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10.17.2012

2012 Season Wrap-Up: Minor League Rundown

Nino Colla | Wednesday, October 17, 2012 | | | | | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips
Every year I like to recap the minor league season and dedicate respectable time to the prospect side of the organization. That is this effort and with the Indians in such despair after a second half collapse, there is no better way to feel hopeful than to look ahead.

Usually this is a week-long process where I break down each squad go through the highs and the lows for each team individually. I'll still do that, but in a much more condensed fashion. Simply put, the minor leagues have fallen by the wayside here on this space and in this past year, there has been little time for me to dedicate to a daily, or even weekly outlook for the minors.

That will hopefully change next season, but with that I don't have a big eye on all the teams as I have in the past, so I'm not going to force it. I'll give out feathers and recap the squads, but going in-depth would be doing either research that I don't have time for, or a half-assed effort at trying to incorporate everything.

So with that, here is the Minor League Recap for 2012, complete with feather award-winners and everything.
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Columbus Clippers
Triple-A International League (West)
Record: 75-69 (Second - Missed Playoffs)

Feather Recipient: Russ Canzler, IF/OF

I guess the Columbus Clippers have learned what Ricky Bobby would always say... If you aren't first, you're last. The Clippers were not first for the first time since being an Indians affiliate. So the fact that they came in second in their International League division and missed the playoffs feels a lot like last.

Still, 75 wins is a good season and the Clippers continue to put an entertaining show on the field and in that beautiful ballpark. I was lucky enough to experience it this summer as I took in a game from Huntington Park and it was everything I have heard. The park is gorgeous and the fans love that team, regardless of who's playing.

But one guy that the Clippers had playing is an International League fixture for the past few seasons and he is this year's feather recipient. He shouldn't really be getting this though, because he should have had his opportunity much sooner and perhaps he'll get it next year.

MILB - R. Canzler
Russ Canzler had a whale of a season. It wasn't his 2011 that he had with Durham when he hit .314 with 19 home runs and 83 RBI an won the International League Most Valuable Player award. But he did hit more home runs (22) and clobber 36 doubles with 79 RBI before getting called up in September. He was a key-cog to the Clippers offense and the Indians hope he might be able to be a right-handed bat answer after acquiring him from Tampa Bay in the offseason last year.

And for once, he won't be blocked by Casey Kotchman, so that's a plus.

All-in-all the Clippers had some players. They acquired Vinny Rottino, a Canzler/LaPorta like player offensively who was able to fill many voids for the team. They had a Matt LaPorta who was equally as powerful as Canzler in that lineup. And they had pieces like Cord Phelps, Jared "Rare Breed" Goedert and Zeke Carrera to plug in.

What really hurt the Clippers was lack of pitching. Not only did mid-season call-ups of Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister hurt, the injury to Kevin Slowey and lack of any real production from David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez didn't really help. Some of the best arms the Clippers had were called up, veteran fixes that went elsewhere, or waiver pickups the Indians never really used. They saw the likes of Cody Allen and Scott Barnes before being called up (or called up multiple times), and even got a look at Tyler Sturdevant. 

But with Chen Lee hurt and pitching in just five games, Nick Hagadone promoted (then hurt), late starts from Matt Packer, Bryan Price, and Sturdevant, and the never-arrival of Austin Adams (due to injury) that was expected, the talent just was not all there for the Clippers pitching staff.

Next year though. Next year could be a good year with what's likely to come the Clip's way. I wonder why that is?

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Akron Aeros
Double-A Eastern League (Western)
Record: 82-59 (First - Won Eastern League Championship)

Feather Recipient: Thomas Neal, OF

Oh that's right, the Eastern League Champion Akron Aeros will probably send some of that talent up a level. Good for Columbus, not all that bad for Akron though, because that talent won them yet another Eastern League title (fourth in such a short span, spoiled...).

