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Camp Update: Akron Pitching Groups

March 11, 2009
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As I mentioned yesterday with my post about the four groups the position players are working in, the pitching groups are very jumbled and it is really hard to decipher based on who is working with what group and who is being targetted for what affiliate. With so many of the higher level pitchers still working out with the big league club, there is a large absence of upper level pitching talent working out right now in the minors.

One thing to note, is right-hander Kevin Dixon has in fact retired. I won't get into the specifics as to why, but from the sounds of it he made a personal decision. The fact he is not actually listed as retired by the Indians and instead was placed on their restricted list seems to show the Indians still want him and want control of his rights to bring him back on board if he were to change his mind. His retirement was a big surprise, at least to me, since I felt he really came into his own last year and established himself as upper level pitching depth with the ability to be a starter or reliever. Plus, I felt he would be in Triple-A at some point this year, maybe even at the outset of the season, and by the end of the season could establish himself as a depth pitching option for the Indians big league team or someone else down the road. A pretty good career can be carved out even at the Triple-A level where guys get paid well (Michael Aubrey will make $80K this year, Wyatt Toregas will make $65K). But this is the harsh realities of the game where sometimes players can no longer hold out and live off the crumbs they basically make moving up the minor league ladder and sometimes have to forego the dream to start supporting themselves and their family financially. I am not saying this is what happened with Dixon, just making a general statement of the cold reailities realized in the offseason and spring training when guys decide to retire and leave on their own accord.

Anyway, I'll break these down into separate posts today and tomorrow, starting with what looks like the "Akron" grouping:

Group 1A: Jeanmar Gomez, Chuck Lofgren, Matt Meyer, Joanniel Montero, Randy Newsom, Erik Stiller, Josh Tomlin, Neil Wagner, Steve Wright

Group 1B: Frank Herrmann, Michael Finocchi, Greg Jones, Todd Moser, Joe Ness, Shawn Nottingham, Michael Pontius, Jose Rodriguez, Scott Roehl, Carlton Smith, Sung-Wei Tseng, Mauro Zarate

Group 1A is pretty much your Akron pitching staff as all of these guys are pretty much locks to open in Akron, though Montero's inclusion in that group is surprising and I would not consider him a lock (why the Indians would send him to Akron I have no idea). Of course, Montero could be there simply because he is filling in for Dixon and can start or relieve. The obvious guy missing is Hector Rondon, who is in big league camp. The ONLY exception here is since the Columbus team is still in big league camp for the most part, Newsom is working out with the Akron guys, but he will be in Columbus this year.

Group 1B is pretty much what you would call your bubble group, guys looking to make the roster who are in danger of being released or sent to extended spring training if they don't make the team. Ness is coming back from an involved surgery that cost him his 2008 season. Nottingham had a rough 2008 campaign and after pitching all of 2007 and the start of 2008 in Akron he finished the year in Kinston. Roehl is an organizational guy who for whatever reason even though he has had the numbers just never has been pushed much. Tseng was a high profile international signing in 2006 and bombed last year. Finocchi was one of the more promising relief prospects going into last year but one slip and fall on some ice in the offseason ruined his 2008 season and now he is trying to get back to where he was prior to the injury. Most of the other guys are minor league free agent signings, and I am not sure how much of a chance if any they have of making the Akron (or Columbus) squad.

Now, all of the guys listed in Group 1B make sense as bubble guys except for Herrmann, Pontius, and Smith, but they are in no danger of being cut and I think they are bubble guys for a different reason being the roster makeup of Columbus is still uncertain. Based on how the Columbus roster shakes out Herrmann could start there or in Akron, and where Herrmann goes Smith will fall in a level behind him (Herrmann in AAA, then Smith in AA) or could end up in the Akron bullpen. I have no idea why Pontius would be with this group though as he should be in Kinston to open the season without a doubt. He is not in danger of being cut, but maybe they are seriously considering him for Akron.

Anyway, if I exclude Newsom, it looks like nine guys are locked in which means three spots are open in Akron since 12 pitchers should make the team. With Dixon retiring, it opens a starting spot where maybe because of all the veteran depth starters the Indians may stash in Columbus it may mean a guy like Frank Herrmann returns to Akron to start the season now. Aso, Lofgren is the wildcard. Apparently, he is in camp working as a starter still, so no official move to the bullpen has been made yet. If Lofgren sticks in the rotation, it could mean then that Montero is in the bullpen as I would expect Carlton Smith to also be in the Akron rotation unless he is being converted to the bullpen.

Again, who is working out with who and how the groups are made is not a 100% indication of who is going where and the standing a pitcher has in the organization, but it does give a good idea of what is going on in camp and who is slotted to possibly end up where and who is battling for a job. It should also be noted that some of these guys working out in the "Akron" groups may end up in Columbus or Kinston. And the same hold true for the other groups I will get to shortly.

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