Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Indians catcher Carlos Santana has struggled to have any consistency at the plate so far this season. Going into play on Saturday, the 26-year-old backstop is hitting just .230 with five homers, 29 RBI and .709 OPS in 53 games.
That’s not the kind of production anyone had in mind when the season started. Coming into his second full season in the big leagues a lot more was expected of him, especially after he hit .239 with 27 homers, 79 RBI and .808 OPS in 155 games last season – his first full season in the big leagues.
On top of that, the Indians rewarded him for his promising season last year with a five year $21 million contract extension this past April. Santana’s sophomore slump reminds me of the struggles that former Indians catcher Victor Martinez went through in his second full season in 2005.
He burst onto the scene in 2004 – his first full season in the big leagues – and hit .283 with 23 homers, 108 RBI, and .851 OPS. But he came back and struggled a lot in the first half of the next season in 2005.
For those that do not remember how much Martinez struggled at the beginning of 2005, let me joggle your memory. At the All-Star break that year, he was hitting just .236 with nine homers, 35 RBI, and .692 OPS (those numbers look eerily familiar to Santana’s this year).
After the All-Star break, Martinez had one of the most amazing second halves by an Indians player that I have ever seen as he hit .380 with 11 homers, 45 RBI and 1.027 OPS.
No one is expecting Santana to get hot in the second half of this season like Martinez did in 2005, but I still think there is hope he can put things together and be the productive force the Indians need him to be in the middle of the order. Getting designated hitter Travis Hafner back and possibly picking up a middle-of-the-order bat in a trade may help him relax a little and not feel like he has to do so much.
Santana’s swing has gotten long and he is just not driving the ball with authority like he did last year. He’s hitting at about the same pace and his walk and strikeout rates are more or less the same, but the one noticeable difference with him at the plate is that longer swing and the lack of extra-base hits as his slugging percentage is down from .457 last
year to .356 this year, a 101-point drop.
For those of you who are a fan of isolated power, that has dropped from .217 last year to .128 this year.
The hope is that sometime between now and the end of the All Star break that Santana can begin to put things together offensively. For the Indians to stay in the division race and contend for the playoffs the last three-plus months of the season he is going to have to be much more productive and be the player so many believe he can be. Shortening up his swing and getting him to relax a little at the plate are easier said than done, but could help end his slump and set him off on a second half tear in the neighborhood of Martinez’s in 2005.
The Indians were busy this week as they officially inked 11 of their 40 draft picks from the 2012 MLB Draft that was conducted over a week ago. The signings should continue to come in over the next several days as the Indians’ short-season affiliates begin play this week as Single-A Mahoning Valley starts up Monday and rookie-level Arizona starts up Wednesday.
The 11 players signed are outfielder Tyler Naquin (1st round), right-handed pitcher Mitchell Brown (2nd round), second baseman Joe Wendle (6th round), right-handed pitcher Jacob Lee (9th round), right-handed pitcher Josh Martin (10th round), catcher Jeremy Lucas (12th round), right-handed pitcher Scott Peoples (14th round), right-handed pitcher Cody Penny (16th round), right-handed pitcher Louis Head (18th round), right-handed pitcher Nicholas Pasquale (20th round) and right-handed pitcher Joshua Nervis (38th round).
The signing of Naquin is especially unique as the Indians’ first-round pick the last three years did not sign until mid-August. All three previous first round picks right-handed pitcher Alex White (2009), left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz (2010) and shortstop Francisco Lindor (2011) signed minutes before the August deadline.
With the signings, the Indians have now spent $2.58 million of their $4.58 million bonus pool for the first ten rounds. They now have about $2 million left to spend on four high school players and one junior -college player taken in the first 10 rounds that are unsigned and considered tough signs.
Those five players are right-handed pitcher Kieran Lovegrove (3rd round), outfielder D’Vone McClure (4th round), right-handed pitcher Dylan Baker (5th round), outfielder Josh Schubert (7th round), and right-handed pitcher Caleb Hamrick (8th round). Lovegrove is expected to sign by the end of today, and the other top ten round picks are all expected to be signed at some point.
A lot of people were not happy with the new CBA and all of the draft changes implemented, but whether you agree or disagree with the changes, at least one positive has come out of it: players are signing much quicker.
This year, players in the first several rounds are signing quickly and getting into their organizations well before the start of short season leagues.
This is in stark contrast to how the top picks for most teams went about things in the three previous drafts from 2009-2011.
The draft signing process had become sort of a running joke the last three years where all the big money signings just waited until around the mid-August signing deadline. Teams and players either did not bother to talk deals until a few days before the deadline, or teams had to sit on signings until Major League Baseball would approve them because they were well over their slot recommendation.
