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Swinging for the Fences: Spring Training Week In Review

A look back at Jake Dungan's week in Arizona covering the Tribe

Swinging for the Fences: Spring Training Week In Review
A photographic and journal-style recap of a week spent with the Indians during spring training. (Photo: Jake Dungan)
March 18, 2014
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While I complain about it constantly, I really didn't realize just how miserable the winter weather up here in Northeast Ohio was until I returned from spending a week in beautiful Arizona. Between the freezing cold temperatures and the jet-lag, which I am experiencing for just the first time in my life, I have been about as miserable as I can remember over the last couple days following my return from the Valley of the Sun.

It was well worth it, however, as I spent seven glorious, fun-filled days covering the Indians in Goodyear and elsewhere as they traveled around the Phoenix metro area. I am already planning a return trip for the same time next spring.

While down there, I attended Indians Cactus League games and visited the Player Development Complex, where I met various players, prospects and coaches and made numerous observations regarding what we could expect at Progressive Field and down on the farm in 2014.

So, please join my as I officially conclude my 2014 spring training field reporting with a cummulative recap of the week.

DAY 1 - March 8th, 2014

  • Indians 4, Padres 4 @ Peoria Sports Complex. 
  • Observations:
    • Michael Brantley can hit just about anything. On Saturday against the Padres, he went a perfect 4-for-4 including two doubles and an RBI. Considering his overall increase in offensive production since coming to the Tribe and the fact that he may not have even have reached his peak yet, it certainly seems worth signing him to the four-year extension. Very excited to see what he can do moving forward.
    • For the first time, I got to watch Carlos Santana at third base in person and concluded that he may have a real future at the position as long as he keeps working at it. I could see that he has a general familiarity with the position, but he still needs to work on range and throwing to first, the latter of which should correct itself over time. Considering Santana's overall value, though, league average defense from him should be sufficient.
  • Random notes:
    • I spent the first half of the game sitting next to the great Peter Gammons in the press box. We made a little small talk about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers while "Free Falling" was playing at the ballpark between innings.

DAY 2 - March 9th, 2014

  • Brewers 2, Indians 4 @ Goodyear Ballpark.
  • Observations:
    • Perhaps this is just normal spring training experimentation that we shouldn't read much into, but it was interesting nonetheless. Asdrubal Cabrera batted leadoff against the Brewers and did very well, I might add, going 2-for-2 with a double, a walk and a run scored. Personally, I don't know if having him batting leadoff is the best fit for him and the team, but with Michael Bourn dealing with hamstring issues, who knows what Tito will try in his absence.
    • While the fifth starter job is pretty much Carlos Carrasco's to lose at this point, Josh Tomlin is at the very least keeping the race interesting. In addition to pitching effectively this spring, including four shutout innings against Milwaukee, he has seen a significant spike in strikeout rate. As of right now, he is averaging a strikeout per inning where he typically only averages a little over four whiffs per nine innings. Keep the level of the competition in mind, of course, but it's a new dimension to his game that could considerably improve his effectiveness as a starter if he's able maintain it.

DAY 3 - March 10th, 2014

  • Angels 8, Indians 3 @ Goodyear Ballpark.
  • Observations:
    • Danny Salazar is definitely a bit rusty as the Indians are taking things more slowly with him to protect what may be the most valuable arm they've had come up through their system in years. He was only scheduled to pitch two innings against the Angels and didn't even make it through that, unfortunately as he was pulled after an inning and two thirds after walking the bases loaded. I believe he will be fine, although he may have to spend an extra week in Arizona to finish getting stretched out and ready for the season, which can be done since the Indians could get away without having a fifth starter until April 9th against the Padres.
    • I was becoming cautiously more optimistic about Trevor Bauer and the progress I thought he was making this spring until he pitched against Angels last Monday where in only two innings, he gave up seven runs (six earned) on seven hits, including a home run, while walking two and striking out one. Maybe he was partially a victim of circumstances since Angels hitters were giving all Tribe pitchers trouble that day, but he still took a sizable step backwards and all but punched his ticket back to Columbus, in my opinion. It's frustrating to watch since I've seen flashes of what he can become and throwing more strikes was moving him in the right direction until last Monday. Terry Francona says the worst thing we can do is give up on him, so I guess all we can do is wait.
    • Things are looking pretty good in the bullpen with Vinnie Pestano and Blake Wood having dominant performances so far this spring. It appears Pestano may be regaining the slick movement he once had on his pitches, which if he returns to form adds a whole other dimension to the depth of the bullpen. Wood, on the other hand, is getting control of his pitches again and is throwing more strikes, which in turn, is leading to more strikeouts. And with his ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun, he would make the bullpen more dynamic and possibly become another late-inning relief option. And Tito has said himself he would like as many of those as possible.
  • Random notes:
    • I've yet to catch Nick Swisher in a moment where he isn't smiling.

