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Minors report: Starters staying put

Minors report: Starters staying put

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Indians' big-league rotation, barring injury, was set well before Spring Training camp opened, which is a rare enough feat for a club.

Even rarer, the Triple-A rotation isn't far off.

Sixth starter Fausto Carmona, top prospect Adam Miller and right-hander Brian Slocum are locks, and the remaining two spots will likely be filled from a group that includes left-handers Rafael Perez and Jason Stanford and right-hander Jeff Harris.

For now, the Indians have no interest in tinkering with Miller as a big-league reliever. They did so last year with Carmona and Slocum, but the plan this year is to leave those two stretched out as starters.

"It would be easy for general manager) Mark (Shapiro) to put them on the Major League team (in the bullpen)," farm director Ross Atkins said. "But he's being proactive, because it allows for more starting depth in our organization and develops these guys into Major League starters down the road. Taking a guy and throwing him in a bullpen role is limiting his ultimate value and what he could possibly do for his family, as we've seen with some of the Major League contracts for starters."

Perez is seen as a potential left-handed relief option for the Tribe this season. But in Buffalo, he would likely be a starter.

"We feel like his development will progress in the right direction if he's starting," Atkins said. "Secondary pitches, controlling the running game, fielding his position ... he has a better chance of learning those things as a starter than as a reliever."

Stanford was in the big-league rotation at the outset of the '04 season but has since undergone Tommy John elbow surgery, from which he didn't fully recover until last year. Harris has pitched in the Mariners' bullpen but is versatile enough to be used as a starter.

On the move: Perez isn't the only lefty reliever the Indians are excited about. He's part of a three-man group that also includes Juan Lara and Tony Sipp.

Perez and Lara made their big-league debuts with the Indians last season. Sipp, limited early in the year by an oblique strain, could very well do the same in '07.

"When you talk about those three guys, it's all in the same sentence," manager Eric Wedge said. "They all have a pretty good chance to be a solid Major League pitcher for us."

On the pine: The Indians eased first baseman Mike Aubrey into Grapefruit League action. Aubrey battled back and knee problems in '06 and played just 14 games between Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron. He got his first taste of game action this spring on Saturday, against the Tigers, backing up Ryan Garko.

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"We're keeping our fingers crossed that he can get through this spring healthy," Wedge said of Aubrey, who saw no action during big-league camp a year ago. "We have to be careful with his volume right now."

Names in the game: One reason the Indians brought former Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers manager Buck Showalter aboard as a senior advisor was to provide some assistance to Atkins, who is in his first year at the helm of the player development system.

"Already, he's talked to our managers about using the bullpen and having expectations and dealing with the stress," Atkins said of Showalter. "He has a very creative mind and great ideas. Having him in that role is a huge asset for me and for the system."

They're No. 1: Right-hander J.D. Martin, who was taken as a first-round sandwich pick in the '01 First-Year Player Draft, is hoping his elbow problems are finally in the rearview mirror.

Martin first had elbow trouble in '03 and underwent Tommy John surgery in '05, but a healthy second half of '06 encouraged the Indians enough to add him to the 40-man roster this past winter.

Martin made his first Grapefruit League appearance on Saturday against the Tigers, pitching a scoreless inning.

Class of '06: Left-hander David Huff, whom the Indians took with their first pick last June (39th overall), was in attendance for the Tribe's early Minor League camp. He has impressed the organization with his ability to control his fastball and his presence on the mound.

With three years at UCLA under his belt, Huff is viewed as a polished pitcher with the ability to rise through the system quickly. He went 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in four starts with short-season Mahoning Valley last summer.

Stat machine: Catcher Mike Rose, 30, looks like the favorite to be the everyday catcher at Triple-A Buffalo. In his first two Grapefruit League games, he notched five hits in five at-bats, scoring five runs and cranking out four doubles and three RBIs.

Outfielder Ben Francisco has caught Wedge's eye with his speed on the basepaths and the pop in his bat. He notched four hits in his first seven Grapefruit at-bats, including a two-run home run against the Phillies.

What they're saying: "The whole atmosphere up here is different. It's all laid-back here, and the [lunch] spread is definitely a lot better" -- Martin, comparing big-league camp, in which he is a first-time participant, to Minor League camp

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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