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Goodyear Notebook: 3/31

Goodyear Notebook: 3/31
March 31, 2009
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Lofgren Looking Forward To New Season

Chuck LofgrenRight now, with five days of camp left many players are excited about what the 2009 baseball season has in store for them.  Some are looking to build on a strong campaign in 2008, some are looking to make a name for themselves, and some like left-hander Chuck Lofgren are looking forward to officially closing the door on a disappointing 2008 season.

By now, most fans know the struggles Lofgren endured last year both mentally and physically.  Lofgren was one of the best pitching prospects in the system, but after he finished the season 2-6 with a 5.99 ERA in 28 games (15 starts) to go along with allowing 93 hits and 52 walks in just 85.2 innings, he may be the player who is most excited about the new season which kicks up next Wednesday April 8th in Akron.

"Things feel great," said Lofgren on Monday.  "I came into camp reaching my goal with my weight.  I am really happy with their plans for me and what they have told me and what they want me to work on.  I am just really excited to get out and play."

When I talked to Lofgren last November, he promised he would work his ass off to get back to the pitcher he knows he can be.  Well, in the span of three months Lofgren worked hard everyday doing flexibility drills in the morning, maintaining healthy eating habits, and running three times a day.  When all was said and done, Lofgren lost 16 pounds and the Indians were very happy with the shape he came to camp at.

With the loss in weight, Lofgren feels like a new man and is ready to re-capture his status as a top left-handed pitching prospect.

"I think it all starts with my core and flexibility," said Lofgren.  "I feel that when I was thinner and in better shape I was able to command my fastball better and able to pitch more on a downhill plane.  With those results I feel I am able to command my ball better and all my pitches are working."

There was some speculation that Lofgren may be moved to the bullpen this season, especially after he finished the 2008 season in the Akron bullpen and had some decent success.  But, based on his workload so far in spring it looks like Lofgren is pegged for the Akron rotation to start the season.

"Yeah, they have built me up the whole time here in spring training as a starter," said Lofgren.  "In my last outing they dictated that they want me to be a starter.  I went four innings and did real well, and I throw five tomorrow (Tuesday) and then get ready for the season in Akron."

With that new season on the horizon in a return trip to Akron, the clean slate is a breath of fresh air for Lofgren.

"[My goals this year are to] stay healthy, make each start, and give my team a chance to win every fifth day," said Lofgren.  "I am not even worried about last year, this is a new year and everything can change."

Popham Adjusting to Professional Game

Marty PophamFor pitchers going through their first spring training, there are a lot of new experiences they encounter.  One of the biggest challenges they face right off the bat and have to get used to is the amount of throwing they do.  In college or high school, a pitcher may throw once or twice a week, and on off days do very light throwing, but this is not the case in the professional ranks.

This is something 2008 20th round draft pick Marty Popham has discovered so far this spring.  The high amount of throwing resulted in a dead arm for him early on, but he is starting to get going again and get used to the high amount of work.

"We were on a totally different throwing program in college," said Popham.  "We would throw eight minutes one day, twelve minutes another, and then do long toss.  Then go out and make our start.  It takes a little bit of getting used to, but that is what the science of baseball has proven you gotta do to survive in the long run."

Popham had a very nice professional debut last year in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League where in 14 appearances covering 23.0 innings he racked up a 1-1 record and 0.78 ERA along with just five walks and 25 strikeouts.  That success has not carried over into this spring, however, as he has had trouble adjusting to the use of a cup which is something he has never worn before this year.  The result is he has had trouble missing up with his fastball early on in camp.

"In our paperwork they send us early on in the offseason they recommend that everybody wear a cup," said Popham.  "I had a couple buddies go down this past season because they were not wearing a cup.  That is always a scary thing because once the ball hits the bat you are the closest person on the field.  I tried wearing a cup and I tried wearing it all preseason trying to get prepared for spring training.  I just was not able to get my leg high enough.  It was causing me to stride out and my arm to lag, so my mechanics needed tweaking.  So I got rid of it and what do you know I was hitting all my spots and I am back to my old ways."

With the start of the season right around the corner, Popham is likely to open the season in the bullpen at Single-A Lake County.  Popham feels his mechanics are now fixed, and will use his success in his debut season as a springboard to hopefully a successful campaign in 2009.

"[My 2008 season] helped me get my feet wet competing at the professional level, but I still have a long way to go," said Popham.  "The pitching here is really good, at each level everybody has great talent.  It is a lot different being a standout kid in college compared to coming up here where everybody is just as good as you are."

Notebook

Crowe Recalled:  The Indians had optioned outfielder Trevor Crowe to Triple-A Columbus just two days ago, but with David Dellucci coming up lame and now on the 15-day disabled list, Crowe was called back to big league camp and will now open the season as the Indians fourth outfielder.  Some people may have rather preferred Crowe open in Columbus where he could play everyday, but as the fourth outfielder he should get a lot of chances to play.  Yes, Mark DeRosa and Jamey Carroll also play the outfield, but they are the fifth and sixth outfield options and will only play out there sparingly.  Since Crowe switch hits, he should spell Choo a game or two a week against a tough lefty, and he could be in a limited platoon with Ben Francisco which allows him to get into a game or two in left field a week.  In all he, could conceivably start at least three games a week, and because of his speed and defensive abilities could get into several other games as a defensive replacement for Francisco or pinch runner.  Congrats to him.

