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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Don't make apologies for Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez is now a member of the Cleveland Indians.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a staff ace, even if he has been about normal since last August.

Ubaldo Jimenez throws six, maybe seven quality pitches.

Ubaldo Jimenez is worth the price of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, because he can be an impact player now, while Pomeranz is a ways away, and White has to worry about his finger turning into Adam Miller.

Ubaldo Jimenez is under contract during the "Indians window" from 2011-2013, while Pomeranz and White likely won't make an impact until 2012.

It all sounds familiar, doesn't it? Whenever anyone mentions the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, it was likely in combination with one or more of the previous comments.

We all know Jimenez's numbers. The big righty wen't 19-8 last season, with a 2.88 ERA. He pitched an early no-hitter, and went on to start the All-Star game. Entering the all-star break, Jimenez was an incredible 15-1, with two complete games and a 2.20 ERA. He was clearly the best pitcher in the game at the time, and was having an incredibly special season.

While the wheels didn't fall off of Jimenez's cart, they certainly got a bit more wobbly during the second half of the season. Jimenez made 15 starts in the second half, going 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA. While the 3.80 is nothing to scoff at, clearly he was a different pitcher then the one that dominated the National League during the first half.

In 2011, things started off much worse for the Rockies ace. After making his first start of the season, he went on the DL for the first time in his career with, of all things, a cracked cuticle on his pitching thumb. During that initial start, Jimenez had given up five earned runs in six innings pitched, and was complaining of "grip problems" during the start. When he returned, he wasn't much better, if not worse. He gave up 28 earned runs in his next eight starts, only making it past the six inning mark in four of those starts. His ERA ballooned to 6.67 at it's highest, and was sitting at 5.86 as he entered June.

The trade rumors began to swirl, as Jimenez's velocity had dropped three MPH since 2010. Jimenez was also closing in on the 1,000 inning mark in Colorado, and the term "arm trouble" began to circulate throughout major league circles.

But Jimenez immediately began pitching better. On June 1, he pitched his first complete game, a seven K, four hit shut-out against the Dodgers, dropping his ERA nearly a point, to 4.98. It was his first win of the season...on June 1st.

He would end the month of June with two more wins, and in his six starts, four of them were of seven innings or more. His ERA dropped to 4.35, and the velocity began to pick up once again. He would continue his brilliant pitching into July, garnering three more wins, and at one point dropping his ERA to 4.00.

Enter the Indians and their massive offer to acquire Jimenez.

It was an interesting deal for the Indians since Jimenez was clearly the best starter on the market, and with the Indians seemingly in a hunt for a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder. While the Indians could have used a starter, it didn't seem to be at the top of the needs list. Still, when a pitcher like Jimenez goes on the market, you have to make that phone call.

Jimenez has a contract that clearly fits within the confines of the Indians' money saving strategy. In 2012, Jimenez makes a paltry $4.2 million, and it only goes up slightly in 2013, with a team option at $5.75 million. Jimenez does have another club option in 2014 at $8 million, but a clause in his contract allows him to opt out of the option if he was traded. He was, and he will.

With Jimenez signed through 2013 at a club friendly price, he is the perfect "ace" to trade for, since the Indians' front office sees the club's playoff window as 2012-2013. Of course, with the Indians only two-and-a-half games out of first now, the 2011 season enters the window as well.

I'm on board with the Indians' reasoning for making the deal, since Jimenez clearly has the stuff that aces are made of. I even say that with the firm belief that barring injury, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz will be top-of-the-rotation starters for Colorado starting this year (with White slated to return to the majors and make his Rockies' debut next week, and Rockies' brass believing that Pomeranz has a chance to enter the rotation next year).

His four starts with the Indians have been a mixed bag of bad, with a quality start in the middle. His first start was a struggle in Texas, as he went five innings, giving up five earned runs, seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven. He couldn't locate any of his seven wonder-pitches, and made 108 total pitches during the five-inning stint.

He rebounded nicely in his next start, giving up three runs (none earned) in an eight inning start against the Tigers, giving up five hits and a walk, while striking out six. He made 117 pitches, and showed signs of that "ace status" that the Indians gave up so much for.

