Cleveland Indians 2010 Spring Training Primer

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IFebruary 22, 2010

Officially, pitchers and catchers were to report Sunday at the Indians' complex in Arizona.

Unofficially, just about the entire team is already there. With the report date for everyone else not until Wednesday and the first full-squad workout not until Friday, the new era of Indians baseball is underway early.

Manny Acta is pleased with the fact that some of his bigger stars in Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Asdrubal Cabrera have already been in Goodyear, but now he has to get to work.

Here is everything you will need to know about what types of decisions Acta's staff will be faced with and what situations they will be dealing with, as well as some projections from myself regarding the final roster and position battles.

If you would like to read the entire primer that I've prepared, visit The Tribe Daily for this and a whole lot more.


Three Burning Questions Headed into Spring Training

1. How is Manny Acta's Camp Going to Differ from Eric Wedge's?

For one, you can expect more upbeat attitudes. Not that Eric Wedge wasn't upbeat, but Acta is a positive guy who's probably going to get things off on a real jovial start.

But he's also going to have accountability for his players and expect to win every spring training game.

Now obviously he won't be putting his starters out there the entire time to win every game, but he will expect every player he puts out there to be playing to win the game.

Another difference that I think fans should take note of is the fact that Cleveland will travel to Los Angeles to play a exhibition game in Dodger Stadium before the final two games against Cincinnati.

It's a good move that many teams employ to get players in a game-like mindset.

When you are a team that has struggled out of the gate like Cleveland has the past few years, a change to that type of practice can't hurt.

Whatever Acta does, he will need to avoid those slow starts, and we'll find out what principles he brings to the table in an effort to do so.


2. What does the Russell Branyan Signing Mean?

The stance the Indians are taking is that Branyan will take up at-bats at first base and designated hitter. Meaning they don't have the faith that Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta will be able to handle a full season.

And that is a reasonable assumption in regards to Hafner's injury status. It's also reasonable precaution in terms of LaPorta's ability to play first base.

The only thing it really affects is a roster spot. It shouldn't mean a huge decrease in playing time for LaPorta overall, unless he isn't 100 percent ready to go.

Branyan's signing impacts Andy Marte, Chris Gimenez, and Wyatt Toregas more than anyone else.


3. How will players without options impact final decisions?

It could be huge in the pitching staff situation.

For one, you could see the Indians putting Mitch Talbot in the rotation based on the fact if he doesn't, he'll need to be sent through waivers, whereas someone like David Huff can safely be sent down to Columbus and be ready and waiting for whenever the Indians want to bring him up.

Don't underestimate that factor coming into play when roster decisions get down to the wire. It won't be the only reason of course, but if you have two players that have equally impressed or performed this spring and every other situation doesn't matter or is equal, then that option-less player might have the advantage.

It could also come into play with Hector Ambriz, who isn't out of options, but rather not able to be sent down unless the Indians and Diamondbacks strike a deal to make him permanent property of Cleveland.

I think Ambriz and Talbot are probably the biggest names that could affect things

because of their options, mainly because of their unknown. Andy Marte might press things, but Branyan signing hurts Marte's status, and Jeremy Sowers might just be losing ground with the organization.


Injury Watch

Adam Miller, RP - Finger

The oft-injured prospect underwent another surgery on his finger during the offseason. His career is in serious limbo at this point in time and he should probably establish residency in Goodyear if he hasn't already. Miller was removed from the 40-man roster and re-signed to a minor league deal in the offseason.


Chris Perez, RP - Ankle

In July it was announced that the Indians' setup man would undergo offseason surgery to remove a bone cyst in his ankle. Perez will be 100 percent for spring training after resuming normal offseason conditioning in December.


Anthony Reyes, SP - Elbow (Tommy John Surgery)

The former World Series hero underwent Tommy John Surgery and an ulnar nerve issue at the same time in June 2009. Don't expect to see Reyes much this year if at all.


Joe Smith, RP - Knee

The knee was his latest problem, but Joe Smith's 2009 was plagued with injuries. He started out getting a viral infection in spring training, which set back him back considerably and in his haste to catch up, strained a finger on his pitching hand and then did the same to his rotator cuff.

