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01/15/09 8:00 AM EST
LaPorta, Brantley among Tribe invites
Key pieces of Sabathia trade headed to Goodyear for spring
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Indians' Major League coaching staff will soon get a good look at what the CC Sabathia trade brought in. Outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, the two key acquisitions in the trade that sent Sabathia to the Brewers last summer, are among the eight Minor Leaguers who received invites to big league Spring Training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., on Thursday. Also in the Indians' big league mix for the first time will be left-handers Dave Huff -- a candidate for the Tribe's fifth starting spot -- and Ryan Edell, third baseman Wes Hodges and infielder/outfielder Stephen Head. First basemen Beau Mills and Jordan Brown will be back for the second straight year. Though LaPorta and Brantley are both expected to begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, they have the potential to factor into the Indians' Major League plans this season. So this initial exposure to manager Eric Wedge and his coaching staff could be important. After putting up outstanding numbers at Double-A Huntsville in the Brewers' system, LaPorta struggled a bit after the trade -- perhaps as a result of simply never staying in the same place for long. In part because of his involvement with the U.S. Olympic team, he played just 17 games at Double-A Akron, batting .233 with two homers and eight RBIs. LaPorta, ranked as the 14th-best prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, hit .164 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 17 games of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Brantley wasn't officially acquired until after the season, as he was the "player to be named" in the deal. He batted .319 with 17 doubles, four homers and 40 RBIs in 106 games at Huntsville, missing some time with a sprained ankle. He also stole 28 bases in 36 attempts. Though the outfield will remain the main domain of LaPorta and Brantley, general manager Mark Shapiro said recently that he expects both players to see time at first base in camp. As is the case with Brantley and LaPorta, Huff's inclusion in camp is no surprise. He just might come out with a job in the big leagues, though some in the organization believe he could benefit from a little more Triple-A seasoning. Huff is coming off a breakout season at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. Combined between the two stops, he went 11-5 with a 2.52 ERA, striking out 143 and walking 29 in 146 1/3 innings. He led all of the Tribe's Minor League pitchers in ERA, was tied for fourth in wins and was second in strikeouts and innings pitched. The other pitchers deemed to be in the mix for the fifth starting spot are also young left-handers -- Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Zach Jackson and Scott Lewis. They all have big league experience. Huff, a sandwich pick in the 2006 Draft, does not. Edell isn't considered part of that competition, but he's certainly worthy of being on the coaching staff's radar after going 7-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Akron last season. Where Edell really separated himself was in the last two months of the season, as he went 4-3 with a 2.28 ERA over his last 12 starts. Hodges is currently one of the organization's more intriguing prospects, as he's an upper-level player at a position that could be open again soon. The Indians just filled third base for 2009 with Mark DeRosa, but the long-term prospects for the position are uncertain, unless Jhonny Peralta moves over from shortstop. After batting .290 with 18 homers and 97 RBIs at Akron last season and earning Eastern League Rookie of the Year honors, Hodges has certainly commanded attention. He also hit .349 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 25 games in the Arizona Fall League. The question will be how much Hodges can grow as a defender at the hot corner. In Brown, Mills and Head, the Indians are loading up on first basemen for camp, though Head also mans the outfield. Brown was exposed to last month's Rule 5 Draft when the Indians decided not to protect him on the 40-man roster, but, perhaps because of the knee problems he battled last year, he went unclaimed. He was the Carolina League MVP in 2006 and the Eastern League MVP in 2007. At Buffalo last year, he batted .281 with 30 doubles, seven homers and 51 RBIs in 109 games. Mills, a first-round pick in the 2007 Draft, won the Carolina League MVP Award in his first full season of pro ball. He batted .293 with 21 homers and 90 RBIs. He should be ready for action in Akron. Head, a second-round pick in 2005, spent all of '08 at Akron, batting .290 with 13 homers, 24 doubles and 49 RBIs in 106 games. The Indians have now extended 16 invites to non-roster players for their first camp in Goodyear. The aforementioned eight players join first baseman Michael Aubrey as the organizational invitees. Additionally, right-handers Greg Aquino, Kirk Saarloos and Tomo Ohka, catcher Damaso Espino, and infielders Andy Cannizaro, Jesus Merchan and Wilson Valdez were brought in from the outside and signed to Minor League deals.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.