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Minor Happenings: Miller's Season Is Over

Minor Happenings: Miller's Season Is Over
August 17, 2008
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"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.

Here is a quick regular version of Minor Happenings this week, and then things will finally get back to normal next week as we head down the home stretch on the season. In case you missed it, two special editions of Happenings posted on Wednesday and Thursday with one covering my visit to the GCL to see the Indians rookie-level affiliate in Winter Haven, and the other covering my visit to Myrtle Beach to see the Indians advanced Single-A affiliate Kinston.

Also, in case you missed it, fellow writer Paul Cousineau and I conducted a radio show on Thursday night for one hour talking about the Indians as well as the minor leagues. I was laid up all day sick with 101+ temperature and the flu, but we still managed to set sail on our maiden voyage and I thought for our first ever radio experience it went quite well. There is lots to work on and this is nowhere where we expect it to be, but we'll get there. You can listen or download the podcast here. We'll be back on this coming Thursday at the same time (9pm EST), so please call in! We need some practice with callers, plus holy smokes it can be really hard to talk for an hour straight! Also, feedback and ideas are welcome, good or bad!

Indians Minor League Player Of The Week
(for games from August 7th to August 13th)

John Drennen (Outfielder - Kinston)
.400 AVG (6-for-15), 4 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K

Kinston outfielder John Drennen put up really his first hot stretch of the season this past week in a season that otherwise has been a huge disappointment. The former 2005 first round pick has really been in decline since a solid 2006 campaign where he hit .296 John Drennenwith 6 HR, 38 RBI and an .809 OPS in 98 combined games at Lake County and Kinston. After hitting .254 with 13 HR, 77 RBI and a .727 OPS in 131 games at Kinston last year, Drennen returned for his third season in Kinston this year but his numbers have slipped across the board to .231 with 3 HR, 36 RBI, and a .618 OPS.

Drennen actually got off to a solid start this year hitting .298 with a .755 OPS in 21 games in April and followed that up with a solid May where he hit .273 but his OPS started to slip and finished at .653 in 20 games. Since then, it has been all downhill for Drennen as he hit .194/.505 in 26 June games, .188/.542 in 25 July games, and so far in August is hitting .217/.715 in 12 games.

These are obviously not the kind of numbers you want to see, and the dramatic decline over the course of the season for a player in his third year at the same level begins to make you wonder if he has simply reached his ceiling or that his heart may no longer be in it. There is no doubt that he may have been frustrated having to return to Kinston for a third straight year, so hopefully that frustration has not carried over into his play. In any case, with numbers like these and no signs of development or improvement, Drennen could very well be a roster casualty sometime this offseason or during spring training next year. The hope here is that with the small spurt of success Drennen had last week, possibly some confidence emerges and he can finish strong to somewhat salvage his season.

Honorable Mentions:

Jordan Brown (1B - Buffalo): .444 AVG (8-for-18), 1 2B, 1 RBI
Kevin Dixon (RHP - Akron): 0-1, 2.57 ERA, 14 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP - Kinston): 1-0, 2.00 ERA, 9 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 9 K
Carlos Rivero (SS - Kinston): .409 AVG (9-for-22), 3 2B, 0 HR, 4 RBI
Ron Rivas (SS - Lake County): .500 AVG (8-for-16), 1 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI

Previous Winners:

07/31 to 08/06: Carlos Santana (C - Kinston)
07/24 to 07/30: Matt Brown (OF - Lake County)
07/17 to 07/23: Michael Aubrey (1B - Buffalo)
07/10 to 07/16: Niuman Romero (3B - Kinston)
07/03 to 07/09: Nick Weglarz (OF - Kinston)
06/26 to 07/02: Stephen Head (1B/OF - Akron)
06/19 to 06/25: Trevor Crowe (OF - Akron)
06/12 to 06/18: Chris Gimenez (C - Akron)
06/05 to 06/11: Jim Deters (RHP - Kinston)
05/29 to 06/04: Steven Wright (RHP - Kinston)
05/22 to 05/28: Chris Archer (RHP - Lake County)
05/15 to 05/21: David Huff (LHP - Akron)
05/08 to 05/14: Steven Wright (RHP - Kinston)
05/01 to 05/07: Jeremy Sowers (LHP - Buffalo)
04/24 to 04/30: Jose Constanza (OF - Akron)
04/17 to 04/23: Hector Rondon (RHP - Kinston)
04/10 to 04/16: Wes Hodges (3B - Akron)
04/03 to 04/09: Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP - Lake County)

