Indians Notebook: Spring games begin this week
Question marks surround Indians as Spring Training games get set to begin
The Cleveland Indians' spring season officially begins this week as the Tribe will face off against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Both Wednesday's and Thursday's contests will air on either SportsTime Ohio or MLB Network, so this will be the fans' first chance to get a look at what might be ahead this season.
There are still a handful of question marks heading into this season, but the exciting thing is that these questions will start to be answered after this week. Knowing that, here are some of the things that Tribe fans should be paying close attention to this week as Spring Training games begin:
— One of the interesting storylines of the offseason has been how the Indians have handled right-hander Carlos Carrasco. From the start, the Indians have basically made it clear that the fifth starter's spot is Carrasco's to lose. Initially, it seemed as if the Indians were just saying all of the right things in case they were unable to re-signUbaldo Jimenez or one of the other starting pitching arms in free agency. However, it now appears as if we probably should have taken their words at face value as it does appear as if they never had any plans to re-sign Jimenez or any other arm for that matter. It appears as if they are putting their faith in Carrasco as well as the other fifth starter options, but it does appears as if Carrasco has a strong leg up on the competition. This seems somewhat questionable, especially considering that Carrasco has never really been much of a performer in the Major Leagues. Since getting his first start with the Indians in 2009, Carrasco owns a 5.29 ERA in 238 1/3 innings of work across parts of four Major League seasons. His stuff has also never had the swing-and-miss ability as it had in the minors as his K/9 rate in the majors is just 6.2. Yet, because of his deep pitch arsenal and plus stuff, Carrasco may be the most appealing of all of the fifth starter options, so you have to hope that the Indians may actually have reason to believe that he can turn it around. He certainly would not be the first former top prospect to become a late bloomer, but it's hard to be overly optimistic when he really only has a track record of one strong month in his entire Major League career. Needless to say, he will be one of the more intriguing players to watch beginning this week.
— While Carrasco's appearances in Spring Training games will definitely be interesting, the same can be said forCarlos Santana and any time that he spends at third base. The third-base experiment with Santana seemed to start as nothing more than wishful thinking, but after his performance in the Dominican Winter League, it has become a distinct possibility. After Lonnie Chisenhall's underwhelming performance over the past few seasons, more than a few Indians fans are hoping that Santana might be able to bring some stability to the position. The same can likely be said for the Indians front office, or they never would have had Santana experiment with the position change in the first place. It will be interesting to see what happens with Chisenhall should Santana prove this spring that he would be capable of handing the position on an everyday basis. With Mike Aviles in the fold as a utility man, it would appear as if the Indians would already have a player capable of filling in for Santana, so where would that leave Chisenhall? Could it be that he might once again have to go back to toil at Triple-A Columbus? The Indians have been unwilling to trade Chisenhall in the past, which seems to suggest that they still have some level of commitment to him as a third baseman of the future. Yet, if that were really the case, then why would Santana be attempting to make a position change in the first place? For different reasons, both Santana and Chisenhall will be interesting follows this spring. One player seems poised to take the next step in his career while another may be forced to take a step back.
— Sticking with the theme established so far, let's move on to another big question mark for this season: Vinnie Pestano. Back in 2011, Pestano established himself as one of the premiere setup men in the game after he posted a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings of work. That theme continued in 2012 when Pestano posted a 2.57 ERA in 70 innings. Of course, 2013 was not nearly as kind to Pestano. The right-hander struggled with elbow pain, loss of velocity and his performance thus suffered. The Indians seem to believe that Pestano can make a full recovery and return to his old ways in 2014, but it may not be that simple. We all know how fickle relievers can be in the Major Leagues, and it's impossible to really know what to expect from Pestano. If he's throwing in the lower-to-mid 90s once again, that will obviously be a good sign, so that will definitely be something to look for this spring. Perhaps one of the best things with Pestano is that he should be able to at least relax a bit now and take things at his own pace. In other words, the Indians already have viable setup options in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, so Pestano no longer needs to bear the burden of that role. Really, whatever the Indians get from Pestano at this point has to be considered a bonus. They made it through the 2013 season without having to rely on him in high-pressure situations, so they could probably do the same in 2013. However, just imagine how much more dangerous this team suddenly becomes if Pestano does indeed return to his old form. He could really prove to be a major asset this season.
— The Indians have always had a great amount of success with some of their lower-profile trades, and that was definitely the case last offseason when the team was able to turn Esmil Rogers into Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. From the start, the trade looked like a beneficial one for the Indians, but it's hard to believe that anyone really knew exactly what they were getting in Gomes. Yes, he did have a solid track record of minor league success, but can you really say that his .294 batting average and OPS of .826 did not come at all as a surprise? It was perhaps equally surprising that Gomes did such a masterful job of calling games and gunned down so many players that attempted to run on him. For his 2013 efforts, Gomes has essentially been ensured the everyday catcher's role on the 2014 team, and it's certainly well deserved. While his batting average will likely fall a bit, his ISO of .188 is welcome in any lineup, especially from the catcher position. Gomes will now be tasked with trying to replicate his 2013 success, and that is unfortunately something that's easier said than done. Pitchers will now have a better feel for his hitting tendencies, and base runners will also probably be better at picking their spots against Gomes. However, if Gomes is able to go out and prove that 2013 was not a fluke, then that has to be considered a colossal victory for the Indians. Good defensive catchers are very hard to come by, and they become even more valuable if they're able to supply some offense and power. It appears as if Gomes has the ability to do just that, so it will be interesting to watch how he performs this spring. It's amazing how one year can make all the difference. Last year at this time, Gomes was looked upon as an intriguing player who might have some upside, but he probably would not make an impact in 2013. However, fast forward to the present, and we're now talking about Gomes as one of 2014's most important Indians. That speaks volumes about just how far he's come in a year's time.
— Not much has been said about David Cooper this offseason, but he's a player that should probably be watched closely. The Indians signed him to a Major League deal this past offseason, which says something about how they feel for him. They could have just signed him to a minor league deal, but they would then risk losing him if he did not accept a minor league assignment and another team was interested. With the Major League deal, the Indians ensure that no one else will be able to sign Cooper even though he likely will still begin the season in the minors. Cooper was the No. 17 overall draft pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, and he had a solid minor league career with the Toronto Blue Jays before being released after the 2012 season due to a serious back injury. However, in 2011, Cooper led the Pacific Coast League in average (.364) and doubles (51) for Triple-A Las Vegas. He also was impressive in limited time with the Blue Jays as he batted .300 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 45 games in 2012. Cooper underwent surgery in April 2013 when he had a titanium plate and two titanium screws placed in his T7 and T8 vertebrae to reinforce his spine. While he was unimpressive in limited time last season with the Clippers, it is believed that he should be able to play baseball without feeling any effects of the injury, and that could be a huge positive for the Indians. While he has never been a huge power threat, Cooper has been a consistent hitter at every stop along the way. Every season, players come from all place to help teams contend, and we saw that very thing with Gomes last year. Could Cooper have a similar impact on the 2014 club? It may seem farfetched but he probably has as good of a chance as anyone this year. He definitely will be an interesting follow this spring and as the season draws near.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.
If Cooper hits well (and Chiz struggles) this spring...maybe wouldn't be the worst part-time DH/1B option to keep around.
Maybe a new mind set by Carrasco is what he needs to be successful. Most people on this site feels his problem is from the neck up.
I rarely agree with things Hiram says, but I've secretly been on the same Carrasco bandwagon as him. I don't expect it, but he could end up having a very nice year if he can manage to figure things out early in the season.