The K-Tribe Chronicle: Going streaking up through the quad...
|(Photo: Kinston Indians)|
Streaking...not in the Will Ferrell sense, but in the we almost took the first half crown with a mad fury of wins sense...but we'll get to that in a second...
First and foremost, the K-Tribe Chronicle has taken a bit of a break, thanks to the month-long process of streamlining IPI with Tony, as well as a 72-hour jag known as the major league draft. For all eight of you clamoring for its return, here it is, in all it's baby Tribe glory. Instead of Mondays, Wednesday's will be it's new harbor, which should align all of the affiliates quite nicely, starting with Columbus on Monday, and ending with Mahoning Valley on Saturday. Ahh, all is aligned with the world. The Indians remain in first place..."Chiz" is back and belting hits all over the International League, and Austin Kearns is still with the big league club. Yes...even I just puked a little in my mouth at that statement.
What a long...extremely strange trip it has been during the first half of the season for the Kinston Indians. How can we put it in perspective? Well, the best hitter for the Indians has been second baseman, Justin Toole. He's hitting a whopping .282, without a homer, and 19 RBI. The best pitcher has clearly been Drew Pomeranz. While his peripheral stats are outstanding, his overall record is still only 2-2. Somehow, the K-Tribe managed to go on a tremendous tear from mid-May on, and nearly won the first half crown in the Southern division of the Carolina League.
How did it happen? Was it smoke and mirrors? Was it fantastic managing? Was it clutch hitting, and outstanding, out-of-nowhere pitching? Was there some sort of Kinston Voodoo out past the right field wall...past the giant Indian? It was likely all of the above...and yes...including the Indians Voodoo...
Enjoy it folks, because the last half of baseball is about to begin in Kinston-ville.
The vacation's over...so let's get driving...
Where We Stand after the first half (week 10):
Overall Record: 38-31 (Second place in the first half, two games behind first half champ, Myrtle Beach)
I'd like to sit here and tell you that this offense is going to turn into something special, but I can't. I'd like to tell you that there's one guy on this offense that is going to figure things out, and absolutely destroy Carolina League pitching, but I can't do that either. Don't get me wrong, there are some prospects here, but Kinston is apparently the place where good hitters go to die.
Okay...it's not that bad...is it?
They are still last, or second to last, in nearly every offensive category as a team, and there isn't a soul in the top ten of any major Carolina League individual category either. So how does this team score runs? It's truly some sort of mysterious wizardry. I've never seen a team score as many runs as the Indians have over the last month without a single player having multiple hits. Seriously...this team is the prototype for the term team. The come up with two-out hits, and homers out of nowhere unlike any team in the history of baseball.
You have to give Aaron Holbert some credit here for figuring out how to win with this club. Let's be honest, Kinston hasn't really been able to hit the broad side of a barn since he's taken over, and yet he still manages to win ball games. True, the Carolina League tends to be a pitcher's haven, but Kinston's offense has taken it to new levels.
There are a couple of guys who have come up from Lake County that are starting to breath a little life with their bats. Of course, they both are hitting below .240, but for this team, that's challenging .400.
Six players to keep an eye on during the second half...
6. Abner Abreu: Oh, here we go again with this guy. Every stinkin' year I pick this guy to be the next big thing, and every year, this guy makes me look like a complete idiot. So, why not throw him up here again. It's not like it can get any worse, can it? Abreu has done absolutely nothing to justify this, and I likely am taking up space from another player that's actually going to light things up, but there's just so much natural talent with this guy. If you've every seen him play, you can see what I'm talking about. He's a tall, fluid kid, who runs like a gazelle, and has a nice, natural, but loopy swing. He has that Darryl Strawberry feel to him (in the pre-coked-out-of-his-mind-years) in that he's a big, lanky guy with five-tool potential. He can play any of the outfield positions, and he has a cannon of an arm. Then, you watch him in front of the opposition's pitcher, and he starts looking like Miagi trying to catch that fly. He swings at balls in the dirt...above his head...and yes...if there was a bull...he's swing at the ball that hit the effin' bull. You can tell that he has no direction at the plate, and it seems to be getting worse. So, why put him up here? Optimism folks. While I bash on him as though he wronged me in a former life (I'm not sure he didn't), I like the kid, and hope he comes through. So, keep your eye on him in the second half...hopefully we'll see big things. If not, I'll delete this and put someone else here that actually DID do something...so I look brilliant.