There's a lot to be excited about in Akron, not just because of the championship, but because the team is under new ownership that promises to make upgrades to the park and bring a new flare to the club that has seen an attendance dip in the past year.

So not only will the winning traditions continue, there may be some more excitement around the park, much like the excitement that surrounds a simply game for the Clippers against the Rochester Red Wings on a Saturday night.

One question we had with Columbus could be easily answered by looking at Akron. The Aeros had some pitching to throw out there, especially in the bullpen. Led by closer Preseton Guilmet (24 saves) and his 2.39 ERA, they had several relievers with ERAs under 3.00. Rob Bryson (2.62, 65 IP), Loek Van Mil (1.94, 46.1 IP), Jose De La Torre (2.80, 45 IP), and Toru Murata (2.60, 65 IP) made up part of a bullpen that was the strength of this team. Not to mention also having Bryan Price (3.02, 50 IP), Bryce Stowell, Kyle Landis, and other arms that would help out in Matt Langwell, Shawn Armstrong (huge down the stretch), and Trey Haley.

Whoa that's a lot of names.

And it extended into the starting pitching staff with guys like T.J. House, Gio Soto, Paolo Espino, and Brett Brach. Steven Wright was the best pitcher until he was traded to Boston for Lars Anderson and then when he left, the Aeros managed to plug in Danny Salazar for their playoff run, who was electric down the stretch in a year in which he put on a display in Carolina.

Needless to say, that while there seems to be a lack of options in Columbus and Cleveland for pitching, there should be more on the way based off what was in Akron at one point or another. Of course Triple-A and the Major Leagues are different from the Double-A level, but seeing as how it was the catalyst for an Aeros championship, you have to have some hope.

There wasn't one outstanding pitcher from start to finish that I can give the feather to though, so I'm opting to reward one of the better stories in the Indians organization this year. The offense was okay, but with no one having over 60 RBI, it was definitely a collective effort between pitching and offense all around. There was a good story in seeing Nick Weglarz actually healthy enough to play 100 games and hit 14 home runs, but he has some ways to go before being considered.

MILB - T. Neal
One guy who put himself on the map was Thomas Neal. And this is after he was knocked clearly off it. Neal had a roster spot and everything at this point last year but quickly he fell out of favor, lost his spot and was demoted all the way to Double-A. Most would get angry and start blaming others and fall into an oblivion. Neal turned it around, hit .314 in 117 games with a .400 on-base percentage and got back on the 40-man roster for a surprise September call-up.

I'm a sucker for a good story, and while the entire Aeros season is a great story, the Neal sidepiece is equally as good. It was a good year to be an Akron Aero and it may very well be the last year to be one as the team enters a new era with a new owner.

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Carolina Mudcats
High-A Carolina League (Southern)
Record: 63-77 (Fourth - Missed Playoffs)

Feather Recipient: Tony Wolters, 2B

Speaking of new eras... The Kinston Indians were a wonderful franchise for the Cleveland Indians organization. But Carolina offered a new stadium, a good ownership group, a new brand of excitement. And ultimately a weird logo.

But that's besides the point. A new era was underway in Carolina as the Mudcats took over as the Indians High-A affiliate. They inherited some good talent for the first year in Five County Stadium, but it was ultimately a losing effort in both halves of the season. Still there was some excitement on the field and winning baseball is sure to come for the Mudcats in the coming years.

MILB - T. Wolters
And things should be good in Akron as well with some of the names coming their way. The Indians certainly are well stocked at the shortstop/second base position and no better example of that was in Carolina with the duo of Ronny Rodriguez and Tony Wolters. I gave the feather to Wolters, but Rodriguez had an equally as good, if not better, season offensively. Mainly though Wolters is the one switching position going to second base and he also presents a better eye-at the plate. 

He's a small guy, but he plugged 30 doubles, and with eight triples and eight home runs, that's 46 extra-base hits for a middle infielder. He scored 66 runs and even though he was just behind Ronny Rodriguez in most categories, it was Wolters who switched positions.

