April 23, 2014

WFNY Wednesday Wahoos: Indians Minor League Weekly Review 5/9

Every Wednesday, I bring you all the highlights from the week that was for the Cleveland Indians organization, along with some added insight on what it means for the major league squad.

The topic du jour in the Cleveland Indians organization has to be the bullpen. After last night’s disappointing 5-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox, people must be asking what is the future for the Tribe pen, or as many call it, the “bullpen mafia”? Are there any players down in the minors that could join it soon and what would they contribute?

Let’s start with the Clippers where, as I mentioned last week, there are an abundance of arms. LHP Nick Hagadone is now with the tribe, but three notable names stand out as players we might see in Cleveland by the end of the year based on their track records. The first is RHP Chris Ray, who is now 0-1 with a 2.63 ERA and five saves 13 relief appearances. Also, RHP Chen Lee should be a factor, but recently was placed on the DL. Finally, RHP Cody Allen has been a star all season, but just recently got promoted from Akron.

In Akron, my favorites are RHP Rob Bryson, RHP Bryan Price and RHP Bryce Stowell. Bryson came over in the CC Sabathia Milwaukee trade a while ago, but is having a bit of a resurgent season, going 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in eight relief appearances, striking out 19 in 15.1 innings. Price also came over in the Victor Martinez Boston trade, and the tall Rice University product is 1-1 with a 3.188 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 17 innings over eight games. Stowell also is on the DL now.

Going forward, I’d love to see Bryson/Price promoted to Columbus and at least Ray given a chance at the major league level again. Ray, who is 30, ironically was one of my favorite Eastern League relievers ever seven years ago when he was a hot-shot closer prospect in the Balitmore organization. He has an 18-19 record with an 4.10 ERA in 283 major league appearances, but flamed out in Seattle in 2011 and landed in Cleveland’s AAA. At the very least, his presence could provide a new spark to the Tribe in their pursuit to maintain first place in the division.

 

Standings

AAA Columbus Clippers: 17-14 (.548), 3/4 place, 2.5 GB in International League West

AA Akron Aeros: 21-8 (.724), 1/6 place, -5.0 game lead in Eastern League West

High-A Carolina Mudcats: 16-14 (.533), 3/4 place, 2.5 GB in Carolina League South

A Lake County Captains: 13-18 (.419), 7/8 place, 8.0 GB in Midwest League East

Short-Season Mahoning Valley: (no record, season begins June 18)

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. SS Francisco Lindor – It was another successful week for the 18-year-old who is now hitting .303/.352/.455 in 30 games. He was honored Monday for his performances over the previous week, and now is up to 12 multi-hit outings.

2. RHP Dillon Howard – Howard’s season still has not begun. The 19-year-old should start playing by June, all reports indicate.

3. LHP Nick Hagadone – Finally in Cleveland to stay, the 26-year-old Hagadone has been stellar so far. He has one save and a 0.96 ERA in 9.1 innings, with nine strikeouts and two walks. Holy cow.

4. RHP Chen Lee – As noted earlier, the 25-year-old Lee is on the DL in Akron with right forearm tightness. He has not pitched since April 17.

5. OF Luigi Rodriguez – It’s been a rough start to May so far for this 19-year-old, as he’s hitting just 1-for-24 in six games this month. He’s not at .280/.345/.430 on the season, but has eight steals in 26 games.

6. RHP Zach McAllister – McAllister did about as well as could be expected this past week. The 24-year-old went five innings last Wednesday for a Columbus win, then picked up his first MLB victory in a spot start Monday. Solid tryout.

7. SS Tony Wolters – After apparently taking a week off, the 19-year-old Wolters has been playing a bit better lately. He’s at .350/.381/.350 in five May games, boosting his season totals in 23 games to .180/.263/.202.

