Winter Development Program gives Indians prospects a hint at life in the bigs

Cleveland Indians pitching prospect Shawn Armstrong

Cleveland Indians pitching prospect Shawn Armstrong (courtesy Akron Aeros)

The 14 players in town over the last 10 days for the Cleveland Indians’ 2013 Winter Development Program all know how to hit a fastball, or throw a fastball, or catch a fastball, depending on their position of choice.But where the group may have needed a few pointers was on the secrets to being a good professional, or how best to acclimate to a locker room full of veterans, or how to deal with media scrutiny.

The Indians’ goals with the Winter Development Program are to familiarize prospects with and strengthen the Indians’ organizational culture. In turn, the hope is that this year’s 14 participants take the information and experiences from the week and return to their minor league clubs as stronger leaders who set an example for their teammates.

The week consisted of workouts at Progressive Field and other nearby facilities, along with chats with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, new manager Terry Francona, vice president of player development Ross Atkins and others within the organization. Special guests such as former Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini, now an ESPN analyst, and ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney also spoke.

“The value is that they hear very similar messages from very successful people about what it takes to be great, to be the best at what you do,” Atkins said. “All the people they’re hearing from are the best at what they do and all have great baseball perspective or pro sports perspective.”

For the group of Tribe youngsters, the input was invaluable. TribeVibe spoke with some of the new faces Monday afternoon at Progressive Field about the experience.

“Hiring all the different voices, from Ross to Chris Antonetti, makes me want to work that much harder to get up here and play for these guys,” said Shawn Armstrong, a 22-year-old righty who rose steadily in 2012, with 45 appearances across Class A Lake County and Carolina and Class AA Akron. In 64 innings at Carolina and Akron, he went 2-3 with a 1.69 ERA and 74 strikeouts.

“They told us what they expect of us and what it takes to be a big leaguer. Now more than ever, I want to show these guys that I want to be here, that I want to be an Indian.”

T.J. House

T.J. House (courtesy Akron Aeros)

T.J. House also impressed in 2012: The 23-year-old left-hander from Picayune, Miss. split his 2012 between Carolina and Akron, and went 10-5 in 27 combined starts, with an earned run average of 3.56. He also was 3-1 in six starts for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.

He said he remembers vividly the last time he was at Progressive Field: Aug. 15, 2008, before he signed his first big-league contract after being drafted by the Indians in the 16th round. 

“The main key of being here is getting the familiarity of the place,” said House, who like Armstrong, a North Carolinian, joked about not particularly enjoying Monday’s cold weather on the lakefront. “You don’t want to come here down the road and not know what it looks like, where you’re going, who the staff is. The main key is getting the introductions to all of the staff and the front office.

“The next thing is, talking about the different aspects of the game, it’s good to pick these guys’ brains and see how they were successful, or maybe how they weren’t successful and then what they did to get back to that place.”

Tyler Holt

Tyler Holt (courtesy Akron Aeros)

Tyler Holt, meanwhile, views the program as a pick-me-up in the long days of the offseason. Holt, a 23-year-old outfielder, also split time in 2012 at Carolina and Akron, hitting a combined .258 with 29 stolen bases, 15 doubles and 9 triples in 136 games.

“Talking with the manager and other front office people, it’s an eye opener, and it humbles you to know they think highly of you and if you keep working at it, good things will happen,” Holt said.

“Hearing the guys here is a reminder of the things you need to do to get to the next level; these are things you know, of course, but you need a reminder maybe over the winter and this is good for that. This game can be a grind at times; it’s 162 games. But talking with those guys, they’ve been through it. It’s not like you’re talking to your dad, who wants you to succeed but hasn’t done it.”

2013 Cleveland Indians Winter Development Program participants

INF Jesus Aguilar

RHP Shawn Armstrong

CA/1B Yan Gomes

RHP Preston Guilmet

RHP Trey Haley

LHP T.J. House

OF Tyler Holt

INF Francisco Lindor

RHP Fabio Martinez

OF Carlos Moncrief

INF Ronny Rodriguez

RHP Danny Salazar

LHP Giovanni Soto

INF Tony Wolters

–TribeVibe contributor Joel Hammond

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