Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Cavs Fourth of July fireworks are just smashing...

In the land of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard discussions, the Cleveland Cavaliers have their own big fish, ready to put in the frying pan. That's right folks the Cleveland Cavaliers have landed...Luke Harangody.

Harangody, a forward out of Notre Dame, has played parts of two seasons with the Boston Celtics and our very own Cavs.

Harangody was a second round pick by the Celtics prior to the 2010 season after averaging nearly 20 points and ten boards a game for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. His extreme talent led the Celtics to not only snag him with a premium second round pick, but they then dealt him to the Cavs for a 2013 second round pick...and included Semih Erden as well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Has the real Ubaldo Jimenez finally stood up?

Ubaldo Jimenez (photo: Getty Images)
Ubaldo Jimenez.

Just saying the name brings forth much emotion.

There's the anger in the initial deal, when the Indians literally traded away all of their minor league parts to get him, when all indications were that his velocity was down, his mechanics were off, and his head was in the clouds.

There's the joy in the deal, when Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro pulled a deal to actually bring in the top available pitcher on the market, as opposed to selling one (does CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee ring any bells?).

There's the anger in the move, when Ubaldo Jimenez came aboard the Cleveland Indians train in the middle of a pennant run, and proceeded to pitch like Roberto Hernandez's (Carmona) evil twin brother. You know the one...he can't throw a strike...can't get out of the up eight runs in three-second flat.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm a Cavs fan, afterall

Kyrie Irving leads the Cavs (photo: GQ)
So as I reopen B3 as an all-purpose, Cleveland Sports thread once again, I can't help but reenter the fray discussing my good friend LeBron James. For those of you that live in a hole, LeBron James has long since taken his talents to South Beach, and after last night's game, has made it to the NBA finals for two complete seasons.

My journey as an NBA fan has gone in a bit of a different direction than LeBron's hunt for "not one...not two...not three...not four...not five...not six...not seven...". Last season, while still supporting the Cavaliers, my NBA journey leaned towards the "I'm a fan of every team that beats the Heat." While the public outside of Cleveland (and inside as well) that kept telling me that I shouldn't be mad at LeBron for leaving the Cavs, I didn't, and I don't really have any explanation better than that.  I would have been pissed off had he left in any fashion. My thoughts on what I think about the decision are secondary, to be honest, since that has already played out, and I'm far beyond that at this some extent I am.

The Cavs journey in 2011 took them through a season which we would all like to forget, but they went to the draft lottery after that horrid season and brought back with them the first round pick and the fourth round pick. The first pick turned into point guard Kyrie Irving, and the fourth pick turned into power forward Tristan Thompson. Irving was a given, and Thompson more of a gamble.

Before we could find out just how good these players might be, the NBA, the owners and the player's union took center stage, as a lockout became reality, and basketball became secondary. There really weren't any good sides to all of this, except for fans like myself, who was still in a land of discontent. Still, my focus went from hating a player and a team, to curiosity at the new players coming to Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving turned out to be a dynamic point guard, averaging 18.5 point a game, 5.4 assists per game, and 3.7 rebounds per game. He shot 40% from three-point land, shot 47% overall from the field, and was everything the Cavs wanted. He won the rookie of the year honors.

Tristan Thompson turned into the project that many thought he'd be. Overall, he averaged 8.2 points per game and 6 1/2 boards, and even added a block per game to go along with it. Not bad stats for a rookie at all. His numbers got even better, as he managed 10.4 points per game, with 7 1/2 boards and six double-doubles. So the Cavs began building a good foundation.

They'll add to that foundation this year with the fourth and 24th picks in this year's draft, as well as two high second rounders. Things are good for Cleveland.

Outside of Cleveland, a funny thing happened through the season, as well, and I suppose that's the point of all this. I stopped caring about the Heat and LeBron James. Well, I'm still pissed, and there's a small hope that they'll never win a title, but I don't look for their stat-lines anymore. An even funnier thing happened during the playoffs as Oklahoma City emerged as the team to beat...I started hoping for a Miami/Oklahoma City showdown. As a fan, it's an intriguing match-up, and there really hasn't been much of that over the years.

Last night, the Heat closed out the Celtics in seven. LeBron was unstoppable through much of the playoffs, and willed his team to the finals. There really wasn't much difference between what LeBron did for the Heat, and what he did for the Cavs. Wade has become a secondary guy there, and Bosh didn't even really play. Still, when the "Idiot 3" click, they are tough to beat. Now, they go up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City. It's the two best teams, with Big 3's of their own, playing for the title.

