Some Corner Power Just Around Corner?

Ryan Mulhern, 32 homers and our October coverboy.

One aspect of the 2005 Indians that is in need of an upgrade is the power production from corner (left and right field, first and third base) players. Help could be on the way in the next couple of seasons if a few of the organization's prospects continue to develop.

Ryan Mulhern led all minor-leaguers in the Tribe system with 32 homers while splitting his season between Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron.

The 24-year-old saw all his action in the field at first base, which is an area the Indians are definitely looking to upgrade in regards to power.

He's also right-handed and could be the type of player that general manager Mark Shapiro has tried to bring to the big-league club for several years. The additions of Alex Escobar, Shane Spencer, Ryan Ludwick, Josh Phelps and Jason Dubois didn't work out as hoped, though Ludwick and Dubois are still part of the organization.

"Ryan Mulhern is very much a prospect," said John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development, adding that Mulhern's sudden development this season has caused some thinking throughout the organization about possibly switching him to left field.

"We had switched him from left field to first base," Farrell said. "But with the emergence of Ryan Garko and Stephen Head at that position in our system, we may look to put left field back in play with Ryan. We've got time to consider it."

Mulhern had good power numbers in college, but hit only 12 in 162 games over his first two years as a pro after being drafted by Cleveland in the 11th round in 2003. The Indians obviously will be looking to see if he can continue his power surge next year, probably at Class AAA Buffalo to start the season.

Second in the minor-league organization in homers was 25-year-old Jonathan Van Every, who hit 27 for Akron. The left-hander totaled only 25 homers in his first three years in the organization after being drafted in the 29th round in 2000. Then he hit 21 at Kinston in 2004 and followed that with his big year this past summer.

Van Every can play any of the three outfield positions and has stolen 15, 11 and 16 bases the last three seasons. Akron manager Torey Lovullo said the young prospect has outstanding instincts in the field, but admits there are times during a season that watching him at the plate can be painful.

Van Every struggles to make consistent contact. He struck out 155 times this year with only a .244 average. In 409 career games, he has 69 homers, 57 steals and 200 walks -- but also has struck out 515 times and compiled only a .245 average.

"It seems that each year, he has a two-week stretch where he just absolutely doesn't hit the ball," said Lovullo. "He doesn't know what it is, I don't know what it is. If we did, we'd change it. You just have to ride it out and then suddenly he starts hitting everything again. You take those 15-20 games away each year, he probably hits .280 with a lot less strikeouts."

One theory is that Van Every's long arms give him a long, looping swing. When he stays compact, he has enough power to drive the ball anyway. Instead, he will occasionally get out of rhythm and look bad at the plate.

Third in the farm system with 25 homers this season was Jason Cooper, a left-fielder who split time between Akron and Buffalo. He led all Tribe minor-leaguers with 100 RBI, but was extremely streaky all season and compiled a .256 overall average.

Cooper, 24, a lefty who was a third-round pick in 2002 out of Stanford, has displayed a nice smooth swing reminiscent of Rafael Palmeiro, but often seems to experiment with his approach -- which only adds to his inconsistency.

Brad Snyder, 23, totaled 22 homers between Kinston and Akron, really stepping up his production at Double-A, where he hit 16 homers with 54 RBI in 75 games. A left-hand hitting outfielder who was a first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in 2003, he also had 17 stolen bases and hit .279 overall. He has skills similar to Grady Sizemore, though projects to have a little more power as he continues to develop.

Andy Abad and Ernie Young, two veterans without a future in the Indians' organization each hit 20 homers for Buffalo -- where teammate Ryan Garko hit 19 homers. And Garko definitely is highly regarded throughout baseball.

The 24-year-old right-hander, selected in the third round in 2003, split time between catcher and first base this season, but didn't let it affect his hitting. In 286 career games, he has 45 homers and a .310 average and appears on the fast track to Cleveland. He is currently playing (and hitting well) in the Arizona Fall League, where he is concentrating on playing first base.

He could challenge for a starting role at first next spring.

Two more Buffalo players were next on the list, but only one seems to have a possible future in Cleveland. First baseman-outfielder Jeff Liefer hit 19 homers for the Bisons before being called up to Cleveland for the final two months of the season and then being released. Infielder Jake Gautreau, acquired from San Diego last winter, hit 18 homers at Buffalo, splitting time between second base (56 games) and third (53 games).

Two younger corner infielders, third baseman Ryan Goleski at Kinston and first baseman P.J. Hiser at Burlington/Mahoning Valley, round out the top 10 with 17 homers apiece.

After two fine seasons at Mahoning Valley and Lake County, where he combined to hit 36 homers with a .295 average the previous two seasons, Goleski struggled to make consistent contact at Kinston, hitting only .212 with 134 strikeouts. But at age 23, the right-hander remains a prospect.

Hiser, who hit 10 homers with a .322 average in 49 games at Burlington in 2004, just kept hitting this summer. He had 11 homers and a .326 mark in 38 games at Burlington before being promoted to Mahoning Valley, where he hit six more homers in 25 games.





Ryan Mulhern



Jon Van Every



Jason Cooper



Brad Snyder



Andy Abad



Ernie Young



Ryan Garko



Jeff Liefer



Jake Gautreau



Ryan Goleski



P.J. Hiser

Burlington-M. Valley

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