Head Getting Closer:  Outfielder Stephen Head is still working his way back from a knee injury suffered in the third game of the Indians spring schedule.  The injury is to the back of the knee, and he has been playing again this week, most recently getting a start with Columbus in an intrasquad scrimmage on Monday where he was the designated hitter.  He should be fine when the season starts for Columbus next Thursday, and now with Crowe in Cleveland, he should be the starting right-fielder there.  

Miller On The Mend:  I had a chance to talk a little with prized right-hander Adam Miller on Monday.  Miller is upbeat and feels good, and the changes to his delivery, grip, and release point have gone very well so far.  He has no pain and the finger feels good, and his bullpen sessions have gone well.  At this point the Indians and Miller are going to see this new plan through and not opt for surgery.  Miller will remain in Arizona and open the season in extended spring training to continue to get in work to ramp up his pitch count and get stronger since he has missed so much time.  He also will continue working on his new approach to pitching.  If all goes well, he should be activated in Columbus sometime in mid-to-late April.

The Other Miller:  Left-hander Ryan Miller had an amazing first two months for Single-A Lake County last year when he went 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his first eight starts.  But the wheels fell off his season after that as he finished his last 18 starts going 1-7 with a 5.08 ERA.  There are some in the organization that believe that the Miller of the last two-thirds of the season is closer to the real Miller, and that this could mean he gets bumped out of a crowded starting rotation situation at advanced Single-A Kinston.  Miller looks like he will open the season in the Kinston bullpen.

Sheriff Of Nottingham Now A Pirate:  On Monday, the Indians traded left-hander Shawn Nottingham to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later.  This is a curious trade as the Indians could have just released Nottingham (who was on the bubble), but apparently the Pirates see something in him they like to go out and secure his rights without having to haggle with 28 other teams if he were a street free agent.  Don't forget that when the Indians acquired Nottingham that now Pirates GM Neal Huntington was at that point the Assistant GM for the Indians and one of Shapiro's right-hand guys.

Breakout Alert:  Right-hander Alexander Perez is someone I am very high on.  I am even more high on him after seeing him pitch on Monday as his fastball was crisp and his secondary pitches looked to be on the money.  Perez has an excellent shot to win a starting rotation spot at Single-A Lake County (I think he is pretty much a lock to win that job).

Big League Thoughts:  I attended the Indians game yesterday against San Diego.  It was the first and only time I will go watch the big league club do anything this spring.  I went to the park about an hour early, checked it out, and after the first inning I left.  I just find big league spring training games very boring and pointless.  At least in the minor league games players are fighting for jobs and a contract.  If it were not for my passion for minor league baseball, I might never go to spring training.  Anyway, it was nice to see many of the players make a concerted effort to sign autographs before the game.  Also, the ballpark is beautiful, though it will be interesting to see how much better the experience is at the stadium next year once there is some development around the stadium.

Player Families:  I've talked to a lot of player families over the course of the last few days either at the ballpark or via e-mail.  I have discovered that a lot of the player families do not realize that they can get a "guest pass" which provides access to the entire player development complex so you can move about freely to watch any games on any field, even in the "authorized only" areas.  This is just an FYI to the families that may still be in town, and also those that plan to make the trip to spring training next year.

Prospect Videos:  On Monday, I concentrated solely on getting video of some of the pitchers in action like Gary Campfield, Jeanmar Gomez, Jonathan Holt, David Huff, Matt Langwell, Joey Mahalic, Alexander Perez, Jose Urena, and Russell Young

Random Notes:  Left-hander Heath Taylor is healthy and his velocity is all the way back.  He looks to be slotted for the Kinston bullpen. ... Venezuelan left-hander Elvis Araujo is listed at 6'4" 175 pounds, but there is no way that is correct.  He is BIG.  Yes, 6'4" sounds right, but I am thinking he is closer to 220-230 pounds at least.  Keep an eye on him this year.  It looks like he will play for the rookie-level Arizona team once short-season leagues kick up in late June. ... No official word on this, but it appears first baseman Brock Simpson has retired.  He is no longer in camp.

Today:  I will be at the morning practices from 9:30-11:30am watching the teams take batting practice and go through drills.  After breaking for lunch, I am staying in Goodyear and will watch Kinston and Lake County play their games starting at 1pm.  My primary focus will be on the Kinston game.

Tomorrow:  I will have writeups on pitchers David Roberts and T.J. House.  Also, I plan to dissect the rosters some since I have a roster sheet (not final) that has the players separated at every level from Columbus to Mahoning Valley.

Photos:  I received a lot of requests yesterday from families wishing to have photos forwarded to them of their son.  I am more than willing to help in this regard, and seeing how my good friend Ken Carr used to do this for years and now no longer is able to attend spring training to photograph the players, I feel I need to pick up where he left off.  I took about 500 pictures, yesterday, of which about 40+ are shown below:

Water breakPitchers warming up
Alexander PerezJoey Mahalic
Jeanmar GomezJonathan Holt
David HuffDavid Huff
Game actionTrent BakerHodges & Mills
Players take in the gamesWes Hodges
Chris GimenezJordan BrownGary Campfield
Chris GimenezJordan Brown
Huff talks to his pitching coachBeau Mills
Game actionMatt Langwell
Carlos RiveroNeal Wagner
Russell YoungTravis Turek
Nick WeglarzBrian GreningGary Campfield
Goodyear BallparkGoodyear Ballpark
Goodyear BallparkGoodyear Ballpark
Bob FellerGrady SizemoreTravis Hafner
Goodyear BallparkGoodyear Ballpark
Goodyear BallparkGoodyear Ballpark
Manning & UnderwoodPlayers stretch
Game actionGame action

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