8. RHP Austin Adams – The 25-year-old Adams remains in extended spring training recovering from a right shoulder injury.

9. LHP Scott Barnes – Barnes returned from the Columbus DL this week, making his first two ever MiLB relief appearances. The 24-year-old struggled a bit, allowing two runs with three walks and two hits over 1.2 IP in his first outing last Thursday.

Wild Card: RHP Steven Wright – Yes, I’d generally like to reserve this just for prospects, but Wright’s a guy story. The 27-year-old was a starter/middle reliever who was the team’s second round pick in 2006. He re-invented himself last year with a knuckleball, starting off in Lake County. In six Akron starts this year, he’s 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA and 35 K’s in 40 innings. He pitched a five-hit shutout Sunday against Bowie, and hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in a start all season.

 

Notable Transactions

April 30: RHP Bryce Stowell (right forearm strain) placed on Akron’s 7-day DL

May 2: RHP Jordan Cooper activated off Carolina’s 7-day DL

May 2: RHP Preston Guilmet (lower back strain) placed on Akron’s 7-day DL

May 3: IF Jose Lopez outrighted from Cleveland to Columbus

May 4: 3B Giovanny Urshela placed on Carolina’s 7-day DL

May 5: RHP Paolo Espino (left oblique strain) activated off Akron’s 7-day DL

May 7: RHP Loek van Mil added to Akron’s roster via trade with Los Angeles Angels

May 7: RHP Zach McAllister recalled from Columbus to Cleveland

May 8: RHP Zach McAllister optioned from Cleveland to Columbus

 

The Boots

Boot Up: Akron’s Staff – Keeping with today’s theme of bullpens, let’s begin here with talking about one of the best teams — and best pitching staffs — in professional baseball right now. The Akron Aeros have won 12 of their last 14 games, jumping out to an electric 21-8 start this season. Most impressively, the team as a whole has a 2.22 ERA and 246 K’s against 83 walks in 255.1 innings pitched.

Wright has led the rotation, while LHP T.J. McFarland also is off to a good start with a 5-1 record and 2.62 ERA in six starts. LHP Giovanni Soto (3-0 with 3.33 ERA in five starts) and LHP Eric Berger (0-3 with 4.37 ERA in five starts) round out the consistent rotation, both boasting strong K/BB ratios and avoiding at least the big innings this year. The bullpen, led by RHP Matt Langwell (0.63 ERA in 10 games) and RHP Kyle Landis (0.51 ERA in nine games), also has been sensational, so keep an eye on these guys moving forward.

Boot Down: Injuries – The organization has been rocked by injuries over the past few yweeks, as you can tell a bit based on the transactions listing above. Not even listed there, however, are Howard, Lee, Adams and 3B Lonnie Chisenhall. Something has to give soon for a lot of these players, as the organization has been struck by a lot of bad luck all in a row recently.

Of note, I’ve got to give a few extra words to Chisenhall this week. He was placed on the Columbus DL on April 29 without much news circulating around the interwebs. He has a strained left calf, and the team is 4-4 since his departure. Of course, 3B Jack Hannahan is off to a great start for the Tribe, so you haven’t heard much about Chisenhall lately, but he was expected to take a huge jump this year which he had been close to approaching before he went down.

Boot Up: Hot Streaks – Overall, since the WFNY Wednesday Wahoos debuted, it’s been a pretty darn succcessful week for the entire Indians organization. Starting at the top, the Tribe went 6-2 to improve its hold on first place. Then, Columbus was 4-3, Akron stayed hot at 5-2, Carolina moved out of last with a 5-1 stretch and Lake County even won some games at 5-2.

As I prefaced last week, of course it’s a bit presumptuous to read that much into minor league standings, winning streaks or even just a quick week of a few wins across the board. But the storyline here would be that all of the different levels have persevered despite a long list of injuries and varied expectations. All that matters in the end is the success of the top team, and organizations love when minor leaguers can get a taste of what it’s like to play in a playoff-like atmosphere.

