Level: Class AA
League: Eastern League (Southern Division)
Playoffs: Missed Playoffs (11 GB of Altoona in Southern Div, 6 GB of Harrisburg for WC)
POTY Feathers: 2B Jason Kipnis and SP Alex White
Kipnis: .311/.385 AVG/OBP, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 61/31 SO/BB
White: 8-7, 17 GS, 106.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, 76/27 SO/BB, 1.11 WHIP
I might as well start with the obvious. Alex White was the best pitcher this club had. He made a few starts before arriving in Akron with Kinston, going 2-3 with a 2.86 ERA in eight starts. If you combine his numbers between the two levels, he went 10-10 with a 2.45 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 150 innings and 25 starts.
The most impressive part of White's season was his ability to turn in quality start after quality start. White turned in a quality start in a very large portion of his starts for Akron and if he did give up three or more runs, he still went five innings. He was a machine of consistency in that aspect.
Some look at his lack of strikeouts as a concern in terms of the projections into the majors, but the amount of walks can counter that, he keeps runners off the base paths. When White got to the rotation, he changed the outlook of the team drastically because Nick Hagadone and Kelvin De La Cruz didn't provide the huge infusion that was expected. They were okay in spurts, but White really anchored things.
Speaking of anchors, Jason Kipnis did the same for the top of the lineup with Jordan Henry. The Aeros offense really took off when Kipnis arrived and part of that had to do with other players, like Chisenhall finding a good bill of health, but Kipnis, despite the lack of at-bats at the level compared to others, was this team's best hitter.
His numbers from Kinston actually improved. With Kinston he hit .300 with six home runs and 31 RBI in 203 at-bats. Combined on the season he hit .307 with a .385 OBP, 10 HR, 74 RBI, 96 Runs, and 9 SB. Kipnis was a machine and even went up to Columbus for the playoffs for a few games and continued to hit there.
Pretty remarkable for someone in his first full professional season who only had 29 at-bats last year. He helped stabilize the top of the lineup, let Lonnie Chisenhall slide down and provide a nice combo with Henry at the top.
Kipnis is going to fly up the prospect rankings as quickly as he did the organizational ladder. He'll be in Cleveland fairly quickly if he keeps this up.
After so many years of success in the playoffs and all the Eastern League titles, I guess it was only a matter of time before the Aeros had a down season.
But if their down season is a .500 year, I think we'll take it. Granted this isn't all about winning, but the Aeros have been fortunate to have all the right pieces for a better part of the past decade. They had some good pieces this year, but it just wasn't meant to be. They were in it just as much as anyone was down the stretch, but things flickered late and Harrisburg was able to charge ahead and get the wild card spot.
All in all the Aeros had their fair share of talented players start with the club and go up to contribute with Columbus, but a large portion of their success was thanks to some Kinston call-ups.
The Aeros were expected to start with a group they weren't expected to have, not even by the end of the season, but near the midway point. The reinforcements were supposed to be heavy, especially in the rotation. They started with the likes of Putnam, Barnes, Berger, and Graham, but eventually De La Cruz and Hagadone were supposed to join and make it a formidable bunch. The plans kind of went that way, but the results were not as expected.
Scott Barnes and Eric Berger
These two will forever be lumped together. The pair of lefties drafted in the eighth round of the 2008 draft seemed to also share struggles. Barnes pitched a full season, but Berger had his fair share of injuries that dampened things.
Berger started the year on the DL and never really got a chance to catch up. He made 17 starts, taking another trip to the DL in the process, but he did go 5-5 with a 4.64 ERA. Berger's big struggle was with the walk and his inflated 1.49 WHIP is a testament to that.
Barnes managed to be so good some times that he was un-hittable at times. But he threw so many pitched, collected so many strikeouts, and sometimes issued too many walks, to the point where he couldn't go very deep into games. He did lead the club in innings and strikeouts, but he also led them in home runs surrendered.
The two are making up for lost time, as well as trying to end their 2010 campaign on a more positive note with more positive results in the Arizona Fall League. They'll probably return to Akron, especially with the log-jam of starters, and it will probably take positive performance to get them to move up.
