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Minor Happenings: The 2008 Tony Awards

Minor Happenings: The 2008 Tony Awards
October 2, 2008
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Well, another minor league season has come and gone covering the Indians farm system, and with that it is time to put the wraps on the season with the third annual Minor League Tony Awards. While this is the final edition of Minor Happenings for this season, look for intermittent editions between now and the spring on TheClevelandFan.com to recap all the developments and news over the course of the offseason, and daily updates on my blog the Cleveland Indians Minor League Insider all offseason.

Also, with the 2008 season coverage now complete, work has already begun on the 2009 season as I have started to put together my Top 100 Indians prospect rankings for next year. I'll start to unveil the Top 100 in late November or early December and countdown the list from #100 to #1 by the time spring training starts. I will be issuing a book again with the prospect scouting reports, rankings, depth charts, and more goodies sometime in December. For more details on that, check out
my blog for updates throughout the offseason.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and again, a special thanks to Ken Carr and Carl Kline for all the help with the photos this year.

Offensive Player Of The Year

The Nominees: Abner Abreu (3B - GCL Indians), Lonnie Chisenhall (SS - Mahoning Valley), Trevor Crowe (OF - Akron), Chris Gimenez (C - Buffalo), Wes Hodges (3B - Akron), Beau Mills (1B - Kinston), Cord Phelps (2B - Mahoning Valley), Carlos Santana (C - Kinston)

The Skinny: Chisenhall (.290, 5 HR, 45 RBI, .794 OPS) and Phelps (.306, 2 HR, 22 RBI, .811 OPS) had great campaigns at Mahoning Valley to start their careers and should be two bats we talk about in the system a lot the next few seasons as they move along in their minor league careers. Santana flat out raked in 29 games at Kinston after being acquired in the Casey Blake trade hitting .352 with 6 HR, 19 RBI and a 1.043 OPS. He also won the California League MVP, a league he didn't even play in for the final five weeks of the season! Gimenez showed an advanced approach at Akron this year (52 BB, 33 K) and had an excellent 1.024 OPS in 55 games before moving up to Buffalo. Crowe was arguably the best player in minor league baseball for the month of June when he was unconscious and hit .400 with 4 HR, 24 RBI and had a 1.100 OPS. Mills (.290, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .880 OPS) was Beau Millsthe Carolina League MVP, and after a slow first half start (.222 AVG, .714 OPS in April) he hit .327 with 12 HR, 43 RBI and a .962 OPS after the All Star break and finished the season ranked in the top five in the league in many categories. Hodges set the Akron franchise single-season RBI record and was a steady offensive performer all year (.290, 18 HR, 97 RBI, .821 OPS). Abreu piled up 11 home runs in just 51 games.

And the Tony Award goes to: Beau Mills

While they deserve consideration for the award, Chisenhall and Phelps only played half a season and to win it they would have needed to put up eye-popping numbers because of the low amount of games played and they just didn't do that. The same goes for Santana who only played a total of 31 games in the Indians system this year. He may have the best overall numbers (.321, 21 HR, 117 RBI, .999 OPS), but considering two-thirds of his playing time was in another organization it is hard to give him the award over someone else who was with the Indians all year. Gimenez and Crowe were just not consistent enough all season and aside from a one month hot streak both put up pedestrian numbers at best the rest of the time. Hodges excelled with driving in runs, but his poor finish where he hit .238 and had a .728 OPS after the All-Star break were a hit to his final numbers and caused his prospect standing to tumble some.

Mills on the other hand was impressive just about all season. There were some concerns the Indians reached when they took him with their first round pick last year, but he has now cemented himself as one of the top first base prospects in all of minor league baseball. His excellent power is showcased on a nightly basis as he put up 21 home runs in the pitcher friendly Carolina League, and his 34 doubles show that there is more power to come. There is no question Mills is a top five prospect in the Indians system and has a power bat the team needs. He is an impact bat on the horizon for the Indians possibly as soon as sometime in 2010.