In his third start, he reverted back to the guy in the first start, struggling from the start to locate anything, and only making it to the middle of the fifth inning. In 4 2/3 IP, he gave up nine hits and four earned runs, walking only one, but striking out five. The patient White Sox hitters waited for him to groove fastballs, and Jimenez went deep into many counts, throwing 105 pitches through 4 2/3 innings.

His last start was once again against the Tigers, the third game of a series in which the Indians had lost the first two, dropping them precariously close to inconsequence with the regular season drawing towards it's final month of baseball. This was what he was traded be a stopper during a stretch run. To reclaim a bit of the Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia magic that had been missing since 2009. After three up-and-down starts, it was his chance to put the naysayers like me to rest.

Except it didn't happen.

Jimenez melted down, giving up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. The Indians would make a run before finally losing 8-7, but the damage had been done.
That's not good enough.

In three of his Tribe starts, he went five innings or less, and he's given up four or more runs in those same three games.

Yeah, I get it, you can't judge a book by a four-game cover...can you? We, as Indians' fans, have to look at the big picture. I mean, we have him for two whole years! And, we have him for a nice, cheap price! And, we have to give him a chance, it's only been four starts! And, he's still getting used to the American League hitting! And his mechanics are shot! And next year, he could win 20, and you'll forget about this year. And two years from now, he'll win 20 more!
Many have used that idiotic thinking to make his three shoddy performances acceptable. I've heard it all, from small sample sizes, to getting his bearings straight, to how emotional he must be to leave the organization that he's been with since day one of his career, to how cruddy his mechanics are.

Sorry, it's the stretch drive, and the Indians are (or at least were) a player to win the division, in case you didn't notice.

The Indians payed an extremely high price to acquire Jimenez, giving up two potential aces to nab an "ace." Therefore, don't you think that he should pitch like one?  Sorry, it's not okay to just toss away 2011.

Remember another "ace" pitcher who was dealt when he was 27.  Remember CC Sabathia? Clearly, Sabathia had a bit more substance backing his career. He won the Cy Young in 2007, going 19-7 (Jimenez was 19-8) with a 3.21 ERA (Jimenez had a 2.88). CC was a lefty, likely making him a bit more valuable, but there are certainly major similarities between the two, especially considering the struggles that Sabathia went through to start the 2008 season, going 3-8 through June 5th, before a late June surge.  He then went to Milwaukee and promptly went 9-0 in his first 11 starts, with six complete games. Overall, he went 11-2, and carried the Brew-Crew to the playoffs on his back.

Or how about another "ace" pitcher who was dealt during the 2009 season after another Cy Young award win. Cliff Lee was 2-6 heading into June, but was hurt thanks to no run production. Still, things picked up for the Tribe ace in June and July, as he went 5-3 with a sub 3.00 ERA. He was traded to the Phillies at the deadline, and simply went off, rolling out four wins in his first four starts, all quality starts. Overall, he would go 7-4, and he did taper off a bit in September, but his 3.39 ERA, two complete games, and six quality starts stand out.

Jimenez may not have the Sabathia pedigree, and may not have been "in the groove" as Lee was with regards to throwing strikes, but he certainly would fit in the equation with what those two players were expected to give their team. Jimenez is currently 1-0, with the Indians losing two of his three starts. He certainly has a chance to make a big impact in 2011. With nine-to-ten starts likely ahead of him, the time to start making that impact is now.

The Indians signed him to be a stopper, plain and simple. While Justin Masterson deserves to be in the Cy Young talk, and while Josh Tomlin has been an impressive surprise, and while Fausto has looked a bit like the 2007 version of himself lately, Jimenez has the stuff to absolutely blow players away.

That's why Ubaldo Jimenez is now a member of the Cleveland Indians.

That's what can make Ubaldo Jimenez the staff ace the Tribe needs, if he stops being just kinda pretty good since last August.

That's what will make his six, or possibly seven pitches so impressive (and not just a conversation piece about throwing too many pitches).

And that what makes Ubaldo Jimenez worth the price of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White...because he can be an impact player now. While Pomeranz may be close, and White even closer, there are still many...many questions until they actually do it.