5. Casey Frawley: Frawley, at best, is a marginal overall prospect in the grand scheme of things, and he's not really done much to prove otherwise this season as Kinston's starting shortstop. Still, he can be fun to watch at the plate. Here's another kid with a big swing, as he never gets cheated out of an at bat. Frawley strikes out once every four times he steps to the plate (Abreu nearly once every three times, but I digress), and he's only hitting .213 for the year. With that said, he's still managed to hit eight homers (second on the team), and drive in 39 runs (first on the team). Frawley really did kick off the streak that started the K-Tribe on their run in mid-May with walk-off homers and clutch hitting. He fell back to the norm, but you get the impression that if he every learns how to walk up to the plate with a plan, there could be something more there.
4: Adam Abraham: Abraham is a slightly better version of hitter than Casey Frawley. He's equally as clutch, with a big more power. He does seem to have a plan when he steps up to the plate, and he does walk an awful lot (his 35 walks on the season are tied for second with Roberto Perez). What I like about Abraham is that while he's only batting .239 on the season, he does have a respectable .353 OBP to go along with his solid power. His ten homers lead the team, and his 35 RBI are second. Again, I don't know that Abraham is anything but depth in this system, but it's been fun watching him develop into a decent power hitter. Hopefully he can continue to warm up as the summer draws, and close out with a big second half.
3. Tyler Holt: Tyler Holt IS the best player on this team. When he's on, this kid does everything the Indians drafted him for. He gets on base, steals bases, and takes advantage of every opportunity. He's hitting .265 on the year, which is third on the team, and has a line of .265/.383/.372. He'll never hit for much power, but this kid screams prototypical lead-off hitter. This is his first full season, and he's come through with a solid campaign so far. Look for Holt to figure things out in the second half. He's the type of kid that can let an at bat ruin his day. When he controls his emotions at the plate, he'll become extremely dangerous.
2. Tyler Cannon: Tyler Cannon was absolutely shredding the ball in Lake County. Then came the normally joyous news that he was getting called up to help out the offensively inept Kinston Indians, the Bermuda Triangle for hitters. Cannon had a stretch to start his career at Kinston that had adults in the stands wondering why they couldn't do what he was doing. The 3-36 stretch (.083) had me wondering if Cannon was going to follow in the footsteps of Jason Smit and retire (Smit had smoked the ball at Lake County, but was batting only .217 when he gave up). Fortunately, Cannon stuck it out, and he's begun to show signs of returning to form. Cannon is 7-13 in his last three games, with five runs, two doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBI. He's walked three times, and only struck out two. These were the types of numbers he was putting up at Lake County. Cannon, a 12th rounder in 2010, is a shortstop by trade, but has played all infield positions with Kinston, as well as one game in the outfield. I firmly believe Cannon may turn out to be the best offensive player on the team. Unfortunately, it won't take him much.
1. Anthony Gallas: Gallas was an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Tribe last June, and he's turned into one of the better players in the low minors. At Lake County, Gallas was hitting rockets when he was called up to Kinston, batting .314 with six homers and 21 RBI. He's only played seven games with Kinston, but he's hit in six of those games, with three doubles and seven RBI. He's only hitting .240, as all of his games have been of the single-hit variety, but his .400 OBP more than makes up for it. If he can continue the power output that he showcased at Lake County, there's no reason to think that Gallas can't be extremely productive with Kinston in the second half. While I don't believe he's got as much upside as Cannon, he may still ride that hot bat to a big second half. By the way, Lake County has only won one game since his call-up. While there's more at play than Gallas being gone, his consistent bat certainly was missing.
