|(Photo: Tony Lastoria)|
Blair ready to go
The Indians made a big splash with a lot of high profile draft signings at the signing deadline date last August 16th. While the position players they signed were able to quickly be assigned to short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley or rookie level Arizona and play right away, pitchers like right-hander Kyle Blair and left-hander Drew Pomeranz had to sit out the rest of the season.
With only three weeks left in the season, by the time either Blair or Pomeranz completed a throwing program to ramp them back up to game speed the season would have been over. As a result, both worked out and hung around with Mahoning Valley for most of the remainder of the season before going to Instructional League later in September to do some throwing and pitch in a handful of exhibition games.
Blair came out for spring training about a week prior to the start of early camp on March 1st and is just excited to be back out on the field throwing and participating. He is also happy that “real” games quickly approaching in about two weeks.
“I actually came about a week early to get settled in,” said Blair. “I haven’t thrown a pitch since the end of the college season. To be honest, I [am] ready to go.”
Blair, 22, spent most of the offseason in Tampa, Florida where he along with Indians’ players Chris Perez and Wes Hodges worked out at Saddlebrook Resort for six weeks. Lots of players from around the game both in the minors and majors went there to get ready for the upcoming season by working out twice a day, doing yoga two times a week, and working on their nutrition.
In addition to keeping himself in shape, Blair spent a lot of time working on improving his fastball command. He roomed with right-handed pitcher Drew Storen of the Washington Nationals, and in doing so was introduced to the pitchers power drive which Storen endorses.
“Working on my fastball command has been my thing since my freshman year,” said Blair. “I worked with the pitchers power drive which is like a plate that helps you keep your balance and centered and get your hips going. It helps with your balance and you have to click it so your hips go and that is when you know you are doing it right. I have been using that and it has been huge. I have been throwing the ball well in my pens which I haven’t done the past three years, so it is just one of those things that has worked out tremendously and I am really excited to get things going.”
In addition to maintaining better balance with his delivery, Blair also wants to become more confident in his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, something that at times was a problem for him in college.
“We took charts in college of percentage of strikes with each pitch and my percentage of strikes with my slider was like 6-7% better than my fastball,” said Blair. “That should never happen. That’s one thing I want to do [better] because you can’t get to the big leagues without a fastball.”
Blair’s best pitches are his plus slider and developing changeup. If his fastball command ever comes around and his changeup develops as hoped, the Indians could have themselves a workhorse for the starting rotation for many years.
“I feel like my changeup has gotten better as I worked on that quite a bit in the offseason too,” said Blair. “In bullpens it feels great, but it only counts when you go out there [in games].”
Blair understands what kind of pitcher he is and does not try to be what he is not. This upcoming season will be a learning experience for him as he adjusts to the pro game on and off the field and progresses with his development path.
“I know my game as a pitcher and that I am not a power pitcher,” said Blair. “I just need to throw good strikes down in the zone with the fastball and not have to go to 3-2 sliders every time. That’s what I have been working on the whole offseason.”
Weglarz not frustrated by injuries
Indians outfielder Nick Weglarz went down last Thursday with a torn meniscus to his left knee and is still being evaluated as to how long he will be out and if surgery will be required. It is yet another injury added to his growing list of setbacks in his career, and in the wake of the injuries he has done his best to not let frustration creep in.
“It sometimes is frustrating,” said Weglarz in an interview last week just before being hurt. “Since July of last year I have had a couple of injuries pop up here and there, but you just [try to] put it behind you.”
Weglarz, 23, had his season last year come to a premature end in early August when he suffered a sprained ligament to his right thumb when diving for a ball in the outfield. He went out to the Venezuela Winter League to make up some at bats in the offseason, but he got hurt in his fourth game when he threw his back out after a collision with the shortstop. After the back did not get better after some rehab he was shut down the rest of the offseason and went home to be re-evaluated.
The injuries do not stop there for Weglarz as in 2009 a stress fracture in his left shin area resulted in him having to miss about the last two-plus months of that season. He had a steel rod inserted into his shin to help stabilize and speed up the recovery. Also, in 2006 he suffered a broken hamate bone after just one game and missed the rest of that season.
