Minor Happenings: Gaub Strikes Out The Competition
"Minor Happenings" covers the important developments and news in the Indians farm system. While most of the information in this report is from my own research and through interviews I have conducted with organizational personnel, some information in this report is collected and summarized from the various news outlets that cover each team.
In the same vein of the GCL and Kinston recaps posted a few weeks back, I decided to go to Lake County late last week to get the 411 on a lot of the walking wounded and also spend a little time talking to some of the guys I have not had a chance to speak to yet this season. Also, there should still be a regular version of Happenings that posts tomorrow late afternoon or on Friday. And don't forget to check out episode number three of my radio show on Thursday night at 9:30 PM EST.
Gaub Strikes Out The Competition
It has been a long road back for left-handed reliever John Gaub. There was a time where at the University of Minnesota he would consistently throw 96 MPH, but shoulder surgery after his sophomore season sort of derailed his career and he saw his velocity decrease. The Indians had loved what they saw in Gaub prior to the injury and ended up drafting him anyway in the 21st round of the 2006 Draft and signed him knowing he was not fully healthy.
"I had my shoulder scoped after my sophomore year," said Gaub in an interview this week at Classic Park. "After that surgery things never got better and actually got worse and worse. I threw 20 innings that spring and it was terrible. My arm was hurting all the time and I was not having any success so it was real tough. The Indians drafted me based on past accomplishments, and I was lucky enough where they made me a good offer and I signed. Right after I signed I went to Instructs and tried to get things going again, but it just wasn't working. I had to have another surgery and have four screws put in my shoulder to put my labrum back together. So since then it has been good, and I have made it through this season pain free and I am having fun and happy to be playing again."
Gaub finally made his professional debut in the Indians organization late last year in the Gulf Coast League where as part of his rehab from shoulder surgery he appeared in four games (4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 4 K) in late August. His debut came a full year after signing with the Indians out of the draft. This year Gaub started the season in extended spring training, but was quickly activated and sent to Lake County at the end of April. Since his arrival in Lake County, Gaub has been sensational where in 32 appearances he is 1-2 with two saves and a 3.66 ERA, with the sensational part being in 59 innings he has allowed just 43 hits and struck out 90 batters.
The strikeouts would make one think that his fastball has crept back up to the dominating velocity he had prior to all his shoulder ailments, but actually he is consistently in the low 90s.
"I have been as high as 94 MPH this year," said Gaub. "I don't throw consistently as hard as I used to, but I sit around 90-91 MPH. I'll take it. I am healthy and I am happy with that. I have been getting nothing but stronger this year. Hopefully it continues to build. Being left-handed and sitting around 90 MPH is good."
Gaub's deceptive delivery to go along with the development of his secondary pitches has really helped him rack up the strikeouts this year. The drop in velocity has also forced him to learn to become more of a pitcher than just a guy who just fires the ball to the plate every time. The addition of a slider to his arsenal may be the biggest reason for the high strikeouts since it is his best secondary pitch and he can successfully throw it to both right and left-handed batters.
"[The drop in velocity] has helped me learn how to throw strikes more consistently since I have to," said Gaub. "I used to throw from over the top, but I can't really throw like that anymore because it doesn't really feel good. So I throw from a little bit lower slot and I scrapped a curveball and throw more of a slider now, and my changeup has gotten a lot better and has been good for me this year. I have a real free and easy motion so the ball looks like it is coming out a lot harder than it really is, and I get a lot of swing and misses with my fastball even though I don't throw it as fast as I used to. It is probably still my best pitch. I have also really learned how to locate my slider well against left-handers which I get some swings and misses and strikeouts on too."
Even though the main goal for Gaub this year has been health, he is still working on improving many parts of his game. One area of concern is the walks, where he has allowed 30 free passes in those 59 innings pitched.
"I have had some inconsistencies with my delivery which has caused me to have some control issues at times," said Gaub. "Some outings I will throw a nine pitch inning and go 1-2-3 and then the next inning I will walk the first two guys. It is just some inconsistencies with my delivery that lead to fractions of an inch that can be the difference between throwing a ball or strike. It has been getting better. I think part of it too is it has been three years now since I have been healthy, and I am just trying to get that back. There were times when I was pitching, but it wasn't for more than two weeks and I had to shut it down because my arm was hurting."
