Spring Happenings is a recap
of the news and developments from the various media sources covering
the Tribe and minor league affiliates this spring. Spring Happenings
wraps up next Saturday March 31st, and then look for
the regular Minor Happenings to return every Thursday starting on April
12th. Minor Happenings covers
the important developments in the Indians farm system, and is only here
Rouse Is the Man
Unless there is a huge surprise
the final week of camp, it looks like the Indians will go with Mike
Rouse as their utility infielder to start the season. And, deservedly
so, as from what I saw in camp last week he is clearly the most deserving
of the spot.
Rouse has played well this spring, both in the field and at that plate.
To date, he is hitting .333 (11 for 33) with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs,
and in the field he has played very well at second base and shortstop.
He also has shown some wheels on the basepaths. The favorite entering
camp was Hector Luna, but he has eight errors in 17 spring games, and
is only hitting .241 (7 for 29) with 0 home runs and 1 RBI. Luis
Rivas has played well in the field, but has not hit well in spring as
he is hitting .176 (6 for 34) with 0 home runs and 4 RBIs. Joe
Inglett has been removed from consideration for the job because of a
bad hamstring that has kept him sidelined for a few weeks now.
Clearly, Rouse is playing the best defensively AND offensively, which
makes him almost a shoe-in to win the utility job. Of course,
I say almost because you never know what the Indians brain trust will
do. They could find some off the wall reason to keep Luna or Rivas
over Rouse, or they may make a trade to get a utility infielder.
But, to start the season, if the Indians have any sanity, they will
go with Rouse and see what he does before going the trade route.
Rouse has earned the chance.
The big advantage Rouse has for him is he is rostered, and he is out
of options. Something to consider is the Indians left Rouse on
the 40-man roster this past offseason instead of protecting prospects
outfielder Ryan Goleski and right-hander Jim Ed Warden from the Rule
5 Draft this past December. Knowing he was out of options, the
Indians felt strong enough about him to keep him over protecting one
of those two prospects, and Shapiro has stated this recently when he
said "He's a guy we thought was worthy of a roster spot, and you
know how much we value roster spots." Maybe Rouse was the
favorite all along for the utility gig.
Taking The 5th, Or Drinking It?
Earlier this week, when the Indians sent down right-hander Adam
Miller, Fausto Carmona was officially tabbed Cliff Lee’s replacement
in the starting rotation as the fifth starter. Apparently, Carmona
must have been out celebrating too much the night before his start against
Detroit. The day after Miller was sent down and Carmona was tabbed
the fifth starter, Carmona proceeded to get blasted by the Tigers in
giving up four runs on ten hits (five doubles) with two walks and a
strikeout in five innings. If it weren’t for the fact the Indians
turned a club record six double plays in the game (four while Carmona
was on the hill), his line might have been a lot worse.
Of Wickman And Wolves
Speaking of Carmona, former Indians closer Bob Wickman fired away
at the Indians this past week, saying that Carmona would probably be
the closer in Cleveland right now if the Indians had not "thrown
him to the wolves" in Boston and Detroit last year. Wickman
claims Carmona lacked the experience necessary to be ready for the closing
duties in two tough environments such as that (agreed), and that had
Carmona been eased into the role by closing out some two or three run
saves, he may have faired better (also agreed).
The Indians did not particularly like Wickman’s “wolves” comment,
and one has to wonder if there is a little sniping going on between
the Indians and Wickman here. Ever since Wickman agreed to a new
contract with Atlanta last year to play one more season, the Indians
have openly expressed their surprise with Wickman’s decision, and
not held back their thoughts on it.
Clearly the Indians had an understanding before trading him last July
that he was not going to play in 2007, so they traded him to give him
a final shot at the playoffs and get something for him. But, now
that he changed his mind, the Indians may be a little upset since if
they knew he would play in 2007 they would likely not have traded him
and would have loved to have him back as the closer this season.
Wickman’s comment about Carmona are strange timing, and may be retaliation
to some of the snide remarks the Indians have made about him this spring.
The Indians continue to waver on whether or not they will keep Ryan
Garko on the opening day roster. Right now, it appears the Indians
will definitely only keep one utility infielder (Rouse) and send the
other utility candidates to Buffalo (Inglett, Luna, and Rivas), but
now it appears the Indians may keep a fifth outfielder instead of Garko.
All camp it was mentioned that one of those other utility candidates
would be the main competition for Garko to make the team, but Garko’s
main competition for a roster spot is outfielder Ben Francisco.
