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Indians Notebook: 'Unfinished Business' begins

Trevor Bauer shows some positive signs as spring games begin

Indians Notebook: 'Unfinished Business' begins
March 3, 2014
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Spring training games finally began this past week, which allowed Cleveland Indians fans to get their first peek at the 2014 club.

One of the more interesting news bits that came out this past week was the slogan: "Unfinished business." The two words were placed on t-shirts that Nick Swisher then handed out to teammates.

As you might have guessed, the phrase refers to the Indians'2013 season and how the team made it to the playoffs, only to have that part of their season end after just one game. As the phrase implies, this team has some unfinished business.

Sure, the phrase may be clichéd, but in this case, it works. It's nice to have the players come into the season with a chip on their shoulder, and it's also good to create expectations.

In fact, given last season's result, anything less than winning a playoff series has to be considered a disappointment this year. That may prove difficult, especially since it's debatable that this year's team is even better on paper, but this needs to be the expectation nonetheless.

Let's rewind to March 2013. Now, how good did that team look on paper compared to the current squad? In other words, a lot can change during the course of a season and this team could eventually reveal itself as a 90-plus win team... or it could reveal itself as a sub-81 win team. That's the beauty of Spring Training — try as we may, we have no idea what to expect once the season begins.

With that being said, let's take a look back at this past week and the first official week of 2014 MLB action...

Player of the Week

Erik Gonzalez, Third Base

3 G, 3-for-6, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB

Considering we're only four games into the spring season, it does seem a tad unrealistic to start handing out Player of the Week honors, but Gonzalez is a worthy candidate, even in limited action. The right-handed hitting infielder is coming off a strong winter campaign in the Dominican Republic where he posted a .325/.341/.454 line in 45 games. The one downfall to his strong winter season was his plate discipline as he drew just three walks but struck out 47 times. However, his strong winter season is probably one of the reasons that he's getting so much playing time in the early going of the spring season. Before too long, he will almost assuredly be reassigned to minor league camp, but he seems to be making the most of his opportunities. In many ways, Gonzalez is somewhat like Jose Ramirez last season in that he has seen his stock rise after a strong winter campaign. The players are also similar as they're both infielders with the ability to do a little bit of everything on the baseball diamond. Since last year, Gonzalez has seen his stock rise significantly, so 2014 is now a crucial year for him. He's gone from organizational depth to someone who now might be able to crack the Majors as a utility man. For that to happen, his plate discipline is going to have to improve, so it has to be considered a good sign that he has no strikeouts in three games so far.

News & Notes

— The Indians made some news this past week when they acquired Justin Sellers from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations. To make room for Sellers, the Tribe designated David Cooper for assignment. Sellers has not done much of note in parts of three Major League seasons, but he has been a solid performer in the minors and hit .270 (88-326) with 26 doubles, 4 triples, 6 home runs and 65 RBI in 89 games with Triple-A Albuquerque last season. He is pretty much a depth acquisition for the Indians, and it's highly unlikely that he makes the team out of Spring Training. However, the other interesting thing about this move is that it seems to indicate that the Indians may not have been as high on Cooper as many had thought. After they signed Cooper to a Major League deal this past offseason, it appeared as if the Indians thought quite highly of the first baseman. However, any team is now able to claim the 27-year-old first baseman. It seems unlikely that a team makes such a move though. Cooper is still less than a year removed from a highly controversial surgery, and he still needs to prove that he's capable of playing baseball at a competitive level. Plenty of teams would love to have a player like Cooper in their minor league system, but it seems unlikely that they would commit to him beyond that. The likely ending here is that Cooper clears waivers and just begins the 2014 season in Triple-A Columbus. Given his history as a former prospect and first round pick, there is still plenty to like about him. However, his designation for assignment seems to all but conclude that he will not be starting the 2014 season in Cleveland.

— Trevor Bauer made his second appearance of the spring season on Sunday, and once again, there was some good and some bad. In his first appearance, the right-hander ended up pitching a scoreless inning, but that came after he walked the first two batters he faced. Thankfully, he did not allow any walks on Sunday, but he also was hit around a bit. After getting Robinson Cano to groundout, Bauer then allowed a double to Corey Hart. He then proceeded to get another groundout before surrendering a two-run, two-out home run to Dustin Ackley. The good news is that Bauer then came right back and managed to get Nate Tenbrink to strike out swinging to end the inning. It's important to temper our expectations and remind ourselves that hits and home runs are going to be given up in Spring Training. After all, it's Spring Training for a reason and many players are still tinkering with their pitches as they prepare for the season. The most important barometer for Bauer will be measuring how he does this spring in the walks and strikeouts department. His strikeouts were way down last season while his walks allowed were way up. If he is ever going to tap into his potential as a front-of-the-rotation type, he has to make progress in this area. In addition to allowing no walks Sunday, Bauer managed to get two strikeouts in his two innings of work. All in all, the performance has to be considered more positive than negative.