For all Gaub has gone through the last three years with his shoulder, he is glad to finally be back and at 100%. It was a rough time and extremely frustrating dealing with the injury, and there were times when he could have given up.
"There were plenty of times where I would not have been upset with myself if I just packed it up and went home," said Gaub. "I love playing the game and I am getting paid to play a kids game. Now that I look back on it I am glad I never did. The hardest part was hearing I had to have the second surgery. After having the first one I knew it was going to be a process. I mean there were some days after that first surgery where I literally felt like my arm was going to fall off my body. It was days like that where I questioned if it was even worth it, but I am glad I stuck with it."
Bryson's Injury Not Too Serious
Right-hander Rob Bryson and the Indians breathed a huge sigh of relief when tests revealed that the shoulder injury he suffered while pitching in a game against West Virginia on July 27th was not as bad as originally thought. It was feared going into the tests that he had seriously damaged his rotator cuff, but as it turns out he only had a partial tear of his labrum and rotator cuff. After getting treatment and about three weeks off to rest and heal the shoulder, Bryson is expected to make an appearance or two in the final days of Lake County's season.
Bryson, 20, was one of three players and a player to be named later that the Indians acquired on July 8th from the Milwaukee Brewers in the C.C. Sabathia trade. I did not have a chance to officially interview Bryson on record, but when talking to him this past Thursday he was relieved the injury was not as bad as he thought. Although he was sort of surprised he has not just been shutdown for the last few weeks of the season, Bryson says he is excited to get back out on the mound and start competing again.
Bryson played some catch on Thursday and then threw off a mound on Sunday for the first time since the injury. He threw nothing but fastballs, his velocity was good, and he was pain free and reportedly felt great. Bryson was scheduled to throw off the mound again yesterday, this time throwing a mixture of fastballs and breaking pitches. The Indians may still end up deciding to shut him down, but in any case this is still good news. In 28 combined appearances between Lake County and West Virginia, Bryson is 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA and five saves. He has 82 strikeouts in 66.1 innings pitched.
Captains Welcome Back McBride
After Lake County catcher Matt McBride hit .287 with 8 HR, 66 RBI and a .792 OPS last season at Lake County, he probably thought that Lake County would be in his rear view mirror for good as he moved up the minor league level this season to Kinston. However, an ailing shoulder forced him to have surgery to repair his right labrum this past offseason, and the rehab and recovery time from the injury forced him to miss half the season.
McBride is just now getting back to 100%, but still lacks enough strength in his throwing shoulder to be able to catch, so the Indians have had him pretty much DH since he started playing in Winter Haven for the Gulf Coast League Indians in late June. McBride eventually earned a ticket to Kinston at the end of July, but when the Indians acquired catcher Carlos Santana in the Casey Blake trade, they decided to move him down earlier this month to Lake County to continue to get regular at bats.
"It is feeling alright and coming along the way it should be," said McBride about his shoulder injury. "I am not really going to catch that much, maybe a little later on once I get a little stronger. I just need to get more comfortable behind the plate arm strength-wise to where when I get into a game I am ready to go and feel good."
McBride played in parts of six games with the GCL club at catcher, but played only one game at catcher at Kinston. His one appearance behind the plate for Kinston was reportedly a disaster, and he has not caught a game since. On Sunday the Indians minor league catching coordinator Tim Laker was in town and worked with McBride on his catching mechanics and throwing from home to second base. McBride came away from the session in good spirits and felt good, so he could be close to getting the all clear to start catching again.
"It doesn't really bother me hitting," said McBride. "So I am just taking extra swings when I can with the hitting coach to work on some things. The main thing is just getting my arm strength back and arm action back to the proper way throwing down to second. They said with only a few games left they don't really want to push it if they don't feel my arm is not 100% back there. More or less until they decide I can do it I will pretty much just be DHing."
McBride will report to the Instructional League this fall at the Indians new spring training complex in Arizona to continue his rehab and make up some of the at bats in what has been a lost season for him. His goal for the rest of the offseason will be to rest and then strengthen the shoulder so he is 100% and ready to go next spring.
"You just sort of have to keep working with what you got," said McBride. "Just keep focused. I think it sort of helps you. Shoot, the biggest thing I have ever had to deal with in baseball is the shoulder. Once I can get over this hurdle - I am not saying nothing is going to ever be easy - but it will be nice to put it behind me and maintain it and go from there."
