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Tribe Happenings: With Donald out, Hannahan the favorite?

March 20, 2011
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Non-roster spring invitee Jack Hannahan may
now be the Indians best hope at third base.
(Photo: Tony Lastoria)
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Tribe notebook…

Donald’s injury opens door

Infielder Jason Donald was an uncertainty going into camp because of his lack of experience playing third base, but he really had a strong showing that he can handle the position and appeared to be the odds on favorite to win the opening day spot at third for the Indians.  That was up until he was hit in the left hand with a pitch back on March 5th.

Since then, Donald has been out of games rehabbing the hand and trying to get back out there.  He was expected to be back sooner, but the bruise was worse than originally thought and he had a minor setback.  He played in a minor league spring game on Thursday and only played in the field as the Indians are easing him back into the fold.  Since the injury is to his non-throwing hand, it does not present much of a problem in the field, but hitting will be the big test to see if there is no pain when he swings.

Then yesterday it was learned that Donald has a crack in his left middle finger which is going to sideline him longer where he will have to open the season on the disabled list.  It is not known when he will be available to play for the Indians this season, but it looks like he will miss at least the first two or three weeks of the season.

With Donald out, infielder Jack Hannahan has really taken advantage of the opportunity and may now be the favorite to win the position.  With Lonnie Chisenhall sent out to minor league camp and with Donald out, it has really given the Indians a long, extended look at Hannahan and he has impressed, especially with the bat.  In 14 games this spring he is hitting .400 (14-for-35) with four doubles and four RBI.  He has some versatility to play third and first base, and could be an option to make the team either as the third baseman or as a player off the bench.

The other third base options are Luis Valbuena and Jayson Nix, though Valbuena may be ticketed to Triple-A Columbus to be the regular shortstop.  Because Hannahan and Nix can play more than one position and Nix is right-handed and Hannahan is left-handed, it is possible the Indians may opt for a platoon situation in the short term at third base.

Short leash for Talbot?

Everyone has been so focused on the camp battle for the fifth starter’s spot between left-handed pitcher Dave Huff and right-handed pitchers Jeanmar Gomez and Josh Tomlin that right-handed pitcher Mitch Talbot’s tenuous hold on the fourth start spot has been overlooked.

Talbot, 27, had a solid season last year for the Indians going 10-13 with a 4.41 ERA in 28 starts.  Because of his strong overall showing last year and him being out of options, he went into spring training this year with a guaranteed spot in the starting rotation to start the season.

But how long will Talbot hold onto it?

Talbot had a nice first half last season where prior to the All Star break he went 8-8 with a 3.99 ERA in 17 starts, but he faded in the second half where after the break he made 11 starts and went 2-5 with a 5.29 ERA.  He made a strong impression last spring where he made five appearances and had a 3.71 ERA (17.0 IP, 17 H, 4 BB, 10 K), but this spring he has been a disaster so far where in four appearances he has a 10.80 ERA (11.2 IP, 21 H, 4 BB, 5 K).

Talbot’s struggles late last season and his poor showing so far this spring make you wonder how long the Indians will stick with him in the rotation this year if he continues to struggle.  Since he is out of options he would have to be put on waivers before he could be sent to the minors, but if he continues to struggle, does it really matter if anyone claims him (who would claim him?).

Talbot is probably not long for the organization and is just a stop gap until (hopefully) better options present themselves, and the Indians certainly have several arms that they would like to take a look if he struggles.  In addition to those in the battle for the fifth starter opening, others like right-handers Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Anthony Reyes and Alex White could all be options at some point.

Right-hander Fausto Carmona should be a staple at the top of the rotation another few seasons, and right-hander Carlos Carrasco has the most upside of any pitcher in the Indians system not named Carmona.  Outside of that, though, there is too much uncertainty with the rotation, which is why even with Talbot’s struggles he is a good guy to have in the short term as a “what you see is what you get” kind of pitcher.”

But if Talbot continues to struggle into mid-May, don’t be surprised to see the Indians move quickly and go with another option from Triple-A Columbus.

Keeping it in house

The Indians kicked the tires on a few free agent pitchers in the offseason.  Everyone knows that they were talking to right-handers Jeremy Bonderman and Kevin Millwood, and they also talked to other free agent pitchers on minor league deals like Rodrigo Lopez, Dave Bush, Bartolo Colon, Justin Duscherer, and Jeff Francis.

No deal with any pitcher ever materialized, and while it is uncertain how strongly the Indians pursued the pitchers they talked to in the offseason, I for one am happy they did not waste the time and resources on signing any of them.

It is hard to argue the Indians’ reasoning as to why they wanted to bring in another starter, even as a reclamation project.  They wanted to sign someone to give them another starting option to eat some innings this year so they would not have to rely on so many of their young pitchers and possibly be forced to push a guy to the big leagues faster than they may prefer (like Jeanmar Gomez last year).

