Friday, April 01, 2005

2005 Preview - Positional Analysis Part II

Second Base
At the conclusion of the 2004 campaign, much of the speculation surrounding the 2005 squad revolved around the question of whether Ronnie Belliard would return, or if Casey Blake would begin a new position with the acquisition of Aaron Boone. That speculation was ended when Belliard re-signed with the Tribe. Belliard's 2004 All-Star season started very strongly, with a gradual slow-down as the season wore on. Belliard's bat and quick turn at second were a big reason for the Indians being in the race for the Central up to late August. But, as the Tribe fell in the standings, Belliard's numbers fell as well. The book on Belliard was always that he carried too much weight to last a full season at 100%. Belliard finished with good numbers, but he certainly tailed off as the "dog days" of summer dragged on. With this in mind, Shapiro has brought in some insurance in the form of Alex Cora. Cora, brought in from the Dodgers, gives Eric Wedge the opportunity to rest Belliard periodically without a dramatic drop-off. This flexibility is a stark contrast to 2004, when John McDonald (although a great clubhouse presence) could not give the lineup very much, forcing Belliard to play in many games. It will be interesting to see if Belliard can build on his strong 2004 campaign, or if Alex Cora makes a push with his slick glove and high OPS. Look for Cora, signed through the end of the 2006 season, to play more seriously in the long-term plans as the season progresses. On the farm, this is an unusually weak position for the Tribe, particularly if Brandon Phillips remains a shortstop.
Replacing a legend is never easy, and Jhonny Peralta has stepped squarely into a spot that has only known one pair of shoes for the last 11 years, those of Omar Vizquel. Peralta will try to translate his 2004 MVP season in the International League to a successful 2005 campaign. His cup of coffee when Omar went down 2 years ago ensures that Peralta won't be overwhelmed by the new experience, but let's hope that the expectations and Cleveland's love affair with Omar don't have a negative effect on this talented youngster. Peralta's glove certainly won't come close to Omar's (whose does?), but he gives a different feel to the position. That being said, the contract the Vizquel signed with the Giants was so outrageous, in length and compensation, that few can blame the Indians for letting the natural progression of a potential star continue. Peralta is more in line with the body types of the shortstops of the late 90's (Tejada, Renteria, etc.) than Omar was, though he is nowhere near those perennial All-Stars. His ability to hit consistently and drive in runs will mature over the course of the season as he becomes more comfortable. Luckily for him, he will most likely bat out of the 9 hole, where pressure is minimal. Peralta's "competition" this spring, Brandon Phillips, is ticketed to start the season in Buffalo to once again see if he can hit. Phillips' future in the organization may be tied to the way that Peralta's body develops as he matures. If Peralta gains 15-20 pounds, a move to third could clear the way for Phillips to figure into the Tribe's plans once again. If not, Phillips could be used as trade bait as he is still a high profile prospect. Brandon Pinckney, slated to started in Akron, is the only other legitimate prospect in the organization.
Third Base
Casey Blake's career year in 2004 earned him...a move from third to the outfield. Though this seems to defy logic, the signing of Aaron Boone is the real cause for the move. Boone signed with the Indians after his much publicized basketball injury after a brief stint with the Yankees. Boone should add a veteran presence, that the team lost in Vizquel and Matt Lawton, that will stabilize a young clubhouse. If Boone can put up a typical year for him: solid play at third, decent average, solid numbers, the move helps the club more by getting Blake into the outfield to replace the quickly aging Matt Lawton. For insurance, Jose Hernandez can fill in for Boone adequately. Through the organization, this is a deep position. Even after the trade of Corey Smith to the Padres, the Tribe is stacked with Pat Osborn, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Matt Whitney, not to mention Jake Gatreau (the player acquired in the Smith deal).

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