Nash On The Mend
When first baseman Chris Nash set his goals coming into the season, little did he know an annoying shoulder injury would hinder him all season and turn his season upside down. Coming into the season, Nash was one of the Indians best young hitting prospects because of his size and raw abilities at the plate. While he still is very much a prospect to watch, the disappointing season he has had because of the injury will no doubt see him unfairly slide on several prospect lists this offseason.
The problems with the shoulder all started in spring training when the Indians had Nash learn a new throwing technique at first base to throw more over-the-top rather than sidearm. Nash struggled with the change and ended up straining a lat muscle, and since then the injury has lingered all season and spread into other muscles in the shoulder area.
"It went from the lat to my muscles deep in my rotator cuff which is what was causing all the inflammation and then went from there all the way down to my triceps muscle," said Nash. "That was what caused all the problems. It was a continuation from spring training that flared up on me again."
After hitting .303 with an .806 OPS in 63 combined games last year with the Gulf Coast League Indians and Mahoning Valley, Nash hoped to add to the success he enjoyed last year with a break through season at Lake County. Unfortunately, the injury was just too much for him to bear, and when it started to affect his performance the Indians put him on the disabled list for almost two months.
"It is frustrating because it is hard to get back into it," said Nash. "I was starting to figure things out just before I got injured and things were starting to come back together. Then I had this big setback and now it is hard to get back into it. This is a critical part of the year now, so hopefully I can get it going. I definitely want to finish strong and try to raise my average a couple points, then go into the offseason and have a good instructs and go from there. I just want to have a good offseason and make sure to take care of the shoulder and do my shoulder programs and come in next year ready to have a big year."
Martin Manages Disappointment
First baseman Todd Martin put up an outstanding season last year at Mahoning Valley where he won the NY-Penn League batting title and hit .360 with 8 HR, 40 RBI and a .956 OPS. Martin felt he could use last season's breakout performance as a springboard to another successful season this year, but unfortunately his body had other plans and the injury bug has held him back this year.
"I'm battling right now," said Martin. "It has been disappointing and frustrating to say the least, but I am just trying to finish strong if I can. I'll probably be here for the rest of the time. I came here with hopes of just trying to get my legs back under me and hoping to get out of here, but I have had some complications still from my previous surgery so I am just going to stick around here and try to play as much as a I can."
Martin suffered a knee injury in the early part of May while playing with Kinston that forced him to be shutdown and undergo surgery. After a two month layoff to recover from the surgery, Martin reappeared with the Gulf Coast League club on a rehab assignment in mid-July and then continued his rehab in Lake County, but his knee began to act up again and he was shutdown the first week of August for three weeks. Martin has just started playing again and will just make the best of what little time is left this season to salvage what has been a disappointing season for him.
"I was really looking forward to this season," said Martin. "I was blessed with a very good season last year and felt great in spring, but when I got into the season health-wise things just have not worked out for me. I had the effort and battled as much as I could. Anytime you are on the disabled list it is frustrating no matter what it is, and unfortunately I was on it a great amount of time. It sucks to lose that many at bats, but I am just trying to salvage as much as I can right now."
Martin's injury was a meniscus tear in his knee, and when he went on his initial rehab assignment and made it to Lake County at the end of July he tore it up by hitting three home runs in five games. The knee started to act up again and complications resulted as it was just not healing properly. Martin will likely have to have another surgery on the knee this offseason to correct the issue, but in the meantime the pain is manageable and he wants to play through it so he can get some at bats over the final two weeks of the season.
"Just playing right now is the biggest goal for me," said Martin. "To keep playing, stay in the games, stay as healthy as possibly and manage the discomfort with my knee. Also help this team and make a run for a [title]."
Campfield Slots Himself Into Bullpen Mix
Right-hander reliever Garrison Campfield is a player you often don't hear about in the Indians minor league system. This is only natural of course since he is not an everyday position player, is not a starting pitcher, and does not fill one of the glamour roles in the backend of the bullpen. Campfield primarily pitches in middle relief about every three to four days with little fanfare, but he quietly has put together a very nice season where in 43 appearances he is 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .191 batting average.
Campfield is a gimmick pitcher where he throws from a low three-quarters slot, similar to Akron right-hander Randy Newsom. The submarine style of pitching came about after he came back from shoulder surgery in college, and it has stuck with him since signing with the Indians last year when he was a 12th round pick in the 2007 Draft out of Texas A&M University.
