Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Choo, LaPorta, Perez and Santana show Cleveland that their future is now

The Cleveland Indians won their fourth straight game tonight by beating the Blue Jays 3-1 at Progressive Field. Sure, you could make a big deal about winning four in a row, but let's be honest, it's not like this team is going to make a run for the playoffs. What you can get excited about is that the Indians' future was on display tonight in neon lights.

Okay, so Shin-Soo Choo isn't exactly a newbie, but he's certainly part of the Indians foreseeable future. Choo continued his power streak tonight with a first inning, one-out solo shot, to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead. Over Choo's last eight games, he has five homers and nine RBI. Overall, Choo leads the Tribe with 13 home runs, and until a recent call-up, was the Indians best offensive player.

Now, Carlos Santana is showcasing his offensive wares, and it's been pretty "supernatural" since his recent call-up. Santana went 2 for 4 tonight, with a run-scoring single. Choo was thrown out at third on the single, or it could have led to an even bigger inning. Santana is currently hitting .345 for the Indians, with eight doubles, four homers and 14 RBI in 17 games. His line is .333/.456/.704, and that 1.160 OPS is impressive, regardless of how few games he's played. He's walked 13 times, and struck out a grand total of seven, making him a rarity to the Indians line-up. Defensively, this kid has made only one error, and thrown out six baserunners out of twelve. Yeah, 50% isn't just good, it's, well, "supernatural."

Then there's Matt LaPorta. Cleveland fans, including myself, have either been ho-humming his performance, or been slamming the Tribe brass for holding him back. Well, the Indians sent him down in early June because of his struggles. He was recalled this past week, thanks to the Russell Branyan deal. In his four games back, he's gone 4 for 13, with two home runs, two runs scored, two RBI, two walks and three K's. Take out his 0 for 4 in his debut-back game, and he's really streaking...even to the quad. He's hit two homers in as many games.

Finally, I thought I'd mention Chris Perez. While it would have been nice to see Kerry Wood become Mr. Iron Man, and save his fourth game in as many nights, Perez took over his closer duties, and recorded his seventh save in ten chances. He had a 1,2,3 inning, with a K, and even got through a bit of adversity when Andy Marte dropped Aaron Hill's foul ball. Perez responded by striking Hill out.

Will the Indians youth lead the Tribe to the promised land this season? Not likely, but there's certainly reason to get excited about 2011 and beyond.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Kerry Wood puts himself in the trade spotlight with back-to-back saves

Entering Sunday Night's save opportunity, Kerry Wood's ERA was a less than modest 7.98. He was 1-3 with five saves in eight chances. His ticket out of here, originally thought to be through a trade, was likely heading towards an end of the year release after the Indians refused to trigger the club option on his contract.

Then, something crazy happened. Maybe it was all this Stephen Strasburg talk, sending Wood back to the days when he was Strasburg. Maybe it was all the talk about Wood being stuck with the Indians for the rest of the year. Perhaps he's just figured something out. Regardless of what you believe, Wood regained the form that enticed the Indians into signing him nearly two years ago.

Wood threw 17 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. Wood would strike out the side, and gain his 6th save, while lowering his ERA by half a run, to 7.48.

Tonight, Wood came in and threw 18 balls, 12 of which were strikes. He would give up a two-out hit, and strike out two in getting save #7. He lowered his ERA nearly another half run, to 7.02.

What does this mean? Kerry Wood might be making himself valuable again. There's always room for relievers on contending clubs, and Kerry Wood is one of the more enticing ones. Why? He still throws in the mid-90's, and when he's on, he is one of the better relievers in the league.

The Indians and Mark Shapiro are likely looking at all options as we speak, with Wood's coals directly in the fire. Can they get a top prospect for Wood? Not likely. But with another couple of shut-down performances, perhaps there is someone with some upside waiting in the wings.

With Chris Perez waiting in the wings (he had a hold in tonight's game, after giving up two runs last night) as the heir-apparent closer, Wood might just be pitching his way right out of Cleveland.

Where to? More on that as we get closer to the deadline.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Matt LaPorta recalled; will it open up the Indians' prospect logjam?

Did you ever get blamed for something you didn't do? Matt LaPorta must have felt that way on June 7th, when the Indians sent the former keystone of their CC Sabathia deal two summers ago to Columbus.

What was his response?

LaPorta, who played both first base (7 games), left field (10 games) and DH (1 game) during his ridiculous return to Columbus, had an incredible line of .362/.457/.638. Yeah, that 1.094 OPS had to have some eyes open in Shapiro's office. LaPorta had multi-hit games in seven of his 18 games, had a ten game hitting streak at one point, and hit in 14 of the 18 games. It's also worth noting that LaPorta had less walks (10) than strikeouts (12), and had 16 RBI in 18 games. Not a bad pace. LaPorta also managed an error-free tenure at both fielding positions in 82 chances (70 at first, and 12 in the outfield).

So why the sudden turnaround from his mostly horrific start to the season in Cleveland?