Should be an interesting watch as an NBA fan... long as the Thunder win the title...

I mean, c'mon, I wanted the series, but it doesn't mean I've completely changed...

Monday, March 26, 2012

The real deal on the Indians' starting lineup: The Outfield

Choo is the catalyst (photo courtesy
of Keith Allison, flickr)
Yesterday, B3 took a first look at the Indians' starting infield, which promises to be one of the best defensive units in the league. Today, we're going to take a close look at their biggest question mark of the season, the outfield.

Let's be honest here, the Tribe outfield was terrible last season. Michael Brantley led the club with a whopping 114 games played, which should give you a clue at how inconsistent and terrible this unit was. Brantley struggled with injuries, but his season would have been a dream come true for Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. Sizemore played in just 71 games last season, while Choo wasn't much better, at 84. While Sizemore has made the DL his home away from home, for Choo this was something new.

Brantley, Sizemore and Choo were just the beginning of the revolving door of outfielders the Indians would use throughtout the 2011 season. Speedster Ezequiel Carrera, Kosuke Fukodome, Shelley Duncan, Austin Kearns, Travis Buck, Trevor Crowe, Jerad Head, Luis Valbuena and even Lonnie Chisenhall found themselves taking their turn through the outfield turnstiles in Progressive Field. Taking into accound that the Indians finished the season in second place with 80 wins, it's not hard to figure out that their season could have been better had there been any sort of health to their starters.

What will happen in 2012? Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Manny Acta are counting a return to form for their starters. Will that happen? That remains to be seen.

Here's a look at the outfielders:

Right Field: If everything goes as planned, Shin-Soo Choo will be the anchor of no only the Tribe outfield, but the entire Tribe offense. From 2008-2010, Choo hit .302 with 236 runs scored, 97 doubles, 11 triples, 56 home runs, 242 RBI and 47 stolen bases. Along with all the offense came a cannon of an arm. Then came 2011.

Last season, the bottom fell out for Choo.  He struggled out of the gate, got a DUI, fractured his thumb, and strained his oblique, costing him a large chunk of the season. When he was healthy, he hit .259, with eight homers, 36 RBI and 37 runs.

This year, look for Choo to re-emerge on the scene as one of the better outfielders in the league, and with that stability, will come an emerging offense. Choo hasn't pounded the ball this spring, but all the signs are there for a return to form to his pre-2011 production. Certainly a full season from Choo in 2011 will be a dramatic step up from the right field situation in 2010. Not only that, but the Indians will have the return of one of their clubhouse leaders.

Center Field: In July of 2008, the Indians made a deal that wouldn't soon be forgotten. They sent CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, Zach Johnson and a player to be named. While all the focus was on the "can't-miss" LaPorta, the player to be named later turned into Michael Brantley.

As a prospect, Brantley was everything you want in a potential lead-off hitter.  Brantley was known for making exceptional contact, managing the strike zone, getting on base and stealing bases. Everyone liked his make-up, being the son of a former major-leaguer. With LaPorta struggling and now back in the minors, the focus is now on Brantley to make the Sabathia deal worthwhile.

Now I don't mean to speak of Brantley in the third person because it's not like he's been a massive bust. Brantley turns 25 in May, and has yet to have a full season of games in the majors. Still, after progessing from 28 games in 2009, 72 games in 2010, and 114 games last season, it's now time for Brantley to grab ahold of the centerfield job.

With Grady Sizemore out of the lineup until at least June, Brantley will be looked upon to be the guy to stir the drink for the Indians. It's time for the young outfielder to become that guy that had a .388 OBP in the minors, compared to the .316 in the majors. It's time for him to hit the .303 that he did in the minors, and not the .265 he's hit in the majors. It's time for him to be the guy that stole 162 bases over six seasons in the minors, and not the guy that's stolen 27 bases over the past three season in his time with the Tribe. In other words, Brantley needs to be the guy that drives this team. While that seems like a lot of pressure for a young guy who's failed to find consistency in the bigs, it's not something that's out of the realm of possibility for Brantley. Should he begin to reach his potential, again, look for a drastic improvement in numbers from the centerfield position this season.