They're both shortstops and Wolters continued to play at short throughout the season, but he should be commended. With another shortstop right behind them both though, the writing is kind of on the wall.

Rodriguez's season was great though. He's only 20-years-old and he hit almost 20 home runs at a High-A level. He was team high in runs, RBI, and homers. And again he's a 20-year-old shortstop and played on a team with Jesus Aguilar. 

Aguilar's season was one that was split between Akron and Carolina, with the powerful first baseman playing 20 regular season games for the Aeros and into the playoffs. Rodriguez and Wolters though, the catalysts of the Mudcats offense.

Pitching wise they had a lot of the brilliant captains from 2011 in Mike Rayl and Michael Goodnight, but the results were not the same. Goodnight won just two contests (not all his fault) and struggled with the walk. But they also had performances from guys like Armstrong and Salazar, and other bright spots like Jordan Cooper, Jose Flores, and Grant Sides.

Much like the Clippers though, there wasn't much consistency from the pitching staff, but it wasn't due to talent. If guys like Rayl, Goodnight, Will Roberts, and Fransisco Jimenez had better seasons, we may be talking about a playoff team. Ultimately though it wasn't in the cards and it may cause some of those names to have to start next year in the same location to prove they are better than that.

It's not a bad thing and hopefully for the Mudcats, it could be a good thing.

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Lake County Captains
Low-A Midwest League (Eastern)
Record: 71-68 (Fourth - Second Half Wild Card, Lost in Semi-Finals)

Feather Recipient: Jordan Smith, OF

A second half surge helped the Lake County Captains not only make the playoffs, but make a deep run that ended in the semi-finals of the Midwest League playoffs. 

The Captains are always a scrappy team. They always seem to make some sort of noise, even if no one expects them to. They find these players and get performances from places you wouldn't expect and that was no exception in 2012. Jordan Smith is probably one of those guys.

MILB - J. Smith
A converted outfielder who hit .300 in 65 games for the Scrappers last year was slightly on the radar. Now he's someone to watch going forward after putting up a .316 average in 116 games for the Captains. He didn't display a lot of pop but he managed 39 extra base hits and a healthy .367 on-base percentage to give a good mix of everything you look for in a solid hitter.

That's exactly what he was for the Captains. He was a solid hitter and he helped lead the Captains in the second half with averages of .337 in June, .345 in July, and .328 in August. As good as he was in the first half, he was just as better in the second, nearly doubling his RBI total in 10 more games.

The story of the second half was Smith, but the first half belonged to top prospect Fransisco Lindor. Usually the Captains don't get the high-picks long as they debut in Mahoning Valley, make a quick stop in Lake County and get to High-A as quickly as possible. But Lindor is young and needs the seasoning and a full-season in Lake County was what was in store for him in 2012.

He hit .285 in the first half with a strong April. He clubbed two home runs, knocked in eight runs, stole eight bases...there was some big excitement about Lindor and what he could do at such a young age. But as most young hitters do, he tailed off and was humbled. The good news is he still had a good season and despite curtailing should be able to continue through the system. He has raw ability and for his first full-year in the professional leagues at such a young age, he's doing pretty well.

There is a lot to be happy about in the pitching staff. The thing with a team like Lake County is that it will be made up of some talented players, but a lot of inexperience. These are young guys for the most part, a lower level of A-ball that is reserved for players that are going to need to progress through the system. That's why guys like Lindor and Bryson Myles, Alex Lavisky, and Luigi Rodriguez were on this squad. 

And that's no exception for the pitching staff. Elvis Araujo and Felix Sterling are two guys with higher ceilings. They have some big talent and the Indians have big hopes for both. Part of their learning process may be just going out there and learning. They've both reached points where it's just time to learn. Araujo and Sterling both had some ups and downs this year, but I'm sure it was a good process for them. 2013 might just be a year where they start in Lake County again and maybe it will click for them, time will tell.

