Inbox: Spring results a bad sign for Indians?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
A few weeks before Spring Training started, I began dropping little hints here and there with my son to prepare him for my trip to Arizona. I wanted to explain to him that I was an astronaut and Arizona was a space station on the moon, but my wife quickly put a stop to that tall tale.
"You're going to the moon, daddy?!" he asked excitedly.
"No," interjected Mrs. Bastian. "Save the stories for work, Jordan."
Fine. So I stuck with the boring version and explained that I was going to work in a state called Arizona. I wanted to coach him on it a bit, because he was used to the offseason, when I'm home every day from the time he wakes up until it's time to sing our "8 o'clock" song that signals bedtime.
As the weeks went by, I didn't say much more on the topic, waiting until the eve of my flight out west. With my suitcase packed, I called him over, squatted down to look him eye to eye, and asked, "Now, do you remember where daddy is going tomorrow?"
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"You go Arizona," he said.
"Yep," I replied. "And what am I going to do in Arizona?"
"You're going to type baseball!" he shouted with a clap of his hands.
I'd never heard my job summed up so well.
Here's this week's Indians Inbox ...
I've grown tired of some of our pitchers getting rocked this spring and they turn around and say they're happy with the way they threw, plus it's still early. Maybe I'm just being a nervous nelly here, but I'm already in panic mode when it comes to Josh Tomlin and Ubaldo Jimenez. Based on what you've gathered from your own eyes, do I have good reason to worry? Or does saying, "It's still early," still hold true? Please put my nerves at ease!
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
It's still early.
My advice is to enter the regular season with a clean slate in terms of your expectations. Don't go shattering the glass that protects the panic button based on Spring Training. Are you allowed to be a little worried after a player has a rough spring? Sure, you have that right, but it's no way to live. Save the stress for the time when results actually matter.
The example I've been using this spring is Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson. He went 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA last spring and then went 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA in April. If Spring Training was a clear indicator of a pitcher's performance in the season ahead, well, we'd be preparing to hand this year's American League Cy Young Award to Kansas City's Luis Mendoza (3-0, 0.84 ERA this spring).
Side note: Tigers ace Justin Verlander went 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA last spring and went on to win the AL's Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards.
Every spring, our job as writers is to remind you as fans that the pitchers -- for the most part -- use the early portion of spring for specific tasks. Maybe it's throwing a certain pitch to a certain spot -- over and over and over. Or, maybe it's only using three pitches instead of the five that will be used throughout the regular season.
For spring outings, a pitcher devises an approach for himself as opposed to coming up with a plan of attack for each hitter they'll face. The latter strategy is what is used once the real season begins. These are all things to keep in mind when trying to decide whether a pitcher's Spring Training struggles are worrisome.
Ubaldo not crossing 90 mph on his fastball this spring has to be a real concern. How concerned is the coaching staff and media at this point?
-- Dan V., Lakewood, Ohio
First off, that's not entirely accurate. In his first outing of the spring, Jimenez was sitting at 94-96 mph, according to a scout I spoke with the following day. The right-hander's velocity has dropped in the outings since then, though, and that is indeed concerning. I'd again warn against any knee-jerk reactions until seeing how things play out in the season's first half.
The hitting has been very weak so far in Spring Training. Should we as Tribe fans start to worry, or is this very common among Spring Training teams to hit like this? Also, who do you see right now as the front-runner for the utility-infielder position?
-- Jimmy V., Kirtland, Ohio
I'll just put it this way: I have more concern about the Indians' offense than I do about the team's pitching. But I'm basing that more on Cleveland's offensive performance over the past couple of years than anything the club has done this spring.
As for the utility-infielder spot, Jason Donald seems like a shoo-in for one of the avaiable bench jobs. If Jack Hannahan wins the starting third-base role, I also think that non-roster invite Jose Lopez is in a good position to land a bench job as well.
What are Russ Canzler's chances of making the team? With Lopez hitting well, and Shelley Duncan looking like our left fielder, where does Canzler fit in? Does he have any options left? Also, why did the Rays give him away? Thanks, sir. Have a good day.
-- Tony M., Broadview Heights, Ohio
Tony, you and your friend hunted me down in a mall food court during the Tribe on Tour over the winter and then begged to have your picture taken with me. I'm pretty sure we've moved beyond the "sir" stage. You can just call me Jordan. And you can stay at least 100 yards away from me at all times. I kid, I kid.
