This edition of Five Questions with Ross Atkins was done via phone. Make sure you read through untill the end where there's a surprise visit from Indians general manager Mark Shapiro.
Q) Please share your thoughts on the conversion of RHP Connor Graham from a starting pitcher to a reliever. Continuing his struggles from last season as a starter, Graham went 1-2 with a 6.16 ERA to start the season in the Akron's starting rotation. But in his 23 appearances since joining the Aeros bullpen, Graham is 1-3 with a save and 2.50 ERA. What is it about him that allows his stuff to play so much better out of the bullpen?
A) We feel that Connor can be more aggressive with his fastball and slider pitching out of the bullpen. Now he just has to work on his command of those pitches instead worrying about trying to set up hitters for later in the game. He can be aggressive and go right after batters in this role.
Q) Speaking of Akron's bullpen, another solid arm this season has been RHP Chen Lee. Lee struck out two in two shutout innings of relief last Wednesday, allowing just one hit to the seven batters he faced. Overall, he's recorded 13.2 consecutive scoreless innings with 19 strikeouts against only four hits and three walks since the seventh inning against the Binghamton Mets on June 25th. He now leads the Aeros with 31 relief appearances this season. Can you share a little about what has led to Lee's success?
A) He's had such success because of his stuff. Lee's got a mid-90's fastball and an above-average breaking pitch. But it helps also that he's continuing to transition into a new culture and language. Plus, keep in mind that Lee was a very successful amateur player in Taiwan. He played against many high-caliber opponents in the PAN-AM Games and other International competitions that prepared him well for his transition to professional baseball.
Q) After a painfully slow start to the season, Aeros IB Beau Mills has come to life since returning from the disabled list, batting .311 (23-for-74) with 17 RBI over his past 19 games since returning from an intercostal strain June 29th. Mills, the Tribe's first-round selection (13th overall) in the 2007 draft, hit well in the lower minors but has struggled at Double-A since first joining the Aeros last year. In your opinion, why is that and what does he need to do to get back on the fast track for a No. 1 pick?
A) It's a combination of things, but a big part of his recent success is that he's more under control with his stride and leg action, which is allowing him to see the ball better. Beau is such a competitive and aggressive hitter that these new mechanics mark a fine line for him. But when he commits to this adjustment with his lead leg stride, his success has been significant.
Q) Despite a successful spot start for the Tribe last week and a Double-A no-hitter to his credit, not many Tribe fans know much about RHP Jeanmar Gomez. Despite so-so numbers at Triple-A Columbus (7-8, 5.37 ERA), what did the front office see in him to feel he would handle making his major league debut so well (no earned runs over seven innings) ? How close is he to competing for a spot in the Indians rotation?
A) How close Jeanmar is to being an every day major leaguer now depends on how well he responds to his major league success back in Triple-A. If he can take that positive start and begin to have more success in the minors, then it will be a better sample than one start in the big leagues. Also, about five starts before making his major league debut, Jeanmar made a significant change in his delivery that immediately began showing results. Hopefully, he can build on that change and his start with the Indians to put himself very much in the mix in Cleveland.
Q) What will it take for the organization to begin considering Columbus 3B Jared Goedert as a big league option on a rebuilding team targeting youth? He owns 16 home runs in 149 at-bats with the Clippers and is batting .317, with a 1.103 OPS. Combined with his stats at Double-A Akron, he's batting .321 with 23 homers and 65 RBI (1.007 OPS) in 308 at-bats. With 10 errors in 30 games with the Clippers, is it merely his defense holding him back? He's had health issues in the past, but when Goedert's healthy, he hits.
A) Goedert's defense isn't holding him back, it's more so the fact that the Indians have a veteran major leaguer in Jhonny Peralta in front of him in Cleveland. So what's keeping him in the minors is Jhonny Peralta and a roster spot. That's not to say Jared's defense couldn't improve, mostly because he's has had limited time at third base over the last few years due to injuries and lapses in performances. But with more time at Triple-A, at the position, he'll be less exposed when he does reach the major league level.
* Note: A day after Atkins remarks concerning Goedert, the Indians traded Peralta to the Detroit Tigers. When Indians general manager Mark Shapiro met with the media a few hours later, he explained that the Tribe would likely first consider its current major leaguers for the job at third base in Andy Marte (who played for Peralta at third Wednesday), Luis Valbuena (who was recalled from Triple-A once the deal was made and will likely play more of a utility role) and Jayson Nix (who had been regulated to a bench role once shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera rejoined the team from the disabled list.)
"We wanted to take a look at some of our internal candidates at third base for next year," Shapiro said. "Because we think they can help us this year, too...We have multiple guys we think are attractive alternatives, and we wanted to take a look at them."
But Goedert, and Double-A third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (the Tribe's No. 1 pick - 29th overall - in the 2008 draft) behind him, still were not far from Shapiro's mind.
"There's a variety of guys," Shapiro said. "I think it starts with guys like Nix and Valbuena and potentially Marte, but obviously Goedert's the next guy whose had a great year."