Kouzmanoff To Play First? He's Getting Ready

Kevin Kouzmanoff ... from third to first?

The area around first base at the Indians' spring training camp next March could be very cluttered. You can add Kevin Kouzmanoff's name to the list that already includes Ryan Garko, Casey Blake, Victor Martinez and even Travis Hafner as candidates to play the position. Only Hafner has extensive experience at the spot, though the team is not about to mess with his prodigious production as the DH.

BUFFALO -- Kevin Kouzmanoff has now officially finished his "cram course" and is ready to start playing first base.

Bisons manager Torey Lovullo spent a couple of weeks teaching Kouzmanoff the art of playing first base. The lessons officially ended Thursday with Lovullo saying he would have no problem playing Kouzmanoff at first base if indeed that is what the Tribe's front office wants.

At this point it is not clear how much Kouzmanoff will play first before the Bisons' regular season ends on Sept. 4. But what is clear is the fact the Indians want to have Kouzmanoff, who has been a third baseman throughout his minor league career, as a viable option at first base come next spring. He'll likely play first base in winter ball this off-season.

Andy Marte will probably go into camp next spring as the favorite to win the starting job at third, while Ryan Garko and Victor Martinez will likely be favored to handle the first base chores.

But the Indians need to find a way to try and get Kouzmanoff's potent bat into the lineup in the not-too-distant future. Kouzmanoff hit .389 with 15 homers and 55 RBI in 67 games at Class AA Akron this year before being elevated to Buffalo, where he is hitting .382 with six homers and 15 RBI in 21 games.

Lovullo spent the first half of the season helping to teach Garko to play first base. Asked to compare Garko and Kouzmanoff defensively, Lovullo gave Kouzmanoff the nod based mainly on the fact he has spent a lot more years as an infielder while Garko was a catcher until recently.

Kouzmanoff, who says he welcomes the opportunity to add versatility to his game, is well aware of the talented players ahead of him. He says they will make him work even harder while at the same time his presence should do the same for them.


The "forgotten" man at Buffalo this year has been outfielder Ben Francisco, who, after a slow start in April, has probably been the Bisons' most consistent offensive player.

Francisco leads the Bisons in games played (127), at-bats (486), runs (75), hits (133), doubles (30) and stolen bases (22). He's batted a solid .274 with 17 homers and 57 RBI.

That comes after a 2005 season in which he batted .316 in 83 games at Double-A Akron and a four-game trial at Buffalo.

But whenever there is talk of bringing up a position player from Buffalo to fill a hole on the major league roster, Francisco's performance apparently has been overlooked.

"At times I do feel like I'm the forgotten man," he said, noting that not only has he put up solid offensive numbers, but he has also played all three outfield positions.

Lovullo says the team is still working with Francisco defensively. Currently, Francisco has a tendency to "glide" after balls, rather than running hard to get to where the ball is going to come down and be set to make the catch.

Francisco, whose favorite position is center field, admits he has a tendency to "glide," but is not quite sure why that is a problem, providing he makes the catches.


The forgotten man on the Bisons' pitching staff has been Hyang-Nam Choi, the 35-year-old right-hand relief pitcher from Seoul, South Korea, who was signed this past off-season.

Choi has no dominating pitches. Rather, he uses location and his many years of experience which come from various South Korean leagues to get opponents out. Using those qualities, he has fashioned an outstanding season.

In 100 1/3 innings, he has gone 8-5 with a 2.42 ERA while fanning 98. He has allowed just 90 hits and 32 walks.

Choi's name has never been mentioned when it comes to call-ups despite the fact those who have gotten the call, sometimes more than once, have failed miserably at the big-league level.


When Jeremy Sowers made two consecutive starts against Minnesota in July, some folks worried that the Twins would use the experience of having faced him just six days earlier to really knock around the soft-tossing Tribe rookie.

The Twins hit Sowers for 11 hits and five runs in seven innings on July 16. In the rematch, Sowers threw a complete-game shutout, allowing just four hits.

Buffalo pitching coach Greg Hibbard was not the least bit surprised in the change of fortune. Hibbard, who coached Sowers at Akron in 2005 and with the Bisons to start this year, says Sowers is at the advantage the second time around.

He says Sowers will spend hours in the video room dissecting every at-bat of every opponent and formulate a game plan that will be effective the second time around. It obviously worked against the Twins.


Anyone who thinks, or hopes, that Asdrubal Cabrera will be ready to challenge for the starting shortstop job next spring will be disappointed to read the following.

Cabrera, the prospect acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Eduardo Perez this past June, is at least a year or two away from the majors, according to Lovullo, who works with him on a daily basis.

Cabrera, who is built more along the lines of Jhonny Peralta than he is Omar Vizquel, still needs to improve upon his pre-pitch positioning and several other "little" things that should eventually make him a solid defensive shortstop.

Offensively, he is far away from being major-league ready. He has no pop in his bat, thus must concentrate on learning to play "little ball."


The Bisons are in the midst of an unprecedented eight-game in seven-day home-and-home series with International League North-leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After going 1-4 at home, the Bisons now switch to Scranton for three games.

The Bisons, with 11 games remaining in the regular season, will pretty much have to win out to have a chance at capturing the one wild card spot that is available. They trailed wild card leader Rochester by seven games before losing the series finale to Scranton on Thursday.

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