Instead of two infielders on the bench, the Indians now may opt to keep
a fifth outfielder instead of the second utility player or Garko.
The outfield candidates to supplant Garko for the roster spot are Francisco,
Franklin Gutierrez, and Shin-Soo Choo. However, Francisco has
blown past Gutierrez, and since Rouse is a left-handed hitter it is
unlikely they will go with Choo on the bench since he also hits left-handed.
So, it appears to be a battle between Garko and Francisco for the final
The Indians plan to make some roster cuts in the next day or so, which
may more clearly define things. The decision on the final two
bench spots is not expected to be made until this coming Friday when
the Indians break camp.
Jhonny Be Good
Peralta continues to have an excellent spring. He is hitting
.297 (11 for 37) with 0 home runs and 5 RBIs, but most importantly he
has been impressive in the infield. For a lot of fans who watched
Peralta in the field last year, he lacked focus and hustle, and never
appeared willing to get dirty to dive for balls. However, so far
this spring, Peralta has shown much better range, a spring in his step,
much greater focus, and a willingness to get dirty. Several times
already this spring he has dove for balls, and a few times resulted
in great plays, like the play earlier in the week when he made a diving
stop of a sharp grounder hit into the hole by Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur
and scrambled to his feet to throw out Francoeur at first.
Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro often tabbed Peralta as the most
important player to the Indians success in 2007. And, so far,
Shapiro has raved saying ``He's been probably the brightest spot of
spring training.'' Shapiro acknowledges that Peralta has looked
good in the field and with the bat, but also has been good with his
conditioning, focus, and doing the extra work needed to improve.
Shapiro now wants to see Peralta carry it into the season, and if he
does the Indians will benefit from it big time.
Cliff Lee Update
Indians left-hander Cliff Lee,
sidelined by a right abdominal strain, has started his rehab.
Lee played catch this past Saturday for the first time since being shut
down over a week ago, and has since gone on a throwing program.
On Wednesday, Lee’s rehab continued as he played catch from 90 feet,
and he played catch again on Friday this time from 105 feet.
Lee will continue to throw every other day, and the plan is to have
him start throwing bullpen sessions in about a week. On the days
he days not throw, Lee will continue to undergo rehab on his abdominal
area. Lee will throw two or three bullpen sessions before the
Indians break camp on next Friday, but he will remain in Winter Haven
to continue his rehab before likely going on a minor league rehab assignment
for four to five starts. Lee will start the season on the disabled
list and is not expected back until late April or early May. He
will likely miss five to seven starts.
Deal or No Deal
The Indians have started talks with Jake Westbrook's agent Michael
Maas about a multi-year extension. This spring, the Indians have
been tight-lipped about contract talks with Westbrook, Travis Hafner,
and C.C. Sabathia, although Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro has
mentioned that before they leave Winter Haven they will provide a progress
report on negotiations with Westbrook and/or any other players.
Sabathia is on record as saying his agent Brian Peters and the Indians
have not had discussions about a contract extension yet, but that he
is not concerned about it since he is not eligible for free agency until
after the 2008 season. No word on contract extension talks regarding
Hafner, but there is word they may be close to an extension with him.
Fernando Needs More Work
The Indians love right-handed reliever Fernando Cabrera’s potential,
but know he has several things to work on before he can be a consistent
reliever for them. One of Cabrera’s biggest problems last year
was walks (almost five per nine innings). To help him with this
issue, the Indians had him play winter ball to fine-tune his mechanics
by staying more centered on the mound and more relaxed in his delivery.
Indians Pitching Coach Carl Willis is also working on adjusting where
Cabrera holds his hands during his delivery to improve his command.
Normally, the Indians would send Cabrera to Buffalo to work on these
things to finish him off; however, Cabrera is out of options and would
have to be exposed to waivers (where he would surely be claimed) to
send him to the minors. For now, Cabrera will need to work on
finishing his game off at the major league level and in bullpen sessions
on the side.
Now that Indians left-hander Cliff Lee will start the season on
the disabled list, Indians manager Eric Wedge tinkered with the starting
rotation he had set to start the season. C.C. Sabathia and Jake
Westbrook will still start the first two games of the season, respectively.
However, Jeremy Sowers has now been moved up to the third game, Paul
Byrd to the fourth game (home opener), and newly anointed 5th starter
Fausto Carmona will start the fifth game.
