Tribe Happenings: Indians are over halfway home this spring
Several players are making strong cases to make the roster
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Over halfway home…
So far things have gone about as well as they could go in camp for the Indians.
Spring training is not about winning games and getting all too caught up in the numbers players put up. It is about getting your pitchers ready and surviving the seven week camp without any major injuries. Ask the Yankees about how they think about their spring training after already losing some key players to injury.
Sure, Chris Perez is dinged up with a mild shoulder strain, but he is still expected to be back in time before the season. And yes, Frank Herrmann has a very serious right elbow injury that looks like is going to lead to Tommy John surgery. But for the most part, so far the Indians have managed to stay healthy.
With four weeks of spring training in the books and just under three weeks to go, the regulars will now start to play more and more and the 61 player roster will start to seriously be cut down over the next week. As the stage is set for the players to round out the spring on a good note to carry a positive vibe into the regular season, here is a quick review of what I think are the five most notable good and bad performances to date this spring.
Ryan Raburn (INF) – At this point, barring an injury, he has a spot on the 25-man roster locked up as he has had an impressive spring going 11-for-22 at the plate with 4 HR and 11 RBI. His versatility to play several positions and provide some right-handed pop off the bench fits in well with what the team needs. That all said, he had 6 homers and a .994 OPS in spring training last year for the Tigers and then hit .171 with 1 homer in 66 games for them in the regular season, so he is far from a sure thing to stick long into the season.
Nick Swisher (1B) – So far Swisher has been as advertised as he has been great in the clubhouse with a lot of energy and his teammates – at least for now – really seem to buy into his shtick. He also has shown no signs of pressure being the big dog and coming off a big contract as he is hitting a blistering 12-for-24 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. We will see how he fares when the regular season starts, but so far so good.
Ben Francisco (OF) – He probably will not make the team, though he does have an outside for the final bench spot along with the likes of Jason Giambi, Ezequiel Carrera, and Yan Gomes. He is 8-for-19 this spring, but what is most impressive is that six of his eight hits are doubles. He will probably open the season at Triple-A Columbus as an immediate outfield reserve for the Indians.
Nick Hagadone (LHP) – I’d argue that Hagadone’s showing so far in camp is the brightest as he is really taking the bull by the horns to fill one of the Indians biggest needs as a go-to lefty in the backend of their pen. In four appearances has thrown 4.0 shutout innings and allowed 2 hits, 1 walk and has 7 strikeouts. He has shown no signs of rust from his arm injury sustained last July and he is dominating on the mound much like he did for most of his time last season before he ran into a three week struggled and eventually melted down with the self-inflicted injury which prematurely ended his season.
Scott Kazmir (LHP) – While Hagadone may be the most important showing so far in camp, the most exciting showing is that of Kazmir. The Indians have some good options for the fifth starter spot, but his showing so far brings hope that the Indians maybe caught a break for once with a reclamation project. There is still a long way to go before we know if what he has done so far is for real, but at this point only an injury appears in his way of him winning the fifth starter spot.
Ezequiel Carrera (OF) – Carrera has bounced around between Cleveland and Columbus the last two seasons and done a solid job when called up the past two seasons, so much so that he has developed a good fan following that would like to see him make the opening day roster. But he is just 4-for-23 this spring, and even though he has 6 stolen bases it is hard to see the Indians carrying him as what amounts to a fifth outfielder and late inning pinch runner. He looks bound for the waiver wire.
Michael Bourn (OF) – Bourn is off to a slow start going just 4-for-24 in nine games and with only 2 walks. The defense has been there, but the speed part of the game has not shown itself yet because of his inability to get on base. He is not a guy to be too concerned about as he is a veteran and has never really been a big performer in the spring, but when the season starts he has to be ready to go as he is the straw that is going to stir the Indians offense this season.
Chris McGuiness (1B) – McGuiness is just 3-for-22 this spring with no extra base hits and 6 strikeouts. For a player picked in the Rule 5 Draft and no experience above Double-A, a player like him is the exception when it comes to spring stats having any significance. It remains to be seen if the Indians try to keep him and complete a trade with the Rangers so they can send him to the minors, but at this point he will probably soon be sent back to the Rangers.
Carlos Carrasco (RHP) – Carrasco’s two spring outings in actual Major League games have led to an unimpressive total of 4.0 innings 8 hits, 6 runs (5 earned), 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. He is healthy, but he no doubt is still a little rusty and may need some time in Columbus to get him in a groove and get everything going smoothly for him again. He has another three or four outings left this spring, so there is still an outside chance he makes the opening day roster, but it looks unlikely at this point.
Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP) – Jimenez’s stat line is ugly as in three games he has thrown 8.0 innings and allowed 12 hits, 6 runs (all earned), 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts. His overall total is heavily influenced by a terrible outing on March 2nd when he allowed 5 runs on 7 hits in 2.0 innings, but he bounced back his last time out on March 7th and allowed 1 run on 3 hits in 4.0 innings. He has incorporated a few changes to the mechanics in his delivery to be more fluid the whole way through it and it looks to be something he is having some success with but just needs more consistency with it.
Kazmir’s spot to lose
One of the most intriguing developments this spring has been that of left-hander Scott Kazmir and what he has shown to date in camp. In two spring games he has thrown 4.0 shutout innings and allowed 2 hits, no walks, and has 4 strikeouts, and also threw three scoreless innings in a ‘B’ game on Wednesday.
The Indians opened camp with Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber all in consideration for the fifth spot in the rotation. They have maintained all throughout camp that there are actually two open spots in the rotation available as Zach McAllister has not yet been named as part of the rotation, but it is considered a formality that he will be and only an injury would prevent him from being named.
With a little less than three weeks to go Kazmir is the clear leader for the final spot in the rotation. With the way he has looked in his side sessions and how well he is throwing the ball so far in camp, the Indians are very intrigued by what he has shown so far and barring injury he looks to have all but locked up the final spot in the rotation.
Kazmir has outperformed all of the starters to date and his arm strength is starting to come back, but there are other reasons he will probably make the rotation that go beyond performance. For one, he is coming off some serious arm issues and the bullets in his arm may be limited, so it may be best to see what he can give the team now rather than hold onto him as a depth option where he may not be available later in the season due to injury or performance issues.
But most importantly, Kazmir can opt out of his minor league contract on April 2nd if he is not added to the Indians’ 25-man opening day roster. With the way he is throwing right now, if the Indians fail to roster him he most definitely would opt out of his deal and have a lot of interest in the free agent waters. The Indians can ill afford to let him get away if he continues to pitch like he has over the final three weeks of spring training, so if the health is there, he is in line to get a trial run at the outset of the season to see if he is for real or not.
It will probably take eight or ten starts in the regular season – about mid-May – before the Indians can truly assess what they have in Kazmir. If he is pitching well, they obviously keep him around and he becomes a huge shot in the arm to the rotation. If he is struggling, then they move onto plan B, C or D with one of Carrasco, Bauer, or Matsuzaka.
The tricky thing is that Matsuzaka may not even stick around as an option as accordingly to some reports he has an opt out in his contract similar to Kazmir’s where he can opt out on April 2nd (or around there) and become a free agent if he is not on a Major League roster. I think at this point though, while his numbers have been solid this spring, he is showing he is still not all the way back from his arm injury and it may do him some good to open the season in the minors as a depth option. But, then again, there is pride on the line and he and his agent may feel that he can latch on with someone if they decide to opt out. He is not just pitching for the Indians this spring, he is also pitching for 29 other teams.
Carrasco and Bauer have options remaining, so if Kazmir is truly pitching well the Indians have the opportunity to have Carrasco and Bauer open the season in Triple-A while the Indians get that extended look at Kazmir. Bauer has impressed this spring and is a future lynchpin to the rotation, but it would probably benefit him and the Indians most if he opened the season at Columbus to fine tune a few things, get him settled in, and also manage his service clock a little (if he spends about a month in the minors the Indians control of him jumps a year from 2017 to 2018).
I’ve been back and forth on how Carrasco should be handled. All winter I initially felt the Indians would monitor his workload and maybe have him open the season in extended spring training, but then realized having him start a throwing program in February to pitch all spring only to sit him to monitor his innings at the conclusion and then restart him back up in May makes no sense as it may put too much stress on his arm and also make him unavailable until June. He’s going to be on hand at Columbus and probably be the first starting option the Indians turn to if an injury in the rotation crops up or one of McAllister-Kazmir struggle. If those two are going well, then he could even replace Jimenez in June if he is struggling like he did last season.
Of course, with three weeks left in spring training things can change at a moment’s notice with an injury or two. But as long as Kazmir stays strong, he’s looking like a sure thing to pitch in the Indians’ fifth game of the season in on April 6th against the Rays in Tampa.
