Minor League look: Triple-A Indians
Indianapolis squad a work in progress heading into 2010
Here is part one in a seven-part series that will take an in-depth look at how each of the Pirates' Minor League affiliates fared during the 2009 season. Up first is the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians:
Record: 70-73; third in International League West division
What went right?
Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen both led the Indians' offense early in the season until each was summoned to the big league club. In his first year in the system, Jones hit .314 with 20 RBIs during the season's first month. He finished with 12 home runs in less than three months. McCutchen reached base in 24 of 29 games in May, just before he was called up.
Reliever Chris Bootcheck and catcher Erik Kratz were both selected to the Triple-A All-Star Game and Kratz was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Kratz was also later named to the IL's postseason All-Star team.
For the first time since becoming affiliated with the Pirates, the Indians allowed fewer than 100 home runs in the season. The team allowed an IL-low 79.
The Indians went 17-13 in August with an IL-best .292 team batting average.
Right-hander Ian Snell gave Indianapolis one of its season highlights when he struck out 13 consecutive batters on June 28. He struck out a Victory Field-high 17 in all.
What went wrong?
Expected to be ready to compete for a Major League job in 2010, second baseman Shelby Ford took a step back in his first full season in Triple-A. He hit just .188 in 86 games and was demoted to Double-A during the last month of the season.
Though the Indians were involved in more one-run games than any other team in Triple-A, they won just 22 of 51 of those contests.
Neil Walker may have had an unbelievable offensive month in August, but his results during the rest of the season were only sub par. Half of his 69 RBIs were accumulated from July 30 through the end of August. He did suffer from a midseason injury, but the Pirates had hoped that Walker would show more offensive consistency from start to finish.
After going through 2008 without a winning month, the Indians played above .500 in just one month in 2009. And with a chance to finish above .500 for the season, the Indians went 2-5 in the team's final seven games.
On the rise:
The Indians ended the season with two legitimate big league prospects on their roster -- Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln -- and neither did anything to suggest that they won't be in Pittsburgh soon. After being called up from Double-A with just over a month left in the season, Tabata hit .276 with 21 runs scored, seven doubles, three homers, 10 RBIs and four stolen bases in 32 games. Still just 21 years old, Tabata held his own just fine in his first Triple-A action, and he is expected to develop more power as he matures.
Lincoln, too, was a midseason call-up from Double-A. He pitched in the All-Star Futures Game, but had a rough go when he first joined the Indians. Lincoln focused heavily on developing his changeup during his first weeks in Indianapolis, but once he was allowed to use his whole pitch repertoire more liberally, the results fell into place. He went 4-1 in August and finished the year with 11 scoreless innings.
Kratz may not be ready to compete for a backup job in Pittsburgh next season, but there's no question he opened eyes this year. As a midseason and postseason All-Star, Kratz was the best catcher in the IL. The reports are that he was much improved defensively and held his own with the bat. His emergence gives the Pirates further depth in the catching position.
Batting average: Brian Myrow, .330
Doubles: Walker, 31
Triples: Brian Bixler, 8
Home runs: Walker, 14
RBIs: Walker, 69
Stolen bases: Jeff Salazar, 16
Wins: Daniel McCutchen, 13
ERA (starter, minimum 75 IP): Tom Gorzelanny, 2.48
ERA (reliever, minimum 30 IP): Mike Koplove, 1.82
Saves: Bootcheck, 20
Strikeouts: McCutchen, 110
End of season awards: McCutchen, Most Valuable Player; Walker, home runs and RBI leader; Kratz, Defensive Player of the Year; Tabata, Rookie of the Year; Bootcheck, Henry Smock Relief Pitcher of the Year; Myrow, highest batting average
Outlook: Fans in Indianapolis could be looking at an Opening Day lineup in 2010 that has the Pirates' top three prospects. The Bucs haven't ruled out the possibility of Tabata and/or Lincoln competing for an Opening Day roster spot in Pittsburgh, though in all likelihood both will start the season in Triple-A and then be called up later in the season. After dominating in Double-A this past season, third baseman Pedro Alvarez is also expected to start the 2010 season in Indianapolis. He, too, is a strong candidate for a midseason callup to the big leagues.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.