The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Indians Indians Archive Aguilar Gets Fresh Start With Indians
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria

Omar AguilarAbout two weeks ago, the Indians completed a minor trade where they traded left-hander Chuck Lofgren to the Milwaukee Brewers for right-hander Omar Aguilar.

Lofgren had been plucked off the Indians roster by the Brewers last December via the Rule 5 Draft, but after they had decided early in big league camp that he would not make their big league roster by rule they had to offer him back to the Indians because of Rule 5 stipulations.  The Brewers wanted to keep Lofgren if possible, so the Indians traded Lofgren and his full rights to the Brewers after they agreed to send Aguilar to the Indians.

It is a minor blip of a transaction on the big league Richter Scale, but it was a trade that drastically affected both players to where they both will be getting a new opportunity with a new organization.  A fresh, clean slate.  Sometimes that is the best thing for a player looking to rebound from a tough year as there are no pre-conceived views of the player.  Really, for both players, they are both starting with a blank canvas and getting the opportunity right now to paint their own picture to their new organizations.

In the case of Aguilar, the Indians are getting an interesting pitching prospect.  He doesn’t have the draft pedigree Lofgren has as he was just a 30th round pick in 2005 while Lofgren was a highly sought after high school kid taken in the 4th round in 2004.  Lofgren is also a former #2 ranked prospect (2008) in the Indians organization by Baseball America, while Aguilar has been as high as #21 in the Brewers organization (2009).  Both pitchers were at one time thought of as good prospects, though Aguilar showed up lower in rankings because relievers typically do not fare well in prospect rankings.

Aguilar reported to the Indians minor league spring training camp the day after the trade ready to go to work with his new team.  He was upbeat and ready to get started on his new opportunity even though just 24 hours earlier had his baseball world flipped upside down, and for a split second thought it had ended.

"Our Farm Director and Field Coordinator came into the locker room and started asking where I was,” explained Aguilar.  “Tuesday was meal money day, and usually they release guys on meal money day so they don't have to pay them for the rest of that week.  As soon as I heard my name I thought it was my time to go as at first I thought I was being released, but once they called me into the office they told me I had been traded to the Indians.  It was a sign of relief that I was not released.  I am happy about it and very excited to be here."

Power is what Aguilar brings to the Indians as his fastball usually sits at 95-96 MPH and he says it has topped out at 100 MPH in the past.  For that reason alone, he is worth a look for the Indians as guys who throw as hard as he does do not grow on trees.  He did have Tommy John surgery in November of 2005, but the velocity is all the way back.  His best secondary pitch is a changeup which he did not start throwing until he got to the pros, but his slider has also proven to be effective though inconsistent at times.

But while the power is there, the command and location have often not been there for Aguilar.  Some of this is a byproduct of the Tommy John surgery as 2007 was his first season back in action, but the surgery cannot be used as an excuse for some of the command issues he had in 2008 and 2009.  He has split time between High-A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville the last two years, and while he dominated at Brevard County in each of the last two years he has struggled a lot at Huntsville in both seasons primarily because of his command issues.  Last season he went 3-1 with a 4.72 ERA in 41 combined appearances at Brevard County and Huntsville, allowing 52 hits, 27 walks, and piling up 70 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.

"That's one thing I have had trouble with is I have walked a lot of guys,” said Aguilar.  “I think the one thing I have learned how to do is how to keep my composure and try to throw strikes.  When I need that 96-97 I will just let it rip, but if I am just trying to get strikes I will tone it down a little bit.  I have definitely added a good changeup and slider, and I have been working on a spike curveball I started throwing in the [Arizona Fall League (AFL)] this past year.  You can throw as hard as you want, but if you don't locate it it's not going to do anything.”

In 2008 he dominated at Brevard County and Huntsville where in 47 combined appearances there he went 3-3 with a 1.98 ERA and in 63.2 innings allowed 39 hits, 32 walks, and had 67 strikeouts.  His excellent showing along with his plus-plus fastball earned him a spot on the Brewers 40-man roster after that season.

But last year a rib injury affected Aguilar’s velocity early in the season and he was never able to get back on track.  He took a step back after a poor showing in Huntsville where he went 1-0 with a 7.71 ERA in 23 appearances where in 25.2 innings he was knocked around for 36 hits and gave up 18 walks.

"Last year my velocity was down tremendously,” explained Aguilar.  “As soon as I got sent down from big league camp I had a rib injury where I had two broken ribs and I did not throw for a month.  That was toward the end of the spring and I started the season on the disabled list for two weeks.  For a pitcher to lose that much time from throwing you are obviously going to lose some arm strength.  I think that was the biggest part to my bad year last year because I was still trying to pitch with my 95-96 when in I reality I was 91-92.  Another thing too is I tried to nitpick and I have tried to tell myself not to do that and try to hit the corners like someone like Greg Maddux.  I have to stay in the zone and let them hit the ball and let my fielders do the work."

After the season last year, Aguilar re-dedicated himself to his conditioning and made it a mission to come into this season the best possible shape he could be in after six months of downtime between the end of last season and spring training this year.  The results showed as he lost some considerable weight to where upon seeing Aguilar for the first time since last year one high ranking Indians official said “I didn’t even recognize him with all the weight he lost”.