Checking in on some old friends
The Indians have several players from last year’s Major League roster that are scattered about in Major League camps in Arizona and Florida. Here is a quick overview on how those players are doing this spring:
Travis Hafner (DH) – 6 games with the Yankees: 2-for-12, 2B, RBI
Thomas Neal (OF) – 9 games with the Yankees: 4-for-16, 2B, HR, 3 RBI
Shelley Duncan (OF) – 10 games with the Rays: 5-for-26, 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Aaron Cunningham (OF) – 12 games with the Rangers: 6-for-18, 3 2B, HR, 2 RBI
Casey Kotchman (1B) – 7 games with the Marlins: 8-for-20, 2B, HR, 5 RBI
Jack Hannahan (3B) – 11 games with the Reds: 5-for-20, 2B, RBI
Shin-Soo Choo (OF) – 7 games with the Reds: 4-for-15, RBI
Jason Donald (INF) – 12 games with the Reds: 6-for-20, 2 2B, 2 RBI
Brent Lillibridge (INF) – 5 games with the Cubs: 3-for-10, RBI
Russ Canzler (OF) – 12 games with the Orioles: 3-for-19, 2 RBI
Roberto Hernandez (RHP) – 3 games with the Rays: 6.0 IP, 2 R/ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 4 K
Jeanmar Gomez (RHP) – 3 games with the Pirates: 6.0 IP, 10 H, 12 R (9 ER), 5 BB, 3 K
Esmil Rogers (RHP) – 5 games with the Blue Jays: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R/ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 7 K
Jeremy Accardo (RHP) – 5 games with the Nationals: 5.0 IP, 10 H, 3 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 4 K
Dan Wheeler (RHP) – 5 games with the Royals: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K.
So do you miss anyone? And how about Jeanmar Gomez or Esmil Rogers so far this spring? Yecht. Anyway, just looking over that list and then comparing it to the current Indians roster is just another testament of how big a roster makeover the Indians really had in the offseason.
The World Baseball Classic is well underway, and the tournament has been must-see baseball so far. The home crowds have been amazing, the games have been very competitive and entertaining, and as much as Americans continue to ignore it the game really matters to the players and fans for all the other countries.
It is unfortunate that Americans have yet to truly catch onto the WBC because it has the makings of being a very special tournament. While Major League Baseball is what most fans ultimately only care about, the same goes for the fans of other countries as well. Japanese fans look to their Nippon Professional Baseball League much the same ways Americans do with Major League Baseball, yet Japanese fans have no problem getting into the tournament and following their team as seen by the amazing 33% of all households watching their first round games last week.
The same is true for the Latin teams in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico who all have a huge following and lots of support. The fans for those teams view their winter leagues in their respective countries as the best, yet they also have no problem supporting their teams. Also, if you watched the first round games in Taiwan, the Chinese-Taipei fans were insanely into the game.
Everyone else seems to be into the WBC thing and able to separate themselves from their respective leagues in their home countries to support their teams on the world stage, yet, for whatever reason, American support still lags well behind.
A lot of Americans are fearful that players for their Major League teams will get hurt playing in the WBC, yet I don’t hear those fears being mentioned by the other fans of other countries. Also, Americans continue to say – almost in an elitist way – that Major League Baseball is the only league that truly matters. A lot of this is ignorance at the expense of an American culture which has never really known what it is like to participate in world events such as this.
The closest comparison to the WBC is the FIFA World Cup in soccer (or football for those across the pond). I am hardly a soccer fan, but the World Cup event every four years is the number one sporting event watched worldwide, even more than the Super Bowl. Because of the United States’ poor showing over the years with their national men’s soccer teams, fans have never really grown accustomed to such a world tournament. I think this has a direct effect on how Americans are slow to get on board with the WBC.
I for one love the WBC. I hope it is here to stay for a long time, and by all accounts it will. There are certainly some things with the tournament structure which still need ironing out, and the United States may always struggle in this format, but I think if Americans gave it a real chance they would find that it is competitive baseball at its finest. The World Series may not be on the line, but the atmosphere for these games has playoff intensity and bragging rights and pride are on the line every game.
2013 Indians prospect book
As noted earlier in the week, the new 2013 Indians Baseball Insider Top 100 Prospects & More book is now available. The book is 252 pages in length and has scouting reports on 204 players in the Cleveland Indians’ system. Every single player that played stateside last season is profiled, which includes every player selected in the 2012 Draft and several players signed internationally over the past two years yet to play stateside. Even several minor league free agent signings in the offseason are profiled.
