2.0 seconds on throws to 2B. The Indians feel that a combo of Kelly Shoppach and Wyatt Toregas provides them good depth at the catcher position in the organization.
On Kevin Kouzmanoff: He was activated off the disabled list on Wednesday. Since this was the second time this season that Kouzmanoff has been sidelined with a left hamstring strain, the Indians were more cautious this time around. Also, the Indians didn’t want to rush him back too soon since a second injury could have had a psychological affect on his play where he might favor the leg, which could lead to another injury to the leg or even elsewhere.
On Sean Smith: Smith is a highly touted draft-and-follow player who has emerged this season. His emergence is tied to more efficient use and velocity in his fastball and not shying away from contact. He is also pitching with a lot of confidence right now. Smith’s performance was been so good this year at Akron (8-1, 2.42 ERA) that he was named as Adam Miller’s replacement in the Futures Game.
Minor League Player of the Month for June
Andy Marte (3B- Buffalo): .304, 11 HRs and 25 RBIs
Going into June, Marte was hitting a very disappointing .251 with only 2 HRs, 13 RBIs and an OPS around .670. Some serious concerns were starting to be raised with Marte and whether or not he was all hype. My how one hot month can cure everything (almost).
In June, Marte seemed to finally settle in and not press. His walk to strikeout ratio was a solid 16:18 in April, but dipped to a horrific 4:33 in May. Marte clearly was pressing in May, as he hit only .225 with an OPS of .576, and he racked up those 33 strikeouts in 102 at bats. The Indians made some adjustments with his stance, and combined with Marte relaxing the results have been staggering in the power department. Also, he only struckout 11 times in June.
It should be noted, that in a recent interview this year, Marte mentioned that not only is he adjusting to a new organization, but also to hitting in cooler weather. Prior to coming to the Indians, he hardly ever played baseball in cold weather conditions. Coming from the Dominican Republic and playing his minor league games in the Atlanta Braves system didn’t give him much exposure to cold weather. It is possible this adjustment may have affected his April and May numbers, in addition with him pressing to prove himself to the Indians and their fans.
Nonetheless, the player that the Indians coveted this past offseason seems to be back on track. When play resumes after the All-Star break, don’t be surprised if Marte debuts as an Indian in the first game after the break.
Indians Get Defensive
The Indians made a trade last Friday where they sent Eduardo Perez to the Seattle Mariners for SS prospect Asdrubal Cabrera. What the Indians got in Cabrera is a defensive wizard, and in a lot of ways this trade is eerily similar to the trade from a little over 12 years ago when we shipped Reggie Jefferson and Felix Fermin to Seattle for Omar Vizquel.
The question with Cabrera is his offense. He is a switch-hitter with average speed, and he doesn’t have any offensive tools that stand out (power, on-base ability, speed, etc). Last year, he hit a combined .295 at three stops in the Mariners organization and owned a career .277 minor league batting average coming into this season. Just as a point of reference, former Indians fan favorite Omar Vizquel only had a .241 career minor league batting average in over 1700 at bats.
Clearly, the reason Cabrera was picked up was for his defense, which is major league ready. There is no question that the recent defensive struggles of the Indians has Shapiro looking for more defensive help, namely in the middle of the diamond. Cabrera is a gold-glove caliber shortstop who has excellent hands, footwork and very good accuracy. He is an acrobat in the field, and has very good instincts. An All-Star SS in 2003 and 2004, last year he played 2B and was voted the top defensive 2B in the Single-A Midwest League. He was also ranked as the Mariners 6th best prospect coming into the season, and was ranked #3 in talent guru John Sickel’s rankings.
Cabrera made a huge first impression this week in his first game as a Bison by making three spectacular plays after entering the game late. On of which, was a play where he ended an inning by grabbing a grounder and throwing to 1B across his body as his momentum carried him near short left field. Jason Michaels, who was on a rehab assignment, was quoted in the Buffalo News as saying, "The way he flipped it I've never seen before. About the quickest I've ever seen. I was literally amazed.” The Indians could use someone with his defensive abilities at SS or 2B, so let’s hope this kid pans out.
Indians Go Global
The Amateur Baseball Draft held in June is not the only place to obtain young talent. Signing undrafted free agents from Latin countries has quickly become just as important as the Amateur Draft these days, and the Indians reportedly made a couple noteworthy international signings this past week.
Although the club denies the reports, the Indians nabbed Top 10 rated Latin prospect Balbino Fuenmayor who is a 6’3”16-year old 3B from Venezuela who according to ESPN signed for around $1 million. According to scouting reports, Fuenmayor is a line drive hitter with great hands and footwork, but because of his below average speed he will be limited to 1B or 3B. Baseball America called him “a great hitter” and in a report from ESPN an international scout likened him to Angels prospect Kendry Morales, but with more power and arm strength than Morales.
