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Meet the NRIs: Position Players

The woefully-late conclusion to a tour of the Indians' Non-Roster Invitees:

Player Position 2009 Age 2008 Level  Organization AB BA OBP SLG 2B HR
Damaso Espino C 26 AAA KC 36 .167 .286 .167 0 0
      AA  CLE 102 .275 .342 .304 3 0
Michael Aubrey 1B 27 MLB CLE 45 .200 .280 .333 0 2
      AAA CLE 285 .281 .328 .418 18 7
      AA CLE 103 .282 .330 .456 10 2
Jordan Brown 1B 25 AAA CLE 420 .281 .337 .417 30 7
Andy Cannizaro IF 30 MLB TB 1 .000 .000 .000 0 0
      AAA TB 171 .240 .311 .304 8 1
      AAA CLE 84 .321 .374 .476 4 3
Tony Graffanino IF 37 AAA CLE 89 .315 .384 .416 7 0
Andy Marte 3B 25 MLB CLE 235 .221 .268 .315 11 3
Wes Hodges 3B 24 AA CLE 504 .290 .354 .466 29 18
Jesus Merchan SS 28 AAA ARI 436 .339 .373 .443 23 4
Beau Mills 1B 22 A+ CLE 482 .293 .373 .506 34 21
Wilson Valdez IF 31 Did Not Play
Stephen Head 1B/OF 25 AA CLE 404 .290 .325 .455 24 13
Michael Brantley LF 22 AA MIL 420 .319 .395 .398 17 4
Matt LaPorta LF 24 AA MIL 302 .288 .402 .576 23 20
      AA CLE 60 .233 .299 .350 1 2



Because one can never have enough catchers early in spring, Damaso Espino joins the five catchers on the Indians' 40-man roster in major-league camp. He played with Akron last year after the Indians purchased him from the Kansas City organization.


Michael Aubrey and Andy Marte were both outrighted off the 40-man roster in recent months. Both were considered top prospects at one time, but now neither figure into the Indians' current or future plans.  I think Marte still has a chance of becoming an everyday major-league player, but Aubrey's chances are fading fast. For much more on Aubrey and Marte, click on their respective player links at the bottom of this post.

Jordan Brown, after two very good seasons in Kinston and Akron, stalled out last year in Buffalo, possibly due to a knee injury. Brown doesn't have the physical attributes that scouts look for, but has been, with the exception of 2008, a model of consistency at the plate. He has no chance of making the major-league club this spring, but should be the regular first baseman with the Clippers.

Tony Graffinino has an outside shot of making the team as a utility infielder. He was most recently seen in the majors with Milwaukee in 2007. He injured his knee that late that season, didn't sign with an organization until next June, when he signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland. He played with Buffalo the rest of the season, though still having problems with his knee.

Andy Cannizaro and Jesus Merchan both are fighting for a spot on the Columbus roster. Cannizaro got one at-bat with Tampa last season, and spent the rest of his season with AAA affiliates. Merchan posted good, but BA-heavy numbers with AAA Tuscon last season. If he had any speed, he'd be a prototypical NL utility infielder. Wilson Valdez is also in the mix for Columbus; he played in Korea and Japan last year.

With Mark DeRosa a free agent at the end of the season, this is a big season for Wes Hodges. He's made it to AAA in his third professional season, right on schedule for a college player, and although Jhonny Peralta seems fated to eventually move to third, the DeRosa signing delayed a final decision a year, giving Hodges another season to make an impression. His offensive numbers look fine; I think the Indians are foremost looking for defensive improvement.

Beau Mills is a prospect with big power potential combined with promising plate discipline. He'll be heading to AA Akron, which is usually a big jump for young sluggers. He was drafted as a third baseman, but only played there in 8 games last year; first base will be his position as a major-leaguer.


Stephen Head was drafted as a good defensive first baseman, but can now play the outfield as well. That versatility is offset by very pedestrian offensive production partly explained by a shoulder injury early last year. He should be a reserve at either Akron or Columbus.

Michael Brantley is an intriguing prospect. He's an advanced hitter for his age (he's compiled 57 more walks than strikeouts in his professional career), and should be a successful base-stealer in the majors. But he hasn't hit for any power yet, and plays positions (left field and first base) that normally carry with them power expectations. He's still just 22, so there's still time for him to develop into an everyday player or better.

Matt LaPorta was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade, and although the Indians aren't expecting much from him in 2009 at the major-league level, he should be in left field or at first base for the Indians in 2010. He dominated the Southern League, a pitcher's league, in 2008, slugging 47 extra-base hits in 302 at-bats while walking 45 times.