Mailbag: Will Choo make Indians?
Beat reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' questions
Winter Haven, I had you pegged all wrong.Here I had written you off as a sleepy little central Florida town, in which six weeks of Indians Spring Training workouts and exhibition games were your only source of excitement. But that was before I walked out of the Chain of Lakes complex Thursday afternoon and found it lined with police cars, before I looked up in the sky to see a police chopper overhead and before I saw a team of K-9 cops patrolling the scene. Why all the hubbub? Apparently an armed man had stuck up a nearby bank, then fled on foot toward the Indians' otherwise humble home. I have not yet heard whether the Winter Haven authorities were successful in their attempts to nab this criminal, but I hope he's not hiding out at Tribe camp. Otherwise, he could give new meaning to the phrase "stolen base." I'm sure it won't be long before the camera crews make it to town to begin production on "COPS: Winter Haven." Until then, I suppose another installment of the mailbag is the best entertainment option available to us. Shin-Soo Choo started off like gangbusters last season and then trailed off considerably after that. Is he really part of the Indians' plans for this season?
-- Tim H., Nuremberg, Germany "Big League" Choo, as we've taken to calling him in the mailbag, can earn that nickname and make it back to the bigs this season, but he's bound for Triple-A Buffalo at the outset of the year. What might seem like a step back actually might be beneficial to Choo. He's a fine defender in right, but he drastically needs to improve his performance in left, and he also has to prove he can hit left-handed pitching. The only way he'll get to do those things is if he's playing every day, and that's not a possibility with the Tribe. Choo had a storybook first game with the Indians on July 28, hitting the game-winning homer in a 1-0 victory over his former club, the Mariners. He seemed to do nothing but hit for a few weeks after that. But from Aug. 22-Sept. 22, Choo didn't record so much as one RBI. Big-league pitching caught up with him, and he was slow to make adjustments. But that's all part of the process for a youngster like Choo. The Indians remain high on his potential. By the way, what are the odds a guy from Cleveland could answer a question from a guy in Germany about a guy from Korea? I guess that's the connecting power of baseball and the Internet. Some Spring Training reports have said that Josh Barfield has more speed than expected. With the surprising power we saw from Grady Sizemore in '06, is it possible that we could see a change in the '07 lineup, moving Sizemore to the No. 3 spot and Barfield to leadoff?
-- Matt W., Youngstown, Ohio At this stage, that's not a realistic possibility, Matt. Barfield needs to get a better eye at the plate if he's ever going to occupy the leadoff spot. He only drew 30 walks in 539 at-bats with San Diego last season, and that was when he was batting in front of the pitcher. As Barfield improves and adjusts to the American League, I could see him sneaking into the second spot of the order, behind Sizemore. Indians manager Eric Wedge has even used him in that spot here in the early going of Grapefruit League games. But at the outset of the season, expect to see Barfield's speed utilized at the bottom of the order, where he could set up more RBI opportunities for Sizemore. I love Victor Martinez, but don't you think he needs to increase his power in order to protect Travis Hafner more? His 93 RBIs [in 2006] is great, but 16 long balls aren't anything to fear out of a No. 4 hitter.
-- Kevin J., West Chester, Pa. Martinez's power numbers did leave a little to be desired last season. His .460 slugging percentage ranked 18th in the AL among cleanup hitters with at least 146 plate appearances in that spot. Overall, the Indians have good reason to be ecstatic about the production they get from their catcher. But finding a No. 4 hitter with a little more pop in his bat would be nice. Ryan Garko is the only in-house candidate who strikes me as a possible replacement for Martinez in the cleanup role. Where's the obligatory Crash Davis/Moonlight Graham feature piece on Alan Zinter? When I saw a reference to his age, 38, and that he was a Minor Leaguer, I had to check to see if it was a misprint. How does he fit in, even at Buffalo?
-- Paul T., Herndon, Va. You have to love guys like Zinter. He's 38, he's played with eight Major League organizations and 13 Minor League teams, he's logged two seasons in Japan and he's still down here chasing his dream of playing in the big leagues. It's pretty safe to say Zinter, who made his big-league debut at age 34 with the Astros, has no chance of reaching that goal with the Indians. Rather, he's in Minor League camp competing for the final roster spot with Triple-A Buffalo, where he would play some first base and be something of a tutor to the youngsters. Zinter and Wedge go way back, having both been drafted in 1989 and played together in the Arizona Fall League in '93. So when the manager needed an extra body for some depth at first base in these early Grapefruit League games, he turned to the Crash Davis of camp.
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-- Kevin W., Lexington, Ohio Harsh words, Kevin, though I really can't say they aren't justified at this point in camp. Luna didn't report looking like he's any more physically prepared to be the Tribe's utility man than he was at the end of '06, and he's been sloppy in the field. It's too early to know who will win the utility job, but Mike Rouse is intriguing, considering his background at shortstop and his plate production during a brief stint with the A's last year. Also, Luis Rivas has really impressed Wedge and infield coach Luis Rivas. It's also still altogether possible the Indians will have to make a trade to fill this position. I was watching late-night TV, and I thought I recognized one of the performers. Was it really Sizemore in an infomercial for some imitation Bowflex?
-- Nic W., Highland, Ohio You weren't hallucinating, Nic. Sizemore is one of several professional athletes in an infomercial for Bio Force, a home fitness machine that looks quite a bit more complicated than anything I use back home at the YMCA. If you ask me, Grady hasn't hit the big time in the late-night TV scene until he's endorsing the Magic Bullet Blender. That thing looks incredible, and the infomercial for it is one of the most unintentionally funny programs you'll ever see. If Joe Inglett doesn't make the team, who will back up Sizemore in center field?
-- Rob M., Port St. Lucie, Fla. That would be Jason Michaels, who played quite a bit of center field in his days with the Phillies. Wedge said he'll be sure to give Michaels plenty of playing time in center this spring to get him re-acclimated to the position. Then again, talking about Sizemore's backup is a lot like talking about the backup to Brett Favre. It's hardly an active job. There must be another "Seinfeld" analogy we can work with here. I am sure it will be better than the "Weekend at Bernie's II" references.
-- Brian S., Staten Island, N.Y. Regular readers of the 'bag should know by now that I'm more than open to suggestions on how we can bury Bernie for good. And unlike "Weekend at Bernie's II," I've actually seen "Seinfeld" -- roughly 1.3 billion times, in fact. So let's go, Tribe fans, make it happen.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.