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Indians Indians Archive Minor Happenings: Hodges Impresses In First Year
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria
This week marks Tony's final minor league report of the season as all six of the Indians minor league affiliates are now done playing for the year.  Nest Thursday we'll get his year end "Tony Awards" ... and then our Consigliere joins our vaunted team of Indians columnists to begin providing wall to wall coverage of the Tribe from the opening round of the playoffs through a World Series title.  Thanks again T for a GREAT season of coverage!

Minor Happenings"Minor Happenings" covers the important developments and news in the Indians farm system. Information in this report is collected from the various news outlets that cover each team, some national news, from private sources connected to the Indians organization, as well as from club officials from the team itself.

This week marks the final minor league report of the season as all six of the Indians minor league affiliates are now done playing for the year.  I have a few articles planned over the next week or so to wrap things up by month's end, and next Thursday I'll chime in with my year end Indians minor league awards.  And, it won't stop there, as there will also be intermittent updates on the minor league system in the offseason to check the progress on players in winter leagues, the Rule 5 Draft, and other news.

So, I just wanted to give a quick thank you for reading, and to all who have e-mailed me throughout the season.  There are lots of new ideas in store to make Minor Happenings even better next year.

Hodges' First Year A Successful One

Kinston Third baseman Wes Hodges recently completed his first professional baseball season.  Hodges had been drafted in the second round of the 2006 Draft, but did not play last year after being drafted since he was still mending from a stress fracture in his foot.  Hodges ended up having a very good debut season at Kinston, hitting .288 with 15 HR, 71 RBI and Wes Hodgesan .840 OPS in 104 games, and was also named the team MVP, was a Carolina League Post-Season All-Star, and was named by Baseball America as the "best power prospect" and "defensive third  baseman" in the Carolina League.

Unlike some of his other 2007 Draft brethren, Hodges did not have the benefit of getting his feet wet in short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley last year before jumping to the tough advanced Single-A level in Kinston, so this season was a learning process in adjusting to the professional game.

"It has gone well [this year]," said Hodges the last week of the season.  "It is amazing how much I have learned this year, and it has almost been overwhelming.  It is a lot different than I thought it was going to be with playing everyday, and getting used to that.  It is a lot different from playing three times a week [in college].  Also, learning how to take care of your body and get used to going out there everyday and trying to grind it out."

The reason why Hodges did not play after being drafted last year is he had a stress fracture in his lower leg that cropped up in late March earlier in the season.  He ended up serving as the designated hitter at Georgia Tech for most of the season and after he was drafted he was shutdown in the hopes the injury would heal without surgery.

"Actually, when they drafted me I felt fine," said Hodges.  "But, when I went up for my physical [the Indians doctors] said it was still broken.  They originally told me that they were going to do surgery and then they said to hold off on it and give it five more weeks to heal up.  So they told me to go back home for like a month, and when I flew back up there five weeks later it was healed up.  Then, I went to Akron to do rehab in the month of August and did rehab all that month and then I started playing down in fall Instructional League."

Hodges will start next year in Akron, but he has some things to work on this offseason to get better.

"My first two steps on defensive need to be quicker," said Hodges.  "I also need to get stronger.  That is one thing I really need to do."

Kinston Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally worked with Hodges all year with making adjustments at the plate, and feels by the end of the year Hodges caught on.

"At one time, Hodges had a real hard time jumping after offspeed pitches too soon," said Kinston Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally .  "We ended up getting his hands back off his backside a little bit more to give him a littler more time to load earlier and get himself so he can stay on top of the ball.  Also just settle him down so he can start seeing the ball a little bit better.  So we started working on different things and he grasped it.  He got a little bit tired, because where he was playing at most 70 games in college he is playing 140 now.  It is a grind for him.  He caught on pretty good."

Nunnally Back With The Indians

In 2006, Kinston Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally returned to the organization where it all started for him.  Nunnally is a former Indians third round pick from the 1992 Draft who was later taken in the 1994 Rule 5 Draft by the Kansas City Royals, and then spent several seasons after that bouncing back and forth between the major and minor leagues.  His last major league season was 2000, but Nunnally continued to play until 2005 as he played five more years of Triple-A baseball before retiring last year after a short stint in Mexico.

