2008 Buffalo Bisons Preview
Just a reminder, I had planned on the first Minor Happenings of the season going up today, but due to limited news since my last Winter Haven report on Saturday, the first Minor Happenings will post next Thursday to recap the first week of the season as usual.
Today is Opening Day for Minor League Baseball, and with it brings another exciting season of following the Indians affiliates as a team as well as the individual development of the players. While following the big league club takes precedence for most fans, following the highs and lows of prospects as they work their way toward their dream of being a major league baseball player is another fun way to pass the summer.
Last year, Buffalo finished a disappointing 75-67 and just missed the playoffs the final week of the season. It was the second straight year that Buffalo missed the playoffs after making the playoffs in 2004 and 2005. The Bisons won the International League Championship in 2004, and from 2004 to 2005 had the league's best record over that two-year span.
A lot of Buffalo's problems stemmed from a rash of injuries and also the parent club taking many of their best players throughout the season. Such is the life of a Triple-A franchise, as they are there first and foremost for the major league club to provide depth and players to use at a moments notice. With so much turnover on the roster and so many injuries, the Bisons just never could get on a roll and stay consistent all season.
With the start of this season, Buffalo looks like it will have one of its strongest and most experienced teams in a long time. Prospect fans will be disappointed in the overall makeup of the roster as it is littered with many minor league veterans near 30 years old who are still hanging around trying to get another shot at the major leagues, or their first shot. Pitchers like Matt Ginter, Rick Bauer, Scott Elarton, Rich Rundles, and Jeff Harris, and position players like Aaron Herr, Danny Sandoval, Andy Gonzalez, Jason Tyner and Yamid Haad are all players who were cast away by other organizations who have settled in Buffalo looking for a chance to continue their baseball careers and get to the big leagues. In addition, there are several veterans in the Indians minor league system still hanging on like pitcher Brian Slocum, outfielder Jason Cooper, and first baseman Ryan Mulhern.
The depth of the Indians major league team will also be on display as four major league quality players in left-handed pitcher Aaron Laffey, left-handed pitcher Jeremy Sowers, right-handed pitcher Tom Mastny, and second baseman Josh Barfield will all be integral pieces of the team in Buffalo at the outset of the season.
But, while there are a lot of minor league veterans and major league players on the roster, there are still some very good prospects to follow. Newcomers include first baseman Jordan Brown, catcher Wyatt Toregas, and left-hander Reid Santos, and the holdovers from last season include outfielder Ben Francisco, right-hander Adam Miller, right-hander Sean Smith, and outfielder Brad Snyder. Plus, many top prospects such as outfielder Trevor Crowe, first baseman Michael Aubrey, left-handed starter Chuck Lofgren, and right-handed reliever Jeff Stevens who have been roadblocked in Akron because of the veterans in Buffalo should see significant time in Buffalo this year.
Overall, outside of a few issues with some top prospects unfairly having to start the season in Akron, the Buffalo team has a good mix of prospects and veterans. With the Indians move of their Triple-A affiliate to Columbus in 2009 all but official, the Bisons should be a strong playoff contender in what looks like a farewell season.
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)
Buffalo Bisons Coaching Staff
Manager: Torey Lovullo
3rd season as Buffalo manager, 8th season in Indians organization
Hitting Coach: Dave Meyers
2nd season as Buffalo hitting coach, 2nd season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Scott Radinsky
2nd season as Buffalo pitching coach, 4th season in Indians organization
Roster & Rotation
** - Matt Ginter is currently in the rotation where he will make one or two starts while Adam Miller is still inactive working on his innings progression to get up to a normal pitch count. Miller missed about two weeks of spring training because of a blister on his middle finger, so will not be ready to make his first start for a week or two.
