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Tribe Happenings: Minor success in 2010 is 2011's gain

Tribe Happenings: Minor success in 2010 is 2011's gain
January 2, 2011
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The Low-A Lake County Captains championship
was one of the big highlights of 2010.
(Photo: Tony Lastoria)
With the bringing in of the New Year, it is time to put the 2010 season for the Indians in the past and start to look ahead to the 2011 season. Here are some news, notes, and thoughts from my Tribe notebook…

The thrill of victory

As we ring in the New Year, I felt this would be a good opportunity for me to give a little personal commentary about following the minor leagues.

I get many emails and responses via Facebook and Twitter asking why I like to follow the minor leagues so much or why I was so happy for the organization and the players when they won two minor league championships this past season.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, most of what goes on in the minor leagues may not matter and winning league titles or championships doesn’t mean a thing. To a great many, it may not mean a thing whether the Triple-A Columbus Clippers or the Low-A Lake County Captains win a league title.

In the end, however, the only thing that matters is what it means to those players, coaches, team staff, ballpark employees, and devoted fans of those teams. It’s all about perception.

Back in the 90s, I never understood why so many Cleveland Crunch fans held all those indoor soccer league titles to such high esteem. As a snobbish early to mid 20 year old young adult who disliked soccer and was close-minded to only following the Big Three teams in Cleveland, so I didn’t understand.

But I understand now.

As a fan of Ohio State, I would obviously go crazy if the Buckeyes win the National Championship in football, but what about a smaller Division-III school like Mount Union that wins championship after championship?

The comparison is almost the same where a great majority of people in Ohio notice a Buckeyes championship - just like they would if the Cleveland Indians won a World Series – but only a select few notice a Purple Raiders championship in D-III football just like with the Lake County Captains and Columbus Clippers winning minor league championships last year.

To the few who care, it is priceless. It is what sports is really all about as no matter how big or small a following, it all boils down to the chase and that rush a fan gets from winning. Being there on the night Lake County won the championship last year or when Double-A Akron won it in 2009 was a thrilling experience for me. It was something positive to experience in what is often a sea of negatives and disappointment these days with Cleveland sports teams.

The positives and good feeling is all about perception. To a great many, the Captains and Clippers championships go unnoticed. And for a great many of those that do notice, they dispel it as meaningless. But for the few who do follow these teams religiously, it means just as much as anything.

It’s all perception, and how it relates to you, and for that I once again give my congratulations to the Lake County Captains and Columbus Clippers on a job well done last year. I wish them as well as all the minor league teams and the big league team in Cleveland much luck in 2011!

Happy New Year!

Marson to Columbus?

In December the Indians signed catchers Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips to minor league contracts with an invite to big league spring training.

On the surface it looks very much like Carlin and Phillips will serve as a veteran catching duo at Triple-A Columbus this upcoming season to serve as major league catching depth but also to help nurture a young pitching staff there. While Carlos Santana is expected to be ready by the end of spring training and not miss any time, one of them would also immediately become the backup in Cleveland if Santana needs to open the season on the disabled list.

But another possibility exists where the Indians may decide at the end of spring training to option Lou Marson to Columbus to play everyday and keep one of Carlin or Phillips as the backup catcher in Cleveland. At the outset this may sound like a crazy idea, but it would actually make a lot of sense to do for at least the first half of the season.

Sending Marson to Columbus at the start of the season would allow him to get every day at bats, something he is absolutely not going to get in Cleveland with Santana around. Assuming Santana is healthy, he is going to get a large percentage of the time at catcher for the Indians, similar to what Victor Martinez did when he was with the club. As a result, the backup catcher will get few opportunities to play, something seen in the past when Josh Bard and Kelly Shoppach were backups to Martinez.

The Indians may explore playing Santana some at first base and he will likely be the designated hitter at least once a week to give him a breather, but even so it leaves few opportunities for the backup catcher. With a young catcher like Marson who is still developing and refining his game, he needs to get regular playing time in order to make the necessary adjustments he needs to in order to become a more consistent hitter.

