Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reviewing the Indians

My cousin Randy and his son Ray were in Goodyear with me for the first three days of my trip and we spent our time primarily watching their hometown Cleveland Indians. The Indians share the Goodyear Ballpark facility with the Reds.

Cleveland has an excellent top of the lineup, lead by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, centerfielder Grady Sizemore and rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera was born in Venezuala, sharing that birthplace with the shortstop from the Big Red Machine, Davey Concepcion. The 24-year-old Cabrera, presumably as a tribute, wears Concepcion's #13. As a leadoff hitter, Cabrera gives Cleveland a legitimate on-base threat who can get on base for Grady Sizemore. Cabrera, a switch-hitter, had an OBP of .361 in 2009 and the Indians surely hope he'll return to the walk rate of 11% that he showed in 2008 instead of his 7.6% in 2009. He swiped 17 bases last year, batting primarily out of the #2 spot in the lineup.

Our first-hand report seemed to confirm most of the hopes of Indian fans, as Cabrera got on base, ran, and played a solid SS. He did leave Friday's game with a "mild" left groin pull after tripling. After diving back to third base, Cabrera called the trainers onto the field and clearly signaled the location of his injury, although he didn't seem to be limping. He is listed as day-to-day.

Grady Sizemore

Grady Sizemore has been the Indians' leadoff hitter since his start with the team. One of the first big decisions made by new Cleveland manager Manny Acta was to move Sizemore to the #2 spot in the lineup to increase his opportunity to drive in runs. In 2008, the Seattle native accomplished a rare 30-30 feat, hitting 33 home runs to go with 38 stolen bases. Sizemore's numbers dropped off considerably in 2009 due to nagging injuries and the Indians obviously hope he returns to his 2008 form. He'll turn 28 during the 2010 season.

Again, Tribe fans have reason to be optimistic based on what we saw. Grady looked completely healthy in the games we watched. He launched a monstrous grand slam out of Goodyear Ballpark on Wednesday and made several excellent plays while patrolling centerfield.

Shin-Soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo has established himself as one of the top hitters in baseball. Last year, the South Korean-born Choo had a .394 OBP and accomplished a 20/20 season in home runs and stolen bases. Also known as a great rightfielder with a strong arm, Choo seems poised to become recognized as one of the best players in all of baseball.

He made a couple over the shoulder catches in the two games we saw and he had a double, a sacrifice fly and a walk, diving in two runs.

Travis Halfner

My deliberate misspelling of Hafner's name in the heading is meant to highlight how diminished he has become both in physical stature as well as in the batters box as a hitter. The Indians' designated hitter was once one of the most feared batters in all of baseball. In 2006 he hit 42 home runs, drove in 117 runs and sustained a whopping .439 OBP. Over the 4-year period of 2004-2007 he averaged over .400 in OBP and drove in over 100 runs/year.

In that magical year of 2006, he tied a major league record by blasting 6 grand slams, including one I saw him hit in person at GABP against the Reds. It was July 2, in the fifth inning off of Joe Mays, who -- incredibly -- said after the game, "My main reason for getting out of the AL was seeing those guys too many times." Ugh. (A great reminder of how the Reds pitching talent and depth has dramatically improved since those dark days.)

In 2010, due problems with his shoulder that have also made him unable to throw a baseball overhand, Hafner's impact at the plate has greatly diminished. I'm sure the Indians are hoping he can regain his past form, and Manny Acta has dutifully been penciling him into the cleanup spot in the batting order this spring. But there are no real early signs of a return to hitting prominence. Hafner struggled tremendously in virtually every at bat that we watched, including several with runners in scoring position.

Hafner's role with the club now can be neatly summarized by this picture from their batting practice where he was fielding ground balls at shortstop and flipping them (underhanded) to the second baseman.

To add financial insult to injury, Hafner carries an untradable guaranteed contract that runs through 2012. The Indians are on the hook for nearly $40 million over the next four years. As my cousin pointed out, that's the kind of a situation the Yankees can survive, but not a team with a payroll as limited as Cleveland.

Starting Pitching, Past and Future

We witnessed the ghosts of Indians pitching, both past and future this week. The top of the Tribe rotation, Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona leaves plenty of question marks. Except for a titanic bomb by Angels catcher Mike Napoli in the first inning off of Westbrook, the two veteran pitchers looked reasonably good in the innings we saw.

Help may be the on the way, however, as we also saw two promising younger pitchers, LHP David Huff and RHP Mitch Talbot.

Austin Kearns

One other Reds-related note: Austin Kearns is playing for the Indians and hoping to win a spot on their roster. So far he is 2-for12 with a couple of walks. This is him batting against the White Sox at their new Camelback Ranch facility.

This is my cousin's son Ray, at Camelback Ranch.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm...

    A 30 something male getting smaller as he ages. Much like Sosa, Pudge, Mandarich (that one hurt). Good to see he gave up junk food too.

    I do like his nickname though, Pronk. Half project, half donkey.