Director's Cuts

Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins chimes in once again with some thoughts on several players up and down the system. Do note, because of the delay in posting this piece due to the GCL and Kinston pieces that went up a few days ago some of these Ross Atkinscomments are a few days old and some things have happened since (Lewis to Buffalo and Toregas to the disabled list):

On Adam Miller: "Adam is getting stretched out and is out to 120 feet. He is going to start throwing bullpens and sim games here soon and should be ready to go towards the end of the month. Most likely he will not be game ready pitching towards the end of the minor league season, so we are just going to get him ready for Instructional League and in winter ball he most likely will go pitch in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. You get to the end of the season and now cranking him up to then shut him down, we are just going to focus on getting him as many innings as possible. We'll have him pitch as a starter, and that is really to get him the most innings and has no bearing on whether he starts or relieves next year. We are hopeful to get 60 innings out of this offseason to make him a can't miss for Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro next year."

On Tony Sipp: "Tony has been incredible, he really has. He came back stronger, is pitching well and doing more than we expected. He has had a couple of hiccups with strike throwing in Akron recently, but he has really been great this year. He is strong and his velocity is up. His last few outings have been great, and he just had a couple outings where it spiked his ERA a little bit. It is a testament to his athleticism really to see how well he has returned from Tommy John surgery. I certainly think he will be a candidate at some point next year [in the bullpen]. He has a lot of swing and miss, and he has a lot of deception to his delivery where right-handers do not pick him up either. He does not have a traditional left-handed delivery, he is a little bit open so therefore he really attacks lefties and righties the same."

On Aaron Laffey: "No one is excited about going back to Triple-A, and we have seen a lot of it this year with an Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Laffey and all of these guys who have transitioned back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues. You think about Cliff Lee and what he accomplished and where he was at this time last year and where he is right now. I think he set the bar pretty high for some guys and they are following suit. Aaron Laffey has been nothing but professional down there and he is ready to make some subtle adjustments to get back to the major leagues. It is a lot of things. What comes first is hard to say, the confidence or the success, as one usually starts to feed off the other. I think some people thought he was a little fatigued and his arm speed was certainly down, but I think there are some subtle adjustments that he will be able to more readily make in Triple-A. We had him watch video, take some time for him to work on his delivery without having to go back out and strike someone out with a runner on second and third just to take some time to more readily focus on those delivery adjustments in a controlled setting."

On Wyatt Toregas: "We know he can hit. But we are talking about the elite. Is he going to hit at a clip like a Victor Martinez or a Pudge Rodriguez? We know he has the ability to hit and has the ability to compete at the major leagues. For him we think the key is just being a plus defender because he has the ability to do it. Last year he threw out more than anybody in baseball as he was near 50% in throwing out runners. He just has a natural knack for calling a game, is a natural leader, loves to take charge of the pitching staff, and has a lot of pride as a catcher. So we just want to make sure that is his focus, and if the bat comes even more than what it is already projected to be that is an added bonus. What he is doing right now is a complete testament to him. He has spread out and is a little bit wider. He has shortened up his bat path, and it hasn't sacrificed his power where on the contrary he has a little bit more of it. Really a great year having started the year in Buffalo, and not really a demotion by any means, but coming into Akron and having the success he is having he knows how to handle adversity."

On Scott Lewis: "Really a tough year for him in some ways. He was injured in his last spring training outing and we were expecting a lot out of Scott this year. So he missed over half the season and is back into the fold now and is pretty much dominating Double-A and is letting us know he belongs at another level. So we will sort through when is the best time for him to start to transition to more greater challenges, but at this point what we are focused on with Scott is helping get to a threshold where he is starting depth for us next year which means he needs another 40 innings."

On Lonnie Chisenhall: "He probably has a pretty good feel of coming through in the clutch having experienced what he has experienced in being such a high profile guy. He shortens up his swing, and has a very professional approach to hitting as a 19-year old. I think that may be the most influential number to talk about when you look at his numbers and that is his age. He is only 19 years old competing with a lot of 21 and 22 year olds."

