Prospects Experience a Week of Cold Temperatures and Hot Stove Dinners
Laurel Wilder | On 30, Jan 2014
With the off-season coming to a close, baseball fans everywhere are starting to get excited about the prospect of pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona in less than two weeks and the prospect of prospects themselves. The offseason is a chance for players who have already “made it” to the bigs to continue to improve their stuff and maintain their dominance, and is also an opportunity for younger guys to put together the performances that will prove their worth during spring training. Whether prospects and players in the minor league ranks have invited to big league spring training or not, the Arizona pre-season is still their chance to prove where they should be in the system, and, perhaps more importantly, why they should still be there.
All organizations obviously have those players that they predict will make it far within the system. Whether it is young guys like Dorssys Paulino, whom the Indians have demonstrated a lot of faith in as a strong future shortstop, or those on the brink of a stellar career, such as Jose Ramirez or Francisco Lindor, who have wait her already spent time at the major league level or are anticipated to make an appearance any season now, there are players throughout the minor league ranks that the Indians are preparing for a career with the big league team. One such step in this preparation is the annual Winter Development Program.
The Indians Winter Development Program, started in January of 1996 by Mark Shapiro, is a chance for a handful of minor league prospects to travel to Cleveland and become acquainted with the big league city, facility, and opportunities, as well as continue to hone their skills on the diamond. They participate in physical conditioning and baseball fundamentals throughout the week-long program designed for players who are expected to soon make their Major League debut, have been recently acquired by the organization, or are high-level prospects in the system.
Not only do players get to your the stadium (and spend time on the snow-covered field), but they have the opportunity to listen to presentations for Cleveland sports personalities, as well as speakers from the larger sports world as a whole. In past years, this has included individuals such as Buster Olney, someone from Ohio State, and speakers from the Indians organization itself, such as Chris Antonetti and Shapiro.
Players have also had the opportunity to go to local events such as Cavs games and also spend time with the host families with whom they stay during their stint in Cleveland.
Not only do players have the opportunity to get acclimated to Cleveland weather (likely one of the most terrifying changes for players from warm areas of the country and the world), they also have a chance to meet and become familiar with local fans who will be supporting them throughout their minor and, hopefully, eventual major league careers. Some players are included in the now-annual Tribe Fest lineup, and many also take part in local minor league Hot Stove Dinners.
Tonight, a number of players will travel to Niles, Ohio, and Eastlake, Ohio, to participate in the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Lake County Captains Hot Stove Dinners. Players who have attended such dinners in the past have included Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley. Last year, Lake County welcomed promising players such as, among others, Lindor, Preston Guilmet, Jesus Aguilar, and a name you may have heard mentioned once or twice last season – Danny Salazar.
Fans have a chance to purchase special event tickets for a pre-dinner meet and greet in which they can rub elbows with the invited players, taking autographs and pictures with their favorite prospects. Following this special event is the dinner itself, with talks by team personnel, team managers, and a featured speaker. This year, Lake County is featuring pitching coach Mickey Callaway, and Mahoning Valley is featuring Jason Stanford. New Lake County Manager Mark Budzinski is scheduled to be in attendance, as well.
There is also a question and answer session with the players and personnel following the dinner and speeches. This year, Lake County will host prospects Cody Anderson, Tyler Cloyd, Colt Hynes, Jake Lowery, Bryan Price, Ramirez, Will Roberts, and Joseph Colon. Mahoning Valley will play host to Tyler Naquin, Bryson Myles, Giovanny Urshela, Aguilar, Joe Wendle, Erik Gonzalez, and Kyle Crockett.
Although it may be too late for fans to buy tickets for tonight’s Hot Stove events, they are certainly opportunities to keep an eye on in coming years. Hot Stove dinners give local fans the chance to meet and interact with players whom they may be watching in a Major League game at the ballpark or on TV in the coming seasons. There’s no better way to celebrate a young prospect’s rise to success than being able to remember when he was sitting in a minor league clubhouse, talking about what he was going to do to make it in the bigs. It’s what Winter Development and the Hot Stove is all about – giving players the opportunities and encouragement that their dreams may soon become realities.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images