Nice to meet you
No, he wasn’t overhauling the ballpark food. Symon took some time to chat with a group of Tribe prospects as part of this offseason’s Winter Development Program.
Let’s have Indians farm director Ross Atkins explain…
“We’re putting them in front of what we feel are advanced resources,” Atkins said on Wednesday at Progressive Field. “Like our sports psychologist, former players, former managers, current Major League staff and other local leaders and successful people that have figured out a way to reach the pinnacle of their careers.
“Any way we can get those types of resources in front of them, we’re trying to do that this time.”
That’s where a guy like Symon comes in. No, he’s not going to be giving second baseman Jason Kipnis tips on where he should be for relays from the outfield, or telling Lonnie Chisenhall the best way to hit a curve. What Symon can offer is advice on how to put yourself on the road to success. That’s something that can translate to young athletes trying to work their way to The Show.
So how did the discussion with Symon go?
“It actually was extremely productive,” Atkins said. “It really was. They had great questions for him. He’s a great success story. He’s a former athlete and he talked about having benefited from that. These guys know there’s no secret [to being successful].
“But the more they hear it, and the more they can connect with people that are telling them there’s no secrets, and this is what it’s going to take, and the level of sacrifice and commitment it’s going to take, hopefully the sooner in their maturation they realize that.”
That is a bulk of the training taking place this week for 14 of Cleveland’s prospects. Next week they’ll head to the team’s facility in Goodyear, Ariz., for more on-field instruction. This week was more off-field work, with some strength and conditioning mixed in, as well as stops around the area to become more familiar with the city itself.
Players in Cleveland this week for the WDP included pitchers Alex White, Bryce Stowell, Vinnie Pestano, Matt Packer, Zach McAllister, Chen-Chang Lee, Corey Kluber and Nick Hagadone, infielders Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Jared Goedert and Cord Phelps, and outfielders Chad Huffman and Ezequiel Carrera.
“This is a program that’s been in place for 16 years,” Atkins said. “It’s evolved. It’s evolved mostly because of the resources that they have in addition to the resources that we provide. When it began, when [team president Mark Shapiro] started the program, they didn’t have the strength and conditioning resources that they have now.
“A lot of it is getting acclimated to us, the front office, the local media and the city of Cleveland.”
Items of note…
- White could’ve reached Triple-A last year had it not been for an innings limit around 150 frames. As things turned out, he ended the year with 150 2/3 innings pitched. As for this year, Atkins said: “He’ll go into our Triple-A rotation this year and try to make an impact [in the Majors] at some point in 2011. That’s not etched in stone, but that’s the most realistic situation at this point.”
- Atkins also discussed White’s ability to get quick outs last season by relying heavily on his two-seam fastball. That led to fewer swings and misses than the Indians might’ve hoped, so the club stressed working on his other pitches (including his four-seamer). This balance of getting quick outs vs. developing all your pitches is a topic I plan on diving into in an upcoming blog post or article on indians.com.
- Is there a chance that a guy like Kipnis — with no Triple-A experience beyond a brief stay in the postseason — could crack the Indians’ Opening Day lineupe? “Sure, there is a shot,” Atkins said. There’s always a shot. That’s a better question for [GM Chris Antonetti] and for [manager Manny Acta]. As things stand right now, it seems most likely that Kipnis begins the year with Triple-A Columbus.
- Here’s how Atkins describes Kipnis as a hitter: “Ultimately, he’s that confident competitor. It’s like, if you describe Cliff Lee, it would sound like a lot of left-handed pitchers — he throws 91-92, has a good breaking ball. But when the game’s on the line, there’s that fierce competitiveness and that elite condifence.” Quite the compliment.
- Like Kipnis, Chisenhall, Cleveland’s top third base prospect and the No.2-rated third base prospect in the game, appears ticketed for Triple-A to open the year. That said, Chisenhall hopes to make a push for the big league job at third this spring. “I’m going to try to play hard and make the decision hard for them,” Chisenhall said. “I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
- If Kipnis (2B) and Chisenhall (3B) do indeed begin the season in the Columbus infield, that begs the question… where does Phelps fit in? Not even the Indians are sure at this exact moment. “Cord has created an incredible situation for himself by creating that question for us,” Atkins said. “That was not a question a year ago. Cord created that situation, as well as Lonnie and as well as Jason Kipnis. I think what we’ll do is watch the Major League team get set and then we’ll react to that.”
