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Goodyear Notebook: 3/17

Goodyear Notebook: 3/17
March 17, 2010
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Carlton SmithSmith A Man On A Mission

Indians right-handed reliever Carlton Smith had a nice year last season pitching in the bullpen at Double-A Akron where he went 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 37 appearances.  He piggybacked his successful year with a trip to the Arizona Fall League (5.14 ERA, 12 G) and then to the Indians’ Winter Development Program this past January which was held in Cleveland and Goodyear.  It made for a crazy offseason, but even with the lack of any extended time off he is back at it this spring and is as focused as ever to make an impression.

“I didn’t even have [an offseason] really,” said Smith after practice on Monday.  “I went to the Fall League, got back from that and a few weeks after that went to Winter Development, and a few weeks after that I am back.  [The fall league] was a lot different from Double-A.  The league out there was a good hitter 1 through 9 so you had to come out with your best stuff.  I didn’t do as well as I thought I would, though I was only bad in one game which is what messed me up."

Probably the one thing from his offseason which sticks with him the most is the experience he had participating in the Winter Development Program.

“It was something I could definitely get used to seeing every day,” said Smith.  “I use that as a type of motivation where I could be there one day.  Everything just came together there.  Everything just clicked where I realized I am doing everything on the baseball side, but I also have to do it on the mental side too.  It was cool getting to meet everybody and getting to see different things.  It was a nice experience."

Last year was Smith’s first time pitching in the bullpen as he had been a starter for his entire professional career.  He had a few bullpen appearances under his belt, but he had never pitched in the role on a full time basis.  Over the course of the season he learned to adapt from a starting role to a bullpen role, and also with how to prepare himself and develop a routine.

“I took it just like I was going to be starting,” said Smith about his transition from starter to reliever.  “I just went out there and when it was my time I went out there and battled and competed.  I did what I knew I could do and did the best I could to help the team win and it paid off for us.”

Smith gets his sinking fastball up into the mid-90s, but even with how hard he throws and all the movement he gets on his pitches he has never racked up a lot of strikeouts (career 5.5 K/9).  His bread and butter has always been his ability to pitch to contact in lieu of strikeouts, and so far that plan of attack has worked out well for him.

“I will not rack up the strikeouts,” said Smith.  “I have tried as I have gotten it up to 95-96 MPH, but when it is sinking they hit it and they hit it right into the ground.  Growing up my dad always told me strikeouts raise your pitch count, and it makes sense as if you throw a lot of pitches you will be out of the game quick.  So I use that to my advantage and understand I am a sinkerballer and I am going to go right after somebody.  After the first three pitches I want them out of the box, and that is my mentality and it pays off.”

Even with all of the success he had last year, Smith is still working hard to make himself better.  He continues to refine his mechanics, and has started throwing a new cutter.

“The whole winter I worked on my mechanics,” said Smith.  “I am working on a new cutter now.  Cleveland told me in the fall league they wanted me to do that, so I have been working on that the whole offseason and am still working on it now.  It is slowly coming around.”

With the new cutter now a part of his repertoire, Smith now uses a four pitch mix which is different from the two to three pitches most relievers use.

“I am throwing everything, and I think that can pay off for me,” said Smith.  “They say as a reliever you only need two pitches, but I have four with a sinker, slider, cutter and splitter.  I was playing catch with my brother in the offseason and he was like ‘man, it is going to be hard for guys to face you because nothing you throw is straight’.”

Speaking of his brother, Smith should be seeing a lot more of his brother Corey this spring.  Corey is a former Indians top prospect and first round draft pick who signed with the Dodgers in the offseason.  The Dodgers and Indians both train in the Phoenix area for spring training, so as a result the two brothers will likely see a lot of each other in the spring since the Dodgers and Indians farm teams play several times.  While all in good fun, the younger Smith (Carlton) is looking forward to the opportunity to take it to his older brother (Corey).

“He is with the Dodgers, so I will be seeing him out here probably every other day now because that is who we play mostly,” said Smith.  “If I get a chance I am going to go after him (laughs).  I told him I am going to dot him up, but I think it would be better if I got him out after he picked on me all through my younger years.  That is an out I want, and the one time I get a strikeout I want it to be right there (laughs).”

Smith just wants to lighten things up this year and have fun, but by the same token he is as focused as ever to get to where every minor leaguer wants to be: the big leagues.

“I just want to stay healthy, keep playing the way I have been playing, and break through that door in Cleveland,” said Smith.  “I am a man on a mission.”

Matt McBrideMcBride Focuses On Defense

After a strong 2009 regular season (.287 AVG, .829 OPS) and a very good showing in the Arizona Fall League last year (.378 AVG, 1.159 OPS), Matt McBride hopes to carry that momentum and success into the 2010 season and beyond.  But while he went out to the fall league and played catcher, it looks like he is going to spend the 2010 season mostly at first base and the outfield rather than behind the plate.