Paolo Espino and Zach Putnam
Both flip-floppers that ended the season in Columbus, but both very important part to the Aeros from start to the time they got call-ups. Zach Putnam started in the rotation, but was moved to the bullpen, and as much as the Aeros tried, they couldn't keep Espino away from the rotation.
With Akron Espino was 9-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 15 starts and 21 total games. Espino went on to make seven starts with Columbus with a higher ERA, 5.62, but his real value is in his durability and versatility. He has an issue with the long ball, but there are also stretches in which hes very good. Espino was big when the club was trying to get Hagadone going and he wasn't going deep into games.
Putnam meanwhile started in the rotation and it didn't take long before the Indians moved him back to the bullpen where he is far better and has far more upside as a major leaguer. Putnam made seven starts, had a DL stint and then eventually settled back into his dominant role.
If you want a true sense for how good Putnam is as a reliever, look at his Columbus numbers. He made 17 appearances and pitched in 24 innings for the Clippers. He had a 3.33 ERA, struck out 24 hitters and held hitters to a .222 average. He holds the walks down and doesn't give up many long balls.
Putnam is one of those power arms at the upper levels that the Indians will be looking to infuse soon. After his seasoning in Columbus, he is well on his way.
Corey Kluber came over from the San Diego organization in the Jake Westbrook trade. At the time he was leading the Texas League with 136 strikeouts for San Antonio. It was a rough going in the early going for Kluber, but Corey found his footing and then got the call to help Columbus in the playoffs.
Overall it was just a .500 kind of year win-loss wise, going 9-9 and .500 for every team he pitched for. He did keep it overall consistent though and his final 165 strikeout number should look tantalizing to the people valuing this new found idea of strikeouts in the Indians minor league system. Kluber is just another arm to add in to the mix the Indians have at the upper levels.
Connor Graham and Nick Hagadone
I was at the home opener, which was started by Connor Graham, and you could tell this guy has control issues. He couldn't hit the zone at all in the first 10 pitches or so. If anything, it was evident Graham was more of a bullpen guy.
It was believed though that Graham was just another placeholder in the rotation until someone like a Nick Hagadone arrived and that was just the case. Just as Graham was shifted into the pen, Hagadone was called-up. Hagadone though ended up with Graham in the pen due to his issues in terms of going deep into games.
He may still be on restrictions and this may not be the end of Hagadone being a starter, but Nick certainly had issues getting past the fourth inning. Nick started with Kinston, making 10 starts with a 2.39 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 37 innings. Very good.
But with Akron it was a rough go. He made seven starts and was moved to the pen. He ended up with just 44 strikeouts in 48 innings with 34 walks. The big thing for Hagadone is nailing down his control and his ability to go deeper into games if he is in fact going to be a starter. His best value is as a starter because he can still throw hard and have the full effect of his pitches as a starter, but if worse comes to worse, it is good to know they've got a high-upside bullpen guy as a backup.
With Graham, his stuff plays up in the pen in addition to him having the spotty control. Point blank, Graham was way better as a reliever, pitching in 59 innings with a 2.56 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 59 innings.
Kelvin De La Cruz
The other twin in the Kinston cavalry also had a rough transition to the new level. To be fair, De La Cruz didn't have a lot of seasoning in Kinston, between his injury last year and just the six starts this year, he only made 8 starts at the level. Now someone like Alex White only had eight starts at the level and true De La Cruz showed much success in those eight starts, but it isn't the same.
He just didn't let it click at any point in Akron. His debut was good and things started out nice, but it just got progressively worse before he started to show some signs, but then he finished on yet another bad note. His biggest issue was the walks. He walked 64 hitters and struck out just 77. His WHIP was atrocious at 1.73. 1.73!
I think the overall hope is De La Cruz bounces back in the first half next year and he gets to Columbus. Remember he was placed on the 40 man this past year, so the clock in a way is ticking.
CC Lee and Bryan Price
If you had to pinpoint two guys in the bullpen from the beginning to end, it would be these two. Not only were they there from beginning to end, they were consistent and good. CC Lee had a fantastic debut in the states last year with Kinston to the tune of a 3.35 ERA and 97 punch outs in 83 innings. Not many look at this guy and think strikeout, but he does it. He had 82 in 72 innings this year with Akron and he even cut down on the walks.
