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Tribe Happenings: Indians continue to add depth

Tribe Happenings: Indians continue to add depth
February 19, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Garland added to the mix

With pitchers and catchers officially reporting today for physicals, one player that may also be showing up for a physical of his own is free agent right-handed pitcher Jon Garland.

Reports earlier in the week surfaced that Garland and the Indians had agreed to the terms of a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training, but that he had to pass a physical before the deal could become official. The Indians have not confirmed or denied the report, but he is expected to undergo his physical tomorrow (Monday), just in time for the first official practice of spring training for pitchers and catchers.

Garland, 32, is a 12-year Major League veteran that up until last season had strung together nine straight seasons of 32 or more starts and averaged over 200 innings pitched a season during that span. In 353 career appearances (330 starts) he is 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA. He is a pitch to contact pitcher that has never really been one to get a lot of strikeouts (4.9  career K/9) and allows his fair share of baserunners (1.38 career WHIP), but every year he just consistently gets results, hauls innings, and keeps his team in games.

While Garland’s resume is impressive, the reason he is likely going to be had on just a minor league incentive laden deal is because he had right shoulder surgery last July. He made nine starts for the Dodgers last season (1-5, 4.33 ERA) before having his season prematurely end.

If Garland’s right shoulder checks out, then he will provide the Indians with another good starting pitching depth option for this season. He is a wildcard as not a lot is known how effective he will be post-surgery and if he can help the Indians, but on a minor league deal and as a seventh or eighth option in the rotation, it is worth a shot.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey still looks to have the inside track to win the fifth starter spot this spring, but if Garland is able to pitch this spring without restrictions and does well he could make it very interesting in the final days of camp when the Indians make their final decision on the fifth spot in the rotation. Chances are that he will need some more recovery time, which means he may open the season in extended spring training and be an option later a month or two into the season.

Strong lower system

The Indians are getting raked over the coals nationally with their farm system as a lot of people are placing them in the bottom ten in baseball, and some are even putting them in the bottom two or three.

This should come as no surprise as the Indians lost their top four prospects last year to graduation and trades. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall are prospect graduates and no longer considered rookies, and right-hander Alex White and lefty Drew Pomeranz were traded to the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal last July.

Also, their next two best prospects outfielder Nick Weglarz and right-hander Jason Knapp had big injury setbacks last season.  Knapp had shoulder surgery and never pitched an inning, and Weglarz tore up his knee in spring training and when he returned had a disastrous season at the plate. If you add all of that up, that is their top six prospects from last season that are really no longer in consideration for a Top 10-15 listing.

You can go a step further with other top talents like right-hander Joe Gardner being traded in the Jimenez deal, outfielder LeVon Washington struggling with performance and injuries, second baseman Cord Phelps underwhelming at the big league level both defensively and offensively, left-hander T.J. House regressing, and the mysterious handling of right-hander Bryce Stowell last season.

With the lack of established upper level talent, the Indians are in a regrouping stage with their farm system. National pundits often give more lofty rankings to teams that have more Major League ready impact talent, something the Indians no longer have. Right now their impact talent lies in the lower levels, all from their recent drafts and international exploits the past few seasons, and something they have been praised for by those same pundits ranking them so low right now.

From Low-A Lake County to rookie level Arizona the Indians have more athleticism, more middle of the diamond talent, more premium position players, and more tools than the organization has had in a long time.  All of these players have a long way to go physically and developmentally, and a lot of them are probably going to struggle statistically their first season or two while they mature and make adjustments, but the upside in the Indians lower levels is very exciting.

If just a handful of that talent emerges and establishes itself this season, the Indians will make a significant climb back up the prospect rankings next year.

Ownership’s commitment to scouting

Indians ownership may have restrictions in place on what GM Chris Antonetti can and cannot do with the Major League roster as far as payroll goes, but the past few years they have really given Indians Scouting Director John Mirabelli and his staff a lot of leeway to make aggressive signings both in the draft and on the international front.

“None of what we have done the last few years with the draft and what we have done internationally would have been possible without the tremendous commitment and support of ownership,” Mirabelli told me back in August.  “They have committed the resources to make this all possible for us as this year we set a new mark for money spent internationally.  It is up to us in baseball operations to make the right decisions.  That is on us.”