“Right now I am working on first base and outfield,” said McBride after Tuesday’s practice.  “I am really just trying to work on both of those.  I think catching could still be an option, but right now we are mainly focusing on the outfield and first base.  Last fall it was good to get back catching again for the experience and to get back into it and prove that I could handle it if I needed to.  I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Considering the Indians’ need at Double-A Akron for an everyday catching option, it is somewhat disappointing that McBride will not be catching there this year since it makes him more valuable if he is behind the plate.  But, he will also turn 25 years old in two months, and the Indians need to create value for him in the short term and that may be as a versatile player who primarily plays first base and left field who can also catch from time to time.

One thing is certain, the decision to not play him at catcher at the moment apparently has nothing to do with his shoulder.  His arm is as strong as ever, and would not be a problem behind the plate.

“Knock on wood, but [my arm] feels good,” said McBride.  “My shoulder feels great and I haven’t had any issues with it.”

Right now the focus is on getting him more acquainted with first base and the outfield, two positions that he got a crash course on last spring and the offseason before it.  There is still a lot to learn, and he will use the time available these last few weeks of spring training to help him improve and become a better defender at both positions.

“I am primarily working on my defense in the outfield and first base,” said McBride.  “Last year was really my first year really working on that and I think I have a lot more to learn.  I think mainly the more experience I have at each position the more comfortable I will eventually feel.  In the outfield I am trying to get a good first step and read on line drives.  The biggest thing is just being out there in a game and getting used to it, just the experience factor.  The more you are out there helps, be it in the outfield or first base taking hot shots at you, moving around, or your footwork around the bag.  I think the work here is helping, but I think the games and playing and experience is what in time helps you out.”

There is not much at the moment that McBride is concentrating on improving at the plate.  His focus there is mainly just being more consistent and using his success from last season as a building block for this season.
“Hitting-wise, I am really just trying to build off my fall,” said McBride.  “I think the biggest thing there is I was really selective and I didn’t go out of the zone which really just helped my overall hitting.  So I am just trying to keep working on that and go from there.”

McBride had a heck of a month in the Arizona Fall League last year, and he surely opened a few eyes with his performance.  As this season gets ready to officially start in about three weeks, he would like to draw off of some of that success but also have an even better year in 2010.

“Last year was a great year,” said McBride.  “I had a little thing with the knee and that was fine, and my shoulder feels great, so I am just trying to stay healthy.  It’s just about hitting the ball and working on the outfield and first base and trying not to worry about anything else and just go from there.  Whatever happens, happens.”

Working Rosters

Here are the working rosters for the first week of full squad workouts in minor league camp.  Please note that since a lot of players who will be on the Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron rosters are still in big league camp, several players are temporarily filling in at those levels in the short term.

Columbus:

Pitchers: Scott Barnes, Eric Berger, Gary Campfield, Dallas Cawiezell, Ryan Edell, Connor Graham, Scott Lewis, Tom Mastny, Adam Miller, Vinnie Pestano, Carlton Smith, Erik Stiller, Josh Tomlin, Neil Wagner, Steven Wright.

Catchers: Alex Castillo, Doug Pickens, Miguel Perez

Infielders: Stephen Head, Matt McBride, Cristo Arnal, Jared Goedert, Jerad Head, Josh Rodriguez, Mark Thompson

Outfielders: Matt Brown, Jose Constanza, John Drennen, Tim Fedroff, Brian Horwitz, Lucas Montero

Akron:

Pitchers: Rob Bryson, Paolo Espino, Santo Frias, Nick Hagadone, Jonathan Holt, Kyle Landis, Matt Langwell, Chen Lee, Mike McGuire, Ryan Miller, Ryan Morris, Bryan Price, Dave Roberts, Steve Smith, Bryce Stowell, Heath Taylor, Sung-Wei Tseng, Travis Turek

Catchers: Dwight Childs, Richard Martinez, Roberto Perez

Infielders: Chris Nash, Kyle Bellows, Adam Davis, Cord Phelps, Ron Rivas, Karexon Sanchez

Outfielders: John Allman, Jordan Henry, Roman Pena, Donnie Webb, Adam White

Kinston:

Pitchers: Cory Burns, Eddie Burns, Guido Fonseca, Joe Gardner, Brian Grening, Preston Guilmet, Trey Haley, T.J. House, Francisco Jimenez, Chris Jones, Jason Knapp, Joey Mahalic, T.J. McFarland, Vidal Nuno, Matt Packer, Alexander Perez, Mike Pontius, Marty Popham, Danny Salazar

Catchers: Juan Aponte, Chun Chen, Moises Montero

Infielders: Nate Recknagel, Adam Abraham, Casey Frawley, Jason Kipnis, Kyle Smith, Jeremie Tice, Matt Willard

Outfielders: Abner Abreu, Ryan Blair, Delvi Cid, Bo Greenwell, Tim Palincsar, Jason Smit

Lake County:

Pitchers: Austin Adams, Elvis Araujo, Brett Brach, Jose Campos, Joseph Colon, Clayton Cook, Joseph Dickerson, Jose Flores, J.D. Goryl, Antwonie Hubbard, Daniel Jimenez, Jeremy Johnson, Nick Kirk, Alexander Morales, Mike Rayl, Nick Sarianides, Kyle C. Smith, Tyler Sturdevant, Takafumi Nakamura, Michael Valadez, Francisco Valera, Kirk Wetmore