Boot Down: 2B Cord Phelps – Remember this guy? It seems like it’s been quite a while since we heard from this 25-year-old Stanford product. After bursting onto the scene with great minor league seasons in 2009 and 2010, Phelps settled into a rotating role between Columbus and Cleveland. This year, he has only played for the Clippers, and got off to a hot start — he was batting .342/.395/.529 through his first 16 April games.

But since this is a Boot Down, there has to be a negative point to make. Since April 22, Phelps is batting just .172/.234/.259 in 15 games, collecting just three extra-base hits and five RBI. He went 3-for-7 in a doubleheader yesterday for Columbus, his best back-to-back game performance during this stretch, but he’s going to need to do better quickly in order to return to the minds of the decision-makers for a utility role with the Tribe.

 

Closing Word

Power has been an intriguing topic in all of professional baseball over the last 15 years. Growing up in the mid-’90s, everything of course was about the insane number of home runs being demolished by guys such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Over time, however, their tricks of the trade were discovered, and we’re now at a point were home run totals are fairly stable and comparable to baseball’s past. As an example, Toronto OF Jose Bautista led MLB with just 43 home runs last season.

In the organizational mentality, this changes how a team approaches prospects. During the peak of the Jacobs Field craze when the Indians were great, players such as Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome routinely had 40 home run seasons. Now, there likely isn’t a single player in the Indians organization at the moment that will ever do that in their lives.

So what else is out there for fans to look at power-wise, and how are things developing in a macro fashion? First, let’s note that the average MLB team has 28.6 homers in about 30 games, while the average MiLB team has 20.6 home runs in about the same time frame. Bigger, faster, stronger players are in the big leagues, which means more home runs, despite the better pitching.

After OF Matt LaPorta‘s organization-leading nine dingers, which is tied for ninth-best in the minors, no one really has shined as a slugger for the system. Next up is Carolina 1B Jesus Aguilar with five, and then, Chisenhall, Columbus 1B Beau Mills and Carolina DH Jeremie Tice all at four. If some of these guys blast out 20-plus round-trippers, that’s usually categorized as a successful season.

While everyone complains about the Tribe not having a dominant right-handed hitting power guy, the truth is that that no longer exists like it used to. One of those five guys above hopefully could slide into a cleanup role down the road — remember, 2B Jason Kipnis currently leads Cleveland with five HR’s. So be patient folks, and change your understanding of how home runs have changed and power is no longer what it used to be.

 

  • Adam Rosen

    No one man should have all that power – Kanye

  • Matt S

     I’m starting to get really excited about Wright. I have a soft spot for knuckleballers, and I’d love to see him succeed. Not sure that will be in Cleveland, though. There’s a lot of starters ahead of him at Columbus, and things will only get more crowded next year as Carrasco, Rondon and Barnes all re-take starting roles (and maybe even the man formerly known as Fausto Carmona). Wright is eligible for minor league free agency after this year unless he gets added to the 40. I imagine that he might be better suited trying with a different org with less starting pitching. Maybe the Red Sox, where he could learn from the recently retired Tim Wakefield.

    Also, the power outage in Cleveland can be traced to a few select people. Hafner is the big one, but he’s actually a decent hitter all things considered. Nick Weglarz and Matt LaPorta were supposed to develop into big boppers, but they’ve both failed to take the big important last steps to being a major league hitter. Aguilar is an intriguing story, but remember that he’s doing what he’s doing in High A. There will be a big adjustment when he gets to AA Akron. That’s the step where Weglarz, Beau Mills, Chun Chen and a few others have so recently faltered.

  • 5KMD

    Funny how you mention Tuesday’s extra inning loss as your intro to the Tribe’s bullpen struggles. Since they were actually down 3-0 in the eighth of that game, maybe the White Sox should be worried?

    I looked up the stats and extra inning games are basically a coin toss with the home team winning about 51%. It’s all luck more or less. I think the back end of the pen is fine but would not lose sleep if Wheeler and Ascencio were replaced/upgraded.