On Cord Phelps: "He is the most complete player we got in the draft with the ability to impact the game in different areas. He is a good base-runner, a great defender, and has a very polished approach. Coming out of an incredible program in Stanford he is a very mature professional baseball player."

On Josh Rodriguez: "He plays hard and plays everyday. He is a center of the diamond player with some power. He is athletic and steals a bag too."

Indians Cash In Late

Wow, what a final 48 hours before the August 15th signing deadline for 2008 draft picks. On Thursday, the Indians officially announced the signing of fifth round pick Zach Putnam (RHP), and followed that up on Friday's deadline with the signings of Trey Bryce StowellHaley (RHP), T.J. House (LHP), and Bryce Stowell (RHP). In addition to these four marquee names, they also signed 33rd round pick Roberto Perez (C), 39th round pick Edwin Burns (RHP), and 40th round pick Tim Palincsar (OF). In all, the Indians signed a whopping 30 of their 50 picks, with every pick in the first 16 rounds signing.

Stowell, 21, finished his sophomore season this year at UC-Irvine with an 8-3 record and 3.26 ERA (88.1 IP, 82 H, 46 R, 32 ER, 26 BB, 101 K, .246 BAA) in 16 games. The La Habra, CA native finished tied for 30th among all Division-I players in the nation in strikeouts (101) and 33rd in strikeouts per nine innings (10.29) while allowing just 26 walks. After the season, Stowell went to the Cape Cod league as a summer-draft-and-follow and dominated going 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA (45.2 IP, 32 H, 12 R, 9 BB, 58K ) in nine games and was named the 16th best prospect in the Cape Cod League by ESPN.com. Coming into the draft, Stowell was ranked 21st among Baseball America's Top 50 college sophomores and was ranked 90th on Baseball America's Top 100 overall college prospects list. Stowell signed for $725K and will report to short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley this week.

Putnam, 21, went 9-0 with a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts as a junior this year for the University of Michigan (76.2 IP, 62 H, 22 ER, 23 BB, 78 K). He was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and was named to multiple All-America teams in addition to being named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association District V Player of the Year for the second straight season (District V covers Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin). He enjoyed a stretch of three consecutive starts in which he had 10+ strikeouts, including back-to-back contests with 12 punch outs. In his three seasons at Michigan, the 6'2" right-hander was 23-7 with a 3.12 ERA in 40 games (236.1 IP, 215 H, 82 ER, 84 BB, 194 K). He was rated by Baseball America as the 50th best overall prospect entering the draft, and will report to Mahoning Valley this week.

House, 18, went 7-2 with a save and a 0.82 ERA during his senior season this year at Picayune Memorial High School in Mississippi. The 6'2" 215-pound left-hander also struck out 99 batters while walking just 25 this past year as he was named to the Sun Herald South Mississippi Baseball Team for the second consecutive season. House had previously signed a letter of intent with Tulane University, but opted to sign with the Indians for a $750K signing bonus. Prior to the draft, House was named the 39th best high school prospect by Baseball America and the 100th overall best prospect in the draft. In his junior season at Picayune Memorial he struck out 20 batters in a game and also won a state championship in swimming in 2006. House will report to the Gulf Coast League Indians this week.

Haley, 18, went 8-2 with a 1.55 ERA in 13 games (50 IP, 23 H, 34 BB, 98 K) during his spring season this year at Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas. The 6'4" 190-pound hard-throwing right-hander previously signed a letter of intent to pitch for Rice University, but opted to sign with the Indians for a $1.25M signing bonus. Coming into the draft, Haley was ranked as the 33rd best high school pitching prospect in the draft by Baseball America. Haley will report to the Gulf Coast League Indians this week.