The strength of this club is certainly their pitching, but this team doesn't even resemble the K-Tribe staff that dominated the Carolina last year. Top prospects Alex White, Nick Hagadone, T.J. McDonald, Kelvin De La Cruz and Joe Gardner called Kinston home last season, giving Kinston one of the most dominating staffs in the system from beginning to end. This year, the rotation has been headed by Drew Pomeranz, who may just be the best pitcher in the entire system. Past that, this rotation has absolutely no similarities to the power pitches of last season.
Kinston is still a tough place to come and hit. They are second in the league in ERA, have given up the fewest hits and the second fewest runs/earned runs in the league. They're also the second in the league in K's, which is surprising considering they don't really have an atypical strike-out pitcher in the rotation past Pomeranz. Most of their starters are of the location variety, and while they are top-50 prospects, it's not because of their howitzer arms.
The bullpen is similar, with projects and wily hurlers, but they are once again anchored by the best closer in the league. Minus Tyler Sturdevant, who can hit 95 on the gun, the bullpen is laced with guys that are either coming back (Adam Miller initially, Kyle Landis and Steven Wright currently), or trying to find their way (Jose Flores, Francisco Jimenez).
Overall, it's an extremely interesting mix of talent. Are they legit prospects, or are they destined to call Single A home for the foreseeable future?
Six players to keep an eye on in the second half:
6. Clayton Cook: Cook has been one of the most consistent K-Tribe starters in 2011. He's not overpowering, but can pepper the strike zone with a low-90's four-seamer with movement, an real nice curveball that continues to improve, and a changeup. I'm not sure he's got the stuff to remain a starter as he moves up through the system, but he certainly has done a nice job in Kinston this season. Since May second, Cook has made eight starts, giving up only 13 earned runs. If you take away his last outing, he's only given up ten runs in seven starts. What's been most impressive has been his strike out totals, in particular during his June 4th and 13th starts, in which he whiffed nine batters each. Cook is a top 40 prospect, and if he continues on this trajectory in the second half, his stock will certainly move up. The question is...can it translate to Double and Triple A?
5. Marty Popham: Who the heck is this guy anyways? Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? At 6'6" and 235 pounds, what he is is big. Like Cook, his fastball isn't blazing, but touches 93 fairly consistently. With his size, there's no doubt that there's room for improvement with regards to his velocity. He has a nice slider, and an average changeup to go with it. Like Cook, he doesn't really have that plus pitch, so this is the issue that keeps Popham bouncing from start to relief. Here's the thing though...Popham has been absolutely outstanding as a starter. In his three starts for Kinston this year, he's gone 17 innings, giving up only two runs, without a single walk. He's struck out 14. Overall with Kinston, he's only given up nine total runs and struck out 30. How many walks has he had at High A? How about a big, fat goose-egg. While Popham struggled at Columbus and Akron this year, I do believe it was because he was forced into that bullpen role. If they stick with him in the rotation in the second half, look for big things from another hidden gem.
4. Preston Guilmet: Preston Guilmet isn't overpowering, and isn't a HUGE prospect in this system. Still, like Cory Burns last season, he's become one of the best relievers in the system. The K-Tribe closer was a ninth-round pick by the Tribe in 2009, and has a low-90's fastball, a nice slider, a change-up and splitter. While he mostly depends on the fastball/slider combo, he can change things, and can throw the split for outs. I'm not sure where Guilmet goes as he moves through the system, whether it be as a closer or as a top set-up guy, but either way, he's going to be heard from in the bigs.