All told Weglarz has missed a lot of time over the last five plus seasons due to injury. Most of the injuries have been out of his control, but when a player gets hurt as much as he has over his career the phrase “injury prone” starts to get passed around.
“For the most part they definitely have been fluke injuries,” said Weglarz. “It definitely is a goal of mine to stay healthy and stay on the field and if I do that I can put myself in a good position this year.”
With all the injuries Weglarz has suffered some wonder if he may be better off moving back to first base, which was the position he played up to the time he was drafted by the Indians back in 2005. At the moment the Indians have no plans to move him from the outfield to first base, and Weglarz himself hopes that the Indians keep him in the outfield.
“I think I am a good defensive outfielder, so there is no need for me to move to first base,” said Weglarz. “I like it out there and I feel like it is a better opportunity for me out there too. I’d like to stay there.”
Whenever Weglarz gets back onto the field he hopes to carry over his success he had last year into this season.
“I still have the same approach; it’s just the consistency,” said Weglarz. “If I can nail down my bat path and be consistent with my pre-game routine, I think that my swing was right where I wanted it last year so if I can continue that this year I will be in a good spot.”
Prior to the injury it was felt that Weglarz could at some point see some time in Cleveland this year, especially if outfielder Grady Sizemore has any issues with his recovery from knee surgery. All that may be out the window now as he probably will not start playing games until mid-May at the earliest, though a quick recovery and good showing at Triple-A Columbus could still earn him a callup sometime after the All Star break or even in September when rosters expand.
“The big goal is to play in the big leagues,” said Weglarz. “The smaller goals are to stay healthy and stay consistent with my swing. Just be ready to play everyday. I would like to think if I have the same year as I had last year [and stay healthy] that I could see time [up] there.”
Kluber scare: Right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber was struck in the head with a line drive off the bat of second baseman Jason Kipnis on Monday morning. It was a scary moment for him and all the players and coaches present, and he will no doubt be evaluated further. Hopefully he is okay, and by the sounds of things that seems to be the case.
Released: On Monday the Indians announced that the following players from their minor league system have been released: first baseman Ben Carlson, right-handed pitcher Andrew Shive, left-handed pitcher Nick Kirk, right-handed pitcher Matthew Speake, and right-handed pitcher Alexander Morales.
Monday games cancelled: The Indians afternoon minor league games with the Dodgers were cancelled because of the pouring rain, but they were able to get some work in for their pitchers in the morning. Columbus and Akron squared off for four and a half innings, and Kinston and Lake County played against each other for six innings. Columbus recap: Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall hit a solo homer in two at bats and shortstop Ron Rivas stayed hot going 2-for-2 with a 2B and RBI. Right-hander Zach Putnam went 1.1 innings (1 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 2 K) and was up to 95 MPH. Akron recap: Blazing hot catcher Chun Chen went 2-for-2 with a 2B, and second baseman Justin Toole went 2-for-2. Right-hander Austin Adams went 3.0 innings (4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) and was up to 95 MPH. Kinston recap: Outfielder Marcus Bradley went 2-for-3 with a BB and RBI, and second baseman Kyle Smith went 2-for-2 with an RBI. Left-hander T.J. House went 2.0 innings (3 H, 1 R/ER, 1 BB, 3 K) and was up to 91 MPH. Right-hander Trey Haley went 3.0 innings (2 H, 2 R/ER, 4 BB, 1 K) and was up to 96 MPH and threw first pitch strikes to 10 of 15 batters. Lake County recap: Outfielder Jordan Casas went 2-for-2 with 2 stolen bases, and outfielder Henry Dunn went 1-for-2 with a 2B. Right-hander Michael Goodnight went 3.0 innings (2 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 2 K) and was up to 93 MPH. Today: I’ll be spending the better part of the day traveling back to Cleveland. The spring training coverage will not end here though as I plan to continue the daily updates and will start posting box scores (I will be posting the box scores for the previous games as well).
Coming soon: In addition to that I have a lot of feature articles coming up that I have not yet posted from interviews with players at camp like Alex Lavisky, Nick Bartolone, Cord Phelps, Roberto Perez, Eric Berger, Mark Brown, and Bo Greenwell. I will also have a pre-draft piece up later this week from a discussion I had on Sunday with Amateur Scouting Director Brad Grant.
And with that….good-bye Goodyear! See you in October for Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).