The Indians spent a club record $9.4 million on bonuses for the 2010 Draft, almost double the $4.9 million they paid out in bonuses in 2009, and about 35% higher than the $7.0 million they paid out in 2008. They also spent another $8.2 million last year, their second highest draft spending spree in club history. Even with the low 2009 budget, for the four most recent drafts from 2008-2011 the Indians rank in the top ten in spending over that period. On top of that, last year they set an organizational record for international spending as well.

With a system devoid of impact talent in the upper levels, the Indians are going to need some of that raw, young talent they paid a handsome price for in the last two drafts to start stepping up and be the new stars of their system. It is part of what is going to make this one of the most enjoyable seasons ever to follow the Indians’ minor league system.

Gomez’s strong finish could lead to good start

The Indians have a lot of starting pitching depth that is going to push hard this spring for the final spot in the Major League rotation, but most of that depth is going to have to go to Triple-A Columbus to open the season and wait for an opportunity later in the year.

Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez is definitely in the mix this spring for the final spot in the Indians’ rotation. Last season at Columbus he really seemed to come into his own, and it showed when he returned to Cleveland on August 30th for his six starts to end the season.  In those six starts he went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA, which is pretty good since it includes a shellacking in his final start on September 27th against the Tigers when he took the loss and gave up eight earned runs in 4.2 innings of work.

While at Columbus the Indians made some adjustments to Gomez’s delivery by getting him into a more comfortable position to be able to execute his pitches better.  Often times he gets caught up in featuring his secondary offerings and just showing his fastball, so they got him to work more off of his fastball. They also tweaked his slider and made it into a cutter to give him a power pitch that has some break, and is a pitch he quickly made a lot of strides with and may end up a difference maker for him.

With Gomez’s strong finish to his season last year and his continued development, he serves as a great depth option for the club to have this season and surely will be called upon at some point. Who knows, maybe he even wins the final spot in the opening day rotation.

De La Cruz designated

The Indians designated left-handed pitcher Kelvin De La Cruz for assignment on Tuesday. The Indians now have ten days to trade, release or outright him to the minors. As a first time outright from the 40-man roster, if he clears waivers he will have to accept his outright assignment to the minors and will still be under the Indians control for the 2012 season.

De La Cruz, 23, pitched in 23 games (16 starts) for Double-A Akron last season and went 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA. Last season was his second season on the 40-man roster, and was not much better than his first season on it in 2010 when he went 7-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 26 combined starts between High-A Kinston and Akron.

De La Cruz has battled inconsistency and injuries the past three seasons, and has never really been able to recover from the UCL sprain to his left elbow at the start of the 2009 season that wiped out that seasons and killed all the momentum he had built as a prospect.  His command has never returned as he has struggled with locating his pitches and has allowed 129 walks in 213.2 innings the last two seasons (5.4 BB/9).

As a lefty with power you never want to give up on a talent like De La Cruz, but his window of opportunity with the Indians as a Major League option may have closed. If he clears waivers and sticks with the team this season he will likely pitch out of the bullpen at Akron or Triple-A Columbus, but his chances of making it back onto the Major League roster are very small. He is going to have to really pitch lights out this year to get himself back into the Major League mix.

Parting shots

The White Sox signed free agent outfielder Kosuke Fukodome to a one year, $1 million deal with a club option for 2013. He will make $500,000 in 2011 and has a $500,000 buyout for his $3.5 million club option for 2013.  If the White Sox pick up the option they will pay him a total of $4 million the next two seasons. … Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow and the first full squad workout is on Thursday February 23rd. …. For those inquiring about my new 2012 Indians Prospect Insider book, I should have details about it up on the site tomorrow or Tuesday. I am in the process of putting it all together and sending it off to press sometime this week.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Tony Lastoria
February 21, 2012 - 9:13 AM EST
I see you still dislike Mirabelli. That's fine, but the recent change in success with the Draft is also because of him as well, so gotta give him credit there if we are going to harp on his struggles the early part of this decade.
Brent Willbond
February 19, 2012 - 1:38 PM EST
John Mirabelli - cant believe this this guy is still in the org...

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