Players to Watch
Jordan Brown - First Baseman
Age: 24 Height: 6'0" Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Brown gets a lot less pub than his former University of Arizona Wildcat teammate Trevor Crowe, that is, before last year. While Crowe was drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 Draft, Brown was selected a few rounds later in the 4th round of the same draft. Brown is a two time league MVP, winning the Carolina League MVP at Kinston in 2006 and the Eastern League MVP last year at Akron. He also won a batting title at Akron last year hitting .333 on the year. Brown is a pure hitter with incredible hand-eye coordination and a passion for hitting. His sweet swing and approach at the plate has drawn many comparisons to the likes of Sean Casey, Mark Grace and John Olerud, players who never hit for a lot of power but hit for a high average and piled up doubles. Brown has an amazing ability to put up consistent numbers from month to month and year to year. He is a very disciplined hitter and is one of the best players in the system at bat-to-ball ability and making hard, consistent contact. Brown was bothered by an injured knee that he played through most of last season, and now that he is healthy his power numbers are expected to rise. Brown will likely be a 20-25 home run a year hitter because of his good gap power and how he piles up doubles. Brown is not particularly athletic and only has average speed, but his intelligence as a runner helps him get good jumps to steal bases and take extra bases on hits. Brown has played first base and outfield throughout his college and professional career, and the flexibility to adequately play both positions will help him down the road as he looks to make the big league club.
Adam Miller - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 23 Height: 6'4" Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Miller was drafted out of high school (TX) in the 1st round of the 2003 Draft, and had a commitment to play for the University of Arizona before signing with the Indians. Miller is an extremely confident pitcher, and aggressively attacks every hitter. His four-seam plus-plus fastball consistently clocks in at around 96-97 MPH and it has topped out as high as 101 MPH, and he also throws a two-seam fastball that bottoms out well and allows him to better change speeds on his fastball. His best pitch is his plus-plus devastating power slider that he throws in the upper 80s that has excellent tilt and shows great late break. He also throws a changeup, which has become a very good weapon for him and shows good depth. When he is on with the pitch, the development of Miller's changeup has made his fastball and slider almost un-hittable. Miller made a fine adjustment to pitching at the Triple-A level last year, but struggled with injuries. He was scratched from a scheduled start in May with a slight strain on the last digit of the middle finger on his pitching hand, and the Indians put him on the disabled list and he was out of action for 45 days more as a precautionary move. After returning to the rotation in late June from the finger injury, Miller was shutdown for a month because of inflammation in his pitching elbow. He returned in late August and finished the year in the bullpen. Aside from the aforementioned delay in him making his first start, Miller is 100% healthy and ready to go in 2008. Miller is a legit starting pitching alternative the Indians can turn to if a need arises this season, and could even break in with the Indians as a reliever in the bullpen.
Aaron Laffey- Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'0" Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left
The Indians drafted Laffey in the 16th round of the 2003 Draft out of high school (Cumberland, MD), and he had committed to playing college baseball with Virginia Tech before signing with the Indians in July of 2003. Laffey is a pitcher who oozes confidence on the mound, and has a fastball that consistently clocks in around 87-89 MPH and has excellent movement. The fastball is has very good, heavy sink, he commands it well, and he compliments it with an above average slider and a good changeup. His backdoor slurvy breaking ball is about as good as they get, and was something that came along well for him last year. Last year, Laffey struggled in his first three Buffalo starts going 0-3 with an 8.64 ERA, but suddenly things all came together as he put up one of the most dominating months ever seen from a starting pitcher in the Indians farm system. In six June starts, Laffey went 6-0 with a 0.87 ERA and set a Buffalo Bisons record by winning six games in one month. From June 2nd on, in 13 starts Laffey was 9-0 with a 1.92 ERA, and became the first Buffalo starting pitcher in history to win nine consecutive decisions. Laffey transformed into a new pitcher and minor league sensation seemingly overnight last year. He went to spring training with a shot to win the #5 starter spot in Cleveland, but lost out to fellow left-hander Cliff Lee. In any case, Laffey will be up with the big league club at some point this season.
Ben Francisco - Outfielder
Age: 26 Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians selected Francisco in the 5th round of the 2002 Draft out of UCLA. Francisco is one of the most under-rated players in the system who has always put up good numbers and has some good attributes, but because of his age and no outstanding tools he often gets overlooked. In 2002, he was named the Topps Minor League Player of the Year in the NY-Penn League (NYPL) and won the NYPL batting title (.349). Last year, Francisco was named a Topps Triple-A All -Star and won the International League batting title (.318). Francisco's bat provides very good extra base hit production, and he has showed very good ability hitting the fastball, whether in Cleveland or the minors. He has proven he can hit anyone's fastball as they cannot get it by him or elevate it past him. He handled the up and down well of going back and forth from Cleveland to Buffalo last year, and is someone who has a lot of value for the Indians at the major league level. He is a versatile defender who can play all three outfield positions well. His speed is average, but he is an excellent baserunner as his instincts on the basepaths lead to many of his stolen bases. While he is capable of helping the Indians right now, the Indians would like to see Francisco become more consistent defensively, which is something that is more easily accomplished in the minor leagues. Francisco has little to prove in Buffalo, and will be the first outfielder called up to Cleveland when a need arises.
