2008 Akron Aeros Preview
The Aeros enter the 2008 season coming off three straight Eastern League Championship Series appearances, but after winning it all in 2005 they now have been the runner-up two years in a row. In fact, when you add in their championship season from 2003, they have been in the league finals in four of the last five seasons.
Akron has enjoyed a lot of team success the past few years mainly because of the revolving door of great hitting and pitching prospects that pass through every year. It will be much the same this year, as several of the Indians top prospects on the mound and in the batters box will be littered up and down the Akron roster. In fact, because of a logjam of pitchers, first basemen and outfielder at the major league and Triple-A level, several top performers from last year at these positions will return to Akron in 2008.
Some of the best hitters in the Indians farm system will be on display every night with the likes of Trevor Crowe, Wes Hodges, Josh Rodriguez, and Matt Whitney. The top left-handed starter in the system Chuck Lofgren will return, and newcomer lefty David Huff is the next big pitching prospect on the rise in the Indians system. Also, in the bullpen there should be talented relievers aplenty with arms like Sung-Wei Tseng, Jeff Stevens, and Randy Newsom.
It should be a lot of fun for fans at Canal Park this year as they get to experience another winning team as well as see some of the players grow and develop into the Cleveland Indians' stars of tomorrow.
Minor League Affiliates
Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
Akron Aeros (AA)
Kinston Indians (High A)
Lake County Captains (Low A)
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Short Season A)
GCL Indians (Rookie)
Manager: Mike Sarbaugh
1st season as Akron manager, 19th season in Indians organization
Hitting Coach: Lee May Jr.
2nd season as Akron hitting coach, 5th season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Tony Arnold
1st season as Akron pitching coach, 16th season in Indians organization
Roster and Rotation
TJ Burton (RHP)
Bubbie Buzachero (RHP)
Kevin Dixon (RHP)
Ryan Edell (LHP)
Frank Herrmann (RHP)
David Huff (LHP)
Chuck Lofgren (LHP)
JD Martin (RHP)
Randy Newsom (RHP)
Shawn Nottingham (LHP)
Jeff Stevens (RHP)
Sung-Wei Tseng (RHP)
Chris De La Cruz
* Left-handed pitcher Scott Lewis is out for two to three months with a strained lat muscle. Outfielder Stephen Head is still recovering from offseason labrum surgery and is expected to be in Akron by mid-April.
Players to Watch
Chuck Lofgren - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'4" Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Lofgren was projected to go much higher in the 2004 Draft, but fell due to signability concerns, and the Indians eventually selected him in the 4th round out of Junipero Serra High School (CA). Lofgren is as legit as it gets, and is one of the top ten left-handed pitching prospects in all the minors. Lofgren is a physical starting pitcher who has a good four-pitch mix led by a fastball than ranges from 90-93 MPH but tops out ay 95 MPH. In addition to the fastball, Lofgren also throws a slow curveball that tops out at around 75 MPH and a changeup and slider which sit in the low 80s. Several comparisons have been made of Lofgren to a young Al Leiter as his stuff, presence and approach are nearly identical. Lofgren is a competitor on the mound, and likes to attack hitters on the inside part of the plate with his fastball. He is very good at changing speeds and mixing his pitches. Lofgren's aptitude is off the charts and he is also grounded ego-wise. As a young pitcher pitching at an advanced level last season, Lofgren displayed great mound presence and his combination of athleticism and power on the mound is exciting. While he did not match his outstanding statistical season from 2006 when he won 17 games and had a sub-3.00 ERA at Kinston, he adapted well to Double-A at a young age. He should not be in Akron long as he is expected to be the first starter called up to Buffalo once a spot in the rotation opens up there.
Wes Hodges - Third Baseman
Age: 23 Height: 6'2" Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Hodges was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 Draft out of Georgia Tech, but did not play in 2006 with the Indians since he was still mending from a stress fracture in his foot. Hodges is a player who was born to hit who is a very disciplined hitter with great bat-to-ball ability, and has a nice line drive stroke with good power potential to all fields. Hodges handles fastballs well, and he has to go through the growing period with the changeups and breaking balls and making the adjustments. He should be able to as his aptitude is off the charts as he has an unbelievable ability to make adjustments. As a defender, Hodges does it all with good hands, a strong arm and very good range at third base. The Indians like his athleticism at third base, and combined with his very advanced and professional bat feel he is a rare find. While Hodges work ethic is second to none, and he is still adapting to the everyday grind of professional baseball and learning to be more consistent. With Kevin Kouzmanoff being sent packing to San Diego in the Josh Barfield trade last offseason, and Andy Marte struggling to stay in Cleveland, Hodges is the top third base prospect in the system. If he can stay healthy and on the field he will move through the system quickly, and is someone who could push for a major league job as soon as late-2008. There is no one above him at Buffalo blocking him, so if he impresses the first half of the season at Akron he could move to Buffalo by mid-season.