I don't care about Ubaldo Jimenez being under contract during the "Indians window" in 2012 and 2013 today. I care about him making an impact in 2011. In case you didn't notice, we're trying to make the playoffs. The Indians don't have time to allow him a few starts to figure out the American League. In this race, one game could make the difference.

So stop apologizing for Ubaldo Jimenez. The farm was given up for him to win games THIS YEAR, not just the next two. Now, if we can just figure out a way for him to hit...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beau Mills re-building his career as heir to Hafner

Beau Mills (photo: Tony Lastoria)
Beau Mills was promoted today to Triple A Columbus after 2 1/2 frustrating seasons in Akron. Mills was the first round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2007, and came as a power-hitting corner infielder with a high baseball IQ. He backed up his first round, future-star status in his first full professional season in 2008 at High A Kinston. His line was .293/.373/.506, with 21 homers, 90 RBI and 78 runs scored, and he was named the Carolina League player of the year.

He moved to Akron in 2009, and his numbers took a bit of a tumble. He played nine more games in Akron compared to Kinston, but every major offensive number went down. His averaged dropped 26 points to .267. He scored 19 less runs, hit seven less homers, and drove in seven less hitters. He didn't take the step many thought he would after his big year at Kinston, and his stock began to drop.

He started the 2010 season back in Akron, and his season was marred by nagging injuries and off-the-field issues. He hit only .241, with 10 homers, 72 RBI and 55 runs scored in only 113 games. He had dropped off every prospect radar. As a 24-year-old, many believed that he had already plateaued, and at best, was Double or Triple-A fodder.

Mills started the 2011 season at extended spring training thanks to Achilles tendonitis. After a long and arduous six-week rehab, Mills was activated, and for the third straight season, in Akron. Not a good sign that the Indians had high hopes for their former first-rounder.

But a funny thing happened. Mills began to hit the ball. For the first time since 2008, Mills started to look like the player that the Indians were hoping for when they drafted him. Up through today, Mills had a solid .300/.358/.522 line, with 11 homers and 49 RBI in only 61 games. He struck out only 37 times, with 22 walks, showing a bit more selection than in the past as well.

This earned him his first (and hopefully last) promotion to Triple A Columbus.

It's far too early to state with any sort of fact that Beau Mills has "figured it all out." The fact of the matter is that Mills was playing at the same level for 2 1/2 seasons. Any player with the baseball IQ and power potential that he has is bound to adjust to a level in that amount of time. So the question then is whether or not he can replicate this year's stats in Columbus to close out the season.

It's a big turn of events for the once-lost-prospect, who now finds himself one step away from the big leagues. He's likely heard the term 'make-or-break' before, but in the land of the minors, this Triple A step really is a 'make-or-break' move. Can Mills continue his 2011 production in Akron, or will he revert to the 2009/2010 version of himself?

If the latter is the case, then Mills ultimately turns in to the type of player that routinely litter Triple A clubs for several years, get a taste of the majors when major league players hit the DL, but ultimately never make the next move. Most folks have labeled Mills in this category (or worse) since his struggles began in 2009.

If he can continue his progression, however, than at the very least, Mills becomes a potential big bat that the Indians could call up should something happen injury-wise to either Matt LaPorta and/or Travis Hafner. Both players have had DL stints this season, so having some cushion would provide a boost to the Indians during the stretch drive.

At best, Mills turns back into the top 20 prospect in the system that he was four years ago, and begins pushing for a full-time gig in 2012. Without any big power bats peeking their heads out at both Columbus and Akron (yeah Nick Weglarz, I'm talking to you), Mills becomes a hot commodity in a system that needs him to be just that.

The other thing to think about is Hafner, who has been a walking injury for three seasons, and is under contract for only one more season. Mills continuing his offensive "rehabilitation" gives the Indians an in-house fix when they need it.

Of course, that's a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of what ifs. For now, Beau Mills is hitting the cover off the ball, and has made the next step towards the bigs. One more big step to go...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jason Kipnis promoted to Cleveland: Long term, or just a cup-of-coffee?

Jason Kipnis (photo: Tony Lastoria)
The Cleveland Indians have promoted second baseman Jason Kipnis from Triple A Columbus, according to Tony Lastoria of Indians Prospect Insider. To make the move, the Indians sent Luis Valbuena back to Columbus and designated Jared Goedert for assignment.

