BY JUSTIN LADA
Once Spring Training dwindles down you see players getting at bats who are wearing the number 77 or 88. Here are five guys who might be wearing those kinds of numbers in camp that you might want to keep an eye on for the future. Five guys you may not have heard of before, but by seasons end they might be on your radar.
1). Jesus Aguilar- Clearly I’m just looking for a reason to talk about the guy who was the Captains ‘Big Papi’ last season. Early in 2011 Aguilar was hitting with power but the 6’3 240 first basemen was able to bring his average up before being promoted to Kinston. His strikeout rate was a little alarming, but the coaching staff at Lake County agreed that the 21 year old made strides in his pitch selection before he was called up. One significant stat, according to Fangraphs.com, Aguilar’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .353 at Lake County, meaning when he makes contact he’s getting hits. More important, he’s right handed and he actually looks like he has a clue at first base (.987 fielding percentage). At some point in 2012 he will be at AA Akron and should give a better clue to how his career will pan out.
2). Matt Packer- the 6’0 left hander from Virginia could also be in Columbus’ rotation to start 2012, however if he sees any time in Cleveland something will have gone horribly wrong on the big club. But that doesn’t mean by June or July you won’t have heard his name mentioned a few times. At the All-Star break Packer was 3-8 with a 5.71 ERA in 16 starts. After some mechanical tweaks in his delivery, Packer had a 2.78 ERA in the second half of the season in 11 starts. He also hit 169 innings, a career high for him. He also made 18 starts in 2010 and was 8-5 at Lake County before moving up to Kinston late in the year. Packer allowed an alarming 11 home runs in his rough first half, but trimmed it down to five in the second half. For his career Packer has shown the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, which is big for left handers who don’t light up the radar gun. For the Indians sake, he could use a full season at Columbus, but out of everyone on this list he is probably the closest to Cleveland.
3). Austin Adams- He just missed Keith Law of ESPN’s Top 100 prospects going into 2012, so if you hadn’t heard of him yet, you will this season. The right hander from Faulkner University made 26 starts last year and threw 136 innings and was 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA. He continues to improve at every level he has been promoted to, and even at just 5’11 he is able to sit in the mid to high 90s with his fastball. He might be another power arm the Indians can add to that bullpen crop but he has shown to be reliable every 5th day. Adams might begin the year in Columbus and if he sees Cleveland this season, that means something might have gone horribly wrong, but he is close to getting the opportunity.
4). Ronny Rodriguez- Everyone is talking about Francisco Lindor and Tony Wolters, and rightfully so, but don’t sleep on Rodriguez. In 2011 he has just turned 19 and was playing his first year at the professional level. His pitch selection needs work (83 K’s/13 BB) but most players his age usually got their feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League or Mahoning Valley. Rodriguez showed well above average power for a shortstop (where he may not stay if he continues to grow above his 6’0 frame). He had 11 home runs, seven triples and 28 doubles. He did make 38 errors but showed he certainly has the arm strength to play on the left side of the infield. By the time Lindor is playing shortstop in Cleveland (if and when) Rodriguez could be sliding in next to him at third base. He might play at Lake County again given his age but if the Indians decide they want Lindor to start with the Captains they might try to push Rodriguez again and move him to the Carolina Mudcats.
5). Preston Guilmet- While it looks like the Indians are starting some sort of organizational trend for developing bullpen pitchers with power arms, Guilmet doesn’t exactly fit that mold. He doesn’t throw in the upper 90s but has a pretty solid split finger pitch. Since his conversion to full time reliever in 2010, Guilmet continues to improve. He had 11 saves for the championship Captains and a 2.25 ERA. In 2011 he wound up with 35 saves while enjoying great success as Kinston’s full time closer. With the Indians dealing their closer at Akron last year, Cory Burns in the Aaron Cunningham deal, Guilmet’s value might go up and a shot at the closers job at AA Akron could put him on the list of another fast developing reliever for the Indians.
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UPDATED 02/24/2012 02:55