Back "home" in Arizona, outfielder Trevor Crowe is off to a good start in winter ball. After three games, he's hitting .400 (4-for-10) with a double, homer, two runs and three RBI.
Crowe was the Indians' first-round draft pick in 2005 out of the University of Arizona and appeared on the fast track to Cleveland until stalling this season at Double-A Akron. He played at three levels (Mahoning Valley, Lake County and Akron) in his pro debut season, then had an impressive first half of 2006 at Class A Kinston -- batting .330 with four homers, 31 RBI, 52 runs and 29 stolen bases in only 62 games. Promoted to Akron to finish out '06, he sprained an ankle, was switched to second base for a few games, and hit .234, but did get 16 more steals in 39 games.
He looked good in a few at-bats with the Indians during spring training, but never really got going all year at Akron, where in 518 at-bats over 133 games, he hit only .259 with five homers and 50 RBI. He also scored 87 runs and was successful on 28 of 37 steal attempts. Most of his production came in the second half as the switch-hitter appeared to make some adjustments at the plate.
That's why he is in Arizona -- to continue to try and refine his game.
First baseman Michael Aubrey is there just to get more at-bats. The oft-injured first baseman, a first-round pick (No. 11 overall) out of Tulane in 2003, has a .301 career average in the minors. But he's seldom been in the lineup the past three seasons after having an impressive start to his pro career.
Aubrey hit .348 with five homers and 19 RBI in 38 games at Lake County after being drafted in 2003. Promoted to Kinston the next year, he kept right on hitting -- .339 with 10 homers and 60 RBI in 60 games.
He finished 2004 at Akron, batting .261 with five homers and 22 RBI in 38 games and big things were expected from him in 2005.
The organization is still waiting.
He hit .283 with four homers and 20 RBI, but appeared in only 28 games due to a series of leg injuries in 2005.
In 2006, he played in only 14 games, again being sidelined with various ailments.
This past summer, he took a step back to Kinston and hit .400 (20-for-50) with five homers in 13 games to earn a trip back to Akron -- where he hit only .248 with seven homers and 34 RBI in 52 games and again missed time with injuries.
Currently, Aubrey is batting .188 (3-for-16) through four games in the AFL, though he does have a homer, stolen base and two RBI.
The other position player from the Tribe organization playing in Arizona is catcher Chris Gimenez, who is 0-for-6 with two walks, two strikeouts and one run. A 19th-round choice out of Nevada in 2004, he has a .261 average with 60 homers and 210 RBI in 387 games in the minors. He's in Peoria mostly to work on his defense. He switched to catcher a year ago after playing third base, first base and the outfield for most of his first three years in the minors.
Gimenez hit .283 with 20 homers and 54 RBI in 83 games at Kinston this season before being sent to Akron. In 30 games with the Aeros, he hit .221 with six homers and 12 RBI.
Also in Arizona are five pitchers from the Indians' organization: David Huff, Michael Finocci, Rich Rundles, T.J. Burton , and Randy Newsom.
Huff, the Indians' top pick in 2006, got the win in his only start thus far in Arizona. The lefty yielded one hit and struck out one over three innings. The 23-year-old was 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 11 starts this summer at Kinston.
Finocchi is 1-0 in two relief appearances in the AFL, giving up one hit and two walks over two innings. A 14th-round pick in 2005, he has gone 10-8 with seven saves and a 3.12 ERA in 102 appearances in the minors, all in relief. The 22-year-old finished this season at Akron.
Rundles, a 26-year-old lefty, gave up only a walk in his only AFL outing thus far, a hitless 1 2/3 innings. A third-round pick by Boston in 1999, the Indians are his fifth organization. In 186 career games in the minors, including 133 starts, he is 40-56 with a 3.39 ERA. The Indians converted him to relief this year and got good results. In 23 games at Akron, 21 of them in relief, he went 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA and two saves. In 17 outings, all in relief, at Triple-A Buffalo, he was 2-4 with a 2.70 ERA.
Burton is off to a rough start in Arizona. He gave up three hits and three runs (two earned) in his only inning of work. Picked in the 18th round in 2001, Burton has a minor-league career record of 20-22 with 24 saves in 211 games, 184 of them in relief. A member of the Team Canada, he split the 2007 season between Kinston and Akron. At Class A, he went 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only eight. Promoted to Double A, he went 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA for the Aeros.
Randy Newsom, profiled in the current issue of Indians Ink Magazine, pitched one hitless inning in his AFL debut. Acquired frrom the Red Sox organization as the "player to be named later" in the blockbuster trade in early 2006 that also brought Andy Marte, Kelly Shoppach and Guillermo Mota to Cleveland, the submarine-style right-hander came out of nowhere to have a big year in 2007. In 11 outings at Kinston, he went 0-1 but had a 1.50 ERA. Promoted to Akron, he became the Aeros' closer, going 4-1 with 18 saves and a 3.17 ERA in 49 innings over 47 games.
Four players from the Indians system are playing in Hawaii, led by island native Reid Santos. Right-handers Erik Stiller and Neil Wagner along with first-base prospect Todd Martin are there, too.
Lefty Santos is 0-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 7 2/3 innings over four relief appearances. The native Hawaiian has pitched in front of larger crowds due to his family and friends attending games. He's given up six hits and walked two, while striking out nine.
The 25-year-old, a 13th-round pick in 2002, is 20-16 with a 3.90 ERA and seven saves in 139 games, including 53 starts in the minors. He went 8-3 with a 2.72 ERA and two saves in 39 games including 10 starts this season at Akron. In 96 innings, he gave up only 80 hits, walked 30 and struck out 85.
Martin is hitting only .138 (4-for-29) with two runs and three RBI. All three of his hits have been singles and he has walked twice and struck out five times. Perhaps he's just tired, because Martin had a big season at Mahoning Valley in 2007. An undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State, he hit .360 with eight homers and 40 RBI in 54 games for the Scrappers.
Stiller is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA. In 12 innings over three games, he has allowed 12 hits and two walks, striking out eight. Three of the hits have been homers, however. The Princeton product, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indians in 2006, did well in his second season in the organization this summer. In 25 games, including five starts, at Kinston, he fashioned a 2.89 ERA, going 3-6 with four saves. He walked only 13 and struck out 49 over 62 1/3 innings.
Hard-throwing reliever Wagner has struggled early in the AFL. In 7 2/3 innings over four outings, he has an 8.22 ERA, having allowed 11 hits and four walks while striking out six. A 21st-round pick out of North Dakota State in 2006, he burst upon the pro scene that summer at Mahoning Valley by getting 17 saves with a 1.39 ERA and 50 strikeouts in only eight walks in 32 1/3 innings.
He opened this season at Lake County, going 1-4 with 11 saves and a 3.68 ERA in 34 outings. Sent to Kinston, he compiled a 3.00 ERA in 16 appearances, not getting a win, loss or save. But he has consistently displayed good control and the ability to strike out opponents. In 100 1/3 innings covering 76 outings, all in relief, he has walked only 25 and fanned 117.