From the Ashes

In 2002, the Indians selected Matt Whitney and Jeremy Guthrie in the first 33 picks of the June Draft. Both started their careers with enormous promise, only to see them sputter by 2003. For the first time since then, their careers finally seem to be heading in the right direction.

The only reason Guthrie fell to the Indians at pick number 22 was his agent, Scott Boras. Scouting director John Mirabelli took a chance on him, and after lengthy negotiations signed him that fall. Guthrie received a major-league contract that expires at the end of this season.

Guthrie started his professional career in AA Akron, which was very unusual for even polished college starters. But Jeremy was certainly ready for upper-level competition: he posted a 1.44 ERA in 62.2 innings with the Aeros. His strikeout rates were pretty low (5.03/9 IP), but his hit rates were also very low (6.32/9 IP). His promotion to Buffalo was well-deserved.

Things fell apart for Jeremy, though, upon his arrival in Buffalo. He was hammered for 129 hits in only 96.2 IP, and was tagged for 15 home runs. Clearly whatever was working for him in Akron wasn't cutting it in Buffalo. It wasn't the stuff that betrayed him; Jeremy had (and has) a full arsenal of pitches, including a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curve.

As 2004 and 2005 came and went with no improvement at all, the only explantion seemed to be that he couldn't mentally handle the rigors of pitching. Maybe he was thinking too much on the mound, or possibly his confidence was shot.

This spring, Guthrie was the final starter to be optioned to Buffalo. He's going to be in the Bisons' rotation, something that was up in the air just a couple months ago. What happened? Your guess is as good as mine. As outsiders, we don't really know what's going on inside the clubhouse, what the conversations are between management and players. My guess is that the mechanical tweaks made last season at Buffalo are starting to take effect. Eric Wedge on Guthrie's progress:

"This guy's really turned the corner," Indians Manager Eric Wedge said Saturday after Guthrie was optioned to Class AAA Buffalo. "I think he was fantastic. He utilized all his pitches. He was more consistent and confident."

Guthrie had pitched well during spring training -- a 4.00 ERA and .219 opponents batting average in five appearances -- but the Indians had no openings in their starting pitching rotation.

"Even in conversations, you can recognize how far Jeremy's development has come," Wedge said. "He would be an option for us in either role (starting or relieving)."

Guthrie's probably third or fourth on the starter depth chart now, which is a huge jump from the end of last season or even last month.

Matt Whitney's career came to a screeching halt because of a sprinkler head. While playing a game of basketball in Winter Haven in 2003, Whitney ran to retrive a basketball, tripped over the aforementioned sprinkler head, and broke his leg in two places. The leg required multiple surgeries, and he didn't make it back to the field until late last season.

When he was drafted, Whitney's game was compared to that of Troy Glaus. He hit 10 home runs in Burlington at the age of 18. That's pretty special for a high school draftee.

Now Whitney is 22 and finally in playing shape. He's ticketed to be Kinston's starting third baseman. The real test for Matt is playing an entire minor-league season, something he's never done. Farm Director John Farrell on Whitney:

Whitney is playing third base and is moving well and showing no signs of the injury that basically stole three years from his career.
"His range has been solid in the field; he's running and moving well," said Farrell. "And his at-bats have been very consistent. He looks like he did when we first signed him. He's back on track."

Very encouraging news.

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