Left Field: Initially, I would have been talking about Michael Brantley here, but the injury to Grady Sizemore has left a giant hole in the left field position. Where does that leave left field? Well, in the future, look for Brantley to return to play here when Sizemore comes back. Or, even better, look for Brantley to claim center with a massive season, sending the much-injured Sizemore to left field for good. Either way, one of the two players are going to be residing in left come the end of May, or the beginning of June. Prior to that, your guess is as good as mine.

First and foremost, there's  Shelley Duncan, who's made the team heading out of spring training. He's not exactly hitting the cover off the ball (.178 in the spring), but he is leading the team in home runs and RBI. I like Duncan as a player, and it's always good to have a guy like Duncan on your roster. I'm even a bit curious to see what he could do given a full-time role. Still, Duncan really isn't that type of player, so while he's got the role now, the Indians are clearly trying like hell to make some sort of deal for someone who can either platoon with Duncan, or be the regular guy there. More on that in a second.

As long as things stand pat, the Indians are looking at two other potential outfielders to take over the fourth outfield slot. Aaron Cunningham was brought over in a deal for top minor league closer, Cory Burns. He struggled last season with his shot in the bigs, hitting only .178 in a fairly sizable 52-game sample. He's followed that up with a deplorable spring, hitting only .205. Cunningham can play either corner outfield position, and has the range to play a little bit of center if needed.

Ryan Spilborghs was signed in January to compete for the leftfield spot, as well as a potential fourth outfielder slot. His best season was with Colorado in 2010, when he hit .279, with ten homers and 39 RBI. He can also play all three outfield positions, and his big difference with Cunningham is that he's an older player that does bring a bit of clubhouse personality to the table. Like Cunningham, he's struggled this spring, and doesn't spring to mind when the final spot is taken.

So where does that leave the Indians? Well, they were so confident, that they worked out Vladimir Guerrero in the Dominican this past week, then promptly tried to trade for Bobby Abreu with the Angels. Both players are long past their prime, and the fact that the Indians are making a serious play for either lets you know how concerned they are with the outfield. Look for Johnny Damon and/or Aaron Rowand to get a look over the next couple of days. While both would really be considered stop-gaps, again  it goes to show you how thin the Indians are with regards to their outfielders. There aren't really any prospects to speak of in Columbus that are long-term fill-ins.

At the end of the day, the Indians have a solid group of starting outfielders...if healthy. Once Grady Sizemore returns, this group should be shored up, but there's no guarantee that Sizemore will ever be healthy. Will Brantley reach is potential? Will Choo return as the 2010 guy, or the one in 2011? Will the Indians find a left fielder?

Who knows, but to have any shot at overtaking a strong American League, they'll have to answer yes to all those questions.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the starting pitchers.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The real deal on the Indians' starting lineup: The Infield

Lonnie Chisenhall (photo: IPI)
The Indians are set to break camp in less than two weeks, and there's been a lot of speculation with regards to the Indians' roster heading north. Sure, there are many that are looking at numbers alone during spring training, and perhaps even combining it with the number of options that some players may have. There are others that are focusing on last year's numbers, and taking into account how much money some of these guys are scheduled to make. Then you throw in the "potential" of some guys that we have been following as "the next chosen ones" at certain positions (eh hem...third and second). Don't forget the Grady Sizemore bandwagon, that is the new name for the Tribe's DL, and you have the mish-mosh that is with regards to who is playing where.

The truth in all these decision likely lies in the middle of all of this baseball stew, and at the end of the day, most of the players that I'll be bantering about with today will find their way into Cleveland at one point or another thanks to injuries, major slumps or minor league explosions. While who makes it on the diamond on opening day isn't really a major concern with me, it's always fun to take a look at the potential of what could be (even though we know that it won't, but likely eventually will).

So without further ado, here are my Tribe starters for 2012, and reality be damned.

Today we're looking at the infielders....

First Base: The Indians didn't take Casey Kotchman by accident. Kotchman was an explosive minor league player for the Angels from 2001-2004, and was considered their top prospect during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He was also in their top five the two years prior to that. While the big lefty never really matched those numbers in Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston or Seattle, he did manage to garner a bit of a break-out year last season. We all know the numbers by now. He hit a solid .306, with ten homers, 48 RBI, while walking 48 times, and only striking out in 66 at bats. Even better, Kotchman only committed only two errors in the field, and his .998 fielding percentage at first base was first in the league. To even try and compare him to Matt LaPorta would be a disservice of massive proportions.

