2008 Lake County Captains Preview
With minor league opening day barely over 48 hours away, I'll be providing team previews for all the Indians full-season minor league affiliates through the end of this week. Today, we kick off the team previews with the Single-A Lake County Captains.
In the Captains debut season in 2003 they took the Northeast Ohio area by storm winning just short of 100 games and getting to the Championship Series of the South Atlantic League playoffs. However, since then they have failed to make the playoffs, and in some cases (like 2006 for example) the team lacked a lot of talent and almost appeared to be an afterthought by the Indians organization.
Things changed some last year, as while the Captains missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the product put on the field was impressive with the likes of Matt Whitney (1B), Beau Mills (3B/1B), Nick Weglarz (OF), Carlos Rivero (SS), Jared Goedert (3B/2B), Matt McBride (C), Hector Rondon (RHP), Jeanmar Gomez (RHP), Paolo Espino (RHP), and Luis Perdomo (RHP). There were some impressive individual offensive performances before players changed zip codes to Kinston, and the very young starting rotation started slow but turned itself around by the second half of the season.
This year, the team looks like it will be very competitive and their strength will be in the pitching department. In fact, the starting rotation and bullpen are both loaded with intriguing prospects with power arms, good stuff, and lots of projection as quality major league players. Offensively, the Captains may struggle a little from the outset. Except for Chris Nash there is very little pop in the lineup, but the team will have a lot of speed. Fans are likely to see a lot of National League style baseball at the corner of Vine Street and Rt. 91 where new manager Aaron Holbert gets creative with stealing bases, hitting and running, bunting, and so on to create scoring opportunities.
Even though the team is young and inexperienced, they have promise. Most importantly, the roster has many legit "prospects" who should be exciting to see and watch develop over the course of the season. When it gets down to it, the wins and losses don't matter much as it is all about evaluating individual talent and how they perform over a 140 game 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)
Manager: Aaron Holbert
1st season as Lake County manager, 1st season in Indians organization
Hitting Coach: Jim Rickon
3rd season as Lake County coach, 10th season in Indians organization
Pitching Coach: Ruben Niebla
3rd season as Lake County pitching coach, 8th season in Indians organization
Roster and Rotation
Christopher Archer (RHP)
Garrison Campfield (RHP)
Dallas Cawiezell (RHP)
Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP)
Santo Frias (RHP)
Jonathan Holt (RHP)
Josh Judy (RHP)
Kyle Landis (RHP)
Ryan Miller (LHP)
Ryan Morris (LHP)
Vinnie Pestano (RHP)
Mike Pontius (RHP)
Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP)
Santo Frias (RHP)
Ryan Morris (LHP)
Ryan Miller (LHP)
Chris Archer (RHP)
Players to Watch
Matt Brown - Outfielder
Age: 23 Height: 6'1" Weight: 183 Bats: Left Throws: Right
|2007 Mahoning Valley||.250||63||224||22||56||14||3||0||31||25||41||6||.325||.339||.665|
The Indians 13th round pick in 2007, coming out of college last year Brown's biggest challenge was developing better plate discipline. He is an intriguing outfielder who offers a great package of overall tools, one of the best in the 2007 draft. He was the 184th best prospect in the 2007 draft according to Baseball America and that publication predicted he could have gone as high as the 3rd or 4th round so he is a very good late round pick by the Indians. He has good bat speed, raw power, good arm strength, is an average runner and his defense is a major strength for him right now. He is an all-out player which is good in the field, but he takes that attitude to the plate with him which presents a problem at times, so the Indians will continue to work as they did in the Fall Instructional League to get him to shorten his long, maximum-effort swing.
Roman Pena - Outfield
Age: 21 Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Left
|2007 Lake County||.240||123||455||58||109||20||6||7||70||60||138||2||.342||.356||.698|
The Indians drafted Pena out of high school in the 9th round of the 2005 Draft, and after not playing professionally in 2005 he made his professional debut in 2006 with the GCL Indians. That season, in 205 combined at bats in the GCL and Lake County, Pena hit .302 with 7 HRs and 26 RBIs. Pena is an exciting left-handed hitter who has line-drive power to all fields. He has average range in the outfield, but has a very strong arm due to his experience as a pitcher in high school where he consistently clocked in at around 85-88 MPH. With his power arm and electric bat, he projects as a good right fielder; however, he is lacking in size. Going forward, Pena will need to work on his approach at the plate, namely his plate discipline where in 660 career at bats he has struck out 205 times, which is about once every three at bats. This will be Pena's second season in a row at Lake County, and he will be counted on as one of the main run producers in the lineup.