Smith should be good to go for this spring as everything should be all healed up. Hopefully for his sake, he has a much healthier 2010 and doesn't catch any nasty viruses that set him back.


Jeremy Sowers SP - Shoulder

Sowers reported to Arizona early and it was discovered that he's having soreness and inflammation.

Not much is known about the situation now, but if it lingers, it may be a convenient way of putting off the decision about doing something with him and the fact that he's out of options.


Jake Westbrook, SP - Elbow (Tommy John Surgery)

Jake Westbrook underwent Tommy John surgery over a year ago and it ended his 2008 season. It would most definitely cut into his 2009 year, but little did anyone expect it would claim the whole thing.

Westbrook spent the 2009 offseason rehabbing even more and pitching in Puerto Rico and all signs are good.

This is a big spring for him and the Tribe as he's going to be a free agent this coming offseason. All eyes will be on his elbow as he attempts to come back from a surgery that can disrupt many pitcher's careers.


Carlos Santana, C - Hamate Bone

During winter ball, Carlos Santana felt discomfort after returning from a small bout with the flu.

It turns out he had a fractured hamate bone and he had surgery in early December to get it removed. At the time, everything was supposed to work out to where Santana should be ready to for Spring.


Matt LaPorta, 1B - Left Hip, Toe

Matt LaPorta underwent surgery in October to fix a hip problem. The hip surgery will put him behind to start spring training as the procedure called for a four- to six-month recovery period. Mid-April would be the six-month mark from the surgery.

His toe injury occurred in the final game of the regular season; however, that should not pose a problem. LaPorta spent most of the offseason in Goodyear under care from the Indians training staff.


Russell Branyan, 1B - Back

On Aug. 30 last year, Russell Branyan was placed on the disabled list. The ruling was a herniated disk in his back and Branyan even admitted he had back spasms during the year.

Branyan didn't end the year on the disabled list, but he didn't play in another game that season.

Branyan will take his physical Tuesday and with the Indians thoroughness in terms of physicals and injuries, expect everything to be cleared up if he does indeed end up an Indian.


Jason Donald, 2B - Back

Had he not suffered back issues in early August, Donald probably would have earned a major league call-up. But now, that back issue that forced him out until Akron appeared in the postseason will eventually keep him out of contending for a utility spot this spring.

Donald was expected to head off to Arizona to catch the remainder of instructs and supposedly be in camp early so his back should be fine. He'll still start the year in Columbus.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS - Elbow

Cabrera underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow during the offseason. He stuck around Cleveland after the surgery in October for therapy and rehab.

Not much is really known about what was or done or why, but he should be good to go for spring.


Grady Sizemore, OF - Left Elbow, Abdomen

In early September before the season ended, Grady Sizemore underwent arthroscopic surgery on his elbow. A week later, he underwent surgery to fix his lower abdominal wall.

Sizemore was bothered with a groin injury he sustained in spring training last year and it even forced him to back out of the World Baseball Classic.

Sizemore underwent the surgery early enough for him to be 100 percent ready to go for Spring Training this year.

Nick Weglarz, OF - Leg

He was supposed to participate in the Arizona Fall League; however, Nick Weglarz instead had surgery in early November to put a rod in his leg.

Weglarz suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia and the surgery was expected to help speed up that process.

Big Red reported to camp early and since there hasn't been much word out about him, one should assume he's on track and there have been no setbacks.

Travis Hafner, DH - Shoulder

He isn't coming off an injury, but that shoulder is still lingering around in the back of everyone's mind. Hafner dealt with the injury last year going into Spring and it cost him a few weeks in 2009, but he finished the year strong.

2010 should be big for him in knowing where he stands as a hitter as he surely has his confidence back and hopefully, most of the strength in that shoulder.