Once he retired, he had a job lined up for him in the Indians organization, and started his coaching career as the hitting instructor at rookie-level Burlington in 2006.  For the past four or five years, Indians front office personnel like Mark Jon NunnallyShapiro and Johnny Goryl had kept in contact with Nunnally and let him know that when he finished playing that they would like to have him come work for them as a coach in their minor league system.  Nunnally had offers from other teams to get into coaching, but he chose the Indians as they were always his first choice.

Now retired as a player and a coach, Nunnally is enjoying himself.

"I enjoy it, man," said Nunnally.  "The guys are awesome, and I love being able to give back to the kids the experiences I have had.  All my learning in the game I want to make sure I can give back to them and help them further along their careers."

After his stint in Burlington last year, the Indians moved him up to Kinston and have been impressed with the job he did this past season.  Just from my observations from being in Kinston myself, I was amazed the connection and rapport Nunnally had with the players.  Now that the season is over, Nunnally is going to the Arizona Fall League and will be the manager for the Surprise Rafters, which is a team that will have nine Indians prospects on the roster playing for him.

Nunnally's claim to fame in the Indians organization is he was one of the more notable players the Indians have lost in the Rule 5 Draft.  When he was taken by the Kansas City Royals in the 1994 Rule 5 Draft, he was excited to get the chance to jump to the major leagues right away, even if he had never played a game above Single-A at the time.  Nunnally was coming off a season when he hit .267 with 22 HR, 74 RBI and had 23 stolen bases for advanced Single-A Kinston in 1994, but the Royals liked his versatility and potential and took him in the draft. 

"It was different, and I saw a lot of different things," recalled Nunnally on his first experience in the major leagues.  "Literally, maybe you are not ready [for a jump from Single-A to the majors].  Going there, I made the jump pretty good once I got in and started talking to some different pitchers to really learn about the sequence of a pitcher that is on the mound.  Like a Mark Gubiza, I used to go to him and ask him all the time ‘hey what do you think he is going to do' because I had no idea."

"When you first come up as a young guy, they were like ‘you gotta show me you can play.'  So it was one of those things where at the beginning I had to show people I could play and then after awhile they started talking to me and started letting me know what is going on in the game with pitchers and things like that.  I knew that one thing for sure that I knew I could do was hit the fastball, it was mainly when you first go up handling the offspeed stuff.  It was a pitch I had problems with and I would chase it.  Then I got to where I would stop chasing, and I had people working with me and teaching me different things on what to do.  It wasn't that bad.  A lot of it was mental."

In an interesting bit of trivia, according to Nunnally he hit a home run in his first major league at bat off Yankees starter Melido Perez.  He also homered in his first at bat in Japan when he played there in 2000, hit a home run in his first at bat in Arizona Fall League in 1994, and hit a home run in his first at bat when he went to Mexico a few years back.

"In this game I have a lot of memories and experiences learning from different hitting instructors," said Nunnally.  "A lot of different things I have put together and I have learned over the years has helped me out a lot with these guys."

Akron Falls Short In Quest For Title

kron fell three games to one in their best-of-five series for the Eastern League Championship Series.  This was Akron's third straight championship series appearance, but after winning it all in 2005 they now have been the runner-up two years in a row.
Akron Aeros
In Game Three, Akron cruised to an 8-2 win behind yet another dominant performance from left-hander Jeremy Sowers.  Sowers went six shutout innings and allowed four hits and two walks while striking out four.  First baseman Stephen Head (2-for-4, 2 2B, RBI), third baseman Rodney Choy Foo (2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI), and second baseman Argenis Reyes (2-for-4, 2B, HR, RBI) led the offense.

In Game Four, Akron ran out of gas and good pitching as they lost the game 10-5 and the series.  Having to start a mid-season minor league street free agent pickup in a do-or-die game didn't help, as right-hander Bobby Brownlie was bombed for six runs on seven hits and two walks in just 3.1 innings pitched.  Outfielder Trevor Crowe (3-for-5, stolen base), first baseman Michael Aubrey (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI), and second baseman Argenis Reyes (2-for-4, RBI) led the offense.