Kipnis is the Indians top middle infield prospect, and according to Lastoria's preeminent Indians' minor league rankings, Kipnis was the #2 prospect in the entire organization heading into the 2011 season. He was the Tribe's second round selection in 2009, and started his professional career as an outfielder at short season Mahoning Valley.

The Indians decided to maximize his offense by moving him to second base prior to last season, when he started his first full professional season in Kinston. He responded with a .300/.387/.478 line in 54 games, with six homers, 31 RBI and 34 runs before being promoted to Akron.

Kipnis continued his progression with the Aeros, batting .311, with 10 homers, 43 RBI and 63 runs scored in 79 games. His offense certainly overshadowed his defense at his new position, but he was showing growth. In Kinston, Kipnis committed 10 errors in 245 chances for a .959 fielding percentage. He slightly improved in Akron, committing 13 errors in 366 chances, a .965 fielding percentage.

The Indians didn't let Kipnis' season end when Akron finished up theirs, and promoted the second baseman to Columbus to help in their quest for the International League Governor's Cup, as well as the Triple A Championship. He responded by going 10-for-22 (.455), with three doubles, two triples, two homers and three RBI in the series. Most impressive was his performance in the clincher, when as the DH, he went 4-6, hitting for the cycle.

He wasn't done showcasing his massive offensive game, falling a single short of throwing up back-to-back cycles in the Triple A Championship game against Tacoma. He ended up going 3-4, with three runs, a homer and an RBI. In making his sparkling Triple A debut, Kipnis showed Tribe brass that he could perform under pressure after a promotion. No, it wasn't the Indians, but there's no doubt that the Triple A playoffs mimicked a potential big league call-up in the future.

The Indians kept the Kipnis-ball rolling, sending him to the Arizona Fall League so he could gain some more experience at second base.  Kipnis came out of the AFL gates slow, which is understandable considering it was his first full minor league system, complete with stops at High A Kinston, Double A Akron and Triple A Columbus.  After his first three weeks, his line was a horrendous .159/.213/.409 with 2 HR and 10 RBI. He walked 3 times, struck out 5, with a stolen a base.

In typical Kipnis fashion, he went on an ungodly tear to end the season, ending the year with six straight multi-hit games and seven of the last eight. During those six games he he 14-for-26, and raised his average from .173 to .295. He has also had an extra base hit in six straight games and in 12 of 19 games played. 
He ended the season with three homers, 19 RBI and 13 runs in those 19 games.

Kipnis started the 2011 season back with Triple A Columbus under the assumption that he would play there a full season to solidify his defensive skills. Chris Antonetti was hoping that the top prospect would be seasoned and ready at second for the Indians to make a playoff push in 2012.  They even signed Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal to hold down the fort at second. Well, best laid plans are made to be broken, and the Indians decided to contend a year sooner than many thought.

Kipnis did his part this season, and while he's struggled at the plate lately (in his last ten games, his line is a less than stellar .103/.182/.205, which may be more about traveling across the country in his all-star game spectacular), he's had another solid season overall. He's currently batting .281, with 12 homers, 54 RBI and 64 runs, in 90 games, and he was chosen for the XM Futures game (lead-off homer), and the Triple A all-start game (1-2 with a double).

While Kipnis is a work in progress in the field for sure, he continues to improve yearly. This season, he's committed 11 errors in 370 chances for a .970 fielding percentage, another decrease in errors and increase in percentage from both Kinston and Akron in 2010. While he still as a ways to go in the field, the Indians figured they could overlook his defense for that potent bat. Kipnis has proven that he is a quick learner, and it's a testament to his ability that his offense has flourished with the move. Many lesser players have disappeared into playoff oblivion.