Position Battles

Final Three Bullpen Spots

Contenders: Hector Ambriz, Jensen Lewis, Tony Sipp, Jeremy Sowers, Mitch Talbot, Jess Todd, Mike Gosling, Jason Grilli, Frank Herrmann, Yohan Pino, Saul Rivera, Jamey Wright

I'll start off by saying I'd be downright shocked to see Tony Sipp not win a spot. So by that estimation, there are two spots up for grabs.

Jeremy Sowers and Mitch Talbot are both in the race because they're out of options, and if neither win a rotation spot, they are added to the mix out of desperation.

You might also want to rule out Yohan Pino, Frank Herrmann, and Jess Todd for 40-man and experience reasons.

Now you have two spots coming down to all the minor league free agents, Hector Ambriz and Jensen Lewis.

Ambriz has a lot working for him as he's got to make the roster or be offered back to Arizona, however he's working with the fact that this he's being freshly moved to the bullpen.

Jason Grilli and Saul Rivera are probably the most likely to win a spot out of the non-roster invites. Rivera has a past relationship with Acta from Washington and Grilli has some major league success and versatility.

Jensen Lewis obviously has the familiarity with the organization and bullpen coach Scott Radinsky, which could play a big part in things.

I think Mike Gosling and Jamey Wright are both Columbus depth options for now and would probably slot behind guys like Rivera and Grilli in terms of getting a shot.

One other thing to keep in mind is the recent development in Russell Branyan signing. There is some sentiment that he wouldn't be taking a bench option away, rather a bullpen spot. If the Indians went with a six-man bullpen, that would then seriously impact this battle in more ways than one.


Fourth and Fifth Rotation Spots

Contenders: Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Mitch Talbot, Hector Rondon, Carlos Carrasco, Yohan Pino

The most muddled mess of a position battle you ever did see is the fight for two rotation spots. They say things come in threes, but for this instance, it might as well be twos.

Two hot prospects, two guys with experience, two guys out of options all for two spots. Yohan Pino is yet again in the mix, but will yet again be overlooked due to experience and 40-man reasons.

Hector Rondon and Carlos Carrasco have opportunities to win a spot, but they'd have to give the Indians no choice but to put them in the rotation. That likely leaves it as a four-way battle between Talbot, Sowers, Huff, and Laffey.

Sowers and Talbot have advantages in that they are out of options, while Huff and Laffey have recent major league success to boast.

Talbot holds more of an advantage over Sowers, as the Indians don't really know what Talbot brings to the table on a major league stage.

Laffey has shown success in the past, but hasn't been consistent with it while Huff ended 2009 on a very strong note. All in all, the Indians could very well split things up and take one guy out of options and one guy out of the Huff/Laffey pair.

Either way, three of those four and Rondon and Carrasco could all get shots at some point this year. This is just a battle for who gets to go first.


Backup Infielder Spot

Contenders: Brian Bixler, Jason Donald, Chris Gimenez, Andy Marte, Brian Buscher, Mark Grudzielanek, Luis Rodriguez

With the pending signing of Russell Branyan, there is now one less spot up for grabs and probably one less contender.

Branyan's addition will foster another roster move and both Gimenez and Marte are candidates to get removed from the 40-man roster. You can rule out Jason Donald for the spot, as Cleveland is committed to starting him in Cleveland.

If Branyan is going to be backing up people at the corner spots, you could also remove the player that doesn't get cut (Marte or Gimenez) and Brian Buscher.

Realistically, this is a battle between Brian Bixler, Luis Rodriguez, and Mark Grudzielanek. The veteran Grudzielanek has the upper hand, here as Bixler has options and has more of an offensive track record than Rodriguez.

All three would be primary backups at shortstop and second base, and Grudzielanek is a former Gold Glove winner at second. Odds on favorite is the man with 2,010 hits, which is 1,983 more than Bixler has.

The idea expressed in the bullpen battle portion should also be brought up once again. If the Indians decide to go with a five-man bench, that would open up another spot and it would likely go to Andy Marte, who the organization feels strongly about.


Starting Catcher

Contenders: Lou Marson, Wyatt Toregas

At least Cleveland is letting Toregas have the opportunity to compete, but this is the biggest formality among the spring training competitions.