Also, reportedly the Indians signed 21-year old pitcher Sung-Wei Tseng from Taiwan. He was given an estimated $375,000 signing bonus, and has been clocked at 94 mph this spring and has received a lot of interest from teams based on recent play in World tournaments. The Indians also were in the running for Dominican catcher Francisco Peña, who is the son of former major-leaguer Tony Peña, but it appears he will sign with another team.
The Francisco Streak
Buffalo outfielder Ben Francisco is currently riding a 22-game hitting streak after Thursday night’s game. His hitting streak is of significance in that he now ranks 2nd all-time for hitting streaks at Buffalo, with only Alex Ramirez’s 28-game streak in 1998 standing in his way. Francisco’s streak also is the longest streak this year in all of AAA. In an odd twist reported by the Buffalo News, the hitting streak could end at 11 games when the suspended June 25th game is finished in August. Francisco was 0 for 1 when play stopped, and if he goes hitless or does not play in the continuation of the game, the streak officially ends on June 25 (11 games). On the season, Francisco is hitting .282 with 10 HRs and 32 RBIs along with 17 stolen bases at Buffalo.
Currently, Buffalo is 45-43 on the season 5.5 games out of 1st place in the International League Northern Division, and 3.0 games back of the wildcard leader. Meanwhile, Akron leads the Southern Division of the Eastern League by 3.5 games with a 53-32 record.
As for the short-season and split season teams, Kinston already clinched a playoff berth with the first half title, but currently are 6-7 in the second half and 3.0 games out of 1st. Lake County, who did not have a good first half season, is currently 7-7 and 2.5 games out of 1st in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League. Mahoning Valley is 9-8 and 0.5 games out of 1st in the Pinckney Division of the NY-Penn League. Burlington is 8-8 but 6.0 games out of 1st in the Eastern Division of the Appalachian League. Lastly, the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Indians are 9-8 and 0.5 games out of 1st in the North Division of the GCL.
Last Friday when the Indians announced a press conference would take place to announce a roster move, speculation ran rampant that Andy Marte was on his way to Cleveland. In a strange coincidence, Andy Marte did in fact leave Buffalo that day, but not to join the Indians. He instead was on his way to Atlanta for the birth of his newborn son. Talk about timing.
Pesco On The Mend
Highly touted pitching prospect Nick Pesco probably won’t be sticking around Mahoning Valley much longer. He is currently on a rehab assignment, and could move up to Kinston or rejoin the Akron rotation once some roster moves are made during the All-Star break next week. On Wednesday, Pesco continued to cruise as he threw 6 shutout innings with 7 strikeouts. Pesco, who is on a 70-pitch count at Mahoning Valley, is 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA in 4 starts at the Valley (18 IP). Prior to getting hurt, he was 3-2 at Akron this year with a 4.03 ERA in 8 starts (38 IP).
Early Short-Season Impressions
At Mahoning Valley, some recent draft picks have impressed early. Catcher Matt McBride, who was taken in the 2nd Round of the 2006 Draft out of Lehigh, is hitting .323 with 2 HRs and 9 RBIs in 8 games. SS Andrew Lytle was taken in the 25th Round of the 2005 Draft out of the University of Iowa, and is hitting .418 with 0 HRs and 10 RBIs in 16 games. 3B Jared Goedert is hitting .322 with 1 HR and 7 RBIs in 15 games, and was taken in the 9th round of the 2006 Draft from Kansas State.
Pitchers Sean Smith and Bear Bay, along with 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff and 2B Eider Torres were selected as Southern Division All-Stars for the AA Eastern League All-Star Game….Since returning to Buffalo, Jeremy Guthrie has made two very good starts totaling 12.2 IP and only allowing 2 ERs (1.42 ERA) while allowing only 6 hits and 5 walks and striking out 9…. Jason Stanford returned from the Buffalo disabled list to throw four shutout innings the other night. Stanford had been on the disabled listed since May 27 because of elbow inflammation….Jensen Lewis was called up to Akron, and pitched a beauty in his AA debut going 7 innings not allowing a run on 6 hits while walking none and striking out 7…..CF John Drennen continues to be the only bright spot on the Lake County roster, as he currently is hitting .313 with 6 HRs and 28 RBIs along with an .888 OPS….2005 10th round draft pick Jason Schutt was moved up from Mahoning Valley to Lake County this week. At Mahoning Valley, Schutt went 0-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 4 games.