With the left-field job (and fourth outfielder role) available, Canzler is doing all he can to force the Indians' hand. Manager Manny Acta said recently that it's clear Canzler would crush Triple-A pitching if he were sent back to the Minors again. That statement alone seems show that Cleveland is considering bringing him north.
Canzler does have options, though. Duncan and fellow outfield candidate Aaron Cunningham do not have options. Canzler's versatility -- he can play first base, left field and designated hitter -- helps his case, but the Indians need a backup outfielder capable of handling all three spots. If Duncan is in left, it seems like Canzler's chances of making the team will be slim.
With Spring Training finally nearing its end, would you say there is any chance an unexpected (see: non-roster invite) player makes the Opening Day roster? And what will likely happen to outfielder Trevor Crowe in April?
-- Fred, Hanover, Germany
Lopez is one non-roster player making a strong impression this spring. The fact that he's right-handed and can play first, second and third base makes him a strong candidate for a bench job. Another possibility is outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, who hits from the right side and can play all three outfield positions.
Crowe appears destined to open the season in the Minor Leagues, though he knew that coming into camp. He is a switch-hitter, can play all three outfield spots and offers speed off the bench, so he remains a valuable player to have on the depth chart. Crowe could very well wind up back in Cleveland this summer.
Can you give me one good reason why Jeanmar Gomez hasn't all but sewn up the fifth spot in the rotation?
-- Kevin S., Columbus, Ohio
I can give you $1.25 million reasons. That's how much salary the Indians are paying right-hander Kevin Slowey this season. That said, Acta insists that the Tribe will break camp with the "best 25 guys" and there is no denying Gomez has been the best of the fifth-starter candidates this spring. If Gomez finishes the spring as strong as he started, he seems like the logical choice to open the year in the fifth spot.
Are the Indians so certain that they will just hand the fourth rotation spot to Derek Lowe? What if two of the guys trying for the fifth spot do great in Spring Training and Lowe flops (besides getting injured)?
-- Jordan, Cleveland
Barring injury, Lowe is a lock to make the rotation. The same goes for Masterson, Jimenez and Tomlin. Now, other than the No. 1-2 spots (Masterson and Jimenez, respectively), the Indians have not revealed the order of the final three spots. It is possible that the "fifth" starter slides into the fourth slot. Cleveland did that last season, too.
I know Carlos Carrasco may be out most of the season, but is there any update on how his recovery is coming along?
-- Landon D., Cambridge, Ohio
Carrasco has been in uniform and working through a throwing program while his Indians teammates have been taking part in Spring Training. So far, so good for the right-hander in his comeback from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Carrasco might be able to get into some kind of game action late this season, but Cleveland might have him miss the entire year if it makes the most sense for his recovery.
Where does first baseman Casey Kotchman project to hit in the 2012 batting order? He is traditionally (and superficially) seen as underpowered for a first baseman. As a long-time fan, I see his 2011 numbers supporting hitting no lower than No. 6 in the batting order.
-- Tom M., York, Pa.
You nailed it, Tom. Acta noted early in the spring that Kotchman would likely hit sixth in the projected lineup. The Indians manager said Michael Brantley would lead off, followed by Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, Kotchman and Jason Kipnis. The last two spots are still unsettled.
Is there a top prospect that we might see this season that could make an impact like Kipnis did last season?
-- Mike L., Akron, Ohio
Keep an eye on starter Scott Barnes and relievers Chen-Chang Lee and Tyler Sturdevant. All three could impact the Indians at some point this summer.
When Acta initially signed a contract with the Indians, it was for three years. Entering his third year, what does his contract situation look like, and when or will we see an extension?
-- Levi M., Belmont, N.C.
Acta's contract included a club option for 2013. Following this past season, the Indians picked up that option, so the manager is signed for the next two years. If Cleveland has a strong year this season, an extension could be in the works.
In closing ...
I know that Spring Training win-loss records don't mean much, but I was in Goodyear last week and the Tribe looked pretty rough. Do you think this is a sign of things to come this season?
-- Jennifer M., Toledo, Ohio
All I'm going to say is this: St. Louis went 14-16 and Texas went 13-16 last spring. I think we all remember how their respective seasons turned out.