Pitcher Of The Year

The Nominees: Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP - Lake County), David Huff (LHP - Buffalo), Scott Lewis (LHP - Akron), J.D. Martin (RHP - Akron), Hector Rondon (RHP - Kinston), Josh Tomlin (RHP - Kinston)

The Skinny: De La Cruz dominated the South Atlantic League circuit where in 18 starts he was 8-4 with a 1.69 ERA before a call up to Kinston in July. In 27 combined starts he was 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA, which is outstanding for a big 20-year old power-armed lefty in his first full season pitching at three different levels. Huff went 5-1 with a 1.92 ERA for Akron earlier this season before moving up to Buffalo in June where he continued to roll going 6-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 16 starts. His combined ERA of 2.52 at Akron and Buffalo led the entire system, and his 143 strikeouts ranked second. Lewis missed most of the first half of the season recovering from a lat injury he suffered at the end of spring training, but when he came back he was impressive going a combined 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 17 starts at Akron and Buffalo. Martin was 100% healthy all year, finished strong, and had an outstanding season going 12-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 35 combined appearances at Akron and Buffalo. Rondon took part in the Futures Game andDavid Huff at age 20 dominated hitters two to three years older than him in the Carolina League going 11-6 with a 3.60 ERA and a system best 145 strikeouts. Tomlin jumped firmly onto the prospect scene and showed his versatility pitching as a starter or reliever by going 10-5 with a 3.04 ERA in 41 appearances at Kinston (one spot start at Buffalo).

And the Tony Award goes to: David Huff

Early on through the first two months of the season it looked like this would come down to Huff, De La Cruz and left-hander Ryan Miller. However, Miller faded the final three months of the season and De La Cruz struggled in his first taste of advanced Single-A at Kinston (3-2, 6.44 ERA, 8 starts). Martin got off to a rough start in April (2-1, 6.38 ERA, 7 games), but finished strong going 5-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 13 appearances (5 starts) after the All-Star break. Tomlin mostly pitched out of the bullpen early on as a long man and spot starter, and Lewis missed almost half the season.

In the end, this really came down to Huff and Rondon. Rondon got off to a rough start in April (0-2, 5.57 ERA, 5 starts), but was money the rest of the way. Huff (11-5, 2.52 ERA) was just amazingly consistent all year from April through August going 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in six April starts, 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in five May starts, 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in five June starts, 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA in six July starts, and 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA in five August starts. Huff returned from an arm injury which shut him down for the second half of the 2007 season and managed to stay healthy all year, give his team a chance to win every night, and has now jumped into the mix this spring to be one of the Indians five pitchers to open the season in the starting rotation. He is now the top left-handed pitching prospect in the system.

Comeback Player Of The Year

The Nominees: Trevor Crowe (OF - Buffalo), J.D. Martin (RHP - Akron), Tony Sipp (LHP - Akron), Steven Wright (RHP - Akron)

The Skinny: Crowe used a hot June (.400 AVG, 1.100 OPS) to hit a combined .302 with 9 HR, 41 RBI, 18 SB, and .867 OPS in 84 combined games at Akron and Buffalo, compared to last year where in 133 games at Akron he hit .259 with a .659 OPS. Martin only made nine starts last year at Akron and went 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA before an elbow injury shut him down for the season, but this season he made it through a season for the first time in almost forever and went 12-3 with a 2.41 ER in 35 combined appearances at Akron and Buffalo. Sipp did not pitch at all last season after being shutdown with elbow issues at the end of spring training and then undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. He did not return until late-June this year, and in 24 combined appearances for the Gulf Coast League Indians, Kinston and Akron Sipp went 0-3 with a 2.67 ERA. Wright had a disappointing Trevor Crowedebut last year going 7-9 with a 5.67 ERA in 27 combined starts at Lake County and Kinston, but he surprisingly returned as a starter again this year and rebounded well to go 6-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 28 combined starts at Kinston and Akron.

And the Tony Award goes to: Trevor Crowe

Martin had a very nice year, particularly in the bullpen where he showed some value and versatility. He stayed healthy all year, put up great stats, and his curveball is back to the dominating pitch it was prior to his 2005 Tommy John surgery. Sipp's velocity is all the way back, and his secondary stuff has returned to pre-injury levels. In 33.2 innings this year he held the opposition to a .193 batting average and had just 11 walks to 46 strikeouts. He is an impact reliever for the Indians bullpen as soon as the start of next season. Wright has proven to be a strong, durable starting pitcher as he has made 55 starts over the last two seasons. His 119 strikeouts were the fourth most in the system this year, which may be a surprise to some fans.

But of all the comebacks this year, none was greater than Crowe's. As a former first round pick, many people were down on the talented outfielder after his poor season last year when he needed a late season charge to bring his numbers up to below average levels (.259 AVG, .659 OPS); however, Crowe's strong finish last year where he hit .310 with an .838 OPS from July 1st to the end of the season ended up being a precursor to a rebound season in 2008. Crowe's return this season was highlighted by a significant jump in the power department where he went from 35 extra-base hits in 518 at bats last year (.353 SLG) to 41 extra-base hits in 344 at bats this season (.485 SLG). Crowe's approach at the plate and speed is something the current Indians lineup is sorely lacking, which is why his resurgence was so important. He cemented his standing as a Top 10-15 prospect in the system where at the start of the season there were questions about that, and now he could be the Indians first option they turn to in the minors next year when a need for an outfielder arises.

