Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Gang's All Here

The position players are engaging in their first full workout today in Winter Haven, so let’s continue our look at the players in camp and their expected destination:
On the Team
Ronnie Belliard
Aaron Boone
Ben Broussard
Travis Hafner
Jhonny Peralta
Eduardo Perez

The only real change from the infield of 2005 is the replacement of Jose Hernandez with Eduardo Perez, who will likely be part of a platoon at 1B with Benny.
How much of a platoon Wedge utilizes remains to be seen (whether he gives Broussard the first crack, until he goes cold, or goes straight platoon from Day 1), but the streakiness of Broussard nearly guarantees that Perez will see some AB’s.

Boone and Belliard are both potential FA at year’s end, so it will be interesting to see how each performs in a potential contract year. While Boone has uber-prospect Andy Marte possibly bearing down on him at the hot corner, Belliard is essentially the only answer at 2B, with no other viable option available.

Hafner and Peralta are now known quantities, and should remain among the elite at their respective positions again in 2006.

Candidates for Utility Infielder Position
Brandon Phillips
Ramon Vazquez
Lou Merloni
This is probably the most intriguing “battle” in camp as Phillips is out of options (meaning he cannot be sent to the minors if he doesn’t make the team), and Vazquez was on the team instead of Phillips in 2005, after the Cora trade.

Many think that Phillips is the front-runner (because he is out of options), but I would disagree, mainly because since 2003 (when he was handed the starting 2B job out of camp), he has been on a downward spiral. He has been unable to hit consistently in Buffalo, and still seems to exude that confidence (or cockiness or sense of entitlement) that, to this point, is unfounded. Phillips’ biggest cheerleader in the organization, Buddy Bell, is in Kansas City, which doesn’t exactly help his cause.

Vazquez is the likely choice out of camp with Merloni a serious contender for this spot. The Indians know what Merloni brings – versatility, leadership, grittiness – and may give the nod to the high character guy. Of course, if Merloni is not yet ready to play (he only played in 5 games in LA last year), Vazquez can fill the role of a 2B/SS. Merloni, though, is the more interesting player, as he brings the ability to play 1B/2B/3B/OF and even SS (he did play 23 games at SS in 2003) while giving the Tribe a more experienced right-handed bat off of the bench.

So, when all is said and done, the guess here is that Merloni (if healthy) gets the nod. If he’s not fully recovered, Vazquez will come North, while Merloni goes to Buffalo to get healthy. Sadly, I think that this Spring will be the final chapter of the Brandon Phillips Experience in Cleveland, as he’ll probably be traded for some bullpen depth at the end of camp. Both entities probably will benefit from the separation.

Headed back to the Farm
Michael Aubrey
Ryan Garko
Andy Marte
Jose Flores
Jake Gautreau
Joe Inglett
With the news that Aubrey’s back problems (and ongoing injury issues) have continued, the only players who figure seriously into the Indians’ future who will see time this Spring are Garko and Marte.

Garko and Marte should both start the season at Bufffalo, but as I’ve said before, I would expect one of the two to be a regular in Cleveland by June. I don’t know which one, but I expect both to start fast out of the gate in Buffalo; if either Boone or Broussard falters or is injured, Garko or Marte should inject some pop into the bottom of the lineup.

By the way, if you haven’t seen a picture of Garko in Winter Haven, he’s a big guy wearing #25. Only difference from that “other” #25 1B: Garko’s a righty. It did cause a double-take though.

Flores, Gautreau, and Inglett are all minor leaguers who will probably stay in extended Spring Training before heading back to Buffalo or Akron, where they will fill their infield/utility roles.I

On the Team

Casey Blake
Jason Michaels
Grady Sizemore
These look to be set in stone, barring a youngster making a HUGE impression in camp, or an injury. The hope is that Blake will rebound after a tough 2005, that Michaels can fill the shoes of Coco’s (I feel that I will be able to), and that Grady continues to progress as most feel that he will, on his way to stardom.

Candidates for 4th OF position
Ben Francisco
Todd Hollandsworth
This, along with the final bullpen spot and the utility IF spot, is one of the few question marks in camp. Hollandsworth is the clear front-runner, as he represents a veteran LH bat off of the bench. Although he usually doesn’t play CF, Michaels is able to take over in CF when Grady needs a day off (which could be a frightening day - with an outfield of Hollandsworth, Michaels, and Blake).
Hollandsworth’s main competition will come from Francisco, who mainly played in Akron last year, but excelled this winter and could ride the momentum of a strong winter into a strong Spring.
Francisco is more of a true 4th outfielder, capable of playing all 3 positions, while getting on base and bringing some speed off of the bench. He probably ultimately projects as a 4th outfielder in the Majors, but his power this winter certainly did raise his stock in the organization.
Does anyone else remember some other guy who projected as a 4th outfielder who kept raising his stock? What was his name?
Now, by no means am I comparing Coco to Francisco, as Coco is only currently 2 years older with much more experience, but where most people thought Coco would top out at in the Majors is what is thought of Francisco.

Headed back to the Farm
Jason Dubois
Franklin Gutierrez
Brad Snyder
Trevor Crowe
Todd Donovan
Ryan Mulhern
Gutierrez and Snyder are the big names here, but both will start in Buffalo to get some more seasoning. There’s a chance that one of these players could come out of the gate quickly and force the Indians’ hand, but both players are still young and both strike out A LOT.
Dubois is still a man without a true position as he’s ideally a DH (he’s a butcher in the outfield), but is blocked by Le Pronque. Dubois has taken over the Ryan Ludwick role in the organization as the AAAA outfielder who will probably be little more than filler at the big league level.
Trevor Crowe and Ryan Mulhern are two lower level prospects to watch. Crowe is last year’s 1st round pick, who should (hopefully) move through the organization this year. Mulhern raked his way through the minors last year and could see some time in Buffalo this year if he’s needed.

There will be other names in camp, but I kept the analysis to players on the 40-man roster and non-roster invitees as it's unlikely that a player in the organization not on the 40-man will make too much of an impact.

With all of the talk of prospects, here are some links on top Indians’ prospects entering the 2006 season.

Minor league guru John Sickels breaks down his list.

Let’s Go Tribe has 2 lists, one from each primary contributor, which are both excellent.

Baseball America lists the top 10 and a “Best in the Organization” List.

Another good link is Sean McAdam’s breakdown of the Indians’ collapse and Spring Training tone on

Off to Milwaukee this weekend, so no Lazy Sunday.
I’ll try to pick it up with the posts now that Spring Training is in full gear and the articles and photos have gotten me all excited again.

Heard a Hamilton call of the end of a game in the car yesterday and I got chills.
38 days until Opening Day.

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