The Indians’ most struggling farm team, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, got a big boost of power and experience this week when Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Josh Barfield joined the Herd for their home series against Lehigh Valley.
And the results have been positive, from both the Tribe’s perspective and the Bisons’, who are now riding a mini two-day winning streak since Barfield and Hafner arrived Monday night (Martinez played his first game with the Bisons on Tuesday).
Hafner showed no ill effects from his puzzling sore shoulder, which has kept him out of the lineup since May 25, as he went 2-for-3 with a double. Barfield has looked solid also, playing a good second base and chipping in with a sacrifice fly Monday. Same goes for Martinez, who caught six innings and drove in two runs in the Herd’s 10-1 win Tuesday at Dunn Tire Park.
But the Tribe’s trio of rehabbers won’t be there long, and, as the Minor League season winds to a close, many others won’t be in Buffalo much longer, either. A few players from Double-A Akron may also be on their way out.
September call-ups are upon us. Here are a few players that may make their way up to Progressive Field for the final month of the regular season. (No, Matt LaPorta will not be on this list.)
Rich Rundles – The Herd’s lone representative to the International League All-Star squad, Rundles has been the steadiest arm out of the bullpen (Mostly because he’s one of the few that has been there all season). The left-hander is 5-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 49 appearances this season. Over his last 10 appearances, he has been more impressive, not allowing a run, striking out 10 and walking just two over 7 1/3 innings.
Aaron Laffey – It’s somewhat surprising that Laffey didn’t get called up when Paul Byrd was traded, which makes it almost a lock that he will be back to the Majors in the upcoming weeks. After a rough first start back in the Minors, the young lefty has been nearly unhittable, not allowing a run in his past two starts. He has give up just seven hits over 14 innings and has struck out an uncharacteristic 14 batters.
John Meloan – The Indians will likely want a look at Meloan at the Major League level to dictate whether or not he belongs in the bullpen or starting rotation. Meloan, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Casey Blake trade, is in the Buffalo bullpen for now, but it would not be out of the question for him to come back next year as a starter. Meloan’s ability to get batters out with four pitches convinced the Dodgers that he could start, but the numbers didn’t back it up. Look for him in Tribe ‘pen before the season wraps up.
Jeff Stevens – The young right-hander certainly has made a case for himself to be called up before the season ends, but the Indians could be timid to bring him up because of the hectic August he has had and continue to has. Stevens has served as the back-end bullpen guy for Team USA in the Olympics. Before he blew town for Beijing, Stevens was 5-3 with a 3.23 ERA and six saves for both the Aeros and Bisons.
Trevor Crowe – Recently promoted to the Bisons, the Tribe’s No. 1 selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft has been a spark plug for the Bisons. Playing primarily at center field, Crowe is batting .271 with 18 runs, four homers and 11 RBIs in his first 23 games in Triple-A.
Todd Linden – The outfielder is batting .276 with 18 doubles, 12 homers and 45 RBIs this season for the Bisons. He has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games and has hit .291 since the All-Star break.
Wes Hodges – The infielder has had a breakout season with the Aeros and could be the one player that makes the jump from Double-A to the big leagues come September. Hodges is batting .280 with 23 doubles, a team-high 13 homers and 87 RBIs, which is also good for a team-high.
Meloan, who was dealt to the Indians with Class A Advanced Inland Empire catcher Carlos Santana, will join former University of Arizona teammates Jordan Brown and Trevor Crowe — who was promoted on July 25 from Double-A Akron — in Buffalo.
The Cleveland farmhands were college teammates for three years, helping put the Wildcats back on the map by keying Arizona’s 2004 run to the College World Series and providing the backbone of a club that ranked in the top 10 of the nation much of their junior year of 2005. All there players were top-five-round picks in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
Meloan has said he’s still “best friends” with many of his former teammates and has even shared a place in Oro Valley, Ariz., just north of Tucson, Ariz., with Brown and Padres catcher Nick Hundley, another former classmate, while working out at their old school in the offseason.
Meloan, a strikeout pitcher who Baseball America ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 8 prospect at the beginning of the season, has gone 5-10 with a 4.97 ERA this year as a starter. Last season he was much more effective as a reliever, the role the Indians have in store for him, going 7-2 with a 2.03 ERA and 20 saves while splitting time between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas.
That earned him a cup of coffee with the Dodgers in September in which he struggled, giving up runs in four of five appearances while compiling an 11.05 ERA by yielding nine runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings.
He has not sniffed the Majors this year although Clayton Kershaw, Cory Wade and Ramon Troncoso have all made their Major League debuts, and even journeymen pitchers Brian Falkenborg and Jason Johnson have gotten calls.
“John Meloan in some ways with the advancement of Wade and Troncoso and with [Double-A pitcher and former first-round pick] Scotty Elbert healthy and throwing well, he’s been bypassed by a couple guys who are up here right now,” said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti.
The more important player to the deal is likely Santana, who led all Minor Leaguers with 96 RBIs at the time of the deal. He also was hitting .323 with 14 homers, 34 doubles and 10 more walks than strikeouts.
Organizational depth at the position, particularly 25-year-old All-Star catcher Russell Martin at the Major League level, made him expendable.
“Santana’s a very good hitter,” Colletti said. “Whether he stays at catcher, that’s Cleveland’s call. [Double-A catcher] Lucas May is a step ahead of him. With Russell here I thought we had just a touch of depth there where we could do that, and in our mind there might be a position change down the road for [Santana].”
— Michael Schwartz