03/27/12 6:37 PM ET
Lacking consistency at plate, LaPorta optioned
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
On Tuesday, Cleveland optioned LaPorta to Triple-A Columbus, where he will get regular playing time to continue to work on his offense. The Tribe's first-base job was taken this spring with Casey Kotchman in the fold, but Acta indicated that LaPorta had a chance to win the vacant role in left field.
"He knew the situation coming in," Acta said on Tuesday. "The opportunity was there, especially in the outfield. You guys have seen what's going on in camp. If he would've shown up to camp and probably hit the way we feel he can hit, there was a good chance that he probably would've had a good opportunity of grabbing that job. But, unfortunately, it didn't happen."
In 14 Cactus League games this spring, the 27-year-old LaPorta hit .167 (5-for-30) with two RBIs, 11 strikeouts and one walk for Cleveland. The Tribe hoped to see more from LaPorta at the plate while considering him for either the job in left field or a role off the bench as a backup first baseman, left fielder and designated hitter.
Last season, LaPorta hit .247 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 107 games for the Indians, who handed him the everyday job at first out of Spring Training a year ago. This past winter, Cleveland signed Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3 million to assume LaPorta's former role at first.
The Indians are holding out hope that LaPorta can still develop into the right-handed power threat the team believed he could be for the heart of the order.
"As we've said all along," general manager Chris Antonetti said, "Matt continues to demonstrate in spurts that he has the ability to be a quality middle-of-the-order Major League hitter. The challenge for Matt is to demonstrate that consistently. Unfortunately, we did not see that consistency here in camp.
"He'll have the opportunity again to play regularly down there [at Triple-A] and get that consistency. If he does, then if and when there's that opportunity at the Major League level, hopefully Matt is prepared and ready for it."
Antonetti doing 'due diligence' working out Vlad
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Indians general manager Chris Antonetti warned against making too much of the fact that the organization held a private workout for free agent Vladimir Guerrero earlier this week at its baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
In a wide-ranging sit-down with reporters on Tuesday morning, Antonetti noted that it was Guerrero who contacted Cleveland about his desire to work out for the ballclub. Always on the lookout for ways to improve their roster, the Indians obliged and watched Guerrero go through hitting and fielding drills.
"I think Vladdy continues to have an interest in playing this year," Antonetti said. "He asked if we'd have interest in working him out, so we just worked him out. That was really the extent of it. I wouldn't read too much into it at this point. It's just us doing our due diligence."
At this point in his career, the 37-year-old Guerrero is essentially limited to working as a full-time designated hitter in light of his recent history of injury. The Tribe already has a pure DH in Travis Hafner, who also has dealt with a variety of health woes over the past few years.
The Indians do have an opening in left field, along with a need for right-handed power off the bench, but Guerrero has not manned the outfield since the 2010 campaign. Last year, the veteran of 16 Major League seasons appeared in 137 games as a DH for the Orioles, hitting .290 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs.
As part of the workout, the Indians did observe Guerrero tracking fly balls in the outfield.
"It was no different than how he has [been] over the last few years," said Antonetti, referring to how Guerrero looked in the field.
Guerrero -- a career .313 hitter with 449 home runs in his time with the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles -- does have a history with Indians manager Manny Acta, who knows him from their days in the Montreal organization. Asked about Guerrero on Tuesday, Acta declined comment.
"I've got way too much on my plate to be commenting on people who are not in my camp," Acta said.
Duncan leading pack for starting job in left
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians are not ready to name their starting left fielder for Opening Day, but general manager Chris Antonetti was at least willing to declare Shelley Duncan the leading candidate with roughly a week left in Spring Training.
"I think Shelley has really stepped forward," Antonetti said on Tuesday morning. "Offensively, he's done a very good job. He continues to work very hard defensively to improve as a defender, and his at-bats have been relatively consistent.
"Even though at times he's had something to show for it, and other times he's hit into some hard outs, of the group, Shelley has probably taken the largest step forward to take advantage of that opportunity."
The left-field job was vacated when center fielder Grady Sizemore was removed from the outfield picture after needing lower back surgery early in Spring Training. Michael Brantley -- the planned left fielder -- shifted to center, creating a wide-open competition for his role. The options include Duncan, Russ Canzler, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie and Fred Lewis.
For the most part, that group has collectively disappointed in the batter's box, but Duncan has impressed with a team-high five home runs, 15 RBIs and 23 total bases entering Tuesday's game against the White Sox. Antonetti was not, however, willing to declare Duncan the starter in left field.
"He's working towards it," Antonetti said.
Duncan's strong showing this spring in terms of run production is a continuation of his solid finish to 2011. In September, when Duncan gained regular playing time in the outfield due to injuries, he responded by hitting .265 with seven homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs in 26 games for Cleveland.
"This is a guy that's had a track record of hitting throughout the Minor Leagues," Antonetti said. "He never really had an extended opportunity at the Major League level to perform and play consistently. He demonstrated in the second half of last year that, with consistent at-bats, he has the ability to potentially produce.
"I think he's carried that forward this spring. He's gotten regular at-bats and he's carried that approach forward."
Quote to note
"We're continuing to look externally to find any opportunities to improve the team, whether that's outfield or that's on the pitching staff. How likely it is that we'll do something is really difficult to gauge, but we've had more frequent conversations with other teams over the last week or 10 days than we did earlier in camp." --Indians general manager Chris Antonetti
After sending third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, first baseman Matt LaPorta and outfielder Chad Huffman to the Minors on Tuesday, the Indians were left with 43 players still in camp. Manager Manny Acta indicated that the next big roster reduction would likely come on Friday, one day after the Tribe has split-squad games against the Rockies and D-backs.
The Indians want to see Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey and David Huff each pitch once more before revealing their choice for the fifth-starter job. "It's really close. It's still a competition," general manager Chris Antonetti said. "I don't anticipate us making a decision before they each pitch again."
Antonetti said he has an idea of who will fill the two open spots in the bullpen, but he was not ready to share that information. "The last week of camp will certainly be important," Antonetti said. "But I do think we've seen a number of those guys in the bullpen make positive strides over the last couple of outings."
Indians center fielder Michael Brantley, who had not played since March 19 due to a right hamstring injury, returned to game action on Tuesday against the White Sox. Brantley -- Cleveland's projected leadoff man -- went 1-for-2 with a single for the Tribe.
Indians closer Chris Perez (left oblique) pitched in Minor League games on Saturday and Monday, and it appears as though his Cactus League debut is next on the schedule. Cleveland expects to know on Wednesday when and where Perez will make his next appearance.