Kipnis figures to start at second base for the foreseeable future, moving Orlando Cabrera to the utility role. It should be interesting to watch how Cabrera reacts to the move, since the 15-year veteran surely didn't sign with Cleveland to sit on the bench. Hopefully, being a veteran presence on the team, as well as being in the midst of a late-summer playoff run will be enough to keep him happy. When I talked to Tony Lastoria last night about Kipnis and Cabrera, he voiced a similar concern:
"The only issue really centered around Orlando Cabrera and how he would handle losing his starting position yet again, something that with his outspokenness we will surely hear about this weekend."
While it's clear that Kipnis will only be playing second, there is a slight possibility that the Indians could dabble with him playing a start here-or-there in the outfield, since that was his primary position in college and his first half-season in the minors. It's clear though that Kipnis is an infielder at this point, and with Valbuena getting sent down, the Tribe doesn't have enough infielders to allow Kipnis any extended time in roaming the corner outfield slots at Progressive.

My best guess is that Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti see any time for Kipnis in the outfield as a potential roadblock to his improving infield performance. I happen to give Kipnis a bit more credit than that, as I can't imagine that he's forgotten how to play in the outfield (again, his primary position for most of his career), or the infield for that matter, if he spent time at each position. He's got a high baseball IQ, and you have to take that into account. Of course, being a 2nd baseman major leaguer is a finicky thing, just ask Chuck Knoblach and Steve Sax, who both suffered from "Steve Blass disease" at second base, and it cost them their major league jobs.

Kipnis is the type of player that every team wants. He plays with a high energy, and is one of those kids that's doing it for more than just the money, although I'm sure that the cash will come, and a whole bunch of it. Kipnis was more than excited, first throwing up a bit of a mystical tweet, followed by something a bit more clear.

Make no mistake, Kipnis is extremely talented, and while a host of people have been preaching either patience (oh, it's too fast, he can't play defense yet), or trade (I'd be okay with dealing Kipnis), both would be a mistake. Kipnis is a can't miss prospect, and will be one of the best, if not THE best second baseman in the league in a few years. He potentially could be the spark that this offense currently needs. Should they hold off on moving him up? Sure, in a perfect world, 2012 would be his landing date, but the pennant chase changes everything, and Kipnis has proven that call-ups suit him just fine. According to Lastoria,
" is definitely the right move and right time to make the move...he (Kipnis) should add some much needed punch to the lineup in need of it and in some ways is like a trade pickup in itself."
Kipnis has historically shown explosion after a promotion, and I don't expect this to be any different.

The move in many ways reminds me of the Indians' call-up of Asdrubal Cabrera during the playoff run in 2007. Cabrera was called to take over second base for a struggling Josh Barfield, who was hitting a paltry .244, with two homers, 48 RBI and 49 runs in the middle of a playoff run. ACab had been hitting a combined .310 in Akron and Buffalo (mostly Akron, as he'd only played a handful of games for the Bisons before the call-up), and provided the Tribe with an in house "trade." With the Indians offense sputtering in early August, Cabrera came up and brought a quick spark. Cabrera was hitting .300 as late as September 14th, and ended up hitting .283.

The Indians used the Cabrera call-up along with a late-July trade for former Tribe All-Star, Kenny Lofton to give the Indians a lift during the dog days of Summer. While neither alone were necessarily the essential cog, their signings helped filled holes in their lineup, both offensively and defensively.

Kipnis likely could provide the same boost offensively. Orlando Cabrera, the player Kipnis will be taking over for, is currently hitting .244 (remember, Barfield was hitting an identical .244), with four homers (2 for Barfield), 38 RBI (48 for Barfield, but with three weeks more game action) and 34 runs (15 less than Barfield, again, in three less weeks). The only complication with Cabrera is supposedly his clubhouse presence, especially with regards to Asdrubal Cabrera, who by all indications believes OCab is the player that helped him take the next big step. Still, there comes a time when the best player has to play. Remember, Barfield was nearly run out of town, and OCabs stats are at best, equal to Barfield's. You could make a case that Barfield's numbers were a bit better.

It also appears as though the Indians may be mimicking the 2007 Indians by attempting to sign a former member of the organization, as they did with Kenny Lofton. The front office continues to pursue several outfielders to help fill the long-term void thanks to the long-term injuries to Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo, and the short-term health issues with Travis Buck and Michael Brantley.  Heading the list are two former Indians', Ryan Ludwick and Coco Crisp. Other outfielders the Indians are reportedly discussing include the Cubs' Kosuke Fukodome, the Royals' Jeff Francoeur, the Nationals' Mike Morse and the Athletics' Josh Willingham.

