Now that I’m back in chilly Cleveland and (mostly) over my jet lag, I figured I’d offer a wrap up of some of the things from my trip that stuck with me. I wish I had more time to blog while I was out there, but since I was also attending a conference, free time was unfortunately at a minimum. Hopefully this will hit the major points, and provide some observations.
Let’s start with the question I’ve been asked most frequently – Will this whole Carlos Santana at third thing work out? (Seriously, Indians fans and fans of other teams kept asking me this nonstop). I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell you how this experiment will unfold throughout the season. I can tell you that it’s not as bad as I thought. He’s not going to win any gold gloves over there, but he will be serviceable at the position. Santana didn’t even look that awkward to me. I would hold my breath every time he’d throw to first, but that even seemed fine. Hopefully he’ll still be okay once the games have much more meaning.
Most positive thing I saw – The pitching. The projected starters looked good, as well as most of the people competing for starting spots. (Outside of Trevor Bauer) Most of the projected bullpen pitchers looked good as well. While in Arizona, the other question I frequently fielded was “How do you think the Tribe will do this year?” I keep saying that they’ll go as far as their pitching takes them. If the spring training performances carry over to the regular season (there’s no guarantee that they will), the Indians could end up being formidable. The Indians currently have the lowest ERA in the Cactus League (3.19).
Which player looked best? I’d have to go with Justin Masterson. I know this is a cliche, but he looked like he was already in mid-season form. I watched him pitch on Tuesday and Sunday; he didn’t allow a run on either day (in fact, he has a 0.00 ERA so far this spring). He didn’t allow a hit on Tuesday, and was several innings into Sunday’s contest before he allowed his first hit. The runner-up was probably Josh Tomlin. He had a few shaky moments on Friday in Glendale against the White Sox, but otherwise he didn’t look like a pitcher making his way back from Tommy John surgery. I’ve heard that Aaron Harang and Carlos Carrasco looked good as well; unfortunately I did not see them while I was out there.
Who looked bad? On the pitching end, Trevor Bauer looked pretty bad. It’s a small sample size, just a few innings on one day, but his time on the mound was a long 20 minutes or so. Nick Hagadone also looked visibly uncomfortable when brought into high pressure situations, and his performance was poor. Frank Herrmann was hit hard, but he’s only 11 months out from Tommy John surgery, so that’s to be somewhat expected. On the offensive end, Michael Bourn seemed to ground out every time I saw him bat. I don’t know if the hamstring was bothering him before he ended up leaving Sunday’s game against the Giants in Scottsdale, but I secretly hope it was.
What about the offense? I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the pitching and Santana’s fielding, but not much talking about the offense. I saw a lot of good moments from the high-number (75 and up) crowd that comes in late in the game, believe it or not. I saw some good power from Chisenhall, and Brantley and Santana looked good. As for the hitters that will make up the remainder of the 25-man roster, nobody has had a spring like Ryan Raburn did last year. A week ago, I may have leaned toward Nyger Morgan winning one of the final spots. His injury may lose him too much time when there’s so much competition around him. At this point, I think they may end up giving it to Jeff Francoeur. I know I’ve long had an obsession with Francoeur, but he hasn’t been that good at hitting in recent years. I’m not even saying I think he should get the position; just that I think he’ll end up with the Tribe on opening day (particularly after the Giambi injury). He’s looked good enough that I think they may keep him as a fourth outfielder. Since David Adams is in camp on a major league deal, I think that may give him an edge to land one of the final spots. Again, not saying that is my preference, just that I think it’s more likely it would go to the guy in camp on a major league deal, rather than one of the ones in Goodyear on a minor league deal.
I’ll leave you with some pictures from my final day in Arizona – the Indians vs. Cubs game at the new Cubs Park in Mesa. I have to say that I wanted to hate the place, because it seems stupid to build a new stadium when your existing park was just constructed in 1997. I was impressed though. It sold out well in advance of the game – I bought a ticket a month or so ago, but some friends decided to join me at the last minute. They kept an eye on Stub Hub, hoping prices would drop closer to Sunday’s game. (Lawn seats were in the $40+ range) They were still astronomical Sunday morning though; they ended up cutting a deal with a scalper outside of the park. The Cubs remain the only team I’ve seen in my lifetime, that had scalpers selling tickets outside of a spring training game.