- Phelps took part in the Arizona Fall League to hone his skills at third base. He feels most comfortable as a second baseman right now, but is willing to work at multiple spots. Phelps said he played some third base in college, but he needs more reps at the hot corner to get accustomed to the position again. He’ll get plenty in spring. The pile of infield prospects could push Phelps into the competition for a utility role for the Tribe.
- Noticeably absent from the WDP was lefty prospect Drew Pomeranz, but that was by design. The Indians feel he’s at least a year away from possibly making an impact in the Majors. Similarly, White did not take part in the WDP a year ago. Atkins said Pomeranz will likely open the year at advanced Class A or Double-A. He’s on a similar progression as White and could potentially see The Show in 2012, if all goes according to plan.
- Moving Hagadone to the bullpen last year was for two reasons. 1) To control his innings workload, and 2) To see if that might be a role that better suits Hagadone. That said, Atkins noted that Hagadone is coming to camp this spring with a shot at being either a starter or reliever. The organization has not determined which role he will fill during the upcoming season.
- Here’s what Atkins has to say about the progress of Adam Miller in his recovery from multiple surgeries on the middle finger on his pitching hand: “That’s a great story. He’s better and better. Every time he touches a baseball it’s a little more comfortable. Every bullpen he throws is a little better. We’re exceptionally glad to still have him here. I think he’s been commited to us as much as we’ve been commited to him.”
- As much attention as the Tribe’s starting pitching prospects get, Atkins is just as excited about the potential of the team’s relief prospects — guys like Stowell and Pestano, as well as Josh Judy and Zach Putnam. In fact, having so many talented young relievers made it difficult for the Indians to add bullpen depth with Minor League free agents. Said Atkins, “That’s a deep crew. It’s unusual that selling jobs to Minor League free agents, we had no jobs to sell. They could do the quick math and they could see, ‘Where do I go if I end up in Triple-A?'” Atkins cited the signing of Doug Mathis, for example. He said Mathis was told he’d be competing for a spot in the Major League bullpen. But, if he didn’t make the cut, it wasn’t guaranteed that there would be room in the Triple-A bullpen. Talk about a good problem to have.
QUOTABLE: “I actually just got a new one. I got a new third baseman’s glove. Hopefully it breaks in quick, because spring’s coming up.” –Phelps, asked how many different gloves he needs to bring to camp this year.
EIGHT BALL: All the Type A free agents are off the board this winter, so the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft is set. Your Cleveland Indians have the eighth overall pick this coming June. The Top 10 picks are as follows: 1. Pirates, 2. Mariners, 3. D-backs, 4. Orioles, 5. Royals, 6. Nationals, 7. D-backs, 8. Indians, 9. Cubs, 10. Padres.
Before I go…
The Double-A Akron Aeros sent a press release out today that, well, I can’t even do it justice. You’ve just got to read this for youself.
AKRON, OH – The Akron Aeros today announced plans for the ballclub’s newest food item – the “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger. This burger is a colossal creation – 1 ¼ lb. hamburger, stuffed with a ½ lb. hot dog, and ¼ lb. of bacon, cheese, and onions.
Fans can tempt their taste buds with the tantalizing two-pound “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger. It will be another food item at Canal Park that fans will have to see to believe!!
“Where else can you find a two pound burger that includes other meat sensations, such as hot dogs and bacon, and with cheese and onions for extra flavor? Along with “3 Dog Night”, the “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger will provide some extreme food options at Canal Park this summer. We are looking forward to feeding many fans with Akron’s newest food sensations,” said Aeros Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer JIM PFANDER.
Where else indeed. Not sure you’d find this type of creation at any of Michael Symon’s restaurants. And, if that press release wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, I leave you with the image that was included with the announcement.