Swisher Smiling

DAY 4 - March 11th, 2014

  • Indians 7, D-Backs 1 @ Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. 
  • Observations:
    • Justin Masterson absolutely deserves a multi-year extension since he appears to be positioning himself for another dominant season at the top of the rotation. He has yet to allow a run in Cactus League play this spring and continued his spring shutout with four goose eggs on the scoreboard against Arizona. The movement on his pitches is already in midseason form, although his control may not be yet since he hit two batters during that start. Considering how he pitched last Tuesday and Sunday, I just want to know what is holding things up in the contract negotiations.
    • We've seen the effects and results of the "contract year" theory before. In fact, we witnessed them here in Cleveland just last season with Ubaldo Jimenez. Now we may see it happen again this season with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is entering his walk year in 2014. While I don't believe it's likely that the Indians will re-sign him after this season with Francisco Lindor knocking on the door of the big leagues, they can certainly benefit from his production if he returns to some semblance of his All-Star form. What's interesting to me, though, is that he is not producing like his All-Star seasons this spring, but more like his 2010 form where power and home runs weren't his primary concern, but rather getting hits and getting on base. Who knows, maybe he can reestablish his value this way rather than swinging for the fences (pardon the pun).
  • Random notes:
    • Salt River Fields was the most beautiful ballpark I visited during my week in Arizona. Well-constructed, great facilities and, might I add, a fine press box to sit and watch a game.
    • If you're ever in Phoenix and need to get from one side of town to the other at rush hour, avoid the highways at all costs. Just trust me on that.

DAY 5 - March 12th, 2014

  • Padres 7, Indians 12 @ Goodyear Ballpark. 
  • Observations:
    • I spent my first day down at the Indians Player Development Complex mostly watching and observing some of the minor leaguers take part in various spring training activities, such as outfield prospectLeVon Washington, for example, who looks healthy and is swinging the bat well early in minor league camp during batting practice. 

WashTime

  • Random notes:
    • This was one of those games where it was hard to draw any observations of real significance out of since the numbers were so lopsided. However, we were introduced to the legend that is Anthony Carter, as my esteemed collegue Steve Orbanek refers to him, even though he gave up six runs to the Tribe in just a third of an inning of work during their eighth-inning offensive explosion.

DAY 6 - March 13th, 2014

  • Royals 6, Indians 12 @ Goodyear Ballpark. 
  • Observations:
    • I didn't think much of the move at the time, but the Indians may have something in infielder Justin Sellers. The Indians did announce that he will likely be the starting shortstop at AAA Columbus to begin the season, but that hasn't changed the fact that he's been impressive in the brief time he's been with the Tribe so far. He only recorded one official at-bat against the Royals, which was a double, and walked twice, bringing his average up to well over .600 on the spring. But even more impressive than his offense, which he hasn't been known for in the past, has been his fielding. His work on defense has earned high praise from Francona and I wouldn't be surprised to see him coming off the bench in Cleveland at some point this season.
    • Matt Carson plays the game right. Even though his chances of making the team on opening day are slim, he is doing everything he can to at least earn consideration. At this point in his career as a journeyman outfielder who has spent most of his playing time in the minor leagues, I'm sure he's accepted the fact that he won't be a big league starter and that whatever major league role he gets would be limited. That doesn't stop him from giving his all during every play and every at-bat as he has this spring. The problem with that is he may be playing well enough to get a job elsewhere, which if he does, best of luck to him. But the selfish fan side of me would love to see him in Columbus for another year as outfield depth and as a mentor for some of the yonger outfielders working their way up to that level such as Carlos MoncriefTyler Holt and, eventually, Tyler Naquin.
  • Random notes:
    • The Indians played a simulated game at the complex with Carlos Carrasco starting and pitching four shutout innings. Lonnie Chisenhall was also impressive in pre-game batting practice and during the game as far as hitting plenty of line drives.
    • Justin Masterson has some sweet new wheels.