"I actually went to junior college and was a starter, but then I had shoulder surgery," said Campfield. "I didn't really bounce back from the surgery and so it was just something I tried out for recovery purposes and ended up sticking with it. I was able to bounce back a lot faster."
Even though he throws from a low three-quarters slot, Campfield gets good velocity on his fastball where it generally sits around 88-90 MPH. He complements his fastball with a breaking ball that is more like a slurve, and he has a changeup that is still a work-in-progress. The development of his changeup is coming along, but he is just not confident using it regularly in a game yet. If he is able to learn how to effectively throw his changeup, because of his arm slot he will be able to get a lot of groundballs with it.
One of the things Campfield is really trying to hone in on is his command. With 34 walks in 66 innings, Campfield will need to become more consistent in throwing strikes and decrease his walk-rate considerably if he wants to continue to move through the Indians system.
"For me it has always been about command of the fastball," said Campfield. "When I am throwing strikes, I am pretty good. I struggled early on commanding my fastball and walked some people. I didn't have a lot of confidence because the fastball was all over the place, but as of late I have felt a lot more comfortable and am commanding it a lot better. I definitely have ended the season a lot better than I started. I just need to continue building on that and lead myself into next year and do better."
Campfield will also look to improve against left-handers. Right-handed hitters are only hitting .154 with a .530 OPS against him, but left-handers are hitting .259 with a .733 OPS against him. A deeper look shows in just 85 at bats he has allowed 21 walks to left-handers, but has only walked 13 right-handers in 156 at bats.
"That is what I am struggling with right now is getting lefties out," said Campfield. "I am pretty good against the righties, but lefties I am walking guys. Against righties I am afraid to hit them so I get out in front of it, while with lefties I have all that open space on the right side and I don't finish and I don't get it out in front and it sinks into the right handed batters box."
Campfield is definitely an intriguing relief prospect, and mostly because of his unique arm slot. One he doesn't plan on abandoning anytime soon.
"I doubt I will ever go back over the top," said Campfield.
Berger's Inauspicious Debut
It was an inauspicious debut a week ago Sunday for Lake County left-handed starter Eric Berger. Berger had just been called up from short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley and in his Captains debut he ended up having to leave the game early with a strained oblique. The injury came about in the third inning when he slipped while trying to field a bunt and ended up diving awkwardly for the ball.
"I just kind of tweaked my oblique," said Berger. "It feels better already so it is not going to be a long term thing. I just don't want to push it and re-aggravate it. Right now I am just going to be missing a start and go from there, and if it is still bothering me they'll extend that. I played catch today (Thursday) real light and it felt okay, and I am icing it a lot."
Berger was an 8th round pick in the draft his year out of the University of Arizona and impressed immediately at Mahoning Valley where he was 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in eight starts. It was exactly the start to his professional career he hoped for, and is something he will build upon going forward.
"It felt great," said Berger about getting his career started off on the right foot. "I just wanted to establish the ball down in the zone. I feel that in any level from now on if you are up in the zone you are going to get hurt, so I just need to establish it down in the zone and establish a second and third pitch. I really wanted to get off to a good start and show them what I am capable of and just continue doing that."
Berger throws a fastball that sits anywhere between 88-92 MPH, and he complements it with a curveball and changeup. While he considers both secondary pitches to be about even as far as effectiveness goes, he does feel like he is using his changeup a lot more now than he did in college.
While his injury is a minor setback, his focus for the remainder of what is about two weeks left in the season is just to stay healthy.
"The season is almost over and I would like to be healthy for the playoffs, but worse case scenario I won't and I shut it down," said Berger. "I don't see that happening right now, but the last thing I want to do is go out too early and damage it or make it worse."
Berger is no stranger to the draft as he dealt with it last year when he was taken in the 9th round by the Oakland Athletics. He had just come back from Tommy John surgery last year, so he decided to go back to college and pitch and see if his draft stock improved. While he is close to 100% from the surgery, he is still building up his arm strength. So far so good though, as with the Indians he is throwing the ball well and is sort of carrying a chip on his shoulder because of all the teams that passed on him in the draft.
"I'm glad the Indians choose me and I hope they are too," said Berger. "There are other teams too that are maybe mad now that they passed up on me."