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Minor League Camp Report

March 24, 2009
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As those of you know who have read the Top 100 listing here on the site or read my book, there are a few people who I trust with their observations and opinions and they are invaluable in assisting me with coming up with a "fair" ranking for the Indians prospects. Two of those individuals, Art and Norman, are older gentlemen who have been following baseball much longer than I have and happen to be out in Goodyear at the moment. Here is their summary of the action on the field at minor league camp from yesterday (Monday):

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A big hello from the Indians Spring training prison compound in Goodyear, Arizona. I met up with Art Gold today and we spent a terrific day viewing some drills in the AM and the AAA and AA games with the Brewers. Art will probably post later so I get to tell my lies first.

First and foremost, viewing anything at the minor league fields varies from impossible to lousy. The compound has enough wire fences to have the feel of a Hogans Heroes or Stalag 13 set. Fields 3-6 don't necessarily allow viewing of the game because of blocked access or terrible viewing angles so Art and I opted for the AAA and AA games. I was not happy because three of the draftees that I went to see specifically, Cook, Haley and House, were on the limited viewing fields. The fields were also designed by someone who should have been more familiar with Arizona weather, especially the winds. Field 1, the AAA had sand blowing in from behind third base. I sympathize with Hodges and RH pitchers. Conditions were not ideal. Be charitable when you see Hodges 2 errors because he made some fine plays. Our viewing angle was so difficult it was hard to tell if some difficult plays should have been made. But enough complaining and on to the good stuff.

I focused on a few players on each field in particular. Art and I met the Cubbie pitcher from yesteryear, Joe Bollinger, who is now the agent for Joe Smith and Jon Holt. We talked extensively about his clients and pitching in general. We also met a couple of Kinstonites, who are club employees, that follow the club everywhere and got the dirt on every player who has been to Kinston. After Art left, I sat with "Mayday" Meloan's fiance and got loads of information on what it is like to come to Cleveland from another organization.

On to the AAs. I would like to dispel any feelings that anyone has that Rondon has a ceiling as a middle of the rotation starter. He is an absolute load and totally dominated the Brewers. Our angle did not allow us to appreciate his finer niceties but all you really had to do was watch the Brewer swings. We just watched the tail end of his outing in our field switching but Bollinger said he was just as sharp in the early innings. I am sure people are tired of hearing me about Carlos Rivero but this kid has come a long way and is real polished. Very advanced in his approach to the game. Handles himself very professionally in his positioning and had no lapses in focus that he showed in the past. He may have the greatest potential upside of any position player in the organization. He did hit a HR but I was impressed even more by his approach at the plate on off-speed and breaking pitches. Although I was not especially interested the others on the field, here are some impressions. Beau Mills did not have a good day and we could hardly see him. We did have a good view of Goedert who works very hard at everything. He has some skills but is unlikely to be an impact player. I suspect organization status by year end.

Now for Holt who Bollinger was there to see. It was easy to see he was not the same pitcher he was in college. He had lost zip off the fast ball which wasn't high power to begin with. His breaking ball and change-up were not sharp. He always threw strikes but missed very few bats. Bollinger caught the fact his front shoulder was staying low in his setup and did not necessarily get back to square during the pitching motion. The consequence is that he "drags the arm" because it is late to his body motion. Excellent mechanics and well coached otherwise. I would think his future hangs in the balance this year.

We also had a nice talk about Joe Smith with Bollinger. I watched Smith pitch an inning on Sunday in Tucson but Bollinger did not make the trip. He says his client feels like he is way behind because he missed two weeks, especially in the development of his change. I was really surprised when he said Smith might not go north with the team and stay to work on the change against LHs. Not sure that makes sense to me but Shapiro wasn't there asking for my advice. If anyone has any questions about other players on the AA squad, please feel free to ask. Just because they are not on my personal radar doesn't mean I didn't watch.

Moving on to AAA. This kid Santana might just have a future. I was surprised by his speed. Definitely not Victor like. My special attention was reserved for Weglarz, Hodges and Valbuena. Art does not believe Weglarz is going to be a big slugger. I am not sure I agree but understand his point. Very disciplined and country big. Major improvement in his OF defense. He does remind me of Thome (Art as well). I was a little surprised by how well he moves now. He is not a slug on either offense or defense which I wouldn't have said when he was at LC. I know Hodges made 2 errors but the conditions were difficult for 3B, SS and RHers. I thought he showed improvement, especially to his glove side. Probably going to get a few huzzahs but I think he will be an average ML 3B defensively. I think it likely he will have an above average bat. Reasonably selective and squares up nicely on the ball. Stays in plane with a good load. Valbuena is a ballplayer. Offensively and defensively, he is close to ML ready. If you like Baerga, I think you will love this guy. Just a better athlete and he has pop. Again, feel free to ask specifics.

Now for Mayday. As I said, I spent time during the game with his long time (seven years) fiance. Got a real perspective on organizational differences with the Dodgers. First, his performance. They have really slowed down his motion. Looks almost awkward now. Looks to me like he is "dragging his arm" a bit as well. She said he is concerned that it is costing him 2-3 mph on his fastball. He was sent down early so that he could work on certain things, not because they have big doubts about his upside. He only gave up one hit, a windblown fly to right (30 knot winds). Not what I would call sharp though even though he used his 3 pitch mix. She said he would not be a happy camper at home tonight. Now for the good stuff. They are overjoyed to be with the Indian organization. The atmosphere is much better and the organization gets big kudos in being candid with the prospects. Says the AAA crowd is closer than anything he had with the Dodgers. More damning, IMO, is that she said the Dodgers never told him why they moved him to starter. Apparently, they just needed a starter and he was it. She thinks it really screwed him up. Lost the ability to hit mid 90s and late movement on his slider when moved to starter. Recaptured most of his stuff after trade.

PS Promised that I would mention that Art guided the Brewer players to the field. What a master of the Goodyear complex! I was awestruck at his vast knowledge.

Many thanks to Norman and Art for being the eyes (and ears) for all of us while we are in Cleveland.

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