Swinging for the Fences: Spring Training Notebook
A photographic update on the latest Indians news from Goodyear
It's now halftime during my week in beautiful -- and I can't stress that description enough -- Goodyear, Arizona.
Just in my first few days, I have had the opportunity to see Danny Salazar make his first start of the spring, Carlos Santana play third base live, and the latest performances of the bench, bullpen, and fifth starter candidates.
During the Indians' 8-3 loss to the Angels at Goodyear Ballpark, I spent the day roving around the ballpark taking snapshots of the action.
Hard-throwing right-hander Danny Salazar made his 2014 Cactus League debut on Monday and was set to pitch two innings. Unfortunately, he was only able to last an inning and two thirds as he appeared to show some rust from being held back from starting his normal spring training activities. He allowed a run on two hits and two walks before being pulled with two outs in the second inning after loading the bases.
Following the game, Salazar took to Twitter:
"Beside I was a little wild today, felt amazing facing a different team for first time this spring training!" - @DannySalazar67.
There's still a lot of time left in spring training for Salazar to get stretched out and regain his control as long as he stays healthy.
Michael Brantley has been a bright spot this spring as he continues to wait for pitches to come to him and put the bat on the ball when they do. In Cactus League play thus far, he has nine hits and two RBI in 15 at-bats (.600), including a hit and sac-fly on Monday.
I was just starting to get excited about Trevor Bauer and the progress he had seemed to make this spring, but then Monday happened. The Angels were seeing the ball well against almost every Indians pitcher on Monday, but Bauer didn't help his cause much by allowing seven runs (six earned) on seven hits, including a home run in just two innings of work.
Indians skipper Terry Francona still believes Bauer could become something special, though.
"I still think there is a good Major League pitcher in there. We're just going to have to keep fighting," Francona said.
Personally, I don't know what to think of Bauer right now. He's throwing more strikes, but he's throwing them right down main street for many of the opposing hitters. If he can find a median between throwing balls and meatballs, he may develop into at least a serviceable starter, but there's still work to be done.
When he isn't in the batter's box, I have yet to catch Nick Swisher in a moment where he wasn't smiling. While he had a bit of a down year in 2013, his presence on the club was integral to their success as his veteran leadership and infectious personality was omnipresent in both good times and bad.
If his shoulder issues are behind him, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't return to his career norms as far as production. Being used exclusively at first base with Santana moving to third and David Murphy taking over in right field should help, as well.
One thing's for sure though, he should see no regression in smiles or laughs in the near future.
I'm excited to watch Jason Kipnis take his game to another level in 2014. On Monday, the Tribe's All-Star second baseman went 3-for-3 with an RBI. His average on the spring is now .444 in his first seven games with eight hits in 18 at-bats, including a double, a triple and two RBI. He has also walked twice and only struck out once.
The key for him is going to be maintaining his performance throughout the full season. While his numbers were off the charts in June last season, his numbers have fallen off in the second half of each of the last two seasons. At the age of 26, he is still firmly in his peak as a player and may even still have potential left to tap into.
Like Kipnis, Carlos Santana has high expectations on his shoulders in the upcoming season after posting arguably his best overall offensive season since coming into the league. While he may not be hitting homers like he did during his breakout season in 2011, he is improving as far as batting average and plate discipline.
In addition to what opportunities he has at the plate, he also will be moving to a new position with the club, likely third baseman/DH. From watching him live at the hot corner in a couple games, I can tell you that he appears to have a general familiarity with the position and some of the issues he may have should correct themselves over time (i.e. throwing motion, etc.).
The one are where he may not improve is range, but considering his overall value as a player, if the Tribe could get at least league-average defense from him at third, they could probably live with it.
This group has high expectations for 2014, but also will be flying under the radar as many major preseason projections have them finishing in the middle of the pack, or worse, in the AL Central in 2014. But if last season is any indication, these guys operate better when they're under the gun trying to prove their skeptics wrong.
Braves experiencing pitching crisis in Florida... Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor are now all questionable pitching options for the Braves starting rotation due to health and injury concerns.
Medlen was lifted from his appearance on Sunday early due to a strained forearm and has since been revealed to have ligament damage. The right-hander finished at 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA last season for Atlanta.
Beachy also exited his latest outing early due to bicep discomfort, which affected his command and velocity. In 2013, Beachy only made five big league starts for the Braves and was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA.
Add all that to the fact that Mike Minor is already questionable for opening day due to shoulder issues and the departures of veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm to free agency, and things could most definitely be reaching "crisis" levels in Atlanta as far as the starting pitching is concerned.
In the wake of the news, a report has surfaced that the Braves may be willing to make a run at free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana. Depending on the validity of the report and the desperation of Atlanta, this could be just the break Santana has been waiting for. He may not get the 4-year/$50 million deal he was looking for, but it may be better than the 1-year offers that may be on the table from the Blue Jays and Orioles.
This week is turning out to be everything I imagined it to be and more. The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming MLB season combined with the beautiful weather and picturesque scenery of the Phoenix area makes this the perfect winter getaway for any baseball fan.
The week's not over yet, but I can tell you, Goodyear, I will be back.
Count on it.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.