Justin  Masterson Golf Cart

DAY 7 - March 14th, 2014

  • Indians 2, White Sox 2 @ Camelback Ranch. 
  • Observations:
    • I had the opportunity to watch veteran starter Shaun Marcum throw a bullpen session at the Player Development Complex on Friday and my suspicions were confirmed about him dealing with lingering issues from his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. His fastball looked alright, but he appeared to still be working on regaining command of his breaking ball and offspeed pitches. Pitching coachMickey Callaway was working with him closely, though. Right now, not surprisingly, Marcum is not viewed as a starting pitching option for opening day, but the Indians feel he could serve as a solid backup at some point during the year.
    • Maintain cautious optimism with Josh Tomlin as it appeared White Sox hitters were beginning to figure him out in the later innings of his outing. Josh Phegley and Connor Gillespie hitting back-to-back solo shots off him in the fifth inning made that clear. I've been excited about Tomlin and the production he's had this spring, but this outing served as a reminder that his major league ceiling may not be much higher than a fourth or fifth starter. Again, though, the increase in strikeouts could still be a difference-maker for him if he keeps it up, which he did with five more against Chicago.
  • Random notes:
    • While signing autographs for fans at the player complex, Jason Kipnis was called "Papa G" by a fan in reference to his larger build this spring, which could be considered similar to veteran Indians DHJason Giambi. His comeback was "You need to get your TV in HD."
    • Stay on guard if you're ever on the same golf course with me because I have the kind of slice that could take out someone two fairways away.
    • I finally understand what they meant in the song when they said "purple mountains' majesty".

Arizona Sunset

Quick Thoughts

Michael Bourn shut down for at least a week with strained hamstring... Michael Bourn was lifted from the Indians' split-squad game against the Giants on Sunday with what they described as a "mild hamstring strain". On Monday, manager Terry Francona stated that the Tribe center fielder would only miss "three to five days". Bourn said it's not the same area where he had surgery during the offseason and that he should be good to go for the opening series in Oakland.

Obviously this is a non-factor if he is recovered by opening day, but this could end up being the break Nyjer Morganand/or Matt Carson have been waiting for since a spot would likely open up on the bench. I would imagine that in the event Bourn is sidelined for part of the regular season, David Murphy could shift over to left field, Michael Brantley to center and Ryan Raburn and Jeff Francoeur sharing the duties in right field. Add in Morgan or Carson on the bench, who can back up all three outfield positions.

No doubt the Indians would rather have Bourn healthy and in the lineup, but considering the influx of outfield depth over the last couple seasons via external additions and internal promotions of prospects such as Carlos Moncrief and Tyler Naquin to the upper levels of the farm system, Bourn wouldn't be the worst loss in the lineup.

Jose Iglesias sidelined indefinitely with stress fractures in both legs... The Tigers have been hit with the injury bug this spring with Andy Dirks out for 12 weeks with a back ailment, Anibal Sanchez scratched from his next scheduled start with shoulder inflammation and now their starting shortstop Jose Iglesias is out with stress fractures in both his shins, something that he says has bothered him since last spring training.

The Tigers acquired Iglesias at the trade deadline last season in a three-team deal with the White Sox and Red Sox that sent Jake Peavy and Brayan Villarreal to Boston and top Tigers prospect Avisail Garcia to Chicago. It was initially meant to provide an alternative option at shortstop with the impending suspension of Jhonny Peralta in relation to the Biogenesis scandal.

Now Peralta has signed with the Cardinals and Iglesias is out with no timetable set for his return. There's been speculation about Detroit signing free-agent shotstop Stephen Drew, although there have also been reports that they aren't all that interested in him. Trade targets have also been brought up, but with the 29th-ranked farm system and a few of their major assets from last year having already been dealt (i.e. Prince Fielder and Doug Fister), they have few, if any, expendable assets of value if they want to remain World Series contenders.

