3/3/2014 7:52 P.M. ET
Utility man Aviles stays ready for Francona
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mike Aviles is on the Indians' bench, but he does not feel like a bench player. The utility man said that manager Terry Francona creates that kind of feeling with the way he mixes and matches with his reserve players.
"That's the beauty of it," Aviles said on Monday. "Tito understands the game. He understands that he's got to keep his starters fresh and he's got to keep his bench guys in there, too, if he wants them to produce. ... Some managers don't use the bench as much, but a guy like Tito knows exactly what it takes to win a ballgame. That's the bottom line -- winning ballgames."
Aviles and Ryan Raburn return as Cleveland's main utility men, offering insurance and depth at a variety of infield and outfield positions. After serving as Boston's starting shortstop in 2012, shifting to the bench role was an adjustment for Aviles last season, but he embraced the role with the knowledge that Francona would find ways to work him into the lineup.
In order to be ready for bench duty, Aviles said he kept training like a starter.
"In all honestly," Aviles said, "the one thing that I've always told myself is -- regardless of whatever role I'm going to be playing that season -- to prepare like I'm going to play for 162 games. I feel like, and I said this last year, the key is coming to the park, feeling like you're going to play and preparing like you're going to play.
"It's easier to not play that way than it is to mentally tell yourself, 'I'm not playing today, so I have time to get ready.' Then, all of a sudden, it's harder to ramp up. My whole goal, especially starting from Spring Training is to prepare like I'm a starter. Mentally, I know I can adjust from there."
Last season, the 32-year-old Aviles hit .252 with nine home runs and 46 RBIs in 124 games for the Indians, who used him at second base (12 games), shortstop (46), third base (56) and in the outfield (five). Aviles is prepping for similar duties this year under Francona, who loves being able to rotate versatile bench players in and out of the lineup.
"They have to be good enough, and they are," Francona said of Aviles and Raburn. "If they don't play, I think you're hindering their chances to help your team win. Guys like Aviles, Raburn, you've got to get them some at-bats. when you need them, whether you say they've got to have some gas in the tank or however you say it, they need some of those at-bats."
Brantley has his swing primed in spring again
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Given the simple nature of Michael Brantley's swing, the Indians left fielder has to guard against getting ready too soon in the winter months. There have been times when Brantley has needed to put the bat back in its rack for a few days.
"I actually have to go in reverse and take a little time away," Brantley said on Monday morning. "You don't want to peak too early. The whole goal for me, and for a lot of guys in this locker room, is to really build up towards the end of camp and really feel your swing and be where you want to go."
During Sunday's 6-3 victory over the Mariners, Brantley churned out three singles in his three trips to the plate. It was the kind of performance Cleveland has grown accustomed to seeing from Brantley during Spring Training, when he typically needs little time to start heating up in the batter's box.
With that showing, Brantley improved his career slash line to .317/.378/.444 in 92 Spring Training games. Last year, the left-handed hitter posted a .354 average in 18 Cactus League games, giving Indians manager Terry Francona his first look at the steady mechanics.
"Hitting is hard, but his mechanics are so simple," Francona said. "I think he probably gets ready quicker more than other guys, because his swing, he can repeat it so often. There's not a lot of moving parts. He did the same thing last year."
Brantley, who inked a five-year extension worth $25 million earlier this spring, said he works with his dad, former Major League outfielder and hitting coach Mickey Brantley, over the offseason. Throughout the years, they have found ways to simplify the left fielder's swing and help him become one of baseball's top contact hitters.
Last season, Brantley led the American League with a 90.1-percent contact rate, which ranked fifth overall in baseball. During the 2012 season, he had a 91.5-percent contact rate, which ranked third in the AL and fourth overall in the Majors among qualifying batters.
In 151 games last year, Brantley hit .284 with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs for Cleveland.
"We go over and analyze film and break down kind of how my year went," Brantley said of working with his dad each winter. "We make adjustments every offseason. I just try to get better. I'm always looking to improve in every category."
Top prospect Lindor displays some power
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are not expecting top prospect Francisco Lindor to develop into a power hitter, but the young shortstop has shown some pop in his bat this spring.
In the seventh nning of Sunday's win over Seattle, Lindor launched a three-run home run that pushed Cleveland to a 6-3 victory. The switch-hitting Lindor has already proven to be a versatile offensive weapon in his three Minor League seasons, but that kind of power stroke tends to be a bonus.
"I don't think he's going to be a power hitter," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But can the guy hit the ball out of the ballpark? He's proved he can do that. That's part of what's fun. These guys grow into stuff. You don't know what they're going to grow into.
"I mean, Jimmy Rollins grew into hitting some home runs. He's kind of a similar body and similar style of play. You just don't know. What part of this does confidence play in it, as you reach higher levels? Or, bat speed, intelligence, timing, things like that. You just don't know."
Lindor, 20, was selected by Cleveland in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and projects to begin this season at Double-A or Triple-A. In 104 games between Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Akron last year, Lindor turned in a .303/.380/.407 slash line to go along with two homers, 22 doubles, seven triples, 34 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 49 walks and 65 runs.
Francona said the Tribe's evaluators have already seen plenty of leadership skills in the young shortstop, too.
"I think everybody feels like he has that type of personality," Francona said. "But there's a way to do it and you can't skip steps. I think he's in a hurry to get to the big leagues, as every young kid is, but there's a process and you can't skip steps.
Quote to note
"Are we allowed to get autographs?"
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson being in uniform with the Rangers on Monday
• Due to Saturday's rainout, Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson moved to a backfield to get his work in on Sunday. The big right-hander logged two innings in a simulated game and did fine, according to Cleveland manager Terry Francona.
"He was good," Francona said. "That's kind of a bonus for us, because we can trust Masty. He went out and got his work done and did it right. We put some Minor League kids out in the field for him, and let some of our younger guys in camp hit."
• Indians right-hander Frank Herrmann, who is nearly a year removed from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, worked an inning in a simulated game on Sunday. Herrmann threw 21 pitches and has been hitting around 92-94 mph on the radar gun.
"It'll be interesting to see as he gets into the real games," Francona said. "We're coming up -- in maybe another two weeks -- on a year [since his surgery]. I know he's champing at the bit. His velocity is good. ... You can tell he's worked really hard."
• The Indians announced some changes to their television schedule for the upcoming season. SportsTime Ohio will air 154 games, while FOX has picked up Cleveland's June 21 game against the Tigers for a national broadcast. FOX Sports 1 will air games on April 5 (vs. Twins), May 10 (at Rays), June 7 (at Rangers), July 19 (at Tigers), July 26 (at Royals) and Aug. 9 (at Yankees).
• The Indians announced Monday that their April 4 home opener against the Twins sold out in 15 minutes. It marks the 22nd consecutive home-opening sellout and the 21st straight at Progressive Field, which opened its doors in 1994. For ticket information, please visit Indians.com/tickets.