Josh Rodriguez - Shortstop
Age: 23 Height: 6'0" Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians took Rodriguez with their second of four picks in the second round of the 2006 Draft out of Rice University. Going into his draft year, Rodriguez was considered the top shortstop available in preseason draft rankings, but his draft stock plummeted somewhat when he suffered a serious elbow injury in the fall of 2005. Last year, Rodriguez was just the second player in Kinston history to put up at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season (John Nunnally in 1994). Rodriguez is a patient hitter with gap power who drives the ball well, and has some thunder in his bat. He is a great athlete with a knack for hitting, and in his first full season of professional baseball was driving the ball out of the park in a pitchers park in Kinston. The ball jumps off his bat, and according to scouts his power is for real where they believe he could reproduce his 20-20 (HR and SB) in the majors eventually. Rodriguez is not a big kid, but he has above average bat speed and is an extra base hit machine who can stuff a stat sheet. Rodriguez has an excellent throwing arm, and is versatile enough to play anywhere in the infield and even some outfield. He impressed scouts in the Carolina League last year with his defensive abilities, showing good projection as a quality defensive shortstop in the majors with plus arm strength and good lateral range to his left and right. With the need in the system for quality, impact middle infielders and with no one in Buffalo blocking him, if he performs well at Akron this year he could see time at Buffalo at some point this season.
Trevor Crowe - Outfielder
Age: 24 Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 Bats: Switch Throws: Right
The Indians selected Crowe in the 1st round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Arizona. Crowe has the ability to hit for average with some pop, but his biggest strength is his excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition skills. Crowe has a very good approach at the plate, and is a student of the game that understands his skill set as a player. He has a contagious swagger, and is a very high energy and explosive player who has an engine that never stops. The Indians feel he will hit for more power in the future, and prior to nixing the second-base move in 2006 felt his best comp as a major leaguer was Brian Roberts of the Orioles. Even as an outfielder, Roberts is exactly the offensive player the Indians envision Crowe being. His approach makes him a potential leadoff or two-hole hitter for the Indians down the road. Defensively, Crowe grades out as an above average center-fielder with an above average arm. While Crowe has good speed, he really does not have the quickness or range to play center field in the big leagues which will push him to left field. Crowe's struggles the first few months last season are well documented, and he worked hard all season to try and get out of the offensive funk he was in. Even when things were at their worst, Crowe stayed mentally strong and remained focused and eventually his unwavering persistence finally paid off as he finished the last half of the season strong. Crowe would have started at Buffalo, but the Indians outfield depth pushed him back to Akron to start the year. He will likely be a quick callup to Buffalo once a spot opens up.
David Huff - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 23 Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Huff was a supplemental 1st round pick and the first player the Indians selected in the 2006 Draft out of UCLA. Coming out of college, Huff was often compared to Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Jeremy Sowers. Huff is a strike-thrower who has excellent command of his pitches. His fastball consistently clocks in at 88-91 MPH, and his changeup is a plus pitch and ranked one of the best in the country coming into the draft. While he does not overpower hitters, he has unbelievable confidence in his fastball, and commands it well working it to both sides of the plate and to the corners on all four quadrants. He has the best fastball command in the entire system, and is a very polished pitcher. He is aggressive and attacks hitters, and he has a great, athletic delivery which deceives hitters and he repeats it well. He is a pitcher you like to watch pitch because he moves the ball around in and out, gets the breaking ball and changeup over and knows how to use them. After experiencing soreness on the back of his elbow in late May, Huff was shutdown and it was discovered that he had a strained ligament in his throwing elbow. Huff made up for some of the lost work by pitching in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) this offseason where he went 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA in seven games and posted 15 strikeouts in 16.1 innings pitched. It should be noted the ERA is ballooned by two bad outings, as overall he was outstanding and scouts raved about him in his other appearances.