But they struggled and so the Captains had to find pitching where they could get it. They got good years out of guys like Joe Colon (8-8, 2.90 in 19 starts), Shawn Morimando, Mason Radeke, and Cody Anderson. They found reliever options in Rob Nixon, Jeff Johnson, Grant Sides, and Cole Cook. But guys like Francisco Valera (22-years-old), Manuel Carmona (19-years-old until June), and Danny Jimenez (22-years-old), are all still learning as well as they move up the system.

So you'll have years in Lake County where some guys, like Smith, Myles, Colon, Anderson, and Morimando play well, and others like Araujo, Valera, Lavisky, and Leonardo Castillo fight growing pains. You could see some of the same faces to start 2013, but you will surely see more young faces for the Captains as well.

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Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Short-A New York-Penn League (Pinckney)
Record: 30-45 (Fifth Place - Missed Playoffs)

Feather Recipient: Joe Wendle, 2B

Some of those young faces were busy in Mahoning Valley after a whirlwind draft process, coming state-side, or even finding their way to the Steel Valley from extended spring training.

Sixth-round draft pick Joe Wendle got drafted and made an immediate impact for the Scrappers. In the shadow of first rounder Tyler Naquin, Wendle hit .327 in 61 games and led the team in RBI. To me, 80 hits in 61 games is impressive and while it is a very small sample of a guy making his professional debut in rookie ball, it is something to gloat about.

MILB - J. Wendle
Wendle had a good year and was a bight spot on a Scrappers team that didn't really contend for playoffs but also wasn't chopped liver. In addition to Wendle there were some significant piees getting a shot. One of those being the young Dorssys Paulino at the ripe old age of 17-years-old. You heard me. In November Paulino will actually turn 18 and is just another example of the Indians new-found depth at the middle infield spot.

Paulino hit .355 with six homers and 30 RBI in 41 games for the Arizona Rookie League team. So impressive he was promoted to Mahoning Valley for 15 games and he hit .271 with a homer and eight RBI. Just to see him at that level at his age, is something.

The other high-profile body for the Scrappers was Tyler Naquin as he hit .270 in his 36 games. He didn't do a whole lot, is still searching for his first professional homer, but he showed some great plate discipline with a .379 on-base percentage. There's something to be said about getting your feet wet and both Paulino and Naquin did just that.

The Scrappers also got see a good season from Luis DeJesus who made 14 starts and pitched excellent in just about all of those starts. It was a bright spot for the pitching staff that saw some ups and downs, with guys like Rafael Homblert pitching well out of the bullpen (2.35 ERA in 30 innings), but also seeing guys like Jake Sisco (5.03 ERA in 15 starts) find their footing.

Really that is what this level is about. It's about getting your feet wet, finding your footing, and working out who may not cut it or who may need work. If I'm the Indians, I have no reason to not push Paulino forward with Lindor deserving to progress and the guys in front of him in Rodriguez and Wolters proving they can move on. You also find guys like Joey Wendle who can produce and deserve a shot at Lake County if not Carolina from the get-go in 2013.

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[ADDITIONAL NOTES]

Tim Fedroff, who is participating in winter ball, had an excellent season once again. Many were clamoring for him to get a shot in September with the club, but the fact that he didn't says the Indians have plans for him and want to keep his eligibility a tad bit longer. Fedroff hit .316 between both Double-A and Triple-A, with his Columbus numbers looking far superior. Let's be honest, he had no business starting the year in Akron after hitting .338 there last year and .272 in Columbus in 62 games last season. But still he played 54 games for the Aeros, hit .305 with a .396 OBP and 22 RBI. With the Clippers, he hit .325 with nine homers, 32 RBI and a .393 OBP. Free Fedroff indeed.

