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Indians Indians Archive Goodyear Notebook: 3/18
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria

Zach PutnamPutnam Has Big League Aspirations

The Indians are going to go through a lot of arms this year as they look to build a reliable big league rotation and bullpen by the end of the season.  With that in mind, it will be a lot of trial and error all season long as they find out who sticks and who doesn’t.

One of those pitchers who hopes to stick is right-hander Zach Putnam.  He was a non-roster invite to big league spring training and was up there for about three weeks before being sent down to minor league camp earlier this week, but the opportunity and experience to pitch with the big league club and in front of the big league coaching staff was invaluable for him.

“It was unbelievable and a dream come true,” said Putnam after practice on Tuesday.  “I kind of had to pinch myself everyday and it was just one of those kinds of things that give you more motivation to get there because once you taste it a little you really want to go back.”

Even though Putnam was only there for three weeks, he was able to soak up and learn a lot of different things, mostly on how to be a big leaguer.  Two of the big league veterans who helped him a lot were right-handers Kerry Wood and Jake Westbrook.

“I think the biggest thing was being around veteran guys like Jake and Woody and just kind of seeing how those guys carry themselves,” said Putnam about what he learned most in big league camp.  “Just kind of acting like a big leaguer.  I was only up there for three weeks but I think in that time span I learned so much on how to handle myself.

There are a lot of significant differences between being in big league camp and minor league camp, and beside the money and meals the biggest difference to Putnam is the amenities.

“I guess it is by design that it is more comfortable up there,” said Putnam.  “If you need this or that, it is there for you.  If you need a bag of seeds to go out to the field with, you got them.  If you need a bottle of water to do some cardio, you got it.  After a little while you kind of take it for granted.  I know the first day back here I didn’t have that bottle of water when I got on the bike.”

At the moment, Putnam is slated to return to Double-A Akron and pitch in the starting rotation.  As the season progresses he may be moved into the bullpen depending on the needs in Cleveland, though they have not ruled him out as a possible starter at the big league level.  The Indians sent him down to minor league camp to get him jumpstarted on his return to the starting rotation and start building up his workload so he can go five innings once the season starts in three weeks.

The key to his development as a starter will be the development of his breaking ball.  He has two plus pitches in his arsenal with his mid-90s fastball and devastating splitter and also throws a changeup that has shown a lot of improvement.  The development of an effective breaking ball will only help his other pitches as it will give hitters something with a different look other than everything always being down and in.

“I went out to the fall league in October and I was pretty single-minded to work on my breaking ball,” said Putnam.  “I feel like I made some progress there, but just when I was really starting to figure it out the season ended and I had three months off.  So I am trying to get back where I was and continuing to develop that pitch and it is a big thing for me right now.  I feel like I rely heavily on my splitter as an out pitch, so I would like to have something with a little different look to it rather than just always hard and down.”

Putnam has also been working hard on developing his changeup, so much that in his last outing on Sunday he threw only fastballs and changeups the entire time.

“I have been working on my changeup a lot,” said Putnam.  “In my last outing [on Sunday] I only threw my fastball and changeup and had some pretty good success with that.  I feel like right now I have three pretty solid pitches, but there are not very many pitchers out there who don’t have a breaking ball so I need to have something I can rely on and throw strikes with it.  I think there is a big difference from four pitches to three, and the breaking ball can make all the difference in the world.”

As for that big league opportunity, Putnam looks forward to it.  He will continue to work on developing his secondary stuff in the upper minors this year and await a chance in the bigs.  Whether that opportunity happens this year or not remains to be seen, but either way he appears to be on the big league doorstep and if all goes well should be up there in the next year or two.

“I’d like to believe I do [have a chance],” said Putnam about his big league chances.  “Obviously a guy has to have dreams. I am an optimistic guy and I would like to think I have a chance and I am just going to continue doing everything I can do to give myself the best chance I can possibly have.  Things change month to month here so I am just going to keep on my toes and working hard.”

Abner AbreuAbreu Working On Discipline

Outfielder Abner Abreu is back to full activity this spring after a long offseason of rehab following shoulder surgery last June.  He is playing without restrictions and is ready to start the season 100% healthy and is ready to go, it is just a matter of whether he returns to Low-A Lake County to start the season or is bumped up to High-A Kinston.

“I feel perfect,” said Abreu when asked how he feels.  “I had the surgery and I did a lot of exercises to make [my shoulder] stronger.”

