Monday, March 27, 2006

Positional Analysis Part I

In anticipation of the Tribe’s first game with the White Sox (a mere 6 days away), let’s take a look at the breakdown of the components of the 2006 Indians. First up, the Infield:
Victor started his 2005 off slow (he was hitting .192 on May 27), but thrived the second half (.347 over his last 401 AB) to finish the season with a .305 BA, 20 HR, and 80 RBI. It stands to reason if The Stick can avoid a slow start this year that he should even build on those numbers, which are phenomenal from the C position, typically one of the less productive positions on the diamond. His presence in the middle of the lineup has become a fixture, though the Tribe would like to upgrade their protection behind him in the lineup to allow Martinez to see better pitches.

The Indians have said that Victor will play some games at 1B to keep him fresh this year, and the presence of Kelly Shoppach (assuming he gets the backup C spot out of Spring Training) should allow Wedge to do so. Last year, after Wedge lost all faith in Josh Bard’s bat, Victor didn’t receive a single day off. Shoppach’s excellent defense and throwing, along with some power, will allow Victor to stay rested with an occasional start at 1B, or even DH.

Organizationally, the Tribe is not that strong at C – with defensive receivers like Javi Herrera, who does little hitting – in the minors. In a pinch, Einar Diaz (if he sticks around in AAA) and Tim Laker can spell Kelly Shoppach or lend some relief in innings caught if need be.

First Base
Arguably the biggest spot of concern and conjecture, the Indians enter the season with a platoon of Ben Broussard (to face RH) and Eduardo Perez (to face LH). Ideally, the two will combine for totals in the range of .275 with 25 HR and 80 RBI, which would thrill the Front Office. There remains a huge possibility, though, that Broussard’s downward spiral of last year will continue, forcing the Indians to look elsewhere for production from 1B.

Ryan Garko would represent the first option, particularly if a hot start in Buffalo by Garko coincides with a slow start by Broussard in Cleveland. Garko’s bat has been, according to numerous sources, been Major League ready for a full year now. It has been his defense that has been the concern, as he is a converted catcher and not very fleet of foot. His defense, this Spring, however, was more advanced that projected which means that the Indians would be less reticent to hand the 1B job to Garko. If that were to happen (and Broussard is traded, or even cut – reportedly his contract is not guaranteed until Wednesday), Perez would likely stay on as a RH pinch hitter and 1B defensive replacement for Garko who could log some innings in OF, if truly necessary.

On the farm, the Tribe is loaded with OF/1B prospects along the lines of Jason Dubois, Ryan Mulhern and true 1B Michael Aubrey and Stephen Head a little further down the line.

Second Base
If there is one key player that has not been given a lot of attention in the offseason, it is Ronnie Belliard. He is key not so much for what he brings to the team, but rather how there is very little insurance behind him. Belliard has always entered the season with lower expectations, with most saying that “he’ll never outperform what he did last year”, but the team’s Energizer Bunny just keeps producing year after year. In this, his Free Agent year, expect Belliard to continue to provide what he’s been doing in Cleveland for 2 years now – hit about .280 with 15 HR and 65 RBI, while playing a 2B that is more akin to short OF on a softball team, and turning the double play faster than you would think a man of his dimensions. 2006, though, will probably be Belliard’s last in a Tribe uniform, as he will command decent FA money on the open market. While he is considered a nice “complementary” player for the team, he is certainly not considered a part of the “core” and will not be overpaid just to keep him here if a comparable alternative can be had at a lower price (and less years).

Behind Belliard, again, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about. Most of the 2B in the organization project more as Utility IF-types (Joe Inglett, Jake Gatreau, Pat Osborn) who could probably man 2B adequately for a year; but none will set the world on fire with their bat. Most are proficient enough defensively to be a #9 hitter in a stacked lineup. One possible future option is 2005 #1 pick Trevor Crowe, who played OF in college and in his first year of minor-league play, but may be moved to 2B, possibly this year, to fill an organizational hole.

The most pleasant surprise of 2005 was the breakout year by Jhonny Peralta, who proved to be more than up to the challenge of replacing Omar Vizquel to the tune of .292 with 24 HR and 78 RBI. The insertion of Peralta into the #3 hole in the lineup coincided with the explosion of the Indians’ offense as it finally gained some continuity and an identity. He should continue to thrive in that spot, with Jason Michaels’ OBP in the #2 hole and the continued development of Sizemore hitting leadoff allowing him more opportunities to be a run-producer. His glove, while not of the caliber of Omar’s (whose is?), was certainly solid after some early blips. Peralta’s easy demeanor and steady presence often underscore how good he really is, but expect his 2006 to force people to really stand up and take notice of Peralta as a player who should be a perennial contender for MVP for the next 10 years.

