04/05/06 — K-Tribe prepares for 2006 season

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K-Tribe prepares for 2006 season

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on April 5, 2006 2:13 PM

KINSTON -- Fans saw some familiar faces and several exciting prospects Tuesday night at Grainger Stadium as the Kinston Indians opened their 2006 season with an exhibition game against the Buffalo Bison, the triple A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

The K-Tribe beat Buffalo 8-5, but the scoreboard had the K-Tribe as an 11-5 winner when the night was over since Kinston pushed across three runs in the bottom of the ninth. And with pitchers throwing against their own team for much of the evening, there was no hiding the fact that the contest was a tuneup for the regular season.

But K-Tribe fans, who saw their team come up just one win shy of winning another Carolina League title a year ago, caught a preview of what could be another memorable summer in eastern North Carolina.

K-Tribe catcher Armando Camacaro had a two-run single in the sixth that put the Indians up for good, and third baseman Trevor Crowe went 2-for-4 with a triple, double and two RBIs as Kinston pounded out 13 hits. Buffalo managed just six hits as Jason Cooper and Andy Marte each hit two-run homers for the Bisons. Ben Francisco added a solo shot in the ninth.

Jason Johnson, the Cleveland Indians' No. 5 pitcher, started Tuesday's game for the K-Tribe as a tuneup for his first start with the big club later this week. A member of the Detroit Tigers last year, Johnson was 8-13 in 33 starts last season with a 4.54 ERA.

A total of 14 players on this year's K-Tribe roster spent all or part of last season with the ballclub. Pitchers Kyle Collins, Chris Niesel, Scott Roehl, Sean Smith and Jesus Soto return to Grainger Stadium to start 2006. In the field, familiar faces Caleb Brock, Rodney Choy Foo, Stephen Head, Brandon Pinckney, Argenis Reyes, Micah Shilling, Brian Barton and Ryan Goleski all back with the K-Tribe.

And as usual, the K-Tribe's roster is dotted with top prospects again this season.

Third baseman Matt Whitney was a first-round draft pick in 2002, but broke his left leg while playing basketball at spring training in 2003. He missed the entire season with the injury, then was limited to DH duties in '04. Last season was the first time Whitney played third base extensively in three years.

Head, a first baseman, was selected in the second round out of the University of Mississippi in the 2005 draft and is Baseball America's ninth-ranked prospect in the Cleveland organization. Head hit .308 with 10 home runs with Mahoning Valley and Kinston last season.

Chuck Lofgren, a left-handed pitcher, comes to the K-Tribe after being taken in the fourth round in 2004. Lofgren is Baseball America's 11th-ranked prospect in the Cleveland organization, and went to Sera High in San Mateo, Calif., the same high school that produced Barry Bonds, Jim Fregosi, Gregg Jefferies, and New England quarterback Tom Brady. Lofgren was a standout two-way player who had a clause in his contract that said he could DH in his 2004 debut. He is strictly a pitcher now.

Jensen Lewis, a right-handed hurler, was a third-round pick in last year's draft. Lewis is Baseball America's 19th-ranked prospect in the Cleveland organization. Lewis went to Vanderbilt University where he was a teammate of former K-Triber Jeremy Sowers.

This year's team will be directed by manager Mike Sarbaugh, who earned a promotion to Kinston after guiding the Lake County Captains to a 72-66 (.522) record last year. A member of the Cleveland Indians organization as either a player or coach for the past 16 years, Sarbaugh returns to Grainger Stadium where he played as a K-Tribe infielder in 1990 and 1991. Sarbaugh, 38, started his coaching career in 1995 as hitting instructor for the K-Tribe, leading them to the Carolina League Championship.

He became the hitting coach for the Columbus RedStixx of the South Atlantic League in 1996 and 1997 and returned to Kinston in the same position in 1998 and 1999.

This will mark Sarbaugh's third different managerial stop in three seasons as he made his debut in 2004 as the skipper at Mahoning Valley, leading the Scrappers to a New York-Penn League Championship. In his playing days, Sarbaugh was an all conference shortstop at Lamar University. He played six seasons of minor league baseball the last five as a member of the Cleveland Indians organization.

Buffalo opens up the regular season against International League for Richmond on Thursday.

The Kinston Indians open up their Carolina League schedule Thursday at Winston-Salem and will play their home opener at 7 p.m. Monday against the Wilmington Blue Rocks.