Oh, if you're Mark Shapiro, you'll say that when he was sent down, he was more motivated to perform. Yeah, that's all fine and good, but I'm sure some of it had to do with the fact that LaPorta got regular at bats. Theoretically, he'll get that opportunity now in Cleveland. Of course, you never know with this regime.

The Indians idiocy in the upper management never ceases to amaze me, as this piece by Tony Lastoria at Indians Prospect Insider can attest to. This should be the platform piece whenever a discussion needs to be made about how moronic the braintrust can be in Cleveland. Look no further than Matt LaPorta's situation, as well as the Josh Rodriguez.

Hopefully this initial move of sending Rusty Branyan to Seattle opens the floodgates for the youth movement to begin to be applied at all positions. LaPorta now will likely be the full-time first baseman. With Valbuena down, Josh Rodriguez or Cord Phelps should find their way to the bigs at second. Jason Donald is a fine candidate to hold the fort down at short, although I wouldn't at all mind seeing Rodriguez, Phelps and Donald in some sort of rotation while ACabs gets healthy. With a hopeful Jhonny Peralta deal in the future, taking a look at Jared Goedert at third would be ideal with Lonnie Chisenhall knocking on the door by July of next year, if not sooner. Goedert is currently on a five game hitting streak, with three homers and six RBI during that same span. Overall, he's hitting .329, with seven homers and 16 RBI in his Columbus tenure, after hitting .329, with seven homers and 32 RBI to start the year in Akron.

In the outfield, with the Austin Kearns tenure about to end (I'm sorry Mr. Pluto, but if Austin Kearns is a long-term answer for the Tribe, than the entire management team should be fired today), it's time to bring up some of these kids. Let's see what Jose Costanza brings to the team. Bring up Michael Brantley. Granted, both lack power, but their speed could make things interesting.

Point being, it's time to see what we've got. Enough of the post-ACab/Sizemore charade of trying to compete. It's over folks, for this year.

But next year could be promising, but only if Mark Shapiro and his seemingly overrated bunch start doing the right thing. Perhaps the Branyan/LaPorta move is the first sign that good things may happen.

Indians trade Branyan for two Mariners prospects

Russell Branyan was just dealt for two high upside prospects, and from a team out of the playoff chase and nearly as bad as Cleveland? Yeah, right...

The Cleveland Indians have managed to somehow deal Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects that seem to have some upside. The Indians aqcuired outfielder Ezequiel Carrera and SS Juan Diaz today from the Mariners, in exchange for Branyan and either cash, or a player to be named later.

Carrera has hit .268 this season, with 24 runs, six doubles, two triples and 18 RBI. He's also stolen nine bases in 14 attempts. He doesn't strike out much (32 times in 64 games, and has a decent OBP. Carrera was signed in April 2005 by the Mets as an undrafted free agent. After four solid seasons in the low minors for the Mets, he was dealt to Seattle in the J.J. Putz deal. In 91 games with the AA Wast Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, he led the league with a .337 average, while stealing 27 bases. He played most of his games at centerfield, but also saw time in left as well. He's not a bad get, when you consider Cleveland only gave up Branyan to get him. I'm not sure where he fits in the grand scheme of things, but I'd take a case of beer for Branyan. Carrera will likely join Columbus as soon as possible.

The real get may turn out to be Juan Diaz, a 6'3" shortstop playing for the High Desert Mavericks, the Mariners Advanced A team in the California League. Over the past two seasons, he's broken out a bit with raw skills. He's currently batting .295, with seven homers and 41 RBI in only seven games. Not only that, but he's got eight stolen bases in 10 attempts. He doesn't walk much, but his OBP is .345, so he does find a way to get on base. Last season, splitting his time in rookie ball and High Desert, he hit .317, with five homers and 30 RBI. Obviously, this kid has some untapped potential. At 6'3", and only 170 pounds, he's likely going to fill out, which absolutely will improve his power. He does have a ways to go defensively, but his offensive potential is clear. He'll start the season off with High A Kinston.

So, is it me, or does this deal smell an awful lot like the Shin-Soo Choo or Asdrubal Cabrera deal? What are the Mariners freaking thinking? They don't have a chance in hell of doing anything this year, and are mulling a potential deal for Cliff Lee, who they just dealt for this year. They are 14 games back and 12 games under .500. What was Seattle thinking? Give up two prospects for Branyan? Really? That's almost as bad (or worst) as dealing Cabrera for Eduardo Perez or Choo for Ben Broussard. Could you imagine that deal at once? Eddie Perez, Ben Broussard and Russell Branyan for Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Juan Diaz and Ezequiel Carrera. If both those kids are busts, you make that trade ten times over. I'm not a Shapiro fan by any stretch, but well done.

Yes, the Cleveland Indians may very well be the worst team in baseball when it's all said and done, but Seattle may have lost their minds. At least we can go to bed at night knowing that the Indians can steal a prospect or two every couple of years from the Mariners. Yeah, I know, Franklin Gutierrez. Don't remind me...

maybe this was Seattle's way of saying thanks...