Jeffrey Stevens - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 24 Height: 6'1" Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Stevens has the distinction of being the infamous player to be named later the Indians received when they traded Brandon Phillips to the Cincinnati Reds on April 7, 2006. Stevens was drafted by Cincinnati in the 6th round of the 2005 Draft out of Loyola Marymount University. Stevens had a breakthrough season last year, and if not for Jensen Lewis and Aaron Laffey would have been the pitcher in the system to make the biggest stride by season's end. Last year, Stevens went through spring training expecting to be a starter, but when camp broke he was shipped to Kinston and put in the bullpen. The move to the bullpen saw him take off, and the Indians are excited about his progress and his future in the bullpen. Stevens saw an increase in velocity when he moved to the bullpen and his fastball is very reminiscent of Rafael Betancourt's where it is consistently 92-93 MPH and occasionally will hit 95 MPH, but it gets in on batters quickly. He has four quality pitches and commands them well. His fastball has some life to it, and he compliments it with a good changeup and his breaking ball has improved a lot since first coming into the organization. His breaking ball has seen much improvement, and has been described as having the drop and movement of a "whiffle ball". He is a great competitor and goes right after guys, and he also throws strikes. He has the stuff and makeup to be a backend reliever. Stevens is expected to get a shot in Cleveland at some point this year, and would have started the season in Buffalo if not for the logjam of relievers up there. He likely will not be in Akron for long.
Chris Gimenez - Catcher
Age: 25 Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Gimenez was drafted in the 19th round of the 2004 Draft out of the University of Nevada. Gimenez is an athletic player who can play all over the field and do a lot of things and has excellent power potential. He has shown that when he is healthy, he can put up big numbers. Gimenez is a physically imposing specimen, and with his chiseled physique arguably may be the strongest player in the Indians system. Gimenez's success last year was the result of a lot of hard work in the cages with Kinston hitting coach Jon Nunnally, and focusing his approach on getting into good hitter's counts and learning to lay off pitches that are un-hittable. Because of this hard work, his walk-rate improved to where at Kinston he walked (50) almost as many times as he struckout (55). In 2006, Gimenez was converted to a catcher, and the move to catcher has sort of made him a jack-of-all-trades in that he can play virtually anywhere on the field except the middle at center field, shortstop and second base. The Indians are committed in developing him as a catcher and believe he can handle the position. If he can continue to hit and show good power as he climbs the minor league ladder, he could be a very valuable bench option for the Indians as a super utility player because of that versatility and his powerful bat. With Wyatt Toregas in Buffalo, Gimenez should be in Akron all year.
Michael Aubrey- First baseman
Age: 25 Height: 6'0" Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Aubrey was a 1st round pick by the Indians in the 2003 Draft out of Tulane University. The question is not whether Aubrey can hit, it is whether he can stay healthy because when he plays he performs. When he is healthy, he is a superior defender and good hitter with gap power. But, staying on the field to put up those numbers has been his problem. Aubrey has endured many long spells on the disabled list with leg and back issues and of the 243 career games played they have come over four and a half seasons (roughly 630 possible games). In 2005, chronic back issues limited Aubrey to just 28 games and his season ended in May. In 2006, for the second straight year, he was lost early in the season when he injured himself sliding into second base and suffered a surface fracture on his right knee joint. Throughout the 2007 season Aubrey was bothered by hamstring and groin issues. The Indians were encouraged with the way Aubrey was able to stay much more healthy and on the field for most of the last three months of the season last year. If Aubrey can find a way to stay healthy, he still may be able to salvage his once promising baseball career and be an impact player. This year might be Aubrey's last chance in the organization (last option year), and because of this he will be pushed up to Buffalo quickly to get him some at bats in Triple-A for the first time in his career.
Frank Herrmann - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 23 Height: 6'4" Weight: 220 Bats: Left Throws: Right
An economics major at Harvard, Herrmann went undrafted and was signed by the Indians in August of 2005. Herrmann is a physically imposing pitcher, armed with a power sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s, slurvy breaking ball and decent changeup that has good movement. The key to Herrmann's success is his bulldog mentality and his intelligence in coming up with a good game plan to attack hitters. At times he can be too quick to the plate which can lead to him leaving the ball up in the zone, but he is a consistent strike thrower and he pitches to contact. Herrmann is also very durable, and he saw his velocity increase some last season as he was topping out as high as 93 MPH many times late in the season and averaging 91-92 on the radar gun, whereas in 2006 he only averaged 90 MPH. The Indians felt Herrmann showed a lot of improvement in 2007. When he came into the organization, he was very raw and the Indians had to break him down by completely re-developing his delivery and overhauling his four pitch mix to a more simplified three pitch mix of a fastball, slider and changeup. He was also more a collapse, drop and drive guy when he came into the organization, but the refined delivery got