For the playoffs, Sowers paced the pitching staff throwing two excellent games and allowing only one run in 13.1 innings.  Offensively, Trevor Crowe (.355, HR, 6 RBI, 8 stolen bases), Jordan Brown (.343, 2 HR, 5 RBI), Michael Aubrey (.344, 2 HR, 10 RBI), and Stephen Head (.367 3 HR, 8 RBI) put up good performances in Akron's eight playoff games.

Of note, Akron catcher Wyatt Toregas missed the last two games of Akron's playoff series because of a bad viral infection and an infected abscess on his stomach.  Toregas had been ill for the first two games of the series, but after he collapsed while walking off the field at the end of Game Two, he was admitted to a hospital and put on the disabled list.  Catcher Matt McBride was recalled to take Toregas' roster spot.

A Scout's Take

One of the treats for me while I was in Kinston was getting a chance to sit down with a national league trade scout to talk about players up and down the Indians system.  This scout was not an advance scout, which is a scout who looks ahead and scouts teams that a certain organization will play to see what the pitchers are throwing to the hitters and what the players are hitting.  No, this was a trade scout who has a set of five major league teams he scouts (Cleveland being one of them), as well as scouting the Carolina and Southern League's in the minors.

In some recent articles, I have provided his comments on several players, so here are some of his other comments on players in the Indians system.

On Wes Hodges:  "He has played well.  I have probably seen him play 10-12 games.  He has pop in his bat.  He is okay at third base but I think he can become even better and the arm is good enough to handle the position.  It is just a matter of getting a little experience.  It looks like he can handle a fastball, and he has to go through the growing period with the changeups and breaking balls and making the adjustments.  He should be able to as he has the aptitude to make the adjustments.  Some can, and some can't.  There are 100 guys signed, 13 % make the big leagues, 5 % stay a long time and the other 8% go back and forth."

On Jhonny Peralta:  "Let's put it this way, he had a great year in 2005 and last year was not very good.  He's going back up now, and playing alright at shortstop and hitting alright.  The first year might have been the best because now they areFranklin Gutierrez making adjustments to him.  Last year he did not play good defense or offense.  I think he can handle third base if they moved him there."

On Franklin Gutierrez:  "A star that is playing for you now, is Gutierrez.  I saw him before, and now what I have seen is he has blossomed and is going to be a very good everyday player for Cleveland.  He plays great defensively, has pop in his bat, can hit for average and has been driving in some big runs for Cleveland all year.  He is a star in the making."

On Fausto Carmona:  "He stood out for me three years ago, but had a rough season last year after he blew all those saves.  I saw him in Double-A and Triple-A and in spring training, and saw him against the Yankees two or three years ago against their A-lineup in spring training and said ‘who is this guy?'  He has grown up.  He got knocked down to the pavement, and got up out of the pavement and worked all winter and came to spring training and said ‘give me the ball.'  I want a guy who comes out of the dugout and goes after them everyday, and that is what he does.

On Grady Sizemore:  "Are you kidding me?  He is one of the best, good young players in the game today.  He plays the game right and plays hard.  He is a professional, and when he comes out he is coming out to beat you.    He is the kind of guy teams build around.  He might not say a whole lot, but he talks by the way he plays the game.  Look at the plays he makes in the outfield, look at the big hits he gets, he scores runs and takes away runs."

Indians Leaving Buffalo?

I wrote about this last year, and even though my thoughts on a potential move from Kinston have cooled considerably (they are staying there), I think over the course of the next year we will see talk of a potential move of the Indians Triple-A affiliate from Buffalo to Columbus gain steam.
Buffalo Bisons
We already know the Gulf Coast League (GCL) team the Indians have in Winter Haven will move to the Arizona League once operations get under way at the Indians new spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona.  Reportedly, play in the Arizona League could start as soon as the summer of 2008 (as in next season), since the practice fields and Indians player development complex will be completed in Summer 2008.

But the one big move to look out for is the Indians leaving Buffalo after the 2008 season and moving into the new state-of-the-art facility Columbus is building for a yet-to-be-filled team in 2009.  With possible pressure from Ohio politicians and even the Indians television network, SportsTime Ohio, a move of the Indians Triple-A affiliate to the state capital in Columbus almost seems inevitable.