Never underestimate Dave Dombrowski, though.

Kris MedlenJarrod Parker to undergo Tommy John surgery... Is Tommy John surgery becoming an epidemic? Do teams need to consider making changes to their developing and handling of pitchers? I may be of the younger generation of baseball fans, but it seems to me that we're hearing about more pitchers going under the knife for reconstructive surgery just within the last few years.

The Atlanta Braves are in the middle of a real crisis with their pitching staff after parting ways with veteran startersTim Hudson and Paul Maholm this offseason and finding out that Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy may recquire the dreaded procedure. Medlen is set to have his second career Tommy John surgery while Beachy is looking to get a second opinion.

Outside of Atlanta, A's and Diamondbacks opening day starters Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin also could undergo reconstructive elbow surgery. And in the stacked AL and NL West where Oakland is hoping to three-peat as division champs and Arizona is hoping to get their hat back in the ring, this is big news.

Other players that have found themselves on the doorstep of Dr. James Andrews this offseason include Twins prospect Miguel Sano, Padres starter Cory Luebke and former Royals first-round pick Luke Hochevar.

In conclusion...

For some, spring training exhibition games can become boring after about the six or seventh inning when the minor leaguers, many of which the casual fan has probably never heard of, get in the game and take over for the big league players. Seeing the jerseys with no names on the back and numbers of larger denominations may lead to a gradual loss of interest in the game or even a changing of the channel.

For me and many others here at IBI, we couldn't be more excited to see some of these players enter the game whether they are non-roster invites or just visitors from minor league camp. Seeing Dorssys Paulino crank an RBI double against the D-Backs or Kyle Crockett pitch a shutout inning against the Cubs can make us just as excited as Jason Giambi clubbing a walk-off homer against the White Sox.

...Okay, maybe not that exciting, but you get the idea.

The more well-known, upper-level prospects such as Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin are exciting to watch in Cactus League games, but with their high ceilings as major league prospects, whatever success they have is not totally unexpected.

When you see guys like Jake Lowery hitting a grand slam a couple weeks ago or Tyler Holt recording a hit in every game he's played in so far, that, to me anyway, feels a bit more special since they either aren't on the big league radar yet or are overshadowed by other prospects.

While it's likely a side effect of having followed prospects and the minor leagues more closely, I still think it's another fun aspect of spring training that, unfortunately, a lot of folks miss out on.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Jake D.
March 18, 2014 - 3:51 PM EDT
Unfortunately, Kristin, I didn't get to In 'N' Out Burger last week since I didn't see one in the Goodyear area, unless I missed it. I have a pretty good idea of where everything is down there now, though, so I will look for it next year.

Also, thanks, BrianM. Glad you liked it!
BrianM
March 18, 2014 - 2:49 PM EDT
Good job with this one Jake.
Tony
March 18, 2014 - 1:40 PM EDT
I will be in Goodyear tomorrow.....but one thing to note is Washington has been eased into minor league games as he missed the Saturday and Sunday games and logged just one at bat yesterday. I will find out more what is up with that when I get there.
Hiram
March 18, 2014 - 1:40 PM EDT
Talent for talent the Indians bullpen is every bit as good, deep as KC's bullpen even when KC's bullpen is totally healthy, IMO.

Left handers: Rzepczynski, Outman, Crockett, Hynes, Hagadone
then I come back with guys like Lee, Aardsma, Wood, Shaw, Pestano, Allen, Axford.

Then in the minors: I can bring up guys like Austin Adams who throws 100 mph.

I like it how the local media skeptical and the national media gives zero respect.


IMO, the Indians are a very legit World Series contender
Walter
March 18, 2014 - 12:58 PM EDT
Good to hear that Washington is having a good minor league spring training and that he is healthy? The key is keeping him healthy for the entire year. If that happens, and he has a strong year he could put himself back on the radar as potential OF prospects for the Indians. I hope he could make it Akron before the end of this season
Devin
March 18, 2014 - 12:50 PM EDT
If Axford can be a top closer, I think we will have a top 5 bullpen this year. Very deep and loaded with late-inning arms.
Kristin Johnson
March 18, 2014 - 12:20 PM EDT
Did you eat at IN N OUT Burger or had a fish taco at Rubios?

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