Lee was considerably better with the level jump and is now really on the map in terms of bullpen arms. Joining him in the pen was Bryan Price, who had some starts last year, but was moved full-time into the pen this year after coming over from Boston in 2009.
Price did see time on the DL, but he didn't let it phase him. In 69 innings he had 69 strikeouts and was 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA. The worry for Price isn't so much the walks, but the amount of hits he gives up. He is more of a contact guy and that does lead to some hits, but he does a good job of putting out the fires.
Rob Bryson pitched in 53 innings this year, but it was split up with 8 appearances in Lake County and then 20 innings apiece between Kinston and Akron.
When he reached Akron, it really set in. He needed to make up for lost time due to injuries that have sidelined him since being acquired in the CC Sabathia trade, and he did just that. With Kinston he was 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 38, yes 38, strikeouts in 20 innings. He wasn't as dominant with Akron in terms of striking out hitters, but he also had to make some starts and go more than one inning down the stretch due to the call-ups to Columbus.
It didn't phase him and he finished the year with a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings with the Aeros. If anything, he showed great confidence and moxie in being handed a different circumstance. He should be a linchpin of the Aeros bullpen to start next season, but he could join that battery of late inning arms in Columbus in due time.
Steven Wright and Omar Aguilar
Let me start by just getting Steven Wright out of the way. Poor Steven is filler. He had a shot in Columbus but struggled early and was sent back down. Who knows what his future is with this organization, but he did some nice work for the Aeros and helped eat up some innings for the club.
Now the interesting guy. Omar Aguilar was acquired during the spring after the Brewers worked out a deal to keep Chuck Lofgren after selecting him in the Rule V draft. Lofgren was a starter and Omar is a reliever, so the idea from the Indians perspective was to get someone who would fit in the pen because they had enough starters, not just in Columbus, but soon in Akron too.
This is classic change of scenery type of a acquisition. Aguilar had things going on, weight issues, blah blah was on the 40-man, all that. Akron was his second chance.
I think the verdict is still out, but really he had some positives. He definitely can strike people out, 72 in 62 innings. He, like his buddy Connor Graham, have control issues though. Things have started bad and just kept snowballing on him at times and other times, he's been downright dominant. He did have 7 saves and like I said, put in some efforts that would blow you away. He was especially good in July, but he is wildly inconsistent.
The Akron lineup is interesting. Of course it was until Jason Kipnis and Jordan Henry arrived that things got interesting and a large part of that has to do with the fact that Chisenhall battled injuries and after Jared Goedert was promoted, others didn't step up.
Chisenhall was the no-doubt guy in this order. But injuries slowed him down and didn't let him repeat his 2009 season in which he he hit 22 home runs and knocked in 92 runs. Still, Chisenhall actually put together a decent season in a full year at Double-A. Once he got over the initial bumps of his injuries, The Chiz kicked it in gear.
For the season he did hit .278, which is actually higher than what he hit in Kinston and in 481 total at-bats between Kinston and Akron last year. He still hit 17 home runs and still managed to knock in 84 runs.
But by far the biggest improvement was his on-base percentage. He still bumped that number up as well and took a nice chunk out of his strikeout total.
For a year in which he struggled with injuries and perhaps was given a nice dose of adjustments, Chisenhall handled it well.
Tim Fedroff and John Drennen
These are the two outfielders who were pretty much in it from the get-go. It was sort of a comeback year for Drennen, even though he sort of re-established his footing last year.
With his first full-season in Akron, Drennen hit .300 with a .355 OBP. He led the team in hits and doubles and was fantastic in the strikeout department, whiffing only 56 times.
His outfield partner is the exact opposite. Tim Fedroff struck out 90 times, which led the team, but Fedroff makes up for it with a strong glove and on-base presence. The former Tar Heel bounced around the lineup, starting near the top and finishing near the bottom, while occasionally get the plug in atop when Henry or Kipnis got off days.
