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Indians Indians Archive Kinston Indians Season Preview
Written by Al Ciammiachella

Al Ciammiachella

Pomeranz_467x800The Kinston Indians made the Carolina League playoffs last year, but bowed out in the first round, getting swept by Winston-Salem.  This will be an interesting year for Kinston, as it is going to be their final year as a Cleveland affiliate.  As a matter of fact, as of right now, this is going to be Kinston’s last year with a minor league baseball team.  In 2012, the K-Tribe will move to Zebulon, NC and take over the (much nicer) AA stadium there, replacing the Cincy franchise that is moving from Zebulon. 

The franchise will of course remain in the high-A Carolina League, but for the first time in a long time, there will be no minore league baseball in Kinston, NC.


Kinston opens their season today against the very same Winston-Salem Dash that ended their 2010 season.  Last year’s 1st round pick Drew Pomeranz will toe the rubber for manager Aaron Holbert’s squad as they start another run towards the Carolina League championship.  Let’s take a look at the players Holbert will have at his disposal for the beginning of the 2011 campaign:



Perez_3_800x796Defensive specialist Roberto Perez (50) should get the majority of the time behind the plate for the K-Tribe.  Perez is as sound of a defensive catcher as you will find in the minor leagues.  He has advanced receiving skills, a strong arm with a quick release, and calls and excellent game behind the plate.  Pitchers love throwing to him, and he handles them very well.  Unfortunately, his OPS last year in low A Lake County was just .699.  In the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, Perez’s offensive numbers could be ugly.  Regardless, he’ll be worth watching simply for his defensive prowess.  His pop times in AZ were consistently under 1.9, and I had him as quick as 1.78.  Folks, that is just plain fast. He has a solid approach at the plate, with a .360 OBP last season, but needs to improve his hit tool if he wants to be more than a backup in the show.



Chase Burnette and Jeremie Tice (44) will split time between 1B and DH, with Burnette seeing most of the time at 1B.  Both are big guys with some pop, although Burnette is the more athletic of the two. Tice hit 14 HR last year between Lake County and Kinston last year and posted an .810 OPS.  Burnette was selected in the 18th round last year out of Georgia Tech as an OF, and has worked very hard on his defense in converting to first base.  He signed quickly, and hit 9 HR in 275 AB between Mahoning Valley and Lake County.  Adam Abraham moves up to Kinston from Lake County to man the hot corner.  He put up a solid .267/.330/.430 line for the Captains in 2010.


Ronald Rivas and Casey Frawley will form the K-Tribe’s double-play tandem up the middle. Frawley was a 17th round pick in 2009 out of Stetson University, and has decent pop for a SS (13 HR, .430 SLG for Lake County in 2010). 



Tyler Holt (25), Bo Greenwell (41), Abner Abreu (33) will be patrolling the green pastures of Historic Grainger Stadium to start out 2011.  Holt is a high-energy, intense guy drafted last year in the 10th round Holt6_783x800out of Florida State.  He has good speed and a solid hit tool, but not much power.  He posted an .866 OPS for Lake County last year in 22 regular-season games for the Captains.  Greenwell started 2010 red-hot for Lake County, then got called up to Kinston and held his own for the K-Tribe.  Abner Abreu had a bad 2010 in Kinston no matter how you look at it.  But he still has tremendous upside, as all the tools are there for him to someday be an impact RF in the major leagues.  He just needs to work on his pitch selection/recognition and improve his plate discipline.  A repeat of high A could be just what the doctor ordered to get Abreu back on track as a top prospect. 


Starting rotation:

1. Drew Pomeranz (3)

2. T.J. McFarland (43)

3. T.J. House (23)

4. Gio Soto (35)

5. Clayton Cook (40)

*Jason Knapp (4)


Wow.  That is an impressive collection of arms, even before Jason Knapp arrives from extended spring training.  One of the prizes in the Cliff Lee deal, Knapp is starting the season in Goodyear not due to injury, but because the Indians want to be cautious with his million-dollar arm and manage his workload.  He should be up in Kinston sometime in the early summer provided he doesn’t feel anything unusual in his surgically repaired shoulder.  And let’s hope he’s healthy, because Knapp can be the most dominant starting pitcher in the system if he can just stay healthy.  With a fastball that can touch triple digits and a wipeout slider that generates plenty of swings and misses, Knapp could be a top-50 prospect in all of baseball if he has a decent year in 2011.  Baby steps though, as I’ll be happy if he makes it through 2011 without being shut down due to injury. 