When the Indians called up Santana in June last year, they optioned Marson to Columbus in order to allow him consistent playing time. Both were never on the roster at the same time as when Marson was called back up in August it was because Santana had gone on the disabled list with a season ending knee injury. It is possible at least for the first half of the upcoming season the Indians will again prefer that both catchers are not on the big league roster at the same time in order to ensure regular playing time and continued development for both.

The Indians have been down this road before as back in 2004 when Martinez had taken the catching duties full time to start the season and Bard was expected to open the season at then Triple-A Buffalo. An injury ended up sidelining Bard for the first two months of that season and he opened the year on the disabled list. When he came back he spent almost the entire rest of the season in the minors.

The same could happen to Marson this year, though not because of injury, but to finish off his development. He will still only be 24 years old when the season starts, an age most catchers are just scratching the Triple-A level for the first time. He really struggled in the big leagues last year where in 87 games he hit .195 with three homers, 22 RBI, and had a .560 OPS, so he could really benefit from playing everyday at Columbus the first few months of the season to not only gain more confidence and consistency with his bat, but also potentially improve his value to other clubs looking for catching.

In the event the Indians do opt to go the route of sending Marson to Columbus, then who would be the backup catcher in Cleveland?

It would likely be Phillips. He will be 34 years old in April and has played parts of seven seasons in the big leagues as a backup, so he would understand his very limited role as a guy who catches about one game a week. Carlin is 30 years old and brings with him almost the same minor league and major league resume, just he has a lot less experience in the big leagues and Phillips comes highly regarded as a catcher who does a great job handling a pitching staff.

Aviles makes first throw

The Indians drafted right-handed pitcher Robbie Aviles out of high school in the 7th round of the 2010 Draft. He was one of the top talents in all the Northeast sector of the United States, but a ligament tear in his right elbow just days before the draft caused his stock to slide considerably.

Knowing he was injured, the Indians quickly signed Aviles in early July for $150,000 and then he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after. It generally takes a player about four to five months before they can start a light throwing program, and that is exactly what he just started doing recently as he got out and threw a ball for the first time on December 15th.

He is still a ways away from getting back up on the mound and throwing bullpens or simulated games, but he made his first official “throws” as an Indian and is on track in his rehab. If he does pitch at all in 2011, it likely will be at the tail end of the season in Arizona with the rookie level team, and more likely will be in the fall Instructional League program.

Winter ball update

The Dominican Winter League season ended a little under two weeks ago, and the Puerto Rico Winter League and Venezuela Winter League both came to a close on Thursday night December 30th, thereby officially ending the winter ball regular season. All that is left is the playoffs in those leagues, but almost all of the Cleveland Indians participating in winter ball have returned home and are done playing.

Only three players really played the final week, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, third baseman Jayson Nix, and infielder Luis Valbuena.

Cabrera faltered down the stretch going just 2-for-24 in his last seven games and finished hitting .252 with one homer and 16 RBI in 27 games. Nix missed about ten days after being hit in the head so he only played in 15 games. He did okay defensively, but his performance at the plate was one to forget about as he hit just .151 with no homers and seven RBI with an awful 2-17 walk to strikeout ratio in 53 at bats. Valbuena played in 53 games and only hit .228 with four homers and 22 RBI, but he had an outstanding 36-26 walk to strikeout ratio and had a .363 on-base percentage.

2011 Indians prospect guide…coming soon

I have been getting a lot of e-mails lately asking if a new book will be made available this year, and to that I can say that I have been working diligently the past few weeks on my new Indians book for 2011. I don’t know yet when it will be available, but at the moment I am targeting the end of January when the finished product will be sent to the publisher for printing. I will have more details in the coming weeks as things become clearer.

For those unaware, each year I publish a book profiling just about every player in the Cleveland Indians system. The book includes detailed scouting reports for their Top 100 players, as well as an additional 60-70 shorter scouting reports for the rest of the players in the system. In addition to that, I include tons of reference material such as upcoming Rule 5 lists, depth charts, schedules, affiliate information, and so on. It is basically a survival guide for every Indians fan to make their way through the upcoming season and know who the players are and what is happening, and is written not just for the extreme diehards but for the casual fans as well.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI.  His latest book the 2010 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is also available for purchase on his site for a special year end closeout sale of $10.00 (including shipping and handling stateside).

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