But in what is viewed as a developmental year, there is no better time to get an extended look at the likes of right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson to see if they are guys to build upon for a contending rotation.  They also have lots of backend starting options with Gomez, Huff, Tomlin, Talbot, Kluber, McAllister and White, so there are plenty of innings to be spread around without really overworking anyone or pushing anyone too soon.  Of those listed only White would seem to be someone who could be pushed too soon as he may not see any time in Cleveland this year.

Right-hander Anthony Reyes will also be in the mix provided he has no setbacks with his surgically repaired elbow.  Injuries can always play into things, but you never can predict that or truly prepare yourself for them.

So kudos to the Indians for not just signing a veteran starting pitcher just to sign one.  I for one am happy to pass on the reclamation project and instead see what we have with all this pitching depth they have accumulated at the big league and upper levels of the minors.  There is no better time to find out what these guys can do.

Indians make tough call on Chisenhall

It was a tough decision to make, but the Indians made the right one when they sent hot hitting third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to minor league camp on Monday.  In 12 spring games with the Indians he hit .500 (13-for-26) with two homers and five RBI.

The move came as no surprise as Chisenhall himself knew at the outset of spring that he would not make the team.  Had he hit a homer in every game and hit .850 he still would have been ticketed for Triple-A Columbus, but when the move was announced a lot of people really disapproved of the decision.

Yes, part of the reason Chisenhall was sent out was to manage his service clock and his payroll number down the road.  But this is nothing new.  If you polled people from other organizations this is common place. You will be hard-pressed to find a zero service time rookie with any long term value starting the season in the big leagues for any team.  It is just the way clubs operate these days where they choose to have rookies open the season in Triple-A in order to manage their future cost and when they attain free agency rights.

That all said, this was a move to send Chisenhall out in order to continue to hone in his defensive game.  This will be just his third year playing third base, so there are some things he still needs to smooth out there, particularly with his throwing.  He also only had a batting line of .278/.351/.450 last year at Double-A Akron, which was good but not great.  He needs Triple-A time to become more consistent offensively, get better against left-handed pitching, and get better defensively.  The Indians want to best ensure that when he gets the call to the big leagues it is the only call they make as they want him to stay and not have to go back to the minors.

There is no rush to get Chisenhall to Cleveland, so with that in mind they might as well polish him off and do whatever they can to best ensure that when he comes to Cleveland he is productive from day one rather than waste a year or two acclimating him to the big leagues because they brought him up too fast.  Either way, if he is healthy and playing well, he should be up in June or July.  So whether he is up in April or a few months later, does it really matter?

Sizemore progressing

On Tuesday outfielder Grady Sizemore continued to progress in his rehab and his quest to return to game action.  He ran the bases by running home to first, home to second, and second to home and had no setbacks.  On Thursday he ran the bases again and had no problems.  He is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut today (Sunday) and get two at bats, but will only be the designated hitter.  The final test to see if he is ready to progress to full time game action will be if he can slide without reinjuring the knee.  He originally hurt the knee while sliding, so there will be some apprehension there for sure.

Roster cuts

The Indians cut the big league roster by seven players on Monday when they optioned right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister and outfielder Nick Weglarz to Triple-A Columbus.  They also reassigned right-handed pitcher Zach Putnam, right-handed pitcher Alex White, catcher Juan Apodaca, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to minor league camp.  As a reminder, players optioned to the minors are on the 40-man roster while players reassigned to the minors are not on the 40-man roster.

Then on Saturday they cut three more players as they optioned right-handed pitcher Josh Judy to Columbus and reassigned right-handed pitchers Yohan Pino and Joe Martinez to minor league camp.

Book update

The Goodyear team shop sold out of all the 2011 Indians prospect books I sent there, so another order was shipped and arrived there on Friday.  Because of the support of the book there the Indians have decided to carry the book in the team shop at Progressive Field.  So be on the lookout for it when you go to a game this year as it should be at the ballpark all year.

As an FYI, the book is also still available for purchase here on my site and at  Those who visit the minor league affiliates, you will be able to purchase it as Mahoning Valley, Lake County, and Kinston, and it will probably be available at Akron.

Parting Shots

Former All Star outfielder Kenny Lofton is back with the team over the weekend.  He arrived back at camp on Wednesday and will be in Goodyear through Sunday to continue working with players on their baserunning and also assist with the outfielders. … Right-hander Anthony Reyes made his spring debut on Tuesday when he threw 22 pitches.  He had to be lifted after four batters and was unable to finish the inning because he had reached his pitch count. … Right-handed reliever Joe Smith has some upper abdominal soreness which has sidelined him for a few days.  The Indians hope to have him back out there throwing in a game soon. … Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus will play each other in two exhibition games this spring before the start of their regular season.  Columbus will travel to Akron on April 4th (6:05 PM) and then Akron will travel to Columbus on April 6th (2:05 PM). … Columbus will also play the Ohio State University in an exhibition game in Columbus on April 5th (6:35 PM) and will play the Cleveland Indians in Columbus on March 30th (1:05 PM).

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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