Lou Marson is expected to win the job out of spring, which would land Toregas back in Columbus, not as the starter, but the backup to Carlos Santana. This battle may not even occur as Toregas could get waived to make room for Branyan.

Marson was acquired in the Cliff Lee deal and is regarded as a prospect with a lot more upside, so even if the battle is considered close performance-wise, expect Marson to win the job. 


Left Field and Fourth Outfielder Spots

Contenders: Michael Brantley, Jordan Brown, Trevor Crowe, Austin Kearns

Before the Indians signed Austin Kearns, it was assumed Trevor Crowe would slide perfectly into the fourth outfield role, with Michael Brantley claiming the left field job. 

Now Brantley will have to beat out Crowe, Kearns and even Jordan Brown for the job in left and the runner-up is expected to be the fourth outfielder. Jordan Brown can't win the fourth outfield spot by virtue of his assumed lack of defensive ability.

Crowe has the make-up to be a fourth outfielder, but the Indians may favor going with a veteran at that spot.

However, Crowe holds the advantage of being on the 40-man, which is something important if it becomes a numbers crunch. Brantley will either win the left field spot or go back to Columbus, as he would need regular playing time.


25 Man Roster Projections

Starting Lineup
C – Lou Marson
1B – Matt LaPorta
2B - Luis Valbuena
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
3B – Jhonny Peralta
LF – Michael Brantley
CF – Grady Sizemore
RF – Shin-Soo Choo
DH – Travis Hafner

I have Marson winning the starting catching job and Michael Brantley winning left field. I think the Indians are a little more confident in Brantley than they are letting on.


C – Mike Redmond
IF – Mark Grudzielanek
IF – Russell Branyan
OF – Austin Kearns

Mark Grudzielanek wins the final infield spot up for grabs and becomes the primary backup at second base, shortstop, and third base. Austin Kearns wins a job as the fourth outfielder.

Prepare for the alternative scenario of Andy Marte winning a fifth bench spot. It would not impact any of the current projected winners.

Whether Marte wins a bench spot or not, both Kearns and Grudzielanek making the team means the Indians would have to boot not one, but two guys off the 40-man roster.

If Marte survives the cut from Branyan and wins a roster spot, then obviously one can't be had there.

Gimenez is a likely candidate at that point to let Branyan be added and that would mean the Indians would still need to clear off two spots. This is where it gets interesting.

If Marte is kept: Toregas is likely out and the other spot would be freed up by a pitcher being removed.

If Marte is not kept: Marte likely is out and the other spot would become open from Toregas or a pitcher being removed.


Starting Rotation
1. Jake Westbrook
2. Fausto Carmona
3. Justin Masterson
4. Aaron Laffey
5. Mitch Talbot

Remember these are projections, not actually what I would do. I'm a full believer in the Indians wanting to give Mitch Talbot an opportunity and unless he spontaneously combusts over spring, he'll win a spot.

I would personally give David Huff a shot, because I think he's headed for big things this year.

However, Aaron Laffey wins the other spot because I think he's got the most experience and the Indians feel like they owe him as much to give him the first shot.


Closer – Kerry Wood
8th Inning – Chris Perez
7th/8th Inning – Rafael Perez
Bullpen – Joe Smith
Bullpen – Tony Sipp
Bullpen – Jensen Lewis
Bullpen – Hector Ambriz

The final two bullpen spots go to Jensen Lewis and Hector Ambriz. None of the non-roster invitees make it, because I believe Lewis will outright earn a job and I think the Indians are going to give Ambriz a shot in the pen.

That would make a lot more sense than giving someone like Saul Rivera a job, when he can just go to the minor leagues and be on stand-by until needed, as long as it's before May 15.

Because Ambriz and Lewis are both on the 40-man roster, Cleveland can safely remove Jeremy Sowers from the roster to add both Grudzielanek and Kearns if the need would arise.

Obviously if someone like Ambriz doesn't win a spot, he'll no longer occupy a roster spot, unless of course Cleveland and Arizona negotiate a deal.


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