Plenty Of Infield Talent In Minors

Ted Kubiak is in his 15th year in the Indians minor league organization, the first 10 as a manager and now in his fifth as the roving infield defensive coordinator. So it's safe to say he has seen a lot of talented players come through the system. But Kubiak says this year's overall group, from low-level Class A Lake County, all the way up to Class AAA Buffalo, is the best he has ever seen.

"We have a lot of talent here," said, Kubiak, who won three World Series Championship Rings as a member of the Oakland A's in the 1970s. "All four levels are good right now. Every level has some really good prospects. I saw them all in spring training and this year is the best year for infielders that I have seen at every level."

While watching a recent Akron Aeros game, Kubiak had his eyes trained on shortstop Josh Rodriguez, a second-round draft pick of the Indians out of Rice University in 2006. Kubiak, a great glove, weak bat player during his own career, sees tremendous potential in Rodriguez, who still has a lot of work to do, including on his pre-pitch setup, on balls hit to his right and on making consistent throws to first base.

"We work on it in bits and pieces and eventually all of the pieces will fit together," said Kubiak, who pulls no punches when analyzing his students. That even holds true when he talks about blue-chip third base prospect Wes Hodges. Kubiak flat-out says the Georgia Tech product not very impressive defensively in training camp in Winter Haven, Fla.

"He struggled this spring," Kubiak said. "Travis Fryman (former Tribe third baseman who will be managing short-season Mahoning Valley this year) was down there with me. We worked a lot trying to get him to move a little bit better. Neither one of us was really happy with what we could get him to do, although he was improving and working at it."

Kubiak was thrilled with what he saw of Hodges, who has lost six or seven pounds, in Akron.

"His transition from spring training until now has been remarkable," Kubiak said. "He has lost some weight. One of the things he had to do was get himself into condition. He was a little too pudgy, or a little too soft, or whatever you want to call it. Because he is so big (he's listed at 6-2, 206 pounds in the media guide), those extra pounds hindered some of his movement."

Kubiak says Hodges has the potential to be a "good, average third baseman. I don't think he's ever going to be a Brooks Robinson-type because when he comes in for a slow roller he has a big body to move, but he's definitely improved over last year. He's focused and he's really working hard on the stuff he needs to work on."

There's little question that it'll be Hodges' powerful bat that eventually will get him to the majors, but as Kiubiak says, "They can hit and get there (to the big leagues), but if they can't catch the ball, they're not going to stay."

The same will likely hold true for Aeros first baseman Matt Whitney, who has come a long way in his transition from third base to first. "When Matt is aggressive, he is fine," Kubiak said. "Last year he made a lot of his errors because he would lay back on balls and wait for them."

Whitney has fallen into that same bad habit at times this year, partly because during his time with the Washington Nationals in the spring, he did virtually no work on defense. Whitney had been picked by the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, but was brought back by the Indians in March when he failed to make Washington's major league roster.

Of course, anyone who plays first for the Aeros will look average at best compared to Michael Aubrey, who may be one of the best defensive first basemen in all of baseball. He has been splitting time with Whitney in the field. The player who doesn't start in the field serves as Akron's designated hitter.

Kubiak says one infielder Tribe fans should keep their eyes on is Kinston shortstop Carlos Rivero. "He is very special," Kubiak said of the slick-fielding shortstop who was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Barquismeto, Venezuela in 2005. "The kid can really play the position."

Also at Kinston are highly-touted 2007 first-round draft choice Beau Mills and 2006 ninth-rounder Jared Goedert.

Mills is seeing action at both first and third base, while Goedert is playing at both second and third. Both players are better known for their bats than their gloves, but Kubiak is trying to make sure that their gloves won't limit their days in the majors.

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