Is positional even a word? Regardless, here's the outfield and the land of Le Pronque:
With the departure of Coco Crisp, the Tribe has handed the LF spot, as well as the #2 hole in the lineup to Jason Michaels, acquired from the Phillies for Arthur Rhodes. Michaels has always been a 4th outfielder/platoon player up to this point in his career, so this represents his first chance to play every day and be a regular contributor. His hard-nosed style of play and his On-Base Percentage (.399 last year) should translate well into the Indians’ lineup. He will not be asked to do much more than play solid LF (and spell Sizemore in CF occasionally) and serve as a bridge between Sizemore and the run-producers down the line. His Spring numbers (.295 BA/.367 OBP/.500 SLG) show that he should remain a pretty consistent presence in the lineup. While he may not provide the power or the popularity that Coco did in LF last year, he should take better lines to fly balls and exhibit a better arm while adequately replacing Coco’s production from the #2 hole.
Todd Hollandsworth will likely serve as the backup LF and LH pinch hitter, though if Hollandsworth struggles, a player like a Ben Francisco (who projects as more of a 4th outfielder than other prospects) may end up filling the role at some point this year.
Down the road, it is likely that Brad Snyder or Franklin Gutierrez would be given opportunities to play one of the corner spots. Snyder might project as more of a RF, while Gutierrez is a superb defensive CF who may emerge and allow the Indians the option of moving Sizemore to LF. Ryan Mulhern or Jason Dubois would also factor into the mix as prospects, but would have to continue to mash to overcome defensive deficiencies.
Along with the breakout year enjoyed by Jhonny Peralta, the year that Grady Sizemore put together in CF was nothing short of astounding. He became the 2nd Indian in History to have 20 doubles, 10 triples, 20 HR, and 20 SB in one year (Robby Alomar was the other), and did so with only 43 previous games played under his belt. Sizemore’s demeanor, defense, and hustle make him one of the leaders of this team, if by example only (remember that he won’t turn 24 until August). He should continue to add weapons to his arsenal as he cuts down on his strikeouts, improves his baserunning, and grows into his body, which should translate into even higher power numbers. Sizemore should become the face of this “new” Indians regime, and won’t disappoint.
As stated earlier, it may come to a point in the future that Gutierrez’s defensive prowess allows the Indians the luxury of moving Sizemore to LF (and Grady’s no slouch in CF) which would create a speedy outfield capable of cutting most balls off before they reached the wall.
Like the situation at SS, the Indians shouldn’t have to worry about the CF position for a very long time. SuperSizemore will remain just that - Super.
The big question in RF this year is whether Casey Blake will finish 2006 as the starting RF or if Kasey Blake will finish 2006 as the Indians’ 4th outfielder. We’ve discussed, ad nauseum, how this year (and really the first few months) represents a make-or-break time for Blake as a legitimate starter in the Majors. Whether he can recapture the magic of 2004 and cut down on his strikeouts while hitting better with Runners In Scoring Position should be answered by mid-June. If he has not improved his numbers by that time, expect the Indians to go in another direction in RF. Blake would then move to the 4th OF/Super Utility role that may ultimately suit him better.
The internal options would be (in order of Major League readiness): Jason Dubois, Franklin Gutierrez, Brad Snyder, and Ryan Mulhern (you could throw Jason Cooper in the mix if you really want). All obviously need more polish on their apple before they join the Tribe to stay, but it’s likely that the Indians would promote from within and exhaust their internal options before making a move to acquire a RF. Whether that player would be a bat-for-hire or an up-and-coming player acquired in the trade that has become the Shapiro specialty (you trade from your depth, and I’ll trade from mine) remains to be seen.
The RF position could be an ongoing soap opera as the Indians hold open tryouts until the final answer is found, possibly by the trading deadline. It all could be avoided, though, if Blake is able to put up respectable numbers and is able to shed his rally-killing streak.
Travis Hafner continued making a claim for being the best DH in baseball with a monster 2005 season, to the tune of .305 BA, 1.003 OPS (second in the AL, behind only A-Rod, ahead of Ortiz, Manny, and Guerrero, among others), 33 HR, and 108 RBI. Now, are you ready for the kicker? He missed 25 games last season because of the lingering effects of the concussion sustained after the Buehrle beaning. So, what could Hafner do with a full season, entrenched as the cleanup hitter, with productive hitters around him all season long (remember that until June, Victor provided him very little protection in the lineup)? Who knows, but another year like 2005, or even an improvement certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.
Hafner may see some games at 1B this year (particularly in interleague play), so expect Victor or Eduardo Perez to log some AB at DH. But the lion’s share will go to Pronk, who can hopefully stay healthy all season to continue his tear through the league.
Down below, the Tribe has a number of players that project to nice DH types in Jason Dubois, Ryan Mulhern, and Jason Cooper. Those guys project as DH’s mainly because they don’t necessarily excel in the field. However, with Hafner on the big-league squad without much of a movement to transfer him to 1B permanently, those players will have to find another spot to break into, because Hafner has DH covered.
Tomorrow, the Starting Rotation.