The Triple-A Buffalo rotation is still supposedly not set, but Farm
Director Ross Atkins was on the radio earlier in the week and hinted
that the rotation to start the season will be Adam Miller (RHP), Brian
Slocum (RHP), Rafael Perez (LHP), Jason Stanford (LHP) and Jeff Harris
(RHP). Left-hander Aaron Laffey, and right-handers Sean Smith and Dan
Denham could still figure into the rotation, but Denham most likely
will be a long man in the Buffalo bullpen and Laffey and Smith will
most likely be in the Double-A Akron rotation with Chuck Lofgren, Scott
Lewis, and JD Martin.
Lineup Pretty Much Set
Here are the two lineups the Indians plan to use to start the season
against left-handed and right-handed starting pitchers:
Against right-handed starters: (1) Grady Sizemore, (2) Trot Nixon, (3)
Travis Hafner, (4) Victor Martinez, (5) Casey Blake, (6) David Dellucci,
(7) Jhonny Peralta, (8) Andy Marte, and (9) Josh Barfield.
Against left-handed starters: (1) Sizemore, (2) Jason Michaels, (3)
Hafner, (4) Martinez, (5) Blake, (6) Ryan Garko, (7) Peralta, (8) Marte,
and (9) Barfield.
The first seven are set, but the Indians are still toying with the last
two spots in the order and trying to decide whether they should go Marte-Barfield
or Barfield-Marte. Putting Barfield ninth in the order may be
best, as he would be a table-setter for Sizemore and give Sizemore more
RBI opportunities. It also allows the Indians to bunch together
their two fastest runners.
Here We Go Again
Cue up the Whitesnake.
Once again Indians first base prospect Michael Aubrey has been sidelined
with an injury. And, once again it is an injury involving his
legs. In Aubrey's last spring training game with the Indians before
being sent down to minor league camp, Aubrey pulled his hamstring.
Since that game, about 10 days ago, Aubrey has not played or taken part
in any minor league games or practices. According to Indians Farm
Director Ross Atkins, Aubrey will not be back for at least two to three
weeks. That puts him in line to start the year on the Akron disabled
list, which is a place he is all too familiar with. Not a good
start to the season for Aubrey, in what many consider a make or break
year for the very brittle but highly regarded first baseman.
Cabrera to Akron
Indians top shortstop prospect Asdrubal Cabrera will start the year
in Double-A Akron. Starting Cabrera in Akron is not necessarily
a sign that his stock has fallen in the organization. First, the
losers of the utility battle in Indians camp will likely be assigned
to Triple-A Buffalo. That means as many as three middle infielders
will be assigned to Buffalo, and the Indians will want to play them
often to keep them fresh since the utility role is likely to be in constant
change all season with the Indians. It is likely that Hector Luna,
Joe Inglett and Luis Rivas will be in Buffalo, although Rivas can opt
out of his minor league deal on March 28th if he feels he can get a
better chance with another club
Second, in his minor league
career Cabrera has never played in Double-A as the Mariners forced him
through their system in Seattle by having him go right from Single-A
to Triple-A in 2005. Third, it is possible the Indians may want
to give Joe Inglett as much work as possible at shortstop, a position
he needs to improve on before he can be finally claim rights to the
utility infield gig he will probably hold for several years with the
Still only 21, Cabrera could
use a half a year in Double-A to work on his offense before being moved
back up to Triple-A midseason where he can hopefully finish things off
and be ready to contribute to the major league squad sometime in 2008.
Cabrera is considered one of the better defensive shortstop prospects
in baseball, but if he ever envisions being a starter at the major league
level his approach at the plate needs to improve.
Focus Shifted Left And Right
Grady Sizemore is firmly planted in center field with the Indians
for the next six years because of his multi-year contract and also because
he is an All-Star center fielder. Knowing this, the Indians now
have to rethink their philosophy in the outfield in their farm system.
The Indians are loaded with a lot of center field prospects with players
like Trevor Crowe, Brian Barton, Franklin Gutierrez, John Drennen and
others. Going forward, the Indians now will need to work in these
players into the corner positions in the outfield since that is their
only career path at this time with the Indians, but they will still
play some center field to keep those skills sharp.
The Sizemore Effect will mostly affect how the Indians use their outfielders
in the upper levels of their system in Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo.
In Buffalo, the Indians plan to use a four-man rotation in the outfield
with Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Francisco, Brad Snyder, and Franklin Gutierrez.
Of course, this could change if one of Francisco, Choo or Gutierrez
makes the Indians opening day roster, where then possibly a Brian Barton
may enter the Buffalo picture. The Indians plan to play the two
best of the four outfielders in Buffalo at the corner spots, and those
two players will get most of the playing time at those two corner spots.