There is no better reference guide around to follow the Indians players this season that are below the big league club. It has all of the information you need with firsthand scouting reports taken from personal insight gained from watching games as well as talking to numerous scouts, front office personnel, and coaches within and outside the Indians organization. These are not just regurgitated reports you see almost everywhere else where people just reword stuff they read on this site or other national sites like Baseball America and others.
At the moment the book is only available on-line through direct order from the publisher, but once I return from spring training I plan on fulfilling personal orders and mailing out signed copies to those that are interested. Stay tuned for details on that. As always, thanks for the support!
Outfielder Michael Brantley was back at practice on Thursday and is expected to play in today’s game as the designated hitter for two at bats before being removed. The plan is to continue to ease him into full game activity and have him play the outfield on Monday and get two at bats. … Chris Perez is expected to begin his return to throwing program this week, possibly as early as today. Barring any setbacks in his return to throw program, he should open the season on time. …. Earlier in the week the Indians signed 11 pre-arbitration players to deals: Cody Allen, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tim Fedroff, Trey Haley, T.J. House, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Chris McGuiness, Danny Salazar and Bryan Shaw. The following players are still unsigned and they have until Tuesday to sign them: Jason Kipnis, Scott Barnes, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, David Huff, Chen-Chang Lee, Josh Tomlin, Yan Gomes, Juan Diaz, Mike McDade, Cord Phelps and Ezequiel Carrera. … Right-hander Frank Herrmann is visiting Dr. David Altchek in New York this week for another opinion on his elbow. His season could be in jeopardy as he looks to be facing Tommy John surgery. … Right-handed relievers Blake Wood and C.C. Lee are working their way through their throwing programs and barring any setbacks they should be ready to pitch in sim-games in extended spring training.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
He's a fringe major league outfielder who provides a right-handed bat off the bench.
I'll be disappointed if Carrasco and Bauer aren't dominating in Columbus by May.
He is not saying "why are talking about trading Ascab". He is saying the Cards would not trade two top pitching prospects for Ascab. Not sure what he thinks if Perez was included. Probably stil no.
And. The deal WOULD bring us pitching. Miller is a young stud who could lead the rotation with Bauer for years to come.
It does not take a rocket science major to figure out thats not going to happen at this time but it does not mean it wouldn't be nice if it did. Probably a step back this season but would be a huge leap forward in the future. I also think Lindor has alot more value than Rosenthal. I was thinking the Cards might look at it as a deal for this year and next. As Perez and Ascab are both signed next year as well. Its not going to happen.... but
Its the type of deal I hope we look into next offseason where we look to package Ascab and Perez for a young top of the rotation starter. Of course great years from Perez and Ascab would really give us more options when and if we look to deal them. Personally, I think its the right move if the deal is there instead of just watching them walk away. You gotta think outside the box. Giambi was called "the one move in the offseason that made no sense." Now, he is almost a lock to the make the team out of ST.
In regards to trading Ascab. I think he has move value then people are giving him credit for. I would love to trade Perez and Ascab to the Cards for Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Patrick Wisdom. Gives us a young starter FOR starter to go with Carrasco, Masterson and Bauer. A young closer to take over for Perez and a nice young thirdbasemen who could be looked at as a trade chip if a need arises in the future.
With that said.
I can't believe the Astros have not traded Jed Lowrie. The Astros are the worst team in baseball and need prospects. Jed would be a nice fit for the Cards at SS.
Your use of "perennial all-star" to describe Asdrubal Cabrera is laughable. He's a two-time all star.
No way the Indians get Miller and Rosenthal for Cabrera. Foolish talk
Yes, it is possible Carrasco could open the season in extended to get a few outings in warm weather, though I am not exactly sure on the procedure with that as he may have to be on the DL to do that. Maybe they put him on the 15-day DL so as to not initially use an option and to also have him remain in Arizona in the warmer weather while he continues to pitch. And touche on the WBC, Roger.
Too bad about Hermann. Seemed like he improved each year.
My how the OF situation has changed. A year ago Ben Francisco would have been welcomed in LF and now he is looking like support banked away in Columbus
The season is a 26 week marathon (marathon is 26 miles) so why not let him have 4 weeks on the DL and rehab or option him to c-bus to ascertain his health because you are spot on no way does kazmir clear waivers. I have to disagree with you on the WBC again i guess i am one of the old world americans who believes the sun rises and sets in the usa. The rest of the world takes a back seat to america. Being old usually is being set in your ways and 40 versus 60 gives you a different perspective.