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Indians Spring Training rundown
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01/30/2003 3:07 pm ET 
Indians Spring Training rundown
Talent-laden Tribe lacks Major League experience
By Justice Hill / MLB.com

Shane Spencer could be a key offseason acquisition for the Indians. (AP)

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Gear

2002 record
74-88, third in AL Central

2002 Hitting Leaders
(min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Jim Thome, .304
OBP: Thome, .445
SLG: Thome, .677
Runs: Thome, 101
RBIs: Thome, 118
Hits: Omar Vizquel, 160
2B: Vizquel, 31
3B: Vizquel, 5
HR: Thome, 52

complete coverage: spring training 2003

SB: Vizquel, 18

2002 Pitching Leaders
(min. 30 IP)
IP: C.C. Sabathia, 210
W: Sabathia, 13
L: Sabathia, Danys Baez and Chuck Finley, 11
Win %: Paul Shuey, 1.000
S: Bob Wickman, 20
ERA: Shuey, 2.41
K: Sabathia, 149
K/9: David Riske, 11.40
WHIP: Bartolo Colon, 1.16

INDIANS POLL

Projected Starting Lineup
CF Milton Bradley
SS Omar Vizquel
DH Ellis Burks
RF Karim Garcia
1B Shane Spencer or Travis Hafner
LF Matt Lawton
C Josh Bard
3B No projection
2B John McDonald

Projected Rotation
1. C.C. Sabathia
2. Jason Bere
3. Brian Anderson
4 and 5. Cliff Lee, Ricardo Rodriguez, Billy Traber, Brian Tallet, Jason Davis or Lance Caraccioli

Bullpen
LH setup man:
Terry Mulholland, Carl Sadler
RH setup man: Mark Wohlers, Chad Paronto, Aaron Myette, Jake Westbrook, Jerrod Riggan, David Riske
Closer: Danys Baez

Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered

1. Can the Indians replace Jim Thome's power production in their lineup? The simple answer here is "no." They have nobody with Thome's kind of power. But how many players do? They are hoping that Shane Spencer, Karim Garcia and Travis Hafner, teaming with veteran DH Ellis Burks, can fill the void that Thome's signing when he signed with the Phillies.

2. Who will emerge as the leadoff man? The Indians wrestled with that same question last season, and they never found the right answer. Of the surefire starters, shortstop Omar Vizquel looks as if he's the most capable, but Vizquel has always been a reluctant lead-off hitter. The ideal candidate is the speedy Coco Crisp, a prospect with star potential. But Crisp might be a year away from playing in the bigs.

3. How will the starting rotation shake out? The Indians can count on C.C. Sabathia, Jason Bere and Brian Anderson to man the front three spots in the rotation. But after these arms, the Indians will have a free-for-all in Winter Haven. The most capable of Cliff Lee, Ricardo Rodriguez, Billy Traber, Brian Tallet, Jason Davis and Lance Caraccioli, not counting a surprise candidate like Jeremy Guthrie or Francisco Cruceta, should fill the final two spots in the rotation.

4. Who's on third? General manager Mark Shapiro calls that the most pressing question the team faces. His choice now would be veteran Ricky Gutierrez, but Shapiro doesn't know how much he can bank on Gutierrez, who had off-season surgery on his neck. His career will be finished if the surgery wasn't successful, and nobody can know that answer until after Spring Training begins. If Gutierrez can't, the Indians might be putting out a help-wanted sign for any journeyman with healthy limbs.

5. Can Eric Wedge work the same kind of magic in the Majors that he did in the minors? Wedge comes into the manager's job with Mike Scioscia-like credentials, or so some people say. But that kind of comparison might be putting too much on Wedge, who at 35 will be the youngest manager in the Majors. But Wedge has proved more-than-just capable as he trained for the job in Double-A and Triple-A. He has the makeup, the smarts and the hard-driving style that should push his young team to excel. Then again, it could drive them berserk if his intensity is more than they can handle. Buddy Bell might need to be the stabilizing influence on the intense Wedge.

New Faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency

LHP Brian Anderson -- The Indians are looking for Anderson, a former Indian, to mentor some of the young left-handers they have in their farm system. But the Tribe will also look for Anderson to pitch well and eat up innings. His reputation as a character guy will be much-needed as the young arms try to learn the Major League way of doing things.

RHP Jason Bere -- Bere is making his second stop in Cleveland, and he's coming here, like Anderson, to teach as well as eat up innings. He'll man the No. 2 or No. 3 spot in the rotation, and he should contribute in the clubhouse as well.

RHP Aaron Myette -- A pitcher with a powerful arm, the 25-year-old Myette is also as wild as the West. But if he harnesses that power, he should be a step forward for the Indians, who were glad to dump the sullen Ryan Drese for somebody with Myette's upside.

OF Shane Spencer -- A one-time blue chipper, Spencer will get his chance at full-time work in the Majors. He'll split time between the outfield, first base and DH, and for the first time in his career, he can look for 400 at-bats. If he lives up to his past reputation, he could be a steal for the Tribe.

OF Travis Hafner -- He and Myette came over from the Rangers in a deal for Einar Diaz and Drese, and Hafner might be the hitter the Indians need to fill Thome's void. That's a lot to ask of any player, but Hafner might be up to the task. He's a hitting machine, and the Rangers, a team deep in corner infielders, simply didn't have a spot for Hafner at first base.

3B Casey Blake -- Rescued from the discard pile in the off-season, Blake comes to the Indians with a chance to win a full-time job in the Major Leagues. At 30, nobody sees Blake as a prospect, but he comes into the 2003 season after a solid season in Triple-A. With few if any prospects ready to fill Travis Fryman's old spot, the Indians might find Blake as their best option there for the short term.