So, who will Kotchman be this year? Well, the starting first baseman, for one. He's had a respectable spring, batting .308, with two doubles and an RBI. No, we aren't talking about Prince Fielder here, or even Cecil Fielder for that matter, but we are looking at a rather sizable improvement over Matthew LaPorta, who's a bigger bust than CC Sabathia's waist size. Kotchman would have to lose his arms to not be starting at first base for the Tribe. Russell Branyan he is not. This kid can play, and I firmly expect him to be a major bonus with the Indians this year. It was a fantastic signing, and I'm glad he fell to us.

Backing Kotchman up this year will be Carlos Santana. Santana will be spending most of his time behind the plate, but will no doubt be spelling Kotchman on occasion against left-handed hitters. This won't be a regular occurrence, but with Lou Marson knocking on the door for playing time, it will happen more than I'd likely want it to. Santana hit .238 at first (compared to .242 as a catcher) last season, in 65 games. He clearly hits lefties better, however, so his numbers should take a bit of a jump at the position, as he'll likely be focusing his playing time at first to that side of the plate. No way he gets 65 starts there this year however. I'd be surprised if he gets half of that. Of course, you can never take into account injuries.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis is the guy here, and there should be no surprise with that statement. Many had Lonnie Chisenhall higher on the list of potential than Kipnis, and perhaps rightly so. I never saw it that way. Kipnis knows how to hit, and he did so at every level of the minors in his quick rise through the system. I was a firm believer that Kipnis should have either broke camp with the Indians last year, or not made it to June before getting the call up.

Kipnis wasn't called up until the end of July, and while I could complain about that, the Tribe was first place with Orlando Cabrera at second during the first half of the season, so you could make a case that the Indians decision to keep him in Columbus to learn second base was a sound one. I say it's garbage. He should have found his way to the roster much earlier than that.

Kipnis has a tendency to be an above average offensive player most of the time, who occasionally goes on offensive tears of massive proportions. He showed this off last summer with a prodigious August, that saw Kipper hit five homers and nine RBI, while batting a hefty .348. This included a streak of four games in a row with a homer, and a game in which he went 5-for-5. His average on the last day of July was .136. His average on the day he got injured was .279. Those are typical streaks for Kipnis, and when he's feeling comfortable, look out. No, he's no Roberto Alomar with the glove, but he has range, and can be a perfectly adequate fielder. As it stands, he's the one "hole" in the Tribe's defense as it will likely head to Cleveland.

Jason Donald should find himself as the primary infield back-up, and will be the "first man in" should any of the middle infielders go down. Donald is a nice little ballplayer, who really does excel as a second baseman. He hit .318 with the Tribe last season, and while it was only as a bit player, he could be one of the best utility guys in the league. I wouldn't be shocked if Donald found himself starting this year, albeit for another organization. He may be one of the Indians top commodities going forward.

Third Base: Thank you so much, Jack Hannahan, for your fantastic 2011 season. Your glove was sublime, and you even provided the Tribe with some solid offense for much of the season! You bought the Indians a year to help Lonnie Chisenhall get ready for his prime time debut. Sure, he made it last season, but we all knew that opening day, 2012 was his for the taking.

The Cleveland Indians starter at third base, SHOULD BE Lonnie Chisenhall...period. I could sit here all day long and throw numbers at you that showcase this, but c'mon. Do I have to...really? I'll never forget the day I was sitting in the stands at Kinston watching Chiz, sitting behind a couple of scouts in the stands. As Chisenhall was busy going 3-for-4, with a homer and two doubles, these two guys couldn't help but salivate over him. "This kid reminds me a lot of Longoria. He's going to be the centerpiece for a long time." While the other scout didn't agree with the haughty Longoria predictions, he did throw out a name that I liked a lot. "Nah, Longoria may be the best third baseman in the majors. I see him as more of a Scott Rolen, with a bit less glove."

Hmmm...Longoria or Rolen...not a bad choice at all.

Now, I have my own opinions about Chisenhall, and while I'm not one to compare, I'd say that Chisenhall is going to be a nice little ballplayer for the Indians over the next several years. Should his time start now? Folks, the guy in front of him is flippin' Jack Hannahan. Now, nothing against the guy, but if you would have told me that Hannahan was going to keep Chisenhall from the line-up in 2012, I'd have laughed you off the planet. I'm sick of the "seasoning" defense, and sorry, his struggles this spring aren't enough to keep the chosen one at third off the field for Jack Hannahan.