Sean Smith - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 24 Height: 6'4" Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Smith was selected by the Indians in the 16th round of the 2001 Draft out of Sacramento City JC. One of Smith's best attributes is how consistent he has been during his six years in the Indians system. He has a career minor league ERA of 3.82, and to show how consistent he has been he never has had an ERA below 3.24 and never higher than 4.25. Smith is a highly touted draft-and-follow player who always has had the talent, but a bunch of minor injuries early in his minor league career held him back. Finally healthy the past two seasons, Smith was able to put up two good seasons in a row and has grown by leaps and bounds. Smith does not have electric stuff, but has learned that he has to attack hitters by getting ahead of them in the count and to be aggressive by pitching to contact. His fastball consistently checks in at 88-91 MPH, and he also throws a 12-6 curveball, slider and changeup. He has had command problems in the past, but his emergence the past two years was tied to more efficient use of his pitches, increased velocity in his fastball, and pitching with a lot of confidence. At one point early in the season last year at Buffalo, Smith had a streak of 22.2 consecutive scoreless innings, and his ERA ranked near the leaders in the International League. But, he seemed to wear down late in the year as he put up a 4.81 ERA after the All Star break compared to the 3.93 ERA he had before the All Star break. Smith ended up going on the disabled list late in the season with shoulder fatigue and missed the last few weeks of the season, but he reportedly is 100% healthy now.
Wyatt Toregas - Catcher
Age: 25 Height: 5'11" Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Toregas was selected by the Indians in the 24th round of the 2004 Draft out of Virginia Tech. The Indians added Toregas to the 40-man roster this past offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, which gives them a third catching option they have not had on the roster in several years. Toregas has ability with the bat, and a little bit of power pull side. Toward the end of last season Toregas learned to hit the ball to right field and made strides in using the whole field. He became a good situational hitter moving runners. When you can catch and throw like Toregas does it allows the Indians to give his offense more time to develop. He is a leader, and he gives maximum effort and everything he has. Toregas is an excellent defensive catcher that can control a running game. He consistently averages 1.85 seconds on throws to second base, which is much better than the major league average of 2.0 seconds. Toregas is the best defensive catcher in the Indians system, and he has been ranked as the best defensive catcher in the league he played in the last two years. He moves well behind the plate, handles a pitching staff well, and calls a good game. Last year, Toregas struggled through a season riddled with injuries as he was on and off the disabled list all year with back and elbow injuries and only played in 86 games. This is Toregas' first exposure to Triple-A, and he will be called on to be the leader of the pitching staff and be ready for a call to Cleveland if Victor Martinez or Kelly Shoppach are injured.
Brad Snyder - Outfielder
Age: 25 Height: 6'3" Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Snyder is a former first round pick of the Indians in the 2003 Draft out of Ball State University. Snyder's compact stroke generates excellent bat speed, and he has very good power to all fields. His swing is geared for pitches in the zone, and when he stays within himself he hits almost everything hard. Snyder has good speed, which plays up due to his very good instincts on the basepaths. Snyder has mostly played center-field during his time with the Indians, but his power bat and plus arm project him as a major league right-fielder. Snyder's athleticism is a big strength, and his power/speed combination is salivating where except for last season he has played well at each stop in the minors. He has the potential to be a Jeromy Burnitz type player with more speed, or even an outfield version of Howard Johnson. Snyder had eye surgery last offseason, and with some of the adjustments at the plate the Indians implemented, many felt that he could improve on his high strikeout rate in the minors. In 2006, Snyder set an Akron record with 158 strikeouts and struck out once every 3.3 at bats. But, last year in Buffalo his strikeout rate increased to once every 2.8 at bats. On top of that, his power and batting average slipped considerably. The Indians expect him to have a big year in 2008 when he makes a return trip to Buffalo, and it could be a make or break year for Snyder.
Reid Santos- Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 25 Height: 6'1" Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Left
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