Abreu got his first taste of playing in the cold weather last year at Low-A Lake County, and it showed as he had a dreadful month of April where he hit .208 with a .532 OPS in 17 games, but once the weather started to heat up and he settled in he began to trust in his abilities once again and followed up the poor April with two very impressive months in May (.348 AVG, .982 OPS) and June (.339 AVG, .930 OPS).

“It was terrible,” said Abreu about his April last year.  “I was a little affected by the weather, and as I started to fail in a lot of my at bats I started to lose my confidence.  After [Minor League Hitting Coordinator] Bruce [Fields] talked to me, he told me I can do it and I gotta be confident in myself.  After April I took advantage of the better weather and gained my confidence again.  It was my first time ever playing in the cold (laughs).”

One thing that could delay Abreu’s debut at High-A Kinston is he is still only 20 years old and he played only about a third of a season in Low-A last year before he suffered the shoulder injury.  While he is a gold glove caliber defender in right field and has some impressive raw power, there are some concerns in regard to his plate discipline because not only does he strikeout a lot but he also draws so few walks.  He is an aggressive hitter, but the Indians have worked with him on becoming a little more selective and working counts a little more.

“I am working on my plate discipline, and I am trying to focus on breaking pitches and developing my two strike approach,” said Abreu.  “With curveballs I often swing at those kinds of pitches, so I am working on my discipline with those pitches and swinging only at strikes.  It is like a process.  Before I used to go to the plate to hit a ball that I could catch with the bat, and now I am focused only on the pitches that are in a good zone to hit.”

Nick HagadoneCoaches Corner: Greg Hibbard

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Double-A Akron Pitching Coach Greg Hibbard about some of the arms in camp, and this is what he had to say:

On Kelvin De La Cruz:  “I haven’t seen him pitch since he has come down from big league camp, but I saw him in an inter-squad one day which for me right now he looks healthy and the ball is coming out of his hand pretty well.  He is still trying to feel his way through the setback he had last year as far as attacking hitters and getting a feel for his stuff again.”

On Rob Bryson:  “He has thrown a couple of bullpens, and I think he has another bullpen [Thursday] and then he will take a couple of days off and then throw in a game.  It is good to see him get back on a mound and back into game action.”

On Eric Berger:  “With the late callup to Akron last year more than likely he will probably start the year there as a starter.  He is just solidifying his delivery.  His tempo in his windup gets a little out of whack and he starts jumping to the plate a little bit and his command suffers.  When he works out of the stretch he competes well, and he has always pitched well with runners on base.  He is much more of a competitor in game situations than he is on work days.”

On Connor Graham:  “I saw him throw a live batting practice the other day.  His fastball has some good life to it and he has a really good feel for a slider.  He is just working on some self-composure type stuff he is working through to be able to compose himself in tight situations when things don’t go his way.  The way his arm works on the backside is what it is, and we probably won’t work with that a whole lot.  We are just trying to get him to have a little bit better tempo over the rubber and just trying to repeat an effort level where he can work at an efficient rate.”

On Bryce Stowell:  “I haven’t worked with him this spring, but last year I had him a lot.  He has made strides from last year as far as the time we had him where we solidified his delivery and his arm slot.  So hopefully this year will be a good year for him."

On Scott Barnes:  “His breaking ball seems a little bit better than last year.  Last year it was a little more slurvish, but this year I have seen a little better finish to it.  It is a pitch that he can hopefully solidify.  He is another one who competes and is kind of a grinder who goes after it.  He is not afraid to go after guys with his fastball, which was the first thing I noticed about him last year was the way he liked to use his fastball.”

On Nick Hagadone:  “He has looked really good.  I have seen him throw a couple of live days.  Yesterday he looked really strong as during live BP he was throwing low to mid 90s and he had a better feel for a slider and a good changeup.  I know he has really been working on his changeup and trying to develop that pitch.  It is just development for him as he just needs mound time.”


Knapp Progress Report:  Right-hander Jason Knapp is continuing his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.  The Indians are being overly cautious with his return to full time pitching duties and he is not throwing on a mound yet this spring.  Yesterday he made 20 throws from 75 feet and felt good and did not experience any setbacks.  It was his first time at 75 feet and he will throw at that distance two more times and then move back another 15 feet to a new distance of 90 feet.  He will continue moving back 15 feet every three sessions until he reaches 120 feet and complete that three times.  If all is good after that, he will begin a return to throw program and begin throwing off a mound.  He is currently slated for a return sometime in June or July.

