Not A Speedy Way To Improve Indians

Eider Torres, left, and Argenis Reyes.

An aspect of the 2005 Indians that could definitely use an upgrade is stolen bases. Cleveland managed only 62 steals all season, ranking 11th overall in the American League. There's not a lot of help readily available in the minor-league system, either.

Among the top basestealers in the organization, only outfielder Franklin Gutierrez figures to have a shot at making the Indians' 2006 roster. The others are still developing in the lower levels of the minors.

Eider Torres led all players in the Tribe farm system in steals with 33 in 42 attempts for Class AA Akron. That was despite serving a 10-game suspension for violation of baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.

Torres said he did not check the contents of the "vitamin-type supplements'' he got from a friend in his native Venezuela last winter. "I didn't think anything of it," he told reporters after failing a test late in spring training and subsequently being suspended in April. "I did not hesitate to be tested because I felt I was clean."

The Indians organization used the incident to fortify communications with Latin players throughout the system, though Cleveland reliever Rafael Betancourt was suspended six weeks later for essentially the same thing.

Nevertheless, Torres had an excellent season overall as a second baseman at Akron. Signed as a non-drafted free agent at age 17 in 2000, he has 221 steals in 267 attempts (.828) over 505 games in the minors, including two years in the Venezuelan Summer League. But he has displayed little pop at bat despite a .299 batting average -- though he did hit six of his career total of 12 homers this year.

But he is at least a year or two away from possibly helping the Indians at the big-league level.

Farther away is outfielder Jose Constanza, who had 26 steals in 31 tries at two levels of Class A ball. The 22-year-old switch-hitter put up astounding numbers in two seasons for Cleveland's team in the Dominican Summer League, hitting a combined .383 with 114 runs and 53 steals in 80 tries over 128 games. In his first season in America this summer, he hit a combined .257 at Mahoning Valley and Lake County.

Two players with good overall skills displayed them at Lake County and Kinston this summer. Infielder-outfielder Argenis Reyes had 24 steals in 33 attempts and outfielder Brian Barton went 20-for-30.

Reyes, 23, now has 148 steals in 175 tries (.846) since signing at age 18 out of his native Dominican Republic. Like Torres, he has not produced much power (four homers in 1,520 at-bats, including two years in the Dominican Summer League). He does have a .298 career average and shown the ability to play well in the outfield, second base, shortstop and third base.

Barton, 23, was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Miami in August of 2004 and made his pro debut this year. He hit a combined .326 at two levels, including an eye-popping .414 in 35 games (with seven steals in nine attempts) at Lake County to earn a quick promotion to Kinston.

Brad Snyder and Evandy De Leon stole 17 bases apiece at two levels. Snyder, 23, who was Cleveland's first-round pick in 2003, is now 45-for-60 (.750) as a pro. Often compared to current Indians center-fielder Grady Sizemore, Snyder's percentage is slightly higher at this point in his career. Sizemore went 96-for-144 (.667) during his time in the minors.

De Leon went 4-for-4 at Burlington and 13-for-17 at Mahoning Valley this season. The 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic now is 56 for 76 (.737) as a pro, but he probably will still be in Class A ball next season.

Six minor-leaguers totaled 16 steals this past summer, including Gutierrez. He went 16-for-22 at Akron and Buffalo this year, giving him 64 steals 88 attempts (.727) in his minor-league career. He has a chance to make the Indians' roster next spring, but could be headed back to Buffalo to work on his hitting.

Ben Francisco likely will be with the Bisons, too. The 24-year-old went 1-for-1 for them this year after stealing 15 in 19 attempts at Akron. Aeros outfielder Jon Van Every went 16-for-22 and has a fine .740 (57-for-77) success rate in his minor-league career, while shortstop Ivan Ochoa as 16-for-28 this year at Akron and has 130 steals in 175 attempts (.743) overall in the minors. Jose Morban, a utility player for Buffalo and Akron, also had 16 steals, as did shortstop Brian Finegan, who was 16-for-21 at Lake County.

None of these players will be a threat to the base-stealing records Kenny Lofton put up a decade ago in Cleveland. Gutierrez and Snyder, if they continue to develop as hitters, could combine with Sizemore to give the Indians a formidable outfield trio of players with 20-homer, 20-steal potential in the near future. Down the line, Reyes, Torres and possibly even Morban could provide a spark on the bases in a utility role. The others will have to continue to develop in all aspects in order to make it to Cleveland.





Eider Torres



Jose Constanza

Mahoning Valley-Lake County


Argenis Reyes

Lake County-Kinston


Brian Barton

Lake County-Kinston


Brad Snyder



Evandy De Leon

Burlington-Mahoning Valley


Ben Francisco



Franklin Gutierrez



Ivan Ochoa



Jon Van Every



Jose Morban



Brian Finegan

Lake County-Buffalo

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