Minors report: Prospects hit the books

Minors report: Hitting the books

TAMPA, Fla. -- Class is in session in the Indians Minor League camp.

Perhaps they thought their school days were done when they finished high school or college and cashed in their signing bonus, but Tribe prospects are finding themselves in the classroom at least five days a week.

The classes are broken into specific categories, based on players' positions. The instructors are the organization's Minor League coordinators and coaches, depending on skill sets.

"You can't assume people just have baseball instincts," farm director Ross Atkins said. "So we're doing our best to teach instincts and teach discipline and help them understand the reasons why we do things. You can't just do that with repetitions. Our approach to teaching is, we hope, well-rounded."

The lengths of the near-daily classes range anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

And, yes, homework is assigned on occasion, though it's not of the term paper variety.

"It might be more like, 'Hey, bring me your routine and let's address it and adjust it,'" Atkins said.

On the move: Chuck Lofgren, Scott Lewis and Aaron Laffey have a lot more in common than the first letter of their last names and the fact that they're all left-handed.

Each member of the trio impressed the right people in big-league camp.

"I like the way they carry themselves," manager Eric Wedge said. "They have presence on the mound. They're all real different, stuff-wise, but they all use their strengths."

Lofgren, Lewis and Laffey were re-assigned to Minor League camp on Sunday and will likely open '07 in the Double-A Akron rotation.

Lofgren made two Grapefruit League appearances -- one ghastly and one effective -- as he went 0-1 with a 33.75 ERA. Lewis went 1-0 with a 16.20 ERA in two appearances, and Laffey went 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two appearances.

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Names in the game: Tim Belcher, a special assistant to the Indians front office, uses his 14 years of experience as a pitcher with the Dodgers, Reds, White Sox, Tigers, Mariners, Royals and Angels to help out in the classroom sessions.

"Every day, there's a different topic," Atkins said. "The importance of routines, the importance of getting guys out on three pitches, keeping your body in shape and making 30 starts a year ... Tim Belcher's voice is certainly loud in those settings."

They're No. 1: Trevor Crowe, the 14th overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, is probably as confident a prospect as they come. And the Indians' confidence in him is growing by the day.

"He definitely has a big-league presence about him," Wedge said of Crowe, who went 3-for-11 in his first six Grapefruit League games. "He needs to keep going. He's confident, and there's nothing wrong with that. We welcome confidence and discourage complacency."

With his speed and his eye at the plate, Crowe, who will probably open the season at Double-A Akron, profiles as a potential leadoff hitter.

"I think he has the potential to be that guy," Wedge said.

Class of '06: The Indians made it a point to seek out catching depth in the '06 amateur draft, and their first selection in that department was Matt McBride, who was taken out of Lehigh University with the 75th overall pick.

McBride catches attention with his 6-foot-2, 215-pound build.

"Right now, what stands out is his frame," Atkins said. "We like his strength and projected durability."

McBride got his professional career started with 52 games at short-season Mahoning Valley, where he hit .272 with four homers and 31 RBIs.

"There's some things about his plate approach that need to become more professional," Atkins said. "And then catching, there's some work to do. But by no means is he a project. We need to loosen up his flexibility so he can put his body in a position to receive every pitch comfortably."

Stat machine: Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez hit .350 (7-for-20) with three RBIs in his first eight spring games. ... Left-handed reliever Juan Lara held the opposition scoreless in his first 3 2/3 innings of work, striking out four batters. ... Catcher Max Ramirez, acquired in last July's Bob Wickman trade, hit .286 (2-for-7) in six games. ... Outfielder John Drennen was brought in as an extra body from Minor League camp and had hits in his first three at-bats. ... Left-handed reliever Tony Sipp struck out five batters in his first three innings of work.

What they're saying: "He gets in the box thinking he's going to hit. That confidence is a tremendous attribute." -- Hitting coach Derek Shelton, on Crowe

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