The Cleveland Indians have weathered the nicks and bruises of the first half of Spring Training. They are healthy and by all indications will be a solid club and a legitimate World Series contender.
The following is a collection of impressions after watching the squad for the first three weeks of Major League Baseball 2009:
- Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta look very strong and should have productive seasons.
- Hafner looks like he hasn't played in a year. He looks uncomfortable in the box, swings at pitches outside his zone, and continues the strange habit of pulling his head instead of watching the ball hit the bat. He remains a serious concern, particularly since upper management has a lot of money ($12 million per annum) tied up in this guy. This means Wedge will have his characteristic slow hook if Hafner struggles and does more harm than good. This team has too many viable candidates to watch Hafner try to iron out his psychological or physical problems while hitting third. Still, he hit a couple balls hard so maybe he'll return as Pronk, the home-run hitting superhero.
- Trevor Crowe is ready for the major leagues. He looks confident. His at-bats are professional. He can draw a walk, go the other way and hit into the gaps with surprising power. A switch-hitter, he's pesky and savvy on the base paths. If he stays healthy, he could be an important contributor this year. More importantly, he is a more prototypical lead-off hitter which will finally allow Wedge to move Sizemore to third in the lineup where he belongs.
- David Delucci has actually performed well thus far. If it wasn't for the emergence of Crowe I would advocate keeping this guy as he has value as a left-handed hitter, particularly off the bench. However, he has been less than league average in his time in Cleveland, he has a lollipop arm, and no speed to speak of. Still, Wedge likes his presence in the clubhouse and maybe his experience could help the team more immediately. If they hang on to him, it wouldn't be a huge disaster to keep Crowe, Laporta, and Brantley in AAA and let them compete for the right to be the first call-up. However, DD better produce the rest of March and beginning in April. He has less leeway for failure given the talent on the roster.
- Michael Brantley, 21, could make an impact in the Majors immediately. I like the looks of this kid. Tall 6'2" frame, he has a smooth level swing through the zone, displaying a penchant for the line drive. As he matures, he'll get bigger and learn to make pitchers pay for their mistakes.
- Masa Kobayashi is an outright bum. No question. He's over the hill and he was probably never good enough to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis. A huge problem with the Tribe brass is how their evaluations are colored by financial investments. The brass promised this guy a job coming into camp, despite doing nothing last year to prove he deserved it. The Indians have a number of candidates who could fill his role, but the $1.5 million they've invested means we'll have to watch Masa blow a couple of games before they ditch him.
- Ed Mujica sucks too. I don't ever wan't to see him in an important situation unless he is in an opposing uniform.
- Asdrubal Caberera looked like the player we saw in early summer, but he is starting to regain his stroke. If he can establish some consistency, he could be the best second-baseman in the American League.
- I'm worried about the rotation. I believe the departure of C.C. will
have a tremendous detrimental effect on the rest of the staff,
although I do not believe he will perform that well in NY. Wait till
he gets off to his characteristic slow start and the phalanx of
reporters start asking him questions about his mental fragility.
- Carmona looks good early on, throwing that filthy sinker. Cliff Lee should be solid, and Anthony Reyes may prove to be an outright steal, as Shapiro scooped him up for a peripheral minor-league pitcher.
- My boy keeps saying that Jeremy Sowers will have a big year. If he regains his command I don't disagree, but I wouldn't be surprised if he started in Columbus.
- Aaron Laffey looks solid. I like his fortitude and if he can keep that two-seamer viable in terms of movement, there is no reason he can't be a solid guy and the end of the rotation.
- Carl Pavano is intriguing. Anybody that knows me knows I've been advocating this guy since I saw him pitch in person last year in New York. The Yankees ditched him because he was unpopular in the clubhouse, and I think the Indians made an astute move by picking him up. Hopefully, he can be solid enough to rack up double-digit wins and eat some innings.
- Bullpen should be fine. The guys getting lit-up this spring should not affect the big league club. Meloan, Rundles, Herges, Cassell, Mujica, Kobayashi should in no circumstances be allowed to break camp with the big league club. Lewis looks good, Betancourt can't be as bad as he was last year. Perez is always solid. Wood looked great in his one inning of work although health concerns always swirl around this guy (Way to go, Dusty Baker). I think Juan Salas is intriguing and Tony Sipp looks good as well.
- I'm glad Choo is healthy. He is positioned for a monster season.
- Hector Rondon has looked good against the late-inning scrubs. He may be a year away, but if he continues to mow down hitters we might see a contribution as soon as the summer.
- David Huff is going to be good at some point. I like his poise on the mound.
- Victor Martinez looks healthy. Victor has such a solid approach, never swing at poor pitches, working the count, and driving the ball with authority. Managing this guy so he doesn't get hurt is paramount for Wedge and his staff.
- Kelly Shoppach needs to make more contact. He's had a mellow spring.
- Ryan Garko looks surprisingly svelte. I was among those who scoffed when Wedge announced he would get a chance to lumber around the outfield; however, Gark has looked serviceable, and he is a professional hitter who figures to get better. I like seeing his bat in the lineup, so new-found (and somewhat suspicious) versatility in the field is an unexpected boon.
- Hopefully, DeRosa's the answer at third because Wes Hodges can't field. But the dude can hit. He needs one more year of minor league seasoning to refine his fielding skills, but his bat is clearly major league ready.
- Andy Marte sucks at baseball.
- Beau Mills is going to be good on down the road, and so is Matt LaPorta. The organization is stocked with talent, and while it will be difficult to start the year without Sabathia for the first time in a long time, it's nice to have a bevy of prospects chomping at the bit to get to the Prog in Cleveland.
- Ben Francisco is continually underrated by Shapiro and Wedge, but I look for big things this season. He has such a compact and deceptively powerful swing. He could be a dangerous base thief and his arm is strong. However, he let a few balls through the wickets last season and must quit that unacceptable practice.
- If this team stays healthy they'll win 90 games and contend for a spot in the playoffs. If injuries emerge and Wedge has a slow hook with ineffective but expensive players this season could be another year marred with frustration. If that happens the skipper probably won't be around much longer, as he has a roster chock full of talent, and players that are eager to compete.