Catchers: Greg Folgia, Alex Monsalve, Rolando Petit

Infielders: Ben Carlson, Chris Kersten, Lurvin Basabe, Jose Camargo, Kevin Fontanez, Argenis Martinez, Giovanni Urshela, Rafael Vera

Outfielders: Trent Baker, Carlos Moncrief, Darling Read, Kevin Rucker, Joel Torres

Notebook

Indians Pick Up Aguilar:  Yesterday the Indians completed a trade sending 24-year old left-handed pitcher Chuck Lofgren to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for 25-year old right-handed pitcher Omar Aguilar.  Lofgren was a Rule 5 pick that the Brewers had recently decided that they were not going to keep him on the big league roster, so after clearing waivers they worked out a deal with the Indians to retain his full rights so they can option him to the minors.  With the trade, Lofgren is now 100% the property of the Brewers.  Aguilar is a short and stocky righty (5’11” 220 pounds) who throws his fastball consistently in the mid-90s and complements it with a mid-80s slider.  He has plus arm strength (10.4 career K/9) and was once one of the Brewers more highly thought of pitching prospects (much like Lofgren with the Indians), but command issues (5.0 career BB/9) last year dropped his stock with the Brewers considerably.  He was on the Brewers 40-man roster last year, but was taken off this past offseason, so he is only under the Indians control through this season as he can be a minor league free agent after the season.  He likely will open the season in the bullpen at Triple-A Columbus.

Mirabelli on Aguilar:  The Indians were sad to see Lofgren go, but like what they got in Aguilar and think he could help the big league team out at some point this season.  Assistant GM John Mirabelli had this to say about Aguilar:  “We’ve liked Omar since he was a freshman at Merced Junior College.  He brings versatility and a big arm [where] we have seen his fastball up to 96 MPH along with a power slider.  He is not that far removed from being on a 40-man roster, [and] we think he can get back to that level with upside for more.  He adds to our inventory and depth of power arms. We like his future.”

Goodbye to Lofgren:  With the trade of Lofgren to the Brewers yesterday, it puts an end to his once promising career with the Indians.  Three years ago at this time going into the 2007 season after his sensational 2006 season at High-A Kinston he looked to have a great chance to crack the Indians big league rotation sometime in the near future, but it just never worked out for various reasons.  From a personal standpoint it is bittersweet to see him leave for good, but I can’t be any happier for him professionally as he looks to have a much better opportunity at the moment with the Brewers to achieve his big league dream.  He is one of the most classy guys I have ever had the pleasure to talk to and get to know, and I wish the Big Swede tons of success with the Brew Crew.

No Brown Out:  Outfielder Matt Brown is feeling a lot better these days.  Last year he hurt his knee in the early part of the season and it affected his play for almost two months before he eventually was sidelined for most of the rest of the year.  In the fall the knee was still bothering him during Instructional League and he was noticeably upset with the status of the knee and was contemplating surgery.  As it turns out, he passed on the surgery and the best medicine was some extended time off in the offseason as he shut things down for about two to three months after Instructional League and now his knee feels as good as ever.

Akron championship ringPosition Change:  2008 14th round draft pick Carlos Moncrief initially signed with the Indians as a pitcher, a position he played the last two years.  He was raw, but had huge upside because of his plus arm strength and high-90s fastball.  However, when he was drafted he was also a highly regarded outfielder with a great arm and powerful bat, and apparently the Indians may have decided to move on from his development path as a pitcher to a new path in the outfield.  While not confirmed as of this writing if he is indeed now a full time outfielder, he is listed as an outfielder on their roster sheet.

Ring Ceremony:  Before the game on Tuesday at Goodyear Ballpark between the Indians and Giants, members of the 2009 Eastern League Champion Akron Aeros received their championship rings.  It may just be the minor leagues, but the ring these guys received is pretty sweet (Brian Grening’s ring is pictured to the right).

Double Duty:  Adam Abraham has been working a lot in the early part of camp catching bullpens because of all the arms, but he is also starting to get some regular work in at third base.  He is expected to split time this year at catcher and third base to get him regular at bats, and should open the year at High-A Kinston.

Armed & Ready:  Right-hander Rob Bryson had a long season last year as he endured a year long rehab from shoulder surgery.  The hard work seems to have paid off as he is supposedly pain free and ready to get rolling this year with few if any restrictions.  He should open the 2010 season at High-A Kinston, though could move quickly to Double-A Akron depending on how he performs.

Head First:  First baseman and outfielder Stephen Head’s knee is feeling a lot better this spring than it did at the end of the season last year.  He has been working out a lot at first base, and may see more time there this year at Triple-A Columbus.

Spring Training Videos:  I have started to upload and post some of the videos I have shot out in spring training.  There will be a TON of videos after this spring where I hope to have a good percentage of players recorded to video and posted throughout the next several weeks.  Here are the first batch of videos, and as always thanks to Michael Taylor for the great editing job: Brett Brach, Austin Adams, Brian Bixler, Brian Grening, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Rivero, and Michael Brantley.

Follow me on Twitter @tlastoria

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