Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Previewing the AL Central: Cleveland Indians

I remember when I was a senior in high school and my dad and I took a trip, visiting colleges along the way. Our trip took us near Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) and as you come in from the south on Hwy. 90, there it stands, quite majestic looking. At the time, the Indians were good, or had just recently been good, and had that record-breaking sellout streak (that has since been broken) so it was kinda magical seeing the stadium. Anyway, that's really the only fond memory I could think of regarding the Indians. Fast-forward 10 years and you've got a perennial loser in a city full of dismal sports teams. I don't want to spend a lot of time on this one, so here goes.

2010 Record: 39-93; 4th place, 25GB the 1st place Minnesota Twins

Key Departures:
This was the first off-season for the Indians new GM Chris Antonetti. To say that he was quiet...would be an understatement. The Indians didn't lose a single player worth noting, nor did they bring anyone in worth noting.

Key Additions:
In short, they re-signed Austin Kearns to a one-year deal, avoided arbitration with Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez and Rafael Perez, and offered a slew of players minor-league deals with invitations to Spring Training. Other than that, nothing. Except:

Mike Hargrove - Former Head Coach
This is a the proverbial rabbit in the hat folks, former head coach Mike Hargrove re-joined the Indians as a special consultant. According to the Mariners blog, Seattle PI, Hargrove will, "handle a variety of roles, the Indians said Tuesday. He will assist manager Manny Acta's staff in spring training, appear on game broadcasts and help with business, community and charity work." This could simply be a PR move on the part of the Indians front-office as their fan base continues to get more and more disenfranchised, or it could be a legitimate attempt to bring some success back to the organization. Likely it's a combination of both, but I'm not sure it will help because Hargrove isn't likely to have much authority.

Taking a Look at the Farm:
I gather that the Indians strategy heading into this season goes something like this: hope the players that were hurt last year come back and produce and also use the some of the resources in our fairly deep farm-system to put together a competitive team. This could work, particularly because the Indians farm system is pretty deep, not quite as good as the Royals, but the Indians have a number of intriguing pieces that are almost MLB-ready.

Jason Kipnis - 2B
This kid is definitely slated to be the new Indians 2nd baseman and that transition could come as early as opening day. Last year he hit well at High-A ball (.300/.387/.478) and then hit even better at Double-A (.311/.385/.502). With a .965 career fielding percentage in the minors, he's now wowing anyone with his defense, but your bat keeps you in the lineup and Kipnis has plenty of that. Baseball Prospectus projects him as a late-2011 arrival, but the Indians don't have any depth at 2B so I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he makes the jump earlier rather than later. At 23, he's old enough for his first shot and if his track record so far is any indication, he'll do just fine.

In the, "definitely appearing this year" department:

Bryce Stowell - RP
Stowell made bunch of stops last year (A, AA, and AAA) and combined, he had himself a fine year. In just over 67 innings, he struck out 102 batters and managed a 2.14 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Not bad for a 23-year-old. He has an upper-90's fastball which is his main weapon and it's highly likely he'll pitch with the Major League club this season.

A guy to pay attention to:

Drew Pomeranz - SP
Drew was drafted with the 5th pick in last year's draft and looks like he'll be a good one. Think left-handed Chad Billingsley. No joke, this kid is 6'5" and 235lbs., throws his fastball 90-93mph, but scouts really rave about his curveball. The knock on him is that he's wild at times, but most of that has been chalked up to his odd delivery, something the Indians might address at his first stop in the minors (High-A). As a hard-throwing lefty, he automatically has potential, definitely worth watching this year and next to see how he progresses.

The Future of the Cleveland Indians:
For 7 out of the last 9 seasons, the Indians have finished at .500 or below. It's hard to remember that they made the ALCS in 2007, it's like a have a blank spot in my mind there...I digress. The last 15 years of Indians history has been marked by defeat and heart-wrenching loss. Starting in 1995, they lost playoff series in 6 out of 7 seasons including World Series losses to Atlanta and Florida. Last year was Manny Acta's first season, following a pretty miserable run under the direction of Eric Wedge. Acta will likely have a couple more seasons to turn things around and with a small crop of young talent coming up in the next 2 years, he outta have a decent shot at it. With players like Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta to build around (and don't forget about Grady Sizemore too, he's still only 27) they have a nice young nucleus to build around, and they have a city that is DYING for one of their sports teams to do something halfway decent.
One major factor hindering the Indians success has been their lack of starting pitching, though when you remember they traded away CC Sabathia AND Cliff Lee in the last 3 years, it's hard to feel sorry for them. Until they find a handful of decent starters, they'll continue to struggle, no matter who is in the lineup. Their young talent is exciting though and they've played the AL Central pretty tough the last few years so they're still relevant despite recent struggles.

No comments:

Post a Comment