Breakout Alert:  One player who has been impressive in the early going of minor league camp is third baseman Giovanny Urshela.  The Indians are very high on him, and consider him the best defensive corner infielder in the system who has an excellent throwing arm and gold glove caliber defensive ability at the hot corner.  His bat also has some potential.  He is still very young, but he played well in the Arizona League last year and he should see some time at short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley or Low-A Lake County later in the season.  Keep an eye out on this kid.

Talbot Impresses:  According to an Indians official, left-hander Mitch Talbot has had a very impressive camp so far with the Indians.  Not only have his outings and numbers been impressive, but the Indians are cautiously optimistic that they may have picked up a quality pitcher in the Kelly Shoppach trade.  He is all but certain to win the #5 spot in the rotation once camp breaks, or if they go another route in the rotation he will at worst be put in the big league bullpen.

Pitching Role Updates:  Left-hander Nick Hagadone is still being developed as a starter and should open the season either at High-A Kinston or Double-A Akron.  Even if he opens in Kinston, he likely will still spend a majority of the year in Akron.  On the other hand, right-hander Bryan Price has been moved to the bullpen.  He should open the year at Double-A Akron and pitch in a high priority bullpen role going two to three innings an outing.

Role Change:  I speculated yesterday that Carlos Moncrief had been moved to the outfield.  I was able to confirm that this indeed is the case as he has been moved from the mound to the outfield.  It just did not work out for him on the mound as while he had powerful stuff he had trouble consistently throwing strikes.  He actually first gained national attention from scouts as an outfielder because of his impact power potential to go along with his average speed and excellent throwing arm, so this by no means is a desperate move by the Indians.

Utility Change:  The Indians picked up infielder Anderson Hernandez off of waivers from the New York Mets, which is a move that looks like was made to fill their utility need.  Last year in 123 combined games with the Nationals and Mets he hit .251 (92-366) with 3 HR, and 37 RBI.  To make room on the 40-man roster for Hernandez the Indians designated infielder Brian Bixler for assignment.

Minor Pickup:  On Thursday the Indians signed right-handed pitcher Justin Germano to a minor league contract, and he will report to camp next week on March 27th.  The 27-year old spent last season pitching in Japan and before that pitched in the big leagues from 2005-2008 with the Padres and Reds and owns a career Major League record of 8-16 with a 5.27 ERA (205.0 IP, 226 H, 70 BB, 119 K).

De La Cruz-ing:  Left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz is 100% recovered from the elbow injury which wrecked his 2009 season.  He is pitching with few if any restrictions in camp, and should be good to go when the season starts.  He should open the season at Double-A Akron.

Aguilar Reports:  Right-hander Omar Aguilar, the pitcher the Indians received from the Brewers in exchange for Chuck Lofgren on Tuesday, was in camp on Wednesday.  He had a light workout and threw some flat ground in the morning.  One Indians official who had not seen him in a few years commented to how much weight he had lost since he came out of college.

Gardner Ready:  For anyone wondering, right-hander Joe Gardner is good to go in camp and is no longer bothered by the oblique issue which sidelined him after signing with the Indians last year.  He pitched in Instructional League last fall and should open the season in the starting rotation at either Low-A Lake County or High-A Kinston.  Considering he is kind of raw as a prospect and has yet to pitch a professional inning that counts yet, he likely will open in Lake County.

Videos:  With the help of Michael Taylor who has done a fabulous job editing these on short notice, here are the next set of videos from spring training:  Francisco Jimenez, Josh Judy, Takafumi Nakamura, Scott Barnes, Preston Guilmet, Jose Flores, Joseph Colon, Jose Campos, Joey Mahalic, Alexander Perez, Jason Donald, Heath Taylor, Eddie Burns, Guido Fonseca, Clayton Cook, Connor Graham, Chris Jones, Chris Gimenez, and Alexander Morales.

Inter-squad Action:  Today the minor leaguers finally get some game action in as two seven inning inter-squad games will be played on Field 3 and 4 in the early afternoon.  The following pitchers are scheduled to pitch in the two games on Thursday:  Scott Barnes, Alex White, Connor Graham, Ryan Miller, Erik Stiller, Jonathan Holt, Gary Campfield, Travis Turek, Sung-Wei Tseng, Mike McGuire, T.J. House, Austin Adams, Danny Salazar, Eddie Burns, T.J. McFarland, Guido Fonseca, Matt Packer and Preston Guilmet.  Judging by some of the names scheduled to pitch, it looks like it could be a final look at some guys on the roster bubble before the first round of cuts come soon.

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