Mark Thompson - Shortstop
Age: 23 Height: 5'9" Weight: 165 Bats: Right Throws: Right
|2007 GCL Indians||.281||11||32||3||9||1||0||0||8||4||8||0||.298||.250||.548|
Matt's defining tool currently is his glove. He has average arm strength, is an average major league runner, but has some adjustments to make as a hitter. For him to be a regular he has to excel in the field and he has to learn to hit more than he can right now. He also has a lot of experience in the outfield, so he could be a super utility type down the road. After his play in the Fall Instructional League he was compared to Mike Bordick. He impressed pretty much everyone in that camp and, although he probably projects as no more than a utility infielder in the majors if he ever makes it that far, his attitude and defensive skills make it a distinct possibility that he may reach his potential. For now, Thompson will get the lion's share of starts at shortstop; however, Matt Willard will also get a lot of playing time at the position.
Chris Nash - First Baseman
Age: 21 Height: 6'5" Weight: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians selected Nash in the 24th round of the 2006 Draft out of Johnson County Community College (KS). Nash came out last year and had a really good extended spring, played well in the Gulf Coast League and Mahoning Valley, and did really well in the instructional league this offseason. He is a huge first baseman who should continue to fill out as he matures. His big frame, strength, and size at 6'5" 230 at 21 years of age make him very projectable to be a big power hitter. Last year, in 238 at bats he only hit three home runs, but he piled up 20 doubles which is a clear sign that the power is there and may be on the verge of emerging as he matures and becomes more accustomed to the feel of wood bats. Nash is an intelligent kid who handles himself really well and is a hard worker. Even with his enormous size, Nash is very athletic and moves very well around the bag at first base. He made a lot of progress in the instructional league and during the year at first base and has become a solid defender at the position. After a very good debut season last year, Nash has put himself in a position where he has been noticed and for people to look at him. His progression this year should be interesting, and he is one of the top candidates to have a breakout campaign in 2008.
Kelvin De La Cruz - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 19 Height: 6'5" Weight: 187 Bats: Left Throws: Left
De La Cruz was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in December of 2004. Last year, De La Cruz showed much improved arm strength as his fastball velocity jumped up to 88-92 MPH and topped out at 93 MPH, where the previous year it was only 84-86 MPH. His fastball velocity could still increase because he is still young and getting bigger and stronger. He compliments his fastball with a curveball and changeup. The changeup has the makings of a plus pitch and has swing and miss value and depth. His curveball is a 12-6 hammer with the makings of an average breaking ball. He has the size, the pitches, and the intelligence to grow a lot in the coming years. He projects as a future starter, showing an aggressive approach on the mound where he challenges hitters and pounds the strike zone. He is very athletic and fields his position well. He has good attention to detail, and is a student of the game. At 6'5", he is a very tall kid, and as he matures he should get bigger and stronger as he fills into his frame.
Santo Frias - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 20 Height: 6'3" Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Frias was signed as a non-drafted free agent in December of 2005 and made his stateside debut in 2007 pitching for the rookie level GCL Indians and later at Single-A Lake County. When Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins was heading up the Latin Operations in 2006 he was a big fan of Frias, and he still is. Frias continues to improve, is a strike-thrower and has a big frame that he is still growing into. He reminds some in the Indians organization of Fausto Carmona because of his big frame, big back, room to put on weight, and loose arm. Frias has a good three-pitch mix with an 88-92 MPH fastball, slider and changeup. The slider is his best secondary pitch and has the potential to develop into a good major league pitch. He has the frame and the pitches, and still is only 20-years old. The Indians feel that as he fills out and matures his fastball has the potential to add velocity and become a big weapon. He also has a very low home run rate (0.32 HR/9 career). Frias' performance in the GCL (2-3, 1.88 ERA, 9 starts) and Lake County (0-0, 4.32 ERA, 2 starts) was impressive to where he now is a legit pitching prospect in the Indians system.