Lonnie's the starter, period. Sorry Captain Jack, but your time as a regular starter are done here. It's time for you to acquire the role that you should have for any a back-up. Whatever the deal is on opening day, and I have to believe that Hannahan is going to be the starter, Chisenhall will be starting by May. If he's not, the Indians' management will prove, once again, to have their heads so far up their asses in the clouds, that they can't see the writing on the wall.

By the way, both players are hitting like garbage this spring, with Chisenhall hitting .227, to Hannahan's .222. Who do YOU think will eventually find his stroke? Sure, I want the Indians infield to be the best in the bigs defensively with this ground-ball inducing group starting. But, at the same time, I would have to believe that scoring more runs would play a part in this as well. We shall see.

Shortstop:  This is the easy position with which we speak. Asdrubal Cabrera is the starter here, plain and simple. Last season, Cabrera reminded everyone just what he was capable of both offensively and defensively. No, he's not Omar Vizquel, who is, but he certainly has the ability to be a special defensive player at shortstop. Combine that with a break-out campaign at the dish, and you have the makings of the Indians' version of Derek Jeter (well, until the Yankees sign him when he becomes a free agent, and he becomes the Yankees' version of Derek Jeter).

Cabrera belted 25 homers, and drove in 92 RBI last year, while hitting .273. He made the all-star team, and even garnered some votes for MVP. While he finished 20th in the voting, I think you'd find it hard-pressed to find 19 players that were more important on his team than Cabrera was to the Indians.

Now, the reality of the situation is that ACab really struggled during the second half of the season. Some folks say it's because he wasn't in as good of shape as he could have been, and others would say he played down to where he should be as a player. I'm not sure that I agree with the latter, so you do have to wonder about Cabrera's shape, especially considering the state in which he came into camp.

Cabrera is playing like dogcrap offensively this spring, and while many are worried about him going foward, I'm not. No, I don't think that we are going to get a .320 hitter, with 30 homers and 100 RBI, but I would be shocked if Cabrera doesn't come through with 20 more homers, 80 more RBI, and another season in which he gives us all glimpses of Omar Vizquel in the field on occasion. He is that good.

Jason Donald will be the primary back-up here as well, as long as he's still with the club.

Catcher: The Indians are likely envied by nearly every major league club in the business for their talent at the major league level behind the plate. Starting catcher, Carlos Santana, is one of the best offensive catchers in the game. No, his average hasn't matched what many predicted of him as of yet, but his OBP remained a stellar .351 this past season, which more than makes up for any deficiencies getting hits. There's no reason to think that Santana won't be building on his offensive production of a year ago either.

Take into account that Santana's numbers jumped from the first half to the second half, and you can see that the former top prospect is finally starting to figure it all out. His average jumped 20 points in the second half, and he hit 14 homers in the second half, which was one more than in the first half, but in 13 less games.

Defensively, Santana's never going to be compared to Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate, but he doesn't call a bad game, has a cannon for an arm, and still has a bunch of upside. Who knows how far this kid can go, but offensively, he is clearly the most talented player on this team.

It would really be interesting to see what Lou Marson could do in a full season of play. No, I doubt he'll ever hit much, but as a defensive catcher, he could very well be the best in baseball. When you throw in his ability to throw out basestealers, you make him one of the hottest commodities in the game. Over his career, he's thrown out 40% of all basestealers, including 38% in each of his last two seasons. That's absolutely insane.

Marson may actually lose out with regards to playing time this year, should Travis Hafner remain healthy, and with Casey Kotchman joining the Indians infield. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him moved, if there's a deal to be made to acquire some top-notch prospects, or help in the outfield. Still, it's hard to let go of the best defensive catcher nobody's ever heard of.

Finally, there's Jose Lopez, who is just hitting the cover off the ball in the spring.   I just don't see him making the club, unless there's a move to be made that we just don't see. Say, for example, that the Phillies come knocking for an infielder to help replace an injured Chase Utley. They'll likely be looking at Jason Donald, as a young guy they are familiar with, who can take over for Utley until he's ready, then slide into a utility role. If that were to happen, Lopez would be next in line. It's unfortunate, really, that there isn't much room for a guy like Lopez. There's some potential there with past big seasons, but I just don't see him making the club over Donald.

Tomorrow, we move on to the outfield.