3. T.J. House: There was a time this year when I would have bet the farm that House wasn't ever going to figure things out. Clearly, House has one of the best arms in the system, and he clearly had moments when you could really see it. Still, his control issues have been a bit of an issue throughout the year, and his K's have dropped. Then came the past four games, and things really started to click for the lefty. He's gone 3-1 during those starts, pitching in 27 total innings. He's given up a grand total of four runs during that time for a sparkling 1.33 ERA. This included a complete game shutout. His stuff, when on, is brilliant. He has a fastball that sits at 92-94, and touches 96. He has a plus slider when he's throwing it for strikes, and a changeup that has improved immensely in the past month. He does have a curve that he throws on occasion, and when he completely figures that out, he could take another step towards ace status. House is still only 21-years old, and while he's not a household name like Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, he could develop into a pitcher just as good, whether as a starter, or a reliever. Watch House...not the show...the pitcher. This could be the year he explodes onto the scene, and did I mention he's a power lefty?
2. Drew Pomeranz: Okay, Pomeranz may not ever see Kinston again on his way to the big leagues, but just in case the Indians surprise, I'm putting him up here as the number 2 player to watch. After watching his stuff this season, I can say that it's better than Alex White and Joe Gardner's stuff at the same time last season. He has a natural, fluid motion, and can just destroy hitters with his fastball that sits in the 92-95 range. Pomeranz can touch 97, and he really does a nice job working the plate. His curveball is about as unnerving a pitch for hitters as his aggressive fastball, and may actually be his best pitch. He throws a changeup a few times a game, but it's not good. The two games I saw him pitch, he threw three change-ups, and they were all hits. Still, if he ever figures out that pitch, look out. I don't think Pomeranz will step field in Kinston in the second half, so we'll have to watch from afar...but...you just never know. Might the Alex White injury have scared management into not moving him up too fast?
1. Giovanni Soto: Soto has been outstanding this season, and I'm actually fairly surprised. While he came to the Indians with a bit of hype in the Peralta deal last season, I can't say that I was impressed with his stuff, at least on paper. Then I saw him pitch. At first, you see this kid that looks like he could blow away in the wind. He's 6'3", and can't be a pound over 150. When you see him warm up, it's not that impressive. He barely pops the glove, let alone spike the radar. Then he faces live batting, and you see why he's so good. First, his delivery puts batters off-kilter. He has a slight pause in his delivery, and seemingly brings the ball out of nowhere. On top of that, he can throw five different pitches, and uses them all, with wonderful speed changes, to keep hitters off balance. His fastball has a bunch of movement, but rarely hits 90 MPH. He also can throw a sinker, curve, cutter and a change-up. He can command all of his pitches, and what's really interesting is that he'll likely put on a few pounds over the coming years. With that, will he add velocity? If the kid starts hitting 92-93 MPH, he'll immediately be in discussions with regards to being an ace. Remember when Carmona threw strikes consistently, with movement? I do believe that Soto's stuff is better, without the velocity. With that said, keep an eye on this kid over the next couple of months. He may just turn into one of the biggest steals in recent memory.
First Half Awards:
Offensive player of the first half: Adam Abraham
Pitcher of the first half: Giovanni Soto
Player of the first half: Giovanni Soto
Week 1: 3B-Adam Abraham
Week 2: CF-Tyler Holt
Week 3: SP/RP-Toru Murata
Week 4: SP-Clayton Cook
Week 5: SP-Giovanni Soto
Week 6: RP-Adam Miller
Week 7: RP-Tyler Sturdevant
Week 8: TBA
Week 9: TBA
Week 10: TBA
First Half: SP-Giovanni Soto
Here comes week #11:
|23 @ Salem, 7:05 PM|
|24 @ Salem, 7:05 PM|
|25 @ Salem, 6:05 PM|
|26 vs. Potomac, 4:30 PM|
The Rearviewmirror: Sayonara first half, and as we head back down the mountain, it's hard not to get a bit misty-eyed with regards to Kinston. The second half will start the goodbye party in one of the best minor league cities in baseball. Let's hope the K-Tribe can give them one last Carolina League title!
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).