In another installment of 5 questions with Indians farm director Ross Atkins, we talk about a handful of prospects in the Tribe organization - from two new players obtained in a trade to current Tribe first baseman Matt LaPorta.
Q) Can you give us a little background on RHP Cory Burns, who is tied for the second most saves in all of the minor leagues this season with 23 saves (between high Class-A Kinston and low Class-A Lake County)? Even more impressive is the fact that Burns is a perfect 23-for-23 in save opportunities with a 2.15 ERA through 28 appearances. The Indians don't usually "groom" closers. Is Burns an exception?
A) Corey was an 8th-round pick in 2009 out of the University of Arizona. His delivery has a ton of natural deception and he attacks hitters with a fastball, knuckle curve and a changeup. His change is his best pitch, but he can finish hitters with his curve as well. Considering his success thus far and the tools he possesses, Cory could definitely end up at the back end of a major league bullpen.
Q) Can you share with us a little about OF Ezequiel Carrera and SS Juan Diaz, the two players the Indians picked up from the Mariners in the recent trade that sent veteran 1B Russell Branyan to Seattle? What does the Indians like specifically about each player, and were they chosen for need or were they simply the best players available?
A) Ezequiel Carrera is a 22-year-old left handed hitting outfielder. He’s an aggressive, hard-nosed player with plus speed and defense in centerfield. At the plate, he shows great discipline and the ability to get on-base at a high clip. He’s been a consistent performer throughout his minor league career, winning a batting title in 2009 and also being named an all-star...Juan Diaz is a 21-year-old switch-hitting shortstop. He’s defense-oriented with excellent instincts and hands. He shows the ability to drive the ball and we see him gaining strength as he physically matures...Both players were intriguing, as we acquired potential difference makers in the middle of the diamond.
Q) Double-A Akron 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and Low Class-A Lake County C Chun Chen were recently named to the Future's Game. With Chisenhall being a first-round pick (29th overall) in the 2008 draft, many fans are familiar with him. But not so for Chen, whom many fans are hearing of for the first time this season. I know we've talked a little about his background in a previous segment, but what can you tell us about Chen as player? Is he a lot like Tribe C Carlos Santana, whose bat is ahead of his defense behind the plate? Also, does Chen use an interpreter or has his grasp on the English language gotten to the point where he can communicate with pitchers on his own?
A) Chen has certainly been impressive this year, making strides at the plate and behind the dish. His OPS ranks fifth in the South Atlantic League, thanks in part to his ability to drive the ball hard to all parts of the field. He has a quick transfer and release on his throws and has caught 35 percent of potential runners (above Minor League average). At times, Chen will use a translator, though he is able to communicate everything necessary between the lines and with his pitchers.
Q) In your opinion, why has OF/1B Matt LaPorta's skills struggled so much at the major league level? Since he has bumped up and down the last year and a half between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus he seems to struggle in Cleveland then go back to the minors and quickly excel. Is it simply a matter of getting everyday playing time in Cleveland now that Branyan is gone?
A) Matt’s a great player and has the tools to be a successful Major League player. He’s obviously shown us that he is overmatching Triple-A pitchers. However, each player is different, and it takes various amounts of time for guys to fully transition to the major Leagues. Since his return, he’s off to a good start, and we expect that to continue.
Q) RHP Bryce Stowell seems to have come out of no where this season after being the Indians 22nd pick in the 2008 draft out of UC Irvine. He was 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 11 relief appearances at high Class-A Kinston to start the season before making his Double-A debut May 20 at Akron. Since joining the Aeros Stowell has not allowed a run in 12 games (including one spot start) and has converted six saves in as many opportunities. In just his second professional season he also has struck out 26 batters and walked just eight. What has allowed Stowell to enjoy so much success without much of a learning curve so early in his professional career?
A) Bryce has incredible arm strength. He’s thrown up to 97 mph this year and works with a well-above average fastball. He uses a slider as his finishing pitch, but also gets a ton of swing-and-miss with his fastball. He’s also been extremely effective versus left-handed batters, yielding just two extra-base hits to southpaws all year.