During this week, guest writers from around the Internet will drop by to break down the 2011 season and how it looks for the teams in the American League Central. Today’s post comes from Gary Schatz as he takes a look at the Cleveland Indians.
It is no secret that the Indians will rely on youth. The free agent market is simply not for them
The mid-90’s Indians, the group that built and sold out “the Jake” as in Jacobs Field was a collection of home grown talent. General Manager, John Hart, signed the youthful core players, Joey (Albert) Bell, Jim Thome and Carlos Baerga etc above market rate before they could reach arbitration.
The 2011 Indians will be youthful but obtained by trading veterans.
The Indians decided then that they couldn’t hang with the Yankees and Red Sox in the free agent sweepstakes. They were right. They lost the season opener and at 0-1 it was the high water mark in a 93-loss season.
Outfielder Austin Kearns and righthanded starting pitcher, Jake Westbrook were peddled to contending teams for more prospects at the end of last season..
The clubs top pitcher, Fausto Carmona, rebounded from a tough 2009 to put together a good season.
He won 13 games. It was the most since his 19-win season in 2007. He slipped to 5-12 in 2009.
The club is counting on him to have another good season in order to compete.
Avoiding the free agent gamble and budget drain, has populated the starting rotation with some young talent. Justin Masterson, who came from the Red Sox for Victor Martinez. The second round pick in the 2006 draft was a prized prospect in the Red Sox organization but signing top free agent pitching left little room for him in Boston. He didn’t win his first game until June 4 then shutout the Boston Red Sox five days later. His ERA was 5.31 in the first half of the season but a respectable 3.84 after the All- Star break.
Carlos Carrasco was a principal in the trade with Philadelphia for Cliff Lee. He was called up in September. He finished in the majors with a 2-2 record and a 3.83 ERA.
Mitch Talbot won 10 games. He is the fourth member of the starting rotation. All four are under 28 years of age. The group struggled early but seemed to improve in the second half of the year under pitching coach, Tim Belcher. David Huff, a lefty, picked by the Indians in the first round of the 2006 draft, leads a group of candidates for the final spot in the rotation. Huff won 11 games in his rookie season a year ago but won just two of his 13 decisions.
Anthony Reyes, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez will also be considered. Gomez will be 23 when the season starts. When he arrived in Cleveland in mid-July, he had already logged 116 innings at Columbus. His first five starts were impressive with a 1.84 ERA. Fatigue kicked in and his last six outings inflated his ERA to 4.68.
The bullpen is led by closer, Chris Perez, who took over the role when Kerry Wood was shipped to the Yankees. Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez are the top candidates for jobs out of the bullpen. Leaving Aaron Laffey, Frank Herrmann, Justin Germano, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy and newly acquired Joe Martinez and Doug Mathis. Martinez completed the Indians 40-man roster. Mathis, who has experience as a starter also, was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He pitched for the Texas Rangers last season.
Indians manager, Manny Acta , was eager to see what top catching prospect, Carlos Santana. A knee injury cut short Santana’s rookie season. He played just 40 games. The switch hitter was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Casey Blake. Santana will be 25 shortly after opening day. He has shown some power, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 117 runs in 2008 when he played at the Double A level before a promotion to Columbus. Light hitting Lou Marson will spell Santana. He was near the top of the American League in the percentage of base stealers caught.
The Tribe infield will be full of young Braves. Matt LaPorta obtained from Milwaukee for C.C. Sabbathia will be at firstbase. Jason Donald acquired from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade will be at secondbase. Asdrubal Cabrera, a Seattle Mariner signing obtained for Eduardo Perez will be at shortstop and Jayson Nix, a waiver claim from the Chicago White Sox, went to the Puerto Rican Winter League to make the transition from second to thirdbase. Luis Valbuena is expected to provide bench strength at the middle infield. Adam Everitt was signed to a minor league deal to add depth and some experience.
Slugging designated hitter, Travis Hafner, will backup LaPorta at firstbase. Hafner missed time with shoulder problems last season
Cabrera is the most experienced but has yet to play three full seasons, arriving in June 2007. Nix and Valbuena broke in during the 2008 season. LaPorta debuted in 2009 but started last season in Columbus.
Donald showed up last season. LaPorta struggled last year as expected but Acta hopes the experience will payoff for the highly regarded young slugger.
Jason Kipnich, a 23-year old lefhanded hitter out of Arizona State, could challenge at secondbase. In two minor league stops last season hit .307 with 16 home runs and 74 RBI.. Picked one round later in the 2009 draft after Sun Devil teammate, Mike Leake, Kipnich advanced to Double A, Akron. The top pick in 2008, Lonnie Chisenhall has an outside chance to make the roster as a thirdbaseman. He hit 17 home runs at Akron last season.
The Cleveland outfield collectively is the veteran presence on the team. Shin-Soo Choo had a solid season with a .300 average, 22 home runs and 90 RBI. All-Star centerfielder, Grady Sizemore, was ineffective in just 33 games in 2010. He is rehabbing after surgery on his left knee in June. He was also plagued by a deep bone bruise. Michael Brantley took over for Sizemore. The 23-year old was a top prospect in Milwaukee, that came to Cleveland with LaPorta for Sabbathia. His inexperience showed but he is expected to produce with experience. Switch hitter Trevor Crowe also was learning on the job in Cleveland last season. He had surgery to remove clean out his right elbow in October but will be ready by the time the team reports to Goodyear. Choo, Sizemore and Brantley all hit from the leftside. Austin Kearns resigned. Kearns, who was Cincinnati’s top choice in 1998, one round ahead of Adam Dunn, is the lone righthanded bat. He hit .272 in 84 games for Cleveland and played well enough that the Yankees “rented” him for the stretch drive toward the post season.
Manny Acta managed the veteran who is all of 31 years old and could yet reach the potential that has eluded him since he broke in with the Reds in 2002. Kearns career barely got off the ground when a debilitating hand injury put a drag on his rise to stardom.
Manny Acta took over for Eric Wedge last season. Like his first job with the Washington Nationals, Acta was not expected to win much. His 2007 Nationals team that included Kearns, overachieved if a team that lost 89 games can claim achievement.
The team struggled through injuries to Sizemore, the best player they had, youthful mistakes and the sale of its veterans during the second half of the season.
Cleveland got off to a dismal start but after, Kearns, Westbrook and Russel Branyan departed the kids showed signs of improvement. Acta and first year general manager, Chris Antonetti, are hoping the team develops rapidly. They don’t expect the Indians to win the Central as its cross-state rival, Cincinnati did last year. They are looking for incremental improvement and have an eye on 2012 or 2013.
Gary covers the Cleveland Indians for the newest site in the Ivie League Production family, Battle Of Ohio Baseball.