Last year’s 1st round pick Drew Pomeranz had an outstanding spring, striking out more than a batter per inning in both major and minor league work.  He should be on the Alex White career path this year, throwing about 150 innings between high A and AA, and moving up to Akron as the weather warms up.  So if you want to see him in Kinston, go early. 


T.J. McFarland has had a good deal of success in the lower levels of the minors, posting a career ERA of 3.76 with just one start in AA.  McFarland gets more groundballs than anyone in the system not named Gardner, and I really expected him to open 2011 in AA Akron.  He’s a fun guy to watch pitch, and very much adheres to the Crash Davis school of diplomacy. 


The other T.J. in the rotation is T.J. “Doctor” House. He’s almost a lefthanded clone of McFarland, and pitches primarily off of a low-90’s fastball with movement that helps him gets a lot of groundball outs.  Both House and McFarland are going to test the K-Tribe’s infield defense in 2011.


Clayton_Cook_3_515x800Gio Soto was acquired from the Tigers last year for Jhonny Peralta, and is already looking like a pretty nice acquisition. He doesn’t turn 20 until mid-May, and put together a solid campaign last year in low-A.  He’s a young lefthanded starter who has some projection in him and has already seen success in the lower levels of the minor leagues.  I’d happily trade JHonny for him again in a heartbeat. 


Rounding out the rotation is youngster Clayton Cook, who will be just 20 years old until late July of this year.  Cook has put up very similar numbers to McFarland, with low ERA and fairly low strikeout numbers as well.  I saw Cook pitch in Goodyear this spring, and it looks like he’s picked up a little bit of giddyup on his fastball, as he was consistently between 91-94 and touched 95 a couple of times.  If Cook is your 5th starter, your minor league rotation must be pretty darn good.



Former Lake County shutdown closer Preston Guilmet (46) will be slamming the door for Kinston this year.  He has big shoes to fill with Cory Burns moving up to Akron.  Burns saved 30 games for the K-Tribe last year, but Guilmet posted a 13.7 K/9 rate for Lake County last year, and saved 11 games of his own.  He’s more of a command and deception guy that a pure stuff closer, but should be able to step into the role without much of a dropoff from Burns.


Southpaw Chris Jones (47), a 15th round choice out of high school in 2007, will be one of the mainstays in the bullpen for Kinston.  He had a great K rate for Kinston last year, and is especially tough on lefties. There aren’t a ton of lefthanded relievers in the system, and the 22-year old could move quickly as a lefty specialist. 


What makes it worth coming out to Kinston:

  • Watching Roberto Perez play defense.  If you have any kind of appreciation for the fine art of catching, then do yourself a favor and come out and watch Perez.  If your son is donning the tools of ignorance for his little league team and wants to make a career out of it, you’d be doing him a favor by bringing him to the ballpark just to watch Perez work his craft.
  • Drew Pomeranz.  Everyone wants to see the next big thing, and Pomz is the next big thing.  He’s probably the best starting pitching prospect in the Indians system right now, and he has yet to throw an official professional pitch.
  • Jason Knapp’s fastball.  If you do catch a Kinston game, make sure you get a seat right behind home plate.  Most of the Carolina League stadiums don’t have radar guns, but the scouts that sit behind the backstop do.  There, you’ll be able to get a good idea of just how much heat Knapp is bringing. 
  • Pitching, pitching and more pitching.  Every Kinston game will feature a legit prospect starting on the hill.  What more can you ask for?
  • If not now, when? With the team moving next year, this is the last chance you or anyone else has to see Kinston Indians baseball.  And you’re a lot closer to the ocean than any of the other Indians affiliates, so a combination baseball vacation/fishing trip seems appropriate. 

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