Biggest Breakthrough

The Nominees: Matt Brown (OF - Lake County), Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP - Lake County), John Gaub (LHP - Lake County), Josh Judy (RHP - Lake County), Niuman Romero (INF - Kinston)

The Skinny: This listing is for the players who made the biggest jump from where they were in their prospect rankings to start the year to where they are now. De La Cruz put up a good 2007 campaign where he went 5-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 15 combined starts for the Gulf Coast League Indians and Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and followed that up with an excellent year mostly at Lake County this year where he was 8-4 with a 1.69 ERA in 18 starts before his callup to Kinston. His 136 strikeouts were third best in the organization. Romero had an out-of-nowhere year to hit .296 with 6 HR, 53 RBI, and a .753 OPS. Judy (12-1, 3.26 ERA, 88.1 Kelvin De La CruzIP, 97 K) and Gaub (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 64 IP, 100 K) piled up tons of strikeouts in the Lake County bullpen. Brown was Lake County's top offensive contributor all season and finished first in the entire organization with a .308 batting average and also chipped in with 8 HR, 75 RBI and a .789 OPS.

And the Tony Award goes to: Kelvin De La Cruz

Romero went from an organizational player on his last legs in the organization (.242 career average) to a player who could now carve out a career as a super utility player. Judy and Gaub are legit relief pitching prospects in the system, particularly Gaub who from the left-side had a ridiculous 14.06 K/9 rate. Brown is a former college player so was a little old for the South Atlantic League, but even so his numbers to go along with a solid approach at the plate and a howitzer for an arm in right field makes him intriguing going forward.

The difference here is De La Cruz went from a Top 20 prospect with a lot of unknowns, to a clear Top 10 prospect who is now viewed around baseball circles as one of the top impact left-handed starting pitchers in the lower minors. Many fans did not even know who "De La" was until a month into the season after he had racked up some impressive outings to start the season. At just 20-years of age, he has the size (6'5", 200 pounds) and pitches (plus fastball and slider) to be a dominant starter down the road. He is often referred to as "Carmona Left" because of his strikingly similar build to Carmona at such a young age, his Dominican roots, his talent, and the movement and velocity he gets on his pitches.

Biggest Disappointment

The Nominees: Cirilo Cumberbatch (OF - Kinston), John Drennen (OF - Kinston), Chuck Lofgren (LHP - Akron), Chris Nash (1B - Lake County), Josh Rodriguez (SS - Akron), Sung-Wei Tseng (RHP - Kinston)

The Skinny: Cumberbatch went from a promising prospect after a solid 2007 campaign in Lake County (.299 AVG, .808 OPS) to flat out disappearing after he hit .236 with a .589 OPS in Kinston. Josh Rodriguez had a sensational 2007 season in Kinston where he hit .262 with 20 HR, 82 RBI, 21 stolen bases and had an .811 OPS, but followed that up this year in Akron by only hitting .241 with 7 HR, 49 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and a .694 OPS. Lofgren had a solid season last year in Akron going 12-7 with a 4.58 ERA as a 21-year old, but in his return to Akron this year he only went 2-6 with a 5.99 ERA. Nash had a nice breakout campaign last year to hit .303 with an .805 OPS in 63 combined games at Mahoning Valley and the Gulf Coast League, but battled through injuries all year this season and played only 76 games and hit .230 with 5 HR, 39 RBI and had a .642 OPS for Lake County. Tseng went fromChuck Lofgren 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA last year in 26 starts at Kinston to 0-8 with a 6.04 ERA in 39 combined appearances between Akron and Kinston this year. Drennen had a solid season last year in Kinston hitting .254 with 13 HR, 77 RBI, and a .727 OPS, but only hit .235 with 3 HR, 39 RBI and a .631 OPS in a return trip to Kinston this year.

And the Tony Award goes to: Chuck Lofgren

This award could have really gone to any one of Lofgren, Rodriguez, or Drennen depending on how you look at it. Drennen's fall this year was painful to watch, and he looks like he may be on the outs in the organization and gets one final shot in Akron next year to show himself. Rodriguez's numbers were all down across the board, most notably his home run total which dropped from 20 to 7 this year. Cumberbatch and Tseng were no doubt disappointments, but they were further down the prospect pecking order than the rest of the players on this list. Nash's problems stemmed from a lingering shoulder injury that he could never quite get over all season and affected his performance.