At the SS position, the Tribe is mainly stocked with slick-fielding speedsters (Ivan Ochoa, Eider Torres) who do very little with the bat and do not project to be much more than marginal Utility IF types. With a 24-year-old All-Star SS locked up through 2011, the Indians shouldn’t have to worry about developing too many SS for the next few years.

Third Base
Aaron Boone’s nightmare 2005 season, in which he hit .243 with 16 HR and only 60 RBI, did have its bright spots. Namely that he improved as the season progressed, hitting .284 from June 4 until the end of the season, which is closer to his career average and should be a harbinger of what the Indians can expect for 2006. The Front Office speaks often of Boone’s leadership and approach as having a good influence on the young players, so Boone’s value (to the organization, at least) may be deeper than just numbers.

That value, though, took a pretty big hit when the Tribe traded Coco Crisp for uber-prospect Andy Marte. Marte filled a huge organizational hole that existed for a Major League ready 3B and is thought by most to be Major League ready right now. The Indians are content to allow Marte to start in Buffalo, but he is simply a phone call away from being in the Indians’ lineup for the next 5-6 years. Marte’s numbers in the minors are comparable to Peralta’s and, if Marte can produce a season like Peralta’s 2005, the Indians will have a left side of the infield that should be the envy of every GM in the game for the next 6 years.

Past Marte, Kevin Kouzmanoff will start in Akron (though he is now a 24 year old “prospect” who has 7 games of experience above A ball) and Matt Whitney will start in Kinston (where he will try to get a career, derailed by a knee injury in a basketball game, back on track). Like the SS position, Marte at 3B makes the Indians solid at the hot corner in the near future.

Tomorrow, the Outfield.


Baltimoran said...

you forgot the mention the future at 2nd base, Brandon "willie mays hayes" Phillips...I'm sure it was just an oversight

Paul Cousineau said...

I wrote him off when he decided that he wasn't going to talk to the media...while competing for the utility IF spot.

Baltimoran said...

one could interpret that as a sign of maturity, that he really wanted to focus on the job at hand, rather than answer questions about his struggles the last few years. I wouldn't give him away just yet if I was the tribe.

t-bone said...

unrelated to any of this, Gammons never ceases to amaze me. Here's his blog post today:

A top-20 iPod countdown
posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2006

As I leave spring training, I thank the good folks at Gold's Gyms in Jupiter and Tampa, the 24 Hour Fitness Center in Phoenix, et al. What is odd is the hundred-something times I was asked, "what's in your iPod?" So I went through and checked which songs I listened to most in my six weeks on the road, from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.

So here is my traveler's guide to 5:45 a.m. workouts:

1. "Mary Jane's Last Dance," Mike Campbell and Tom Petty. She "had a good-lookin' momma who was never around … you never slow down, you never grow old."

2. "Riding in the Backseat," The Gentlemen. Download it. You're (---) right.

3. "(---) Up," Pearl Jam

4. "I'm No Angel," Gregg Allman. "So you find me hard to handle, Well, I'm easier to hold."

5. "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," Buddy Guy

6. "Munich," The Editors

7. "Both Sides of the Gun," Ben Harper

8. "On Your Way Down," Little Feat. (ital)"You think the sun rises and sets on you, but the same sun that rises and sets on poor folks too."

9. "World Wide Suicide," Pearl Jam

10. "Model Citizen," Warren Zevon

11. "Perfectly Good Guitar," John Hiatt. "There ought to be a law with no bail/Smash a guitar and you go to jail/With no chance for early parole/You don't get out 'til you get some soul

12. "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley," Robert Palmer, "when up pops the wife."

13. "You Got the Silver," Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks

14. "I Feel So Good," Richard Thompson, "I'm gonna break somebody's heart tonight."

15. "Strange Condition," Pete Yorn

16. "Mr Brightside," The Killers

17. "Summer," Buffalo Tom

18. "Down the Road Apiece," Rolling Stones

19. "You're My Girl," Rhinoceros

20. "This Is Us," Emmylou Harris

t-bone said...