The worst part about spring training is the fact that it seems as though baseball season is almost here, when in reality there is still a month to go.
As the days slowly but surely tick off the clock, I start to get itchy with the thought of Indians baseball being right around the corner. It’s hard to believe we are still a little less than two weeks away.
With that thought, I need to feed my hunger by discussing the upcoming season. Last year, when the Tribe fell victim to the juggernaut Red Sox in the ALCS, I immediately started looking to the future.
Now the future is here, and instead of throwing out a season preview like most people do, I’m going to put my virtual butt on the virtual chopping block.
Here is my first batch of bold predictions for the Cleveland Indians in 2008. This one is all about the infielders.
Ryan Garko Will Hit 45 Doubles
Instead of talking home runs where Ryan Garko is concerned, we should really concentrate on doubles. He is a doubles hitter and he always will be.
Garko has the power to come close to 30 homers, but he is more likely to hit 45 or 50 doubles, making this not a safe bet but a bold statement.
Garko’s at-bats should increase significantly because he will start the year as the full-time first baseman. Kelly Shoppach will get an occasional start, but Garko should see 500-plus at-bats.
Shoppach won't be Byrd's personal catcher anymore. Early in the year Eric Wedge may sit Victor Martinez more often, which should open up more time for Garko.
It could also put him in a position to hit behind Travis Hafner on some days, which is a benefit in itself.
Progressive Field is the perfect place for a guy like Garko, because a lot of his doubles are actually home runs.
However, this year I think Garko is going to start taking it the other way a bit more and end up increasing his doubles count.
Josh Barfield Will Close Season As Starting Second Baseman
While I’m trying to be reasonable, I’m also trying to be bold. With this prediction, however, I’m biting off a lot and I'm not sure if I can chew it all.
Let me state that I have nothing against Asdrubal Cabrera or what he brings to the table. I love him and think he has a bright future with the Indians.
But I also think he is incredibly young and not seasoned enough for the full-time job.
There was concern Cabrera wouldn’t be slotted second in the batting order, the place he finished last year, to start the year. But that’s just the Indians remembering what happened to Jhonny Peralta in the same situation with the three hole.
This has more to do with Josh Barfield than with Cabrera. I do think Cabrera is in for a little bit of a setback offensively, which may cause the Tribe to make the move.
At the same time, Barfield needs to demonstrate he can get it done at the Triple-A level, where he will start in 2008.
He spent the offseason working out with his dad Jesse Barfield, watching tape, and working on his swing. He also worked out in January with hitting coach Derek Shelton.
He has been hard at work trying to fix his mechanics and zone recognition. Barfield felt his problems were in his mechanics and picking up the ball out of the pitchers hand.
Josh has made enough progress, according to Shelton and according to his dad, and is ready to go.
Not only that, Josh is hungry. Don’t think for a second that a kid who grew up watching his father succeed at the major league level will give up.
Not only that, but seeing the Tribe take the Red Sox to the brink of a World Series appearance and not being a crucial part of it—that has to motivate you.
"Good or bad, you've got to be a man. A man is the same always. Nobody enjoys going through that, but, at the same time, you've got to handle it the right way. In the long run, people respect you a lot more when you do that,” Barfield told reporters about a week ago.
Barfield is evidence that you can have a successful stint in the majors and suffer a setback. Cabrera could face that fate now that the AL knows all about the Indians starting second baseman and number two hitter.
As it stands right now, Barfield is hitting .278 in spring games. But his goal isn’t to be hitting for a high average, it’s to set his approach straight. So far he looks to be on the road to doing that.
Andy Marte Will Save His Future with Indians' Organization
I wrote an article on this site about Andy Marte and his lack of commitment to getting in shape during the offseason.
I will be the first to stand up in front of Marte and say, “I’m glad you answered the call” if he does in fact prove that he belongs.
Wedge has been very critical of Marte, but he understands the type of talent he is dealing with. Patience is the key, but at this point Marte is out of options.
If the Tribe attempts to send him down, he will almost certainly not clear waivers.
That, combined with wanting to give Barfield everyday at bats, means Marte is considered to have a leg up on the last roster spot.
What makes me think Marte secures his future with the Tribe, though?
I believe in him.
Okay, so that isn’t very logical, and it doesn’t give me a leg to stand on. I guess I’ll have to make a few points, then.
I don’t think Casey Blake will be at third base the entire season. It’s been proven in the past that the guy needs to move because we need him elsewhere.
Be it injuries or lack of performance, the Indians might call on Blake to help them elsewhere, and if Marte demonstrates the ability to hit the ball, he could be the replacement.
Or, maybe Casey Blake finally falls off. He is aging and every year we think this is the year we need to move him to a utility role. With his position finally secure and no one doubting him, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the year he drops off.
Either way, Marte doesn’t have to light the world on fire for my prediction to come true.
Blake is a free agent after this year, and I don’t expect the Indians to bring him back as a starter—if they bring him back at all.
This means if Marte demonstrates he can get the job done, the job could be his.
Marte got off to a rough start in spring and his defense has been shoddy. He leads the team in errors.
But with the bad comes good. Marte is second on the team in both home runs with four and RBI with 10.
The day he knocked in six of those runs and hit two home runs, Marte took 200 ground balls at third base.
When asked what Wedge thought of his performance that day he replied, “He had good at-bats today, I was just as impressed with the at-bats where he walked as I was with the swings he had."
Marte just might be making those strides he needs to make to secure his future.