Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Sunday Big³ at the B³: Is it time to start Marte and bench Peralta?

With the world focusing on Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker taking on ex-husband James Cameron and his bloated Avatar in tonight's Oscars, I couldn't help but notice that the Cleveland Indians were atop the Cactus League standings. While most see this as launch to the top of the standings as one of those spring training anomalies, I happen to believe this is a trend. Maybe, just maybe, the Indians will go undefeated this year. Hey, it's Oscar night, sometimes you have to dream. So, with the Oscars likely to start at about 10:00 A.M. to get through the previews of the ten candidates for best picture, I'd better get this B³ rolling. I mean, who doesn't want to see the leather-faced Joan Rivers critiquing clothes, followed by four hours of rich actors blathering all over themselves about all the good they do. I, for one, can't wait. On with the Big 3:

#3. Ladies and Gentleman, introducing Nick Weglarz, future Indians masher: Did anyone notice that pitch he hit out the other day against Cincinnati? It was down and tailing away, and he crushed it. With all the focus this spring on pitching and where in the world are Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta going to play, let's complicate the picture a bit, shall we? With Jordan Brown getting handed the Rodney Dangerfield card with the Tribe, let's take one more step back, and begin wondering where in the world does Nick Weglarz and his potential power production fit into all of this? The Canadian left fielder has been pounding the ball early in the spring training, and you do have to start wondering where in the world is he going to play when he does eventually make the team.

Now, let's get something clear right now. I don't think Weglarz can play his way onto this club this year, even if he hits a home run in every spring training game, continues to bat 1.000 and walks 100 times (he's currently 2 for 2, with a homer, four RBI and three walks). The Indians certainly are playing the arbitration and free agent clock with several players, and Weglarz making the club would really screw things up. While it does sound idiotic to keep a kid like Weglarz down if he earns a slot, in Cleveland Indians baseball, these are the economic times. Especially if you take into account the simple fact that two other clocks are directly in front of him in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta. While Weglarz is likely to cool off in some form or fashion this spring, it is realistic to think that this is the year things really click for power hitter.

So where does he fit in the future? Weglarz is earmarked for Akron's left field slot this year, but that certainly could change, especially with Jordan Brown injured, and likely out until May. Weglarz would take his place in Columbus, playing left field. I can't imagine that the Indians would move Weglarz back down, especially if he's hitting. Will they keep him in left in Columbus? Will they move him to first base, where a guy like Shelley Duncan may be playing? Will they move Brown? Will they send him down? It's not an easy question.

With the Indians outfield likely to carry Brantley, Sizemore and Choo next season, and with LaPorta at first base, there may not be a position available for Weglarz. Of course, my projections have Weglarz moving to the DH or first base at some point in his career, and depending on Hafner's health, it could be sooner, rather than later. While I don't see Nick Weglarz in an Indians' jersey this season, it's good to see the kid from the 'Great White North' playing well.

Unfortunately for Jordan Brown, this is another reason we'll never see him in Cleveland, if everyone stays healthy.

#2. It's all about the pitching, stupid: This team is going to score some runs this year, there is no doubt about it. The question with this team is going to rest squarely on the shoulders of the starting pitchers. With Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson locked in as the 1-3 starters this spring, minus catastrophe, there are two jobs wide open. According to Anthony Castrovince, three players are fighting for these two jobs.

Jeremy Sowers is out of the running because of his shoulder tightness, which actually helps Manny Acta and the coaching staff, because Sowers is out of options. What does this mean for Sowers? According to Castrovince, he'll either start the season on the DL or become a candidate for long relief in the bullpen. The minors don't seem to be an option for Sowers, since he's out of options and would have to clear waivers.

Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon are also mentioned as possibilities, but likely are in the same boat as guys like Michael Brantley and Nick Weglarz. The Tribe brass are clearly watching their MLB clocks, and taking into account their option status (they have many). They don't stand much chance making the big club unless there is an unforseen injury, or they have a perfect spring. Both may have more upside than the three in the mix, but are likely mid-season call-ups.

In the cross-hairs for the two slots are Mitch Talbot, David Huff, and Aaron Laffey. Mitch Talbot is going to be staying with the big club in some capacity. The 26-year old is completely out of options, and is the return in the Kelly Shoppach deal. Talbot obviously has some tenacity. When asked about his chances as a starter in Tampa, he had this to say:
"With [David] Price and [Wade] Davis, their golden boys, I knew it wasn't looking too good as far as being a starter, and that's what I want to be. I was not really looking forward to being a long reliever and pitching once every two weeks or so. I'm really happy to be here where I can actually compete for a starting spot."
Aaron Laffey has tenure, but also is the most frustrating. He's tenacious on the mound, and has stretches where he looks like he's finally made the turn to being a starter for years to come. Ultimately, Laffey either gets injured, or suffers some sort of mechanical issue that keeps him from maintaining his solid pitching. Lafey has two options remaining, and I have a feeling that the Indians are going to be using one of them this season. I'm not saying at the beginning of the year, but I will need to see Laffey become consistent before my doubts disappear.