Offensively, I'm not sure what Cord Phelps has left to prove in the minor leagues. The Indians should either deal him away or give him a shot at the majors. Sure they're still trying to utilize his versatility, ala Jason Donald, to make him more valuable around the diamond, but he's done all he's going to do at the minor league level hitting wise. His .276 average is down from last year's .294 line, but his OBP is right in line and he showed some more pop with a few more homers and doubles and run production than he did in 2011.

T.J. McFarland started the year in Akron, made 10 starts and established the fact that he had nothing left to do at that level. He'll start next year in Columbus, but if he shows the trend of improvement as he has the past few years from Kinston to Akron, Akron to Columbus, then he may be on the major league radar sooner rather than later.

Matt Packer made just 11 starts this season between rehab outings and all that fun stuff. The left-hander managed to make six starts for the Clippers and I'd expect him to be a fixture of the Clippers rotation next year now that he's healthy and there should be some significant movement within the rotation spectrum.

Chun Chen has made the transition to first base and may be ready for the push to Columbus. One can expect that with Beau Mills traded, LaPorta out of options, and the potential of Russ Canzler getting a shot in the majors, first base and/or the DH spot should be wide open for Chun Chen. The converted catcher hit .308 with a .394 OBP and .426 slugging percentage in 108 games for the Aeros in his second full season in Double-A. His homers were down, but his doubles were up and he's showed better plate discipline.

Chen being pushed will allow the Aeros to get Jesus Aguilar full-time at first. He made 20 starts for Akron in 2012, but hit .292 after his promotion, a much different result than when he went from Lake County to Kinston in 2011.

The Clippers had guys like Matt Pagnozi and Luke Carlin occupy the catcher spot, and despite the lack of offense, it could be time for Roberto Perez to move on from the Aeros. Granted he hit .212, but has a .336 OBP which is pretty much in-line what you can expect from someone who is regarded as the best defensive catcher in the Indians' system.

T.J. House spent the past two seasons at Kinston, so while Carolina was a scenic change for him, the High-A level had to be something he was getting sick of. So in four starts he dominated. I'd expect at least another full year in Akron to be in order, but if he shows tremendous strides, get excited about the left-hander who will be 24-years-old.

WASH Time? The boastful outfielder got off to a good start in Lake County before an injury claimed most of his season. He played in just 13 games this season and it was essentially a lost season. He played in just 79 games in 2011 for the Captains and is starting to get to the point where you may be concerned about health. If LeVon Washington can get healthy, he can produce, it's just a matter of getting him on the field at this point.

Jake Lowery had an interesting season. He started in Carolina, but his struggles forced him to be sent backwards to the Captains. He fared a little better by showing more of the pop the team had become accustomed to after his time in Mahoning Valley in 2011 and got on base at a more steady pace. Maybe he can re-try things at Carolina in 2013.

On the flip side of that was Alex Lavisky, who, while still young, is just not doing what the Indians hoped he would do. He can hit the ball really far, like really far, but he's striking out a lot. He spent his season at Lake County playing a lot of DH and he hit 12 home runs, but he struck out 95 times in 93 games.

Anthony Santander, one of the recent noteworthy international signings out of Venzuela blasted four homers and hit .305 in 43 games for the Rookie League squad. He's a first base/outfield switch hitter and will actually turn 18 in a few days. He's also from Margarita, which is awesome.

Remember Martin Cervenka and Ryan Battaglia, the international free agent catchers from the Czech Republic and Australia? Of course you don't. A way long time ago, the Indians signed both at ridiculously young ages and let them play in their home-country leagues or wherever they were playing. Both are now officially in the system making their debuts in 2011. So far, no good. Cervenka hit .240 this year after .164 in 2011 and is still searching for a home run. Battaglia didn't have a hit in seven games last year, while hitting .214 this year in 29 games for the Rookie League squad. Works in progress.

Dillon Howard made his professional debut this season after being drafted last year. He won just a game and  in 10 starts had a 7.90 ERA. He struggled to say the least for the Rookie squad. But his feet are wet and he's only going to be 20 years old next year for most of the season.

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