There were cases where players would be inked in early July only to have to wait four to five weeks before the league would approve the signing.
The whole signing process and the way MLB tried to control the overslot spending was a joke, and was why they went into the CBA talks this past offseason looking to find a way to fix it. The end result was a draft bonus pool where teams would be capped on what they could spend in the first 10rounds, and teams could use that pool of money any way they saw fit for the first 10 rounds.
There would also no longer be an approval process as the league would immediately sign off on almost every contract signing.
This new change has added an interesting dynamic to draft day as teams now not only have to pay attention to talent and signability when selecting players, but also how much of a chunk a player may take from their draft bonus pool. It is early, but so far the change appears to have worked because lots of signings of high round picks are starting to filter in for teams.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for these players to sign and get their pro careers started as soon as possible. That first half season is vital in helping players get acclimated to the pro game, start to develop a routine, get professional coaching, nutrition and strength training, and so much more.
It also helps the organizations more effectively put together offseason plans as they are basing some things off of 40-60 minor-league games rather than a half dozen Instructional League games or what the player did in high school or college.
On June 3, the Indians recalled first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta from Triple-A Columbus to fill a need on the team since outfielder
Johnny Damon had to leave the team for a three day paternity leave. The opportunity looked like a good one for LaPorta to get a chance to play, and with Travis Hafner still sidelined it looked like he would also get some chances to play at designated hitter. Coming off a 46 game showing in Columbus where he hit .307 with 14 homers, 32 RBI, and 1.007 OPS, the time was now to see what he could do.
But none of that materialized as 10 days later, the Indians optioned LaPorta back to Columbus on Wednesday. During his 10-day stay with the Indians, he managed to play all of three games and pile up 11 at bats (he got 2 hits).
Granted, interleague play came, which limited his opportunities since the Indians played in the National League ballparks, where no designated hitter is used, but they never really gave him a chance to show them anything before they sent him back down.
The fact that the Indians — and, namely, manager Manny Acta — did not give LaPorta much of a chance to show anything speaks loudly of how irrelevant he has become to the team. He may only be a “4A” hitter that feasts off of Triple-A hitting but can’t hit Major League pitching, but it is not like there are limited opportunities to play him when you consider their starting first baseman Casey Kotchman is hitting .219 with a .607 OPS, and their starting left fielder Johnny Damon is hitting .180 with a .536 OPS.
When you are called up and given such a short look and not given an opportunity to play for two players who have been struggling offensively all season at two positions you play, then the writing is on the wall.
LaPorta is in his last option year, so if he is to remain with the Indians at the conclusion of spring training next season, he has to be on the major-league roster or risk being lost on waivers. But that may be a moot point because the way things are starting to look, he may not even make it to next spring training as a member of the 40-man roster.
Indians center fielder Michael Brantley is on some kind of roll of late.
The man they call Dr. Smooth has certainly been smooth at the plate as he has a 22-game hit streak going into play on Saturday. During his hitting streak – which began May 20 - he is hitting .337 (29-for-86) with one homer, 16 RBI, and .809 OPS.
When a player has such a long hitting streak you would expect their stats to get a big boost, but that has not been the case for Brantley as he was hitting .255 with a .658 OPS at the start of his streak and 22 games later is hitting .284 with a .711 OPS. His streak has been steady but unspectacular as he has not had more than two hits in any game, has had one hit 15 times, and has only had six extra base hits.
Brantley’s 22-game hitting streak is a career best for him and the longest hitting streak in the majors this season. His hitting streak is the longest for an Indians player since Casey Blake hit in 26 straight games in 2007, and is the longest for an Indians’ center fielder since Tris Speaker in 1923.
Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh has been named as the manager of the International League team that will participate in the Triple-A All-Star game on July 11 in Buffalo, N.Y... It is the 25th time that the International League and Pacific Coast League will square off in the midsummer classic pitting the two Triple-A leagues against one another... LaPorta (outfield) and Lonnie Chisenhall (third base) have received the most votes so far at their respective positions for the International League team. The top vote getter at each position is named the All-Star starter... Tuesday, the Indians acquired right-handed pitcher Esmil Rogers from the Rockies in exchange for cash. To make room on the 40-man roster, catcher Luke Carlin was designated for assignment. Carlin cleared waivers and on Friday accepted his outright assignment to Columbus.
Tony Lastoria — “Indians Prospect Insider”: Covering the important developments in the Indians farm system daily at www.indiansprospectinsider.com. “Minor Happenings”: His blog at the cable TV home of the Indians, www.STOHD.com. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/TonyIPI. Reach him at email@example.com.