David Huff really is the wildcard to me. Sure, he won 11 games last year, but he didn't exactly exhibit his minor league prowess, that saw him go 20-9 with a 2.95 ERA in four seasons. He rocketed through the system, and even though he won 11 games, his ERA was a less than stellar 5.61 ERA. After August 21, Huff seemed to figure something out. He went 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA, with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. I really do believe that Huff is going to be something special. No, maybe he's not a clear #1, but I do think he's going to be a very, very good starter. Think somewhere between Chuck Nagy and CC Sabathia.

My feeling here is that Jeremy Sowers needs to be released. I like the kid and have always wanted him to find the form that made him Fausto Carmona the year before Fausto Carmona. At this stage of the game, it's not likely to happen. In all honesty, he'll likely clear waivers, and you can put him in Columbus. If not, wish him a good career and move on. I want him to succeed, but it's not likely to happen in Cleveland.

As for the other three, I think they'll all make the club. Look for Talbot and Huff to make the rotation, while Laffey will end up in the role that he took on last year for a bit, in the bullpen. Laffey will be the first option when spot starts are needed. Of course, the Indians could send him down to Columbus if they want to give him starts. The right move would be to keep him in Cleveland though. I'm not sure what he learns bouncing back and forth. The regular work he'll get in between appearances will help solidify his mechanics.

#1. Is Andy Marte ready to explode? Let's complicate things a bit more. What is going on with Andy Marte anyways? In Cleveland, he's gone from a bust to a scrappy prospect who just won't go away. Yeah, Andy Marte is now an underdog. Marte, a former minor league player of the year for Atlanta, has been labeled perhaps the worst thing you could be labeled as in the majors, and that's as a Quad A minor leaguer. He's the guy that can hit minor league pitching, but can never figure out the majors. Could this be the year that all changes?

Marte has always been considered a solid fielder at third base, and his power potential is unquestioned. Unfortunately, Marte has never had more than 235 at bats in the majors, and while he's never hit more than .232 in the bigs, I can't help but wonder what might happen with 500 at bats. Will he get that in 2010? Well, it doesn't appear so, but you really never know.

Jhonny Peralta is in the last year of his contract, and there is absolutely no chance for the Indians to take on the club option in 2011. He's a below average infielder to say the least, and if you believe the reports, he never really endears himself to anybody. Last year, he lacked power, average, and blamed it on the shift to third, which he took as a surprise. Well, first off, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Could it have been handled better? Sure, but for Peralta to play it off as a surprise is ridiculous. He's either an idiot or a bad liar. Either way, I do get the issues that can cause offensively. Still, it's a same ole', same ole' with the enigmatic infielder.

Marte just keeps plugging along. Last year in the minors, he batted over .327 with 18 homers and 66 RBI, and looked good doing it. This year, Marte belted a home run in the first game of spring training. No, it doesn't mean he's on pace to hit 70 homers this year, or even bat over .300. Perhaps it just means that he's serving notice to both Manny Acta and Jhonny Peralta. His potential is unquestioned. His glove and range is superior to Peralta's. With regular at bats, does anyone doubt he can hit 23 home runs?

No, the Indians aren't going to bench a commodity that will likely be dealt in July, at least not yet anyways. But if Peralta doesn't watch out, he may find himself in the utility role that Marte has been burdened with for his entire Tribe career. That may not be a bad thing.

The Sunday Drive:

The prospect countdown continues at Indians Prospect Insider. This past week saw #'s 18-13:

#18: Lou Marson
#17: Zach Putman
#16: Alexander Perez
#15: Jordan Brown
#14: Tony Sipp
#13: Jason Kipnis

There really is no reason for anyone else to waste their time putting out prospect reports. Agree with the rankings or not, nobody does more homework on the Indians' prospects than Tony Lastoria.

Paul Cousineau at 'The Diatribe' is continuing his series (or what should be) on the increased impossibilities for the majority of Major League teams to succeed in the current market. It stands to reason that his pieces over the off-season on the topic are some of the best I've read. His latest, 'Swimming Upstream,' showcases Rob Manfred, the MLB’s Executive Vice President of Labor Relations, essentially describing the Indians model over the past five years as being what's expected for small market teams. Joy to the world.

Nino Colla of 'The Tribe Daily' rolls out the eternal optimism for this version of the Indians.
If you haven't checked out his site, or if you haven't checked Nino out at Bleacher Report, you have to take the opportunity. Like Nino, I think this version of the Indians could be better than people think...certainly better than Paul Hoynes, who has his head planted firmly in his own...assessments. I believe the offense and the bullpen will carry this team, until the starting pitching rights itself. If that starting pitching figures things out, well, it could be an interesting season.

The rearviewmirror: Wave goodbye to the chances of Jordan Brown and Jeremy Sowers making an impact on this club, at least early in the season. Both deserve a shot, somewhere.

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