When the Yankees pulled out of Columbus after last season, the Indians became serious players to move out of Buffalo and to Columbus.  The Washington Nationals signed on in Columbus last year, but at the request of Columbus only signed a two year deal through 2008 since the Indians and Cincinnati Reds Triple-A agreements were set to expire after the 2008 season.  Columbus wanted to be available for either the Indians or Reds to move there as they are set to unveil a new state of the art stadium which could be a very attractive selling point to the Indians and Reds.  However, the Reds ended up signing an extension with their current Triple-A affiliate in Louisville through 2010, so it only leaves the Indians as the big draw Columbus wants.  

Logistically, Columbus would be about an hour closer to the team headquarters at Jacob's Field, and put four of their six minor league teams in the system in the state of Ohio and within about two hours driving time of one another.  In addition, from a fan perspective, a move from Buffalo to Columbus would be ideal for the Indians.  Let's face it, Columbus is in Ohio and Buffalo is in New York, and it goes without saying the Indians would like to expand their television network, SportsTime Ohio, into a key market in the Buckeye state's capital.

So, keep an eye on the progress of this story over the coming year, as it surely will build.

Sarbaugh Outtakes

Here are a couple of outtakes from Kinston manager Mike Sarbaugh from a conversation I had with him while in Kinston a few weeks back.
Beau Mills
On Beau Mills:  "You try to get more of our prospects involved in playoff situations where every out counts and every at bat and pitch counts.  I think that is what the organization is thinking on that, to get him in that environment to help him out down the road.  I like his approach to the game, and he is very under control.  Looks like he has a good idea how to play the game and he just seems like a baseball player.  He looks like a first rounder."

On Jared Goedert:  "He looks good.  I know it still bothers him at times (the shoulder), and I know he can't do the cage work that I know he wants to do.  For him to be doing what he is doing not 100% I think he has done a great job.  Moving to a new position he is working hard, and he has a ways to go but he has improved a lot over there.  [He is playing every other day] just to try and keep it so it doesn't really flare up on him."

On Josh Rodriguez:  "I think a lot of the work he has put in with Jon Nunnally early just in
the cage and extra on the field - just being shorter to the ball and getting on top of the ball - has really paid off for him.  He is working on getting loaded up and recognizing pitches.  That's the big thing he is getting ready and seeing the ball, and he has made some good adjustments.
The second half of the season he has been really good."

Coming Soon in 2008

As we wrap-up the coverage of the Indians 2007 minor league season, we exit with an eye toward 2008.  If you have been with me from the beginning back in 2006, you'll know how this column and the coverage of the minor league system has evolved at a rapid pace.  Don't believe me?  Go back to my first farm report on this site in April of 2006 and see for yourself.

Things took a change for the better in
June of 2006 when the column was revamped to what it is today, and then at the start of this year pictures were added.  But, the biggest change of all came in July of this year once I finally was able to get out to the ballparks and establish a rapport with the players, teams, and the front office.  In addition to that, I've also gotten to know several in the Indians organization since then, and talked several times to many of the coaches, coordinators, and decision-makers.  Now that a foundation has been established, some exciting things should be in store for 2008 as we look to take the minor league coverage at and to yet another level.

First off, getting
Dennis Nosco on board to write and follow the MLB Draft has been huge.  He is a natural with it, and does an incredible job helping a lot of us (even me) understand all things draft related with baseball.  I'll have my annual Top Prospect List this offseason, and will be expanding it from 35 to 50 players, possibly even more, and may search out Nosco and others for help on the project.  Also, I plan on being in spring training this coming March for over two weeks to cover the Indians, but mostly have an eye on the minor leaguers in camp and in games give a first report on the progress of many players and how they look and also look to continue building relationships with many of the players and staff.

There are also some things in the pipeline being talked about with the site that could greatly enhance the experience people have with reading about the prospects in the system.  I can't say much on that yet.  More on that later.

And be on the lookout for internet radio, which is something I know site founder Rich Swerbinsky is serious about getting going sometime soon.  With that, there is the potential for some Indians shows on the net down the road, and some specifically on the minor leagues.  And, who knows, you may even see the debut of a Cleveland Indians Minor League television show next year on SportsTime Ohio.;-)

So, as you can see, this is the only place you need to go for coverage on the Indians farm system ... or any of the Cleveland teams for that matter.

Thanks again for reading.

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