Down in Akron, Trevor Crowe will stay play his natural center field
position, but he now will be rotated around to left and right field.
Also, as mentioned, Brian Barton will likely be moved around the outfield
in Akron if he does not make the Buffalo roster.
New Players Join Tribe Hall of Fame
The Indians announced four new inductees into the Indians Hall of
Fame this week. The 2007 class is right-handed pitchers Charles
Nagy, Mike Garcia, and Jim Bagby Sr., and first base and designated
hitter Andre "Thunder" Thornton. They will be formally
inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame this summer over Hall
of Fame Heritage Weekend August 10th through the 12th. The ceremonies
are expected to he held in the new Heritage Park complex located right
behind the centerfield wall at Jacobs Field. The addition of Nagy,
Garcia, Bagby and Thornton brings the total number of Indians enshrinees
From the What Are They Thinking Department
A few years ago, the Indians approached Port Charlotte, Florida
about a move to their spring training complex if they made around $9
million in improvements. Port Charlotte told the Indians to go
pound sand and would not approve the $9 million in improvements, so
the Indians looked elsewhere. So, what does Port Charlotte do?
They recently approved $27 million in improvements to get the Tampa
Bay Devil Rays to move there in two years.
The National Bandwagon
All offseason, pundits like Peter Gammons, Rob Neyer, Dayn Perry,
Buster Olney and others made claims that the Indians are serious World
Series contenders. With magazines and various other publications
now putting out their baseball preview issues, a lot of those claims
are now being put into fine print.
Baseball America recently claimed in their baseball
preview that the Indians will win the American League (AL) Central,
but lose in the playoffs before making the World Series. Also, Sports Illustrated predicted the Indians will win the
AL Central, but lose to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.
As more and more baseball previews come out in the next week before
the season starts, expect the preseason accolades for the Indians to
continue. Everyone knows this team is good and should win, now
they have to show they can do it.
Right-handed reliever Cliff Politte was signed to a minor league
contract just before spring training started. Politte is still
recovering from rotator cuff surgery last August, and is currently rehabbing
the injury. The Indians assigned Politte to the minors last week,
although he has yet to throw a pitch nor make an appearance at the complex.
Politte has not started throwing the baseball yet, and is still only
doing the physical rehab necessary to get to that point. Once
Pollitte is ready to start baseball activities, he likely will go to
extended spring training in Winter Haven to build arm strength and then
go on a minor league rehab assignment. If all goes well, he could
join the Indians sometime mid-summer.
Something that went unreported in camp the past few weeks is apparently
Jason Davis was sidelined the last week or so with soreness in his throwing
shoulder. Fortunately for Davis, he is now in the bullpen so the
time missed should not have an affect on him making the Indians opening
day roster. Davis threw in bullpen sessions on the side, but did
not appear in a game for 12 days. Davis returned this past week,
pitching Tuesday against the Devil Rays and Thursday against the Tigers
throwing three combined shutout innings.
Indians utility infielder candidate Joe Inglett continues to be plagued
by a sore left hamstring. Inglett's return date keeps getting
pushed back, as this past Tuesday he was supposed to suit up and play,
but could not get it going. The new targeted return for Inglett
is this Monday against Tampa Bay. But, any visions Inglett had
of making the team as a utility infielder have evaporated. Once
Inglett is healthy, he will go to Buffalo and probably rotate around
the infield as the Indians keep him sharp as Plan B or Plan C this year
for the utility gig.
Indians catcher Victor Martinez catches a lot of flack because of
his poor throw-out percentage of base-stealers. According to the
Indians, his arm is not the real problem, it is his feet in that he
has difficulty maintaining proper mechanics when he rises from his crouch
to throw to second or third base. … According to Indians manager Eric
Wedge, right-hander Tom Mastny and left-hander Juan Lara will be the
Indians top two bullpen depth options they turn to in the minors. …
On Friday night, Casey Blake made his first appearance in right field
this spring. … Some may not know, but former Indians catcher Tim Laker
retired last year and is now a coach in the Indians farm system.
Laker will make his minor league managerial debut this summer for the
Indians short-season affiliate Mahoning Valley. … 2006 high draft
pick right-hander Steven Wright will start the year in the rotation
for the Indians Single-A affiliate Lake County. … The Indians sent
six players to the minors this week: right-handed pitchers Adam Miller,
Jeff Harris and Brian Slocum, as well as outfielder Trevor Crowe, catcher
Wyatt Toregas, and left-handed reliever Tony Sipp. … Baseball America's
Chris Kline has a nice write-up on some top tribe pitching prospects here.