Long Gone

1B Jim Thome -- No one will replace this Indians icon. Thome was more than just a great ballplayer; he was a great teammate and great citizen. The community will miss the man as much as the Indians will. They admit they hated to see Thome go, but they were unwilling to go deep into 2010 with his kind of asking price on the payroll. It was a decision that, much to the fans' disappointment, the team decided not to risk.

1B Lee Stevens -- He came over in the Bartolo Colon deal. He was a solid influence in the clubhouse, but the Indians had no need for a veteran bat like his with cheaper, younger talent available on the open market.

RHP Charles Nagy -- Just like Thome, Nagy was a popular player. He bridged the years between the run of success at The Jake to the rebuilding that started last season. But Nagy's best years were behind him, and the veteran right-hander ended up pitching more on guts than on good stuff.

3B Travis Fryman -- His body simply wore out on him, so Fryman called a halt to his career. He retired. While he might have had some value left, his decision to look at a life after baseball was good for the Indians. They needed to move forward, and their loyalty to a good-but-battered soldier like Fryman might have retarded the development of young prospects Corey Smith and Jhonny Peralta.

Returning from Injury

OF Matt Lawton -- He sat out the last month of the season with a bum shoulder, which he had injured earlier in the year. But Lawton, whom team officials pronounced fit, will have much to prove. He's got a big contract, and he wants to show people that he was worth every penny of it.

INF Ricky Gutierrez -- The Indians shut down Gutierrez early as well. He had surgery on his neck, and the Indians still don't know if they'll be able to count on Gutierrez this season -- or ever. His career might be over, but the club won't know until Spring Training. If he can play, he'll move to third base, a position where his lack of quickness won't hurt the club as it did at second base.

RHP Chad Paronto -- Paronto showed good stuff during his brief duty in the Majors. But his season came to an end early with arm problems. His was nothing like closer Bob Wickman's, so Paronto should be in the mix for one of the bullpen jobs the Indians have open.

New Kids on the Block: Prospects to watch

INF Brandon Phillips -- The key piece in the Colon deal, Phillips will go into Spring Training looking for Major League employment. He has the slick-fielding John McDonald ahead of him on the depth chart at second base, but the ultra-confident Phillips, 21, will challenge McDonald. The Indians have no plans, though, to sit the youngster, a Barry Larkin-like infielder. If Phillips makes the Majors, he'll start; if he doesn't, he'll go back to Triple A Buffalo.

LHP Cliff Lee -- Preseason publications say Lee, another piece of the Colon deal, is a top prospect for 2003. Such high praise isn't unfounded. In his brief look at the bigs in September, he displayed the kind of mound presence that had people using his name in the same breath as Tom Glavine. Lee hasn't proved he's a Glavine clone yet, but he'll get a good look at Major League employment.

RHP Ricardo Rodriguez -- Pried free from the Dodgers in the Paul Shuey deal, Rodriguez got a taste of the bigs last season. He proved fearless, pitching inside like a Pedro Martinez. Now, nobody's comparing him to Pedro -- who would dare be so foolish? -- but Rodriguez has legit stuff and poise aplenty. It might be impossible to keep him down on the farm.

C Victor Martinez -- The Indians have been reluctant to push Martinez, the crown jewel of their farm system. But they might be hard-pressed to keep the sweet-swinging Martinez off their Major League roster. His bat is big league already, and if he catcher's skills were more polished, he'd be fighting with Josh Bard for the starting job. Still, when you swing the lumber the way Martinez does, you find a job somewhere on a roster. Could he be Thome's replacement at first?

OF/1B Ben Broussard -- Acquired last season from the Reds for Russell Branyan, Broussard had his chances in the Majors. He didn't handle things as well as someone with his talent might have, but he'll go into Spring Training with none of that baggage from last season loaded on his back. Broussard should be more relaxed, which means he might well show the ability to hit that had made him one of the top prospects in the Reds farm system.

On the Rebound

OF Alex Escobar -- The talented Escobar was on his way to the big leagues last Spring Training when he ran into a fence during an exhibition game. He ended up tearing up his left knee. The injury finished his season. Escobar then had surgery, and he spent the rest of 2002 in rehab. The Indians still don't know how close he is to full health, but their hopes remain high that Escobar, who came to Cleveland in the Roberto Alomar deal in 2001, can be the five-tool player he was projected to be.

OF Matt Lawton -- A torn rotator cuff ruined his 2002 season, and now Lawton has to rebuild all the capital he had built up after a couple of successful seasons with the Twins. The Indians want to see that kind of production (.305, 13 HR, 85 RBIs in 2001) next season, particularly with the millions they have invested in Lawton. But he wants to see the same thing, and if his shoulder is all right, Lawton should be motivated and ready to produce.

OF Milton Bradley -- A string of injuries ruined what the Indians had hoped would be Bradley's coming-of-age party. He has always been projected as a quality player, and he showed glimpses of that quality last season. But each step Bradley, a switch hitter, took forward seemed to lead to another step backward. He'll either prove that his label as a "quality player" is true or find himself stamped with a new label: journeyman.

The Bottom Line

The Indians need to put a "team" together. It's that simple. They have so much talent that it might be hard to decide who to keep in the bigs and who to send down to Triple-A Buffalo or Double-A Akron. But for the young players who make the Opening Day roster, they will find no restful nights. They'll keep tossing and turning as they wonder if they're doing enough to stay in the Majors. For a team that's rebuilding for 2004 and beyond, that kind of competition might be a springboard to build on. Then again, it could be a dive into a shark tank.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at jbernardh@aol.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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