You might see Fedroff repeat due to the amount of outfielders, but it may be time for Drennen to move on and show his skills at the Triple-A level.
Beau Mills and Carlos Rivero
These two are like two peas in a pod. These used to be two of the more higher upside players in the organization, but there is just a simple lack of impressiveness with both of them after two straight years in Akron.
Mills is a former first round pick and a little older, so there is some worry there. He isn't a big on-base guy for as much as he is a big hitter, that is a little puzzling. He did hit a lot of doubles but the home runs were not there. He isn't a huge strikeout guy, but over 427 at-bats, that could go up. Mills did knock in a good amount of runs, but you have to wonder what another year at Akron with faltering numbers does for confidence in both Mills and the Indians in Mills.
Rivero on the other hand is a little younger, but there is this whole problem of him being on the 40-man roster and having been on the 40-man roster. Rivero probably won't be there for long but that means the club would be in jeopardy of losing him.
Rivero hit just 6 home runs this past season, he's never hit more than 8 in a full season, but six is his lowest number and it was the first year he didn't reach 20 doubles. The expectations included his power numbers increasing, not decreasing and that has not been the case. His OBP dropped yet again with a horrible walk total.
Rivero will turn 23 in May of next season, so as far as his age goes, he's really still on a decent track. The problem is he's had two straight years now in Akron and things haven't exactly taken off.
Matt McBride and Jordan Henry
I kind of hold these two in the same breath. They overlapped, one started with Kinston, one ended with Columbus, but they both spent a majority of their season at Akron.
Let's start with Jordan Henry who started on absolute fire with Kinston. Not only did he hit .333 in 162 at-bats, his on-base percentage ended up at .438! He scored 32 runs and stole 14 bases.
The numbers had to drop in 287 at-bats with Akron but Henry kept up the production. Overall Henry's OBP ended up at .411 between the two levels and he hit .312 with 29 stolen bases out of 35 chances and he scored 77 runs.
Most importantly, Henry had the honorable distinction of being named this website's Minor League Mascot. It means nothing other than he's awesome.
Matt McBride knows all about hot-starts at Kinston. He did it last season before getting a call to Akron. After his call up he hit 12 home runs but didn't exactly hit like he did with Kinston. This season, McBride adjusted and showed he has the bat that can keep up with the competition.
In 96 games with Akron he hit .283 with a shared team-high 17 home runs. For the year he hit 21 jacks, knocked in 75 runs and carried a respectable .335 OBP. McBride made it to Columbus and is taking part in the Winter Leagues over in the DR.
Damaso was almost sort of like, Carlos Santana's personal backup catcher. He was behind Santana last season in Akron and it looked as if he was going to do the same in Columbus this year. Santana soon got the call to Cleveland but even before that, Akron came calling for a legitimate starter. Espino was that guy for awhile.
He eventually returned to Columbus, but Espino caddied for the Aeros pitching staff for a good portion of the season and while he may not be the greatest hitter, he is a solid veteran to have behind the plate.
Jerad Head was signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2005. He's been around so long, he's played for the Burlington Indians, the Lake County Captains, the Kinstons Indians, the Akron Aeros, the Buffalo Bison, and the Columbus Clippers.
Head started the season kind of on Columbus' roster. It wasn't until May when Head appeared and appeared for the Aeros. Jerad really started to heat up, he hit .312 in 237 at-bats for the Aeros, clubbed 15 home runs and knocked in 51 runs.
What's really remarkable about Jerad Head though is how clutch he is. Last year he was the guy in the Eastern League playoffs and he did it again this year with Columbus. He really is a postseason juggernaut.
Joel Skinner returned to Akron and while the Aeros missed the playoffs for the first time in a long time, the Aeros still played tough ball and showed off a lot of good prospects. They're going to get a lot of that Kinston fire power, as well as some of the players that can't move up due to the jam ahead of them in Columbus/Cleveland.
They could very well be right back in the playoff hunt next year with the likes of Hagadone, De La Cruz turning it around hopefully for the start of the season, but they'll also have the likes of Joe Gardner and maybe late in the year, first round pick Drew Pomeranz and Jason Knapp. Who knows?