"Yeah, I worked this offseason to get back into shape and I have lost about 20 pounds,” said Aguilar.  “I definitely put in the time and effort in the offseason and started working out as soon as I got home from the [Arizona Fall League] and went on a strict diet.  My mom is an old school Mexican woman and she loves to make food, so I had to cut everything out to the point where I was eating straight salads with no dressing or anything.   I had a good workout plan too as I had a good trainer with me, so that really helped me out and I really see the differences and feel a lot stronger."

Aguilar said that his velocity was all the way back early in camp with the Brewers, and the weight loss has helped him repeat his delivery better and keep his mechanics more in line.  Now it is just about keeping up with his conditioning so the weight does not come back.

"Last year I think I was 240 pounds, and I am not really a tall guy so you are really going to notice the weight there,” said Aguilar.  “That's one thing I have always struggled with is trying to keep weight off as I have always been a chubby kid.  I figure the harder you work at it the easier it will get.  I think my velocity has a lot to do with my body as the workout plan definitely got my arm stronger."

It was certainly a case of two different offseasons for Aguilar as he went from the joy of being rostered in November 2008 to disappointment and the feeling of rejection after being taken off the 40-man roster this past offseason.

"As soon as I first got put on it when I was in the fall league in 2008, I was excited,” said Aguilar.  “Once they put me on it was such a big relief after all the hard work I put into my career so far with the arm injury, being a 30th round pick and really making a name for myself.  It was really huge.   But I kind of think that got to me a little bit.  Not that I got lazy, but kind of going through the motions instead of working harder to get up to the big leagues.  I think I was a little too satisfied being on [the roster], but once they took me off it kind of brought me back to reality.  Even before they took me off the 40-man I already had it in my mind that I was going to work as hard as I could this past offseason and come into camp in the best shape I could and prove myself again to the Brewers.  I felt like I did what I had to do, and once they took me off you have no choice but to accept it because that's the way it goes.  I was really down on myself at that point, but you can't get down on yourself, you gotta keep going."

Coincidentally, one of Aguilar’s best friends in the game is Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, and he credits Brantley for keeping him focused and motivated back in the 2005-2006 offseason during his rigorous rehab in his return from Tommy John surgery.  He once again got some encouragement from Brantley when he was removed from the Brewers’ roster.

"Once I signed I had to have Tommy John surgery in November 2005, and Brantley was rehabbing his shoulder,” recalled Aguilar.  “I was with him in the hotel day in and day out all the winter and all the spring, so we really grew close.  He is one of my best friends that I have met in baseball.  He really helped me out just because I was struggling so much at the time because I just wanted to quit because I did not have the mental part of the game down yet.  He really helped me through that, and I was very fortunate to have that kind of person with me throughout the rehab.  There were days when I just wanted to pack all of my stuff and go home, but he told me to just stick it out and he talked me through it.  He was kind of like the backbone for me."

Brantley is tough for any pitcher to face because he is such a smart hitter and is tough to fool.  While he won’t burn pitchers with the long ball, he will work them in every at bat with the goal to get on base and cause even more issues with his speed on the bases.  Aguilar actually had the chance to face Brantley for the first time in a spring game last year, and while he came out on the positive end of that encounter, he is glad to be his teammate once again.

"I faced him last year in spring training when I was in big league camp,” said Aguilar.  “He knows everything I throw so he told me he wanted the fastball.  I only threw him one fastball and instead I threw him changeup, changeup, changeup and I got him to pop out.  He was like 'why you being scared' and I was like 'I ain't scared, I'm just pitching smart as I know what you are trying to do' (laughs).  It was cool to face him."

The Indians have not really let Aguilar know too much about what they expect of him this year, though that is expected.  He is fine with that, and just wants to let his performance and development be what decides what happens.

It should be noted that Aguilar has been slowed a little since joining the Indians as he tweaked his hamstring while in Brewers camp.  Because of that he has often stood on the sidelines in team drills and pitcher fielding practice (PFPs).  He pitched in two minor league spring games last week and the results were mixed, though his velocity was considerably down as it was at 90-91 MPH, likely the result of him still working his way back from the hamstring injury.

“I had a minor mishap when I was with the Brewers where I tweaked my hamstring a little bit,” noted Aguilar.  “So they have been a little cautious about that and making sure I am a 100%.  I feel great as I can participate in everything but from a medical standpoint they want to make sure I am fully ready to go.  I am just taking it day by day and kind of taking it all in and getting to know all these guys here.”

Now that Aguilar is with the Indians, he is just working hard to try and prove to them that they picked up a good relief pitching prospect and that the deal was sided in their favor.  With the Indians trading for him, it shows there is definitely interest by them to see what he can do.  They know that with a fresh slate and new opportunity that sometimes things turn out better for players.  They have seen this happen firsthand with players they let go like Brandon Phillips and Jeremy Guthrie, or players they picked up like Casey Blake.

“They haven't really told me much, but I haven't really asked either as I am just going to do my part and show them what I can do,” said Aguilar.  “Hopefully I am able to help them out in the future with the big league club or in the minor leagues.  I just plan to do my best and show them what I have to offer.  Everyone has treated me like one of their own here and it is a lot of fun so far.  The front office has been real housewarming for me and really nice and started things off for me in the right way.

“They have accepted me with open arms and I am just trying to give this organization everything I can.”

Follow Tony on Twitter @tlastoria

The TCF Forums