On the last Sunday before the regular season begins, things are starting to come into focus on the North Coast. The rotation, having dodged any further injury bullets, is set. The 4th OF/bench jobs have been decided. The last bullpen spot has been assigned. Minor league teams are set and ready to break camp. The sun is starting to shine…sort of. All that’s left to do is get the big club back to the shores of Lake Erie and kick off the season.
Most of the “news” related to the club in recent days turned out to be not news at all, as a proposed trade that would have brought Bobby Abreu eastward to man LF for the Indians fell through. Reports differ as to just how close the proposed deal was to actually happening, with some of the national writers going as far as to say that it was near completion but Bastain and some of the local guys saying it wasn’t that close after all. Abreu is under contract for $9 million in 2012, so the Angels would have had to eat a significant chunk of change in order for the Indians to be able to take on that contract. The exact terms of the deal were never released, but it may or may not have involved Trevor Crowe. I’ve long thought the Angels would be an ideal trade partner for the Indians, as they have too many OF and corner INF and are in need of an extra starter, and the Indians need an OF/corner INF and have extra starters. I have a feeling that there was an unnamed pitcher in the deal from the Indians side, but of course have nothing to confirm that. Regardless, whether it was due to the player package or monetary compensation, the deal died on the vine and Abreu remains on the West Coast. BaseballProspectus’ Sam Miller actually used the Abreu situation to make an interestingcase about how the myth of the “veteran presence” in baseball is exactly that,and it’s worth a read when you’re ready to complain about your own job.
There was a great deal of discussion from Indians fans as to whether or not Abreu would even constitute an upgrade in LF. He’s getting a little long in the tooth, and is a below-average defender in the OF. However, he’d have been augmenting/supplanting an already below-average defender in Shelley Duncan, one that doesn’t have near the offensive track record that Abreu has displayed in his 16-year major league career. I’m not going to over-analyze a player that’s not going to be playing for the Indians this year, but suffice to say that while Abreu’s offense is trending downward I still think he’d be an overall upgrade for 2012. The fact that the Angels are looking to dump salary at all, especially after signing a TV deal that pays them $150 million per season, is borderline laughable, and really shows you why a team with the resources of the Indians balks at signing long term deals. The Angels got themselves into salary “trouble” by trading a guy that became one of the best offensive catchers in the league (Mike Napoli) for a salary albatross (Vernon Wells), then were still able to go out and sign the best player of our generation and one of the top pitchers on the free agent market, and are now trying to get rid of Abreu’s contract. It’s borderline crazy when you think about it, and if you’re one of those fans that wonders why the Dolans are “cheap” and don’t make impactful free agent signings…well, you just weren’t paying attention to the 2011-2012 offseason.
If the Indians do end up making a deal with the Angels, here’s an under the radar name to keep in mind; C.J. Cron. Cron is a first baseman who was selected #17 overall by the Angels out of the University of Utah in the 2011 draft, and he’s considered to be a guy who won’t need a lot of time in the minor leagues. He’s limited defensively to 1B and 1B only, but scouts rave about his bat. He played in 34 games in short season ball after signing last year, and put up an even 1.000 OPS. In case you didn’t notice, first base is pretty well blocked in LA for the conceivable future, as is DH between Pujols, Morales and Trumbo. The Indians don’t have much in AA or AAA at first base, and the 22-year old Cron would look awfully good in the organization. This is all pure speculation on my part, but Cron seems expendable for the Angels right now, and the Indians certainly have a need that he could fulfill. Just something to keep an eye on going forward…
On to players who are actually going to be wearing the Indians uniform in 2012, as news has come out that Jenmar Gomez was awarded the 5th starter spot out of Goodyear. Gomez had a solid spring, going 1-1 with a 1.37 ERA while racking up 14 K and walking 8 in 19 2/3 IP. His main rivals for the spot were David Huff and Kevin Slowey, neither of which were particularly effective this spring. Slowey was 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA with 5 K and 4 BB in 12 IP while Huff went 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA, 8 K and 2 BB in 14 IP. Slowey was also roughed up in a couple of starts in minor league camp, and Huff strained his hamstring so really it wasn’t much of a decision to give Gomez first shot at the role. Gomez did put a scare into the organization when he suffered what they are calling a “mild hip strain,” but with the club not needing a 5th starter until April 11, all indications are that Gomez will be able to make that start, barring any setbacks of course.
As far as the bullpen goes, veteran Dan Wheeler was told that he made the final 25-man roster, which leaves just one spot up for grabs that should be announced later today. Wheeler celebrated the good news by going out and allowing 5 runs (3 home runs) in one inning of work. Some people just can’t handle success. As far as the last spot goes, it’s coming down to either veteran Jeremy Accardo or Jairo Asencio, who was recently acquired from the Braves in exchange for cash in move that flew under the radar a bit. Asencio is a 27-year old righty who put up impressive AAA numbers last year (26 saves, 1.81 ERA 70 K and 22 BB in 54 2/3 IP) and not-so impressive MLB numbers last year (6.97 ERA, 8 K and 5 BB in 10 1/3 IP). Outside the numbers, I really can’t claim to know anything about Asencio as I’ve never seen him pitch. But he was having a good spring, with 12 K in 11 IP for the Braves at the major league level, and he’s already on the 40-man roster so there’s a chance that he could claim that final bullpen spot. Regardless, the Indians plan to announce the final roster today, so we’ll all find out one way or the other soon enough.