Scouting The Recent Signings

On Friday morning I was able to talk to an amateur scout for an AL team about right-hander Zach Putnam who "loved" him. Here is what he had to say about him:Zach Putnam

"Strong track record before going through the minor shoulder problem and then the whole throat/stomach thing he had late. If you needed a big hit in a crucial situation, if you needed a quality start against another team's ace, this was the guy. The ultimate college baseball player. You can't really put into words what he meant to Michigan's program the last three years. Hard to say he's an overdraft when he was slated to go in the late first or first supplemental round and slid to the fifth. Extreme value in that round. Probably profiles as more as a late-inning reliever, but he's got enough stuff--five pitches--to start. Power FB with arm-side run and sink to it; split is second-best pitch. SL got better as the year progressed and was his go-to pitch when he didn't have the power to the FB after losing 19 pounds with the viral infection. CB is kind of an afterthought--gave hitters a different look in college, but is a well below-average ML pitch."

For those that do not know much about these players, here is a quick scouting report that I have put together for the other three big names we signed this week:

Trey Haley (Right-handed pitcher)
- Fastball sits around 91-94 and tops out at 95 MPH with good movement.
- Plus curve, average change.
- Good command at young age, intelligent and has good poise on mound.
- Projectable frame, good delivery and two outstanding pitches.
- Clay Buchholtz comp

T.J. House (Left-handed pitcher)
- Left-handed high school pitcher with plus arm strength an above average fastball that consistently sits in the low-90s.
- Slid in draft because of high pricetag, deemed unsignable. Projected 2nd-5th round.
- Also throws a slider and curveball that are projected to be at least average.
- Some comps to Mike Hampton because of ability and athleticism.
- A competitor on the mound.

Bryce Stowell (Right-handed pitcher)
- Fastball consistently 91-93 and tops out at 94 MPH with an ability to add more velocity.
- Also throws a sinker, circle change, and his out pitch is his slider.
- He's also been working on a 12-6 curveball this year, so it remains to be seen if the Indians keep the pitch or not.
- Some command issues, but something time that can be worked out with coaches.
- A competitor, leader, and ultimately may be an impact player in the bullpen.

Olympic Update

Here is a quick rundown of how the Indians' four Olympians are doing for Team USA and Team Canada:

Team USA is 2-2 after four games and in the drivers seat to be one of the four teams to participate in the medal round. With three games remaining, they should only have to win two of them to gain the berth. OF/1B Matt LaPorta has had an awful tournament so far (0-for-4 with 4 Ks against Cuba), but he did have a key three-run home run that helped Team USA get a 7-0 win over the Netherlands on Wednesday night. Right-hander Jeff Stevens has also had two appearances to forget as he has been charged with both of their losses after he blew a save against South Korea on Tuesday night and then ended up the losing pitcher in Thursday night's extra innings loss to Cuba.

Team Canada is 1-3 after four games and needs to win all three of their remaining games for any shot at making the medal round. OF Nick Weglarz has had a sensational tournament so far, with the highlight being a 4-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI performance against Cuba on Wednesday. His first home run went to the left of dead-center and hit the top of a flagpole (est 470-feet), and the other was a towering home run to deep right field. Right-hander T.J. Burton has thrown 1.2 scoreless outings in two appearances.

Transactions Rundown

August 15th:
- CA Wyatt Toregas placed on Akron DL with left elbow inflammation, CA Armando Camacaro reinstated from DL and transferred Wyatt Toregasfrom Buffalo to Akron.
- CA Alex Castillo reinstated from Kinston DL.

August 14th:
- LHP Scott Lewis transferred to AAA Buffalo from AA Akron.
- RHP Neal Wagner transferred to AA Akron from A-Advanced Kinston.
- RHP Josh Judy transferred to A-Advanced Kinston from Lake County.
- RHP Eric Berger transferred to Lake County from Mahoning Valley.

August 13th:
- INF/OF Jerad Head transferred from A-Advanced Kinston to AAA Buffalo.

August 11th:
- RHP Brian Slocum placed on Buffalo DL with right elbow inflammation.

August 9th:
- OF Roman Pena transferred to A-Advanced Kinston from Lake County.
- INF Jansy Infante placed on the DL.
- OF Juan Valdes transferred to Lake County from Mahoning Valley.
- RHP Kyle Landis transferred to A-Advanced Kinston from Lake County.
- RHP Michael Pontius transferred to Lake County from A-Advanced Kinston.

Photos courtesy of Carl Kline, Kinston Indians, Buffalo Bisons, University of Michigan, and UC-Irvine.

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