Lofgren is the unfortunate winner of this award mostly because of the forgettable season he had and his standing as a prospect coming into the season. He struggled with his command (52 BB in 85.2 IP), and seemed out of sorts for most of the season with his mechanics and also was reportedly bothered by some personal issues. Coming into the season his average prospect ranking was 4th among four renowned sources, and should be in for a big slide this offseason in all of those rankings. That all said, it should be noted that Lofgren is still only 22-years old, is left-handed, throws in the mid-90s, his stuff is still very good, and his problems are mechanical and can be fixed.

All-Minor League Indians

Note: This is not a top prospect listing by position, but a listing based on performance in 2008. Also, players picked up in the July trades are not included here due to their limited time in the organization.

1st Team

Catcher: Chris Gimenez - 109 games, .304 AVG, 24 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 45 RBI, 75 BB, 93 K, .873 OPSMatt Brown
First Base: Beau Mills - 125 games, .293 AVG, 34 2B, 3 3B, 21 HR, 90 RBI, 54 BB, 105 K, .880 OPS
Second Base: Cord Phelps - 36 games, .306 AVG, 10 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 15 BB, 24 K, .881 OPS
Shortstop: Lonnie Chisenhall - 68 games, .290 AVG, 20 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 24 BB, 32 K, 7 SB, .794 OPS
Third Base: Wes Hodges - 133 games, .290 AVG, 29 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 97 RBI, 52 BB, 105 K, .821 OPS
Left Field: Nick Weglarz - 106 games, .272 AVG, 20 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 71 BB, 78 K, .828 OPS
Center Field: Trevor Crowe - 84 games, .302 AVG, 28 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 42 BB, 72 K, 18 SB, .867 OPS
Right Field: Matt Brown - 122 games, .308 AVG, 26 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 75 RBI, 35 BB, 62 K, .789 OPS
Left-handed Starter: David Huff - 11-5, 2.52 ERA, 27 starts, 146.1 IP, 112 H, 29 BB, 143 K, .209 BAA
Left-handed Reliever: John Gaub - 1-1, 3.38 ERA, 34 games, 64.0 IP, 44 H, 32 BB, 100 K, .195 BAA
Right-handed Starter: Hector Rondon - 11-6, 3.60 ERA, 27 starts, 145.0 IP, 130 H, 42 BB, 145 K, .239 BAA
Right-handed Reliever: J.D. Martin - 12-3, 2.41 ERA, 35 games, 89.2 IP, 79 H, 21 BB, 79 K, .241 BAA

2nd Team

Catcher:
Wyatt Toregas - 97 games, .259 AVG, 17 2B, 0 3B, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 32 BB, 52 K, .782 OPSSteven Wright
First Base: Jordan Brown - 109 games, .281 AVG, 30 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 51 RBI, 35 BB, 67 K, .754 OPS
Second Base: Niuman Romero - 108 games, .296 AVG, 22 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 53 RBI, 34 BB, 55 K, 10 SB, .753 OPS
Shortstop: Carlos Rivero - 108 games, .282 AVG, 27 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 64 RBI, 36 BB, 84 K, .753 OPS
Third Base: Abner Abreu - 51 games, .251 AVG, 16 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 9 BB, 52 K, .827 OPS
Left Field: Darling Read - 70 games, .281 AVG, 19 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 23 BB, 79 K, 25 SB, .900 OPS
Center Field: Tim Fedroff - 23 games, .319 AVG, 6 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 10 BB, 20 K, .789 OPS
Right Field: Stephen Head - 106 games, .290 AVG, 24 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 24 BB, 75 K, .780 OPS
Left-handed Starter: Kelvin De La Cruz - 12-6, 2.98 ERA, 27 starts, 130.0 IP, 110 H, 62 BB, 136 K, .229 BAA
Left-handed Reliever: Tony Sipp - 0-3, 2.67 ERA, 24 games, 33.2 IP, 23 H, 11 BB, 46 K, .193 BAA
Right-handed Starter: Steven Wright - 6-7, 3.66 ERA, 28 starts, 147.2 IP, 139 H, 34 BB, 119 K, .248 BAA
Right-hander Reliever: Josh Tomlin - 10-5, 3.04 ERA, 41 games, 109.2 IP, 88 H, 17 BB, 112 K, .223 BAA

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