Derek Lowe threw a scare into Indians fans when he left his most recent Cactus League start with back spasms. Penciled into the #4 starter role, losing Lowe would have meant that both Jenmar Gomez and Kevin Slowey would have made the opening day roster, as David Huff injured his hamstring at almost the same time as Lowe was leaving the game with his back issues. Lowe and the club insist that he’s fine and will be able to make his Indians debut on schedule, so the club really dodged a bullet there. Lowe isn’t a front of the rotation, dominant starter, but he’s a valuable veteran innings eater and it would have really hurt to lose him this early in the season. Let’s hope he really is healthy and effective come the cold April games in Cleveland.
Moving from the big club down to the farm (come on, you knew it was coming eventually), Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks got another look at Francisco Lindor this spring, andcame away even more impressed than before. Here’s a snippet of what Parks had to say about Lindor:
There will come a time, perhaps in the next few seasons, when teams will look back on the 2011 draft and say that Francisco Lindor should have gone number one overall. He has that potential. With Lindor, you aren’t looking at a player that at the present is miles away from his future; rather, when you watch Lindor on a field, you see a player that is more advanced than his contemporaries. He lacks crazy speed, but he can get to anything on the diamond and his glove casts a wide net at the position. His arm is quite strong and accurate, capable of making throws from deep in the left-side hole and over the bag at second. His bat is very promising, although his offensive tools lack elite individual grades; his hit tool could be a high-six, and the power could end up as average (5). The offensive combo should allow the 18-year-old to hit for a high average, with an approach that will encourage a high OBP, and enough pop in the bat for 10-15 homers a year at maturity, with a gap-to-gap swing that will produce countless doubles. Combine the offensive skill-set with the plus defense from a premium position and you have one of the better prospects in the game.
Read that again…I’ll wait. Pay special attention to the part where Parks says that Lindor may be looked at as the best talent in the 2011 draft. Then recall that talent pundits across the board referred to the 2011 draft as one of the most loaded in recent memory. Are you excited about Francisco Lindor yet? I’ll be putting out a more in-depth article on what I saw out of Lindor this spring, but it’s safe to say that my general point of view on the kid lines up with what Parks is saying above. He just looks so natural out there, you forget that he will play the entire 2012 season as an 18-year old, and plenty of players drafted out of high school in the upcoming Rule 4 draft will be older than him. Lindor really has a chance to be special, and if you can get out to Lake County and see this kid play, do it. I promise he will be worth the price of admission.
The Indians have of course been releasing a good number of minor leaguers throughout camp. Some of these guys are going to catch on somewhere else, some are going back to school, and some are going to have to rely on their actual college degrees to make money from here on out. Indians minor league pitcher Cole Cook has an excellent and entertaining blog that he started this past offseason, and he put up a post on what it means for the team when they see their friends and formerteammates on the way out the door. It’s a sobering experience, one that guys never really get used to despite it happening every year. Give it a read, and check back in with Cook throughout the year; he’s an entertaining follow on twitter and the blog is a neat window into the life of a professional ballplayer.
On a little bit lighter note, I’m going to put up some pictures that I took in Goodyear this month as a photo-essay of sorts. I can’t stress enough how enjoyable of an experience it is to go down to spring training, and there’s really no way that I can put it effectively into words. So hopefully these pictures will help do the trick. With opening day less than a week away, I hope you’re as excited about baseball season finally getting underway as I am. Enjoy!
|Kenny! Probably wondering why I'm taking a picture of him from 2 feet away|
|Pitchers getting their work in|
|Something you will only see in spring training; Travis Hafner, bunting.|
|Pure Rage Family|
|Shapiro, getting a look at the kids|
|Camelback Ranch. I thought Goodyear was nice until I went to see a game at Camelback. What an amazing facility.|
|A familiar site for Tribe fans|
|Kip, trying to get those batting gloves just right|
|Duncan had a 70-grade beard going this spring|
|Bryce Stowell, reaching for the stars|
|Peoria stadium. Not as nice as Goodyear.|
|The Cleveland media descending on Acta after Rage's 1st minor league outing. What a miserable group of human beings.|
|For those who didn't know, Goodyear airport is a graveyard for big jumbo jets.|
|The past and the future collide. Fryman helping out Francisco Lindor.|
|Fryman and Adam Everett|
|Scotty Barnes and his deceptive motion|
|Antonetti and some other guy who got picked on in high school|
|Big, Bad Jesus Aguilar doubling off the left field fence|