Tuesday, March 27, 2012

View From Goodyear: Part Two


House's 3/4 arm slot
After reveling in the Buckeyes Elite Eight victory Saturday night, I woke up Sunday morning and spent the entire day between the Indians and Reds minor league complexes. AAA Columbus and AA Akron were at “home” against the Reds, but high-A Carolina and low-A Lake County were on the “road” just a few hundred yards away, so I got to see plenty of all four teams in action. Kevin Slowey was starting for AAA Columbus, so that made my decision on where to begin my day a very easy one; off to the Reds side of Goodyear to see the kids in action. Here’s some notes on the game action from the weekend:

T.J. House started for Lake County after all of the starters were pushed down a level or two because of the major league guys needing to get their work in. House’s new (old) ¾ delivery was absolute murder on lefties. His sharp, sweeping slider was impossible for them to hit, and he got several K’s on guys who just waved embarrassingly at the pitch. Things had a chance to go a little bit sideways in the first inning when House gave up a leadoff single that was misplayed into a double, then a little broken-bat looper over the second baseman to score a run, but the settled down quickly, got out of the jam and didn’t give up  another run in his 4 innings of work. His fastball was working mostly between 89-92 with really nice arm-side run from the new (old) ¾ delivery.

Jesus Aguilar looks like a man among boys. He looks bigger but leaner, if that makes any sense. Looks like he really hit the offseason conditioning hard. He ripped two doubles that I saw, one off the top of the left-centerfield fence just inches from a HR, then went the other way and drilled one off the right-centerfield fence. As I mentioned yesterday, Aguilar is usually out before the rest of the team getting extra work on his defense, and looks like he will play just fine at 1B. He’ll likely begin 2012 in the offense-challenged Carolina League, which will be a big challenge for him. It will be interesting to see if he can follow up his breakout 2011 with a similar offensive season this year.

C.C. Lee
C.C. Lee is nasty. Just plain nasty. He came on to finish the game in the 9th inning, and was sitting between 93-95 with his fastball and touched 97. It’s really impressive to see a guy who is that small throw a baseball that hard. He struck out a pair of overmatched Cincy AAA hitters, one on a slider that broke so hard it looked like a Bugs Bunny pitch from my view directly behind the backstop. He’s got the talent to contribute at the big league level right now, it’s just a matter of finding a spot for him in the crowded Indians bullpen.

OF LeVon Washington continued his torrid spring yesterday, going 4-4 with a triple and a run scored. When he was rounding 2nd on his triple, I heard one of the coaches remark that, “all this kid does is hit triples.” More on this in a later, more in-depth piece, but Washington really came to spring training this year ready to work after a 2011 to forget, and I really expect a big, breakout year for WASHTIME that leaves him in the top-100 prospects in baseball after 2012 is said and done.

Catcher/DH Chun Chen hit a long bomb to left-center field yesterday, clearing the fence by a good margin. He’s been mostly DH’ing for Columbus in camp, so it will be really interesting to see who gets time behind the plate in both Akron and Columbus this year. Chen still needs to develop defensively as a catcher, and he’s not going to do that as a DH. It might end up being a situation where he catches ahead of a guy like Roberto Perez (more on him later) in AA even though the latter player is far superior defensively.

Danny Salazar, recently added to the 40-man roster this offseason, also threw an inning yesterday. He was sitting between 91-94 with his fastball, and overmatched the young Reds hitters in low-A with relative ease. It will be interesting to see how the converted shortstop does this year, as he was a surprise add to the 40-man and the Indians clearly think they have something here.

In a bit of a surprise move, the Indians are switching both Eric Berger and Paulo Espino from their roles in the bullpen back to the starting rotation. I thought Berger was an ideal lefty reliever out of the bullpen, but the Indians still think he can start. It will be really, really interesting to see where these guys slot in which rotation, because the org is already pretty crowded when it comes to starting pitchers. If Berger or Espino ends up in the AA rotation ahead of a kid like T.J. House who has already spent two full seasons in the Carolina League, I’d be awfully disappointed.

Clayton Cook
Clayton Cook threw a couple of innings, sitting mostly between 89-92 with his fastball. It wasn’t the sharpest outing, as he left a couple pitches up and walked a couple of guys, but it’s still early. Cook always seems to pitch badly when I watch him in spring training, so I’m going to try and avoid him next year in Goodyear, for his sake.

I know you’re probably sick of hearing about him from me, but Roberto Perez put on his usual defensive display, throwing out a pair of runners who foolishly tested his arm. The second guy had an enormous jump and I thought he would cruise into second with ease, but Perez gunned him down by half a step. It really is just a lot of fun watching that guy catch.

That’s it for today. I’m off to watch the major league guys take batting practice, then watch the first 6 or so innings of the minor league games before I have to drop off the rental car and head back to the real world. Look for one last recap piece tomorrow based on what I get to see this afternoon. 

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