— Ryan Raburn is at it again. We all remember last spring when Raburn went on an absolute tear and seemed to just hit almost every ball he saw out of the park. So far, it looks like Raburn is back to his old ways as he's gone 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI in two games this spring. This is a good sign, especially since Raburn will probably be forced to play a bigger role this year than last year. While David Murphy certainly will get a lot of playing time in right field, it's expected that he will be platooning with Raburn. It seems fair to conclude that Raburn will probably find himself in the lineup on a more consistent basis than last season, and the Indians could certainly use his power potential. As it has been pointed out in the past, Raburn does remain a possible regression candidate, but he's started the spring season down a similar path as last year, so that can only be taken as a positive. One of the top criticisms of the Indians during this offseason was that the team never signed a power hitter, which has long been one of the Indians' woes. There is no real way to fix that, but Tribe fans just have to hope that they continue to get solid production from Raburn and others.

— Here's my rant of the week. Okay, it can't be called a rant of the week when it's the first time doing this. However, I want to touch on a news release that came through today with the subject header: "Indians 2014 Home Opener sells out in 15 minutes". In most cases that would be good news, but how does the old phrase go? "Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice..." As the Indians'news release notes, the Indians have now sold out all 21 home openers at Progressive Field. Fifteen minutes is an awfully quick time, but in the big scheme of things, this means nothing. The Home Opener has been selling out for years; that's a trend that probably won't ever end. It's fun to go indulge in a game of baseball, have some brews and find solace in the fact that spring is finally here. I've done that a handful of times and I would garner to guess that most of these readers have too. However, it means nothing unless we start to see games other than Opening Day sell out. Conventional wisdom would tell you that we would see that this year, especially since the Indians are coming off a 92-win season. Conventional wisdom also would tell you we would have seen that last season after signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, but that wasn't the case. The fact that the Home Opener sold out in just 15 minutes is more a reflection of the fact that people just want an excuse to skip work and get drunk than it is that fans are actually excited for Indians baseball. That might not be the case for readers of this article, but you're reading an Indians website for a reason; you're not one of the majority. I could be wrong, and this could be sign of things to come. Perhaps we see the Indians sell out more regular season games than just the Home Opener, which was the case last season, but I'll admit that I am cautiously optimistic. Fans often complain the Dolan family is cheap and not committed to fielding a winning team. It's debatable as to whether that's true or not, but here is a truth that cannot be denied. It's hard to be committed to a fan base when the fan base is committed to the team just one day each year.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
March 4, 2014 - 10:49 AM EST
The other excuse for selling out so quick is those "fans" that love buying up tickets then reselling them for several times more than face value on stubhub, ebay, etc....

Saw bleacher tickets for over $100 for opening day on stubhub; hell cheapest tickets on stubhub period are $50 SRO seats...
Walter
March 4, 2014 - 8:40 AM EST
Sellouts would be nice, but I would like them to at least average 25,000 per game which would put attendance over 2 mil.
Rich
March 4, 2014 - 8:29 AM EST
Bauer is still inconsistent but the stuff is there. So far this spring he struck out Joey Votto with two on and got Robinson Cano to ground out. That ain't nothing to sneeze about.

It's like that start against the Phillies on May 1 when he went five innings, struck out five, walked six, and allowed one hit and no runs. He was wild, but when he got the ball over the plate they couldn't square it up. And he was just fine pitching out of the stretch all day.

He's kind of like Ubaldo the last couple of years. The unhittable stuff is there. All he needs to do is get his mechanics in sync and the sky is the limit, especially if he's really throwing in the upper 90's.

Is he still doing all that long toss?
yourtribe
March 3, 2014 - 11:47 PM EST
Without control the speed is irrelevant. He has to throw strikes.
BrianM
March 3, 2014 - 9:47 PM EST
Thanks for the info Matthew. If true, that is the most significant news of the spring so far. If he is sitting at 96-98, I at least believe he is capable of still being a FOR starter.
Walter
March 3, 2014 - 8:14 PM EST
If Bauer did throw at that velocity, he needs to work on command. Could be a wildcard option later in the year?
Tony
March 3, 2014 - 8:04 PM EST
Just saw the Heyman tweet myself....that's significantly different than anything he showed all of last season.
Matthew
March 3, 2014 - 7:58 PM EST
Jon Heyman tweeted today that Bauer was throwing 96-98 in his outing yesterday, which also is a positive sign. His velo was way down at the end of last year.

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