The Akron Aeros won the Eastern League title in 2005, so there was obviously some talent on the roster. Here's where the talent is, and if it can translate into major-league talent.
Michael Aubrey hit .283/.336/.462 in limited at-bats, but his problem has been staying on the field. This season, the culprit was a bad back, and as late as August, the Indians were unsure as to when he'd return. He was slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, but the injury prevented him from doing so. Here's a description of the injury:
Aubrey, among the Indians' upper-tier prospects at the outset of the season, has been sidelined since early June because of a back injury resulting from an awkward slide into second base. He suffered a vertebrae contusion and is on the disabled list at Class AA Akron.
Aubrey continues to be dogged by pain that radiates from the lower back to the hamstring area.
"Based on what we know, there is cause for concern, no doubt about it," Indians farm director John Farrell said. "He gets to the point in rehab where he starts to swing the bat, run and do other baseball activities - then the discomfort returns. We are exhausting every available means of remedy, to the extent of epidural injections, but we haven't been able to solve the problem."
There's no doubt that Aubrey has the tools to become a good major-league player, but if he can't stay healthy, then it won't matter how good his glove or his swing is. I still think he's the organization's best first base prospect, but there are several players just behind him.
Gutierrez started extremely slow at the plate, which was especially troubling given 2005 was his second shot in Akron. Franklin did finish the season strong, and was called up to Cleveland late in the season to serve as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. Franklin's speed and defense are major-league ready, but he's going to have to show more offensive consistency to win. He did improve his strikeout and walk rates, thanks to a re-tooling from minor-league hitting instructor Derek Shelton, but he's yet to have that breakout stretch. He should be Buffalo's center fielder, but he could easily project in right field as well thanks to his arm.
Brad Snyder had that breakout stretch in Akron this season. His power took off after a mid-season promotion from Kinston. When you look at Brad's lines you get concerned about his strikeout rates. He went to Arizona to work on two-strike hitting, and although we don't know how that's progressing, we do know that he's hitting .367/.438/.582 for Mesa thus far. Brad has the ability to play all three outfield positions, but is projected to eventually settle into a corner position.
Two unsung heroes of the Aeros' title run were the team's two middle infielders. Ivan Ochoa and Eider Torres fortified the team's defense up the middle at second and short. Neither hit for any power, but the Indians thought highly enough of Ochoa's defense to place him on the 40-man roster in November of 2003. Torres profiles as a player teams pick in the Rule 5 draft; he can play good defense, has speed, is somewhat raw, and plays a premium position.
I'll talk about Jason Cooper in the next installment.
There's two other hitters worth mentioning.Jon Van Every was the embodiment of the Three True Outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run). He struck out a whopping 155 times in 389 at-bats, but walked 66 times and hit 27 home runs. No, I don't think he's major-league material, but the stat-line was really cool.
Ben Francisco, however, could make it to the majors as a reserve outfielder. He had an impressive showing in 2005, and is another Rule 5 possibility if the Indians don't add him to the 40-man roster (which is very likely). He was 15-19 in stolen bases with the Aeros.
Jeremy Sowers was the star of the pitching corps, but there were several sparkling supporting performances.
JD Martin started out quickly, posting an impressing line before injuring his elbow. He'll miss a good part of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Martin had a tremendous debut in 2001. and hadn't shown anything remotely close to his performance in Burlington...until this season.
Jake Dittler regressed in his second stint with the Aeros. He's a ground-ball pitcher (2.49 G/F ratio in 2005) with a mid-90s fastball and a good curve. His changeup is still a work in progress.
Dan Denham, another member of the 2001 draft class, has slipped behind both Martin and Dittler. But this season's line shows some hope for the future; he held Eastern League hitters to a .605 OPS. At this rate though, Denham will settle into the Indians' rotation in 2009, given it seems to take him two years to master each level.
Brian Slocum had a good showing in Arizona, posting a 3.15 ERA over 20 innings, ending his season on a positive note. The 24-year-old upped his strikeout rates in Akron, but had some control issues.
As mentioned above, Jeremy Sowers was the best of the bunch, and thanks to Adam Miller's disappointing 2005 campaign, has become, in my opinion, the organization's best pitching prospect. The left-hander doesn't have a blazing fastball, but combines command of four pitches with a knowledge of pitching beyond his years. His 70-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Akron was extremely impressive given that 2005 marked his professional debut. There's a very real possibility that Sowers could make it to Cleveland sometime in 2006.
I'm going to save Fausto Carmona for the next installment.The Aeros' bullpen also featured several good performances. Edward Mujica continued to excel in his new role, and left-hander Rafael Perez made a smooth transition to the bullpen. Chris Cooper and Juan Lara are two others to keep an eye on.