Jonathan Holt - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 22 Height: 6'2" Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Right
|2007 Mahoning Valley||2||3||4.32||16||4||4||33.1||36||16||5||4||27||1.08||7.36||1.20|
The Indians selected Holt in the 5th round of the 2007 Draft from the University of Tampa where he was their closer. He was described in scouting reports as being durable with good fastball movement and a two pitch mix - fastball and slider although his changeup has the potential to be a good pitch against lefthanders which is something he probably needs to be a late inning guy and not just a specialist. He doesn't break 90 MPH with his fastball very often, pitching at 88 MPH mostly, but like real estate, it's all about location and his fastball has good arm side run. He is a strike thrower as evidenced by his 27:4 K/BB ratio in 33 innings last summer. His numbers were a bit skewed as the Indians used him four times as a starter. This proved disastrous to his stats as he had a 9.00 ERA in 12 innings as a starter and a 1.69 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP in 21.1 innings as a reliever. Many think that Holt has a chance to move fast as a reliever and potentially be the first Indians' 2007 draftee to reach the majors. Holt projects to be a good 6th or 7th inning guy, or if he overachieves, a major league setup man maybe in the mold of Rafael Betancourt.
Ryan Miller - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 21 Height: 6'0" Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left
The Indians selected Miller in the 36th round of the 2006 Draft out of Blinn College (TX). Miller was a draft and follow player and had a commitment to pitch for and attend the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2007, but chose to sign with the Indians in May 2007. Miller will not blow you away as his fastball sits around 87-91 MPH, but he has a deep mix of pitches in that he also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup. His curveball is his best secondary pitch, has good traditional 12-6 break, and he commands it well to where the Indians feel that Miller's curveball will be a good serviceable major league pitch in the future. His power slider has less break, but it is quicker and more of a pitch he uses to backdoor right-handers and to attack left-handers. Miller's velocity changed throughout the season last year and did not remain consistent, although it could have been the result of pitching so many innings in college in the spring (85+ innings). He needs to continue to get stronger and work on his fastball command as he walked a lot of batters in college (45 in 85 innings last year). Miller's changeup is a work in progress, and he will continue to get a lot of work in developing the pitch to see where it goes.
Ryan Morris - Left-handed Pitcher
Age: 20 Height: 6'3" Weight: 175 Bats: Left Throws: Left
The Indians selected Morris in the 4th round of the 2006 Draft out of high school (Charlotte, NC). Morris is a fierce competitor on the mound, and his makeup is off the charts. He features a four-seam fastball that consistently clocks in at 87-91 MPH, and has natural sink. He also throws a curveball and changeup, with his changeup being the better of the two at this time. His curveball has good tilt and a lot of separation from his fastball, which creates a lot of deception and he has shown some ability to get some swing and misses with it. Morris saw a significant increase in his velocity going into his draft year, and saw it increase some again last year with the Indians. At 6'3" 175 pounds, he has a projectable body where as he matures and fills out he should also get stronger and add more velocity to his fastball. Going forward, Morris will continue working on refining his control and command. The 2006 Draft is looking like one of the Indians best drafts in years, and if some of the young pitchers like Morris develop as hoped it would be a no-brainer. Morris is a left-handed pitcher to keep an eye on this season to see his growth not only physically, but as a pitcher as well.
Mike Pontius - Right-handed Pitcher
Age: 20 Height: 6'2" Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Indians selected Pontius in the 43rd round of the 2006 Draft out of high school (MO). Pontius signed in August of 2006, and made his professional debut last year starting in the Gulf Coast League (GCL) before he finished up in Lake County. Pontius is a strongly built kid who looks like he should be playing football, and is armed with power stuff, has no fear, and could be a closer type down the road. Pontius has plus-plus arm strength and a blazing fastball that consistently clocks in at 94-96 MPH, and tops out at 97 MPH. His fastball is part of a three-pitch mix where he also throws a curveball and changeup. Pontius is still very young and learning how to throw his curveball and changeup, as he got by in high school just throwing fastballs since no one could touch it. At this point it is too early to tell what he will have with his curveball and changeup, but the curveball has shown good depth, has sharp 11-5 break, and can be an out pitch at the major league level. His changeup is still a work in progress, and he also experimented with a cutter last season with mixed results.
Chris Archer (RHP): At 19 years of age, Archer should be one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Archer was drafted in the 5th round of the 2006 Draft out of high school, and this season will be a true test as he struggled the last two years in the minors (1-10, 6.37, 21 games, 77.2 IP, 80 H, 42 BB, 75 K) where he mainly was in the Gulf Coast League. Archer has a live arm where he gets his fastball up to 92 MPH, and as he matures the veloci