While Kipnis shouldn't be expected to carry this team, there will be some high expectations with the call-up. Along with those expectations come the trappings that Cord Phelps, Luis Valbuena and to some extent, Lonnie Chisenhall have felt in recent weeks. All three have struggled a bit during their respective time with the big league club, and all three have felt the wrath of the Tribe faithful. Kipnis has even higher expectations than all three (with the exception of Chisenhall), so if he struggles early, it will be interesting to see how he handles it, as well as how the Indians' management handles it. Lastoria also professed a bit of a cautionary tale for these early days in Kipnis' big league career:
"I'm sure there will be some early struggles, but I expect him to adjust quickly and settle right in at second, a position which could be his the next six to seven years."
Kipnis isn't going to be up for a cup of coffee. If he struggles, I don't see them sending him down quickly. They'll give him a chance, as they did Chisenhall, to gain traction and plant some roots at second. My best guess is that Kipnis won't be seeing Triple A next to his name much more in the future. If you ask me, Kipnis truly is the Tribe's best position prospect (sorry "Chiz" fans). I like him better than Chisenhall, and that's high praise, since "Chiz" is a big-time talent.

I'm sure that Chisenhall will be an All-Star in the future, and one of the better third basemen in the league, Kipnis has the potential to be the type of impact second basemen that just aren't typical. Kipnis has the ability to be as good as guys like Robinson Cano, Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. He is that good, and that explosive, especially when you take into account the fact that he's a middle infielder. His call-up, in my opinion, is a few weeks too late. He should have been up right after the all-star break.

Now, it certainly is time to see if Kipnis is as good as his numbers and baseball IQ would suggest. Welcome to Cleveland Jason Kipnis, and may your stay be long and fruitful.

Sizemore goes under the knife for sports hernia?

Grady Sizemore had sports hernia surgery?


I have to admit, my first thought was, "Where did he get the knee surgery, in Trinidad and Tobago in some sort of jungle shack?"

It turns out that the knee injury Sizemore suffered this past Sunday wasn't as serious as had been reported. It was tweaked, yes, but wouldn't need the same microfracture surgery that he needed last season.

So where did this sports hernia surgery come from?

It turns out that Sizemore will miss four to six weeks after undergoing a 20-minute surgery to fix a sports hernia. Sizemore's hernia came on the same May slide that put him on the dl for two weeks after he injured his knee on a slide.

Sizemore was placed on the DL on Monday after tweaking his knee rounding first base in Baltimore on Sunday. The injury looked eerily similar to the knee injury last year that required microfracture surgery for the Tribe's centerfielder. While the injury wasn't as serious (according to the Indians and Sizemore), it was still believed that Sizemore could miss up to a month of playing time. This allowed Sizemore to go ahead and have the hernia surgery.

With Sizemore out, the Indians have been playing without any of their starting outfielders from the start of the season. Shin Soo Choo has been out since the end of June with a broken thumb, and Michael Brantley has been out the past two games with some sort of illness hybrid that may be dehydration, the flu, or food poisoning.

With two of the three outfielders out long term, the Indians have begun to pursue outfielders in a potential trade run. At the top of the list are two former Indians in Coco Crisp and Ryan Ludwick, although the higher profile Hunter Pence has been bantered about as well.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Hafner jerseys for everyone!
(photo: Imagine 24)


I can't tell you how many times I've seen or done something that seemed larger than life when it happened, but turned out to be just okay as time settled in.  Think back to the last summer blockbuster that you saw.  You likely walked into the theater, saw a couple of hours of explosions, walked out thinking it was the best thing you ever say, then realized later it was the same explosions you saw before.

Last night's Cleveland Indians game certainly wasn't one of those times. No, Pronk's grand slam has maintained it's blockbuster voracity.  The next morning, it was still sending shivers down my spine.  I'm not sure if this is the kind of hit that will translate into a new mentality for the Tribe or not, but it sure does feel like it. 

With that said, words really can't express last night's transcending moment. So instead of me rambling on for a few paragraphs, I'll let a couple of guys do all the talking for me. Here's STO's call of the events last night, followed by one of the best play-by-play calls in recent memory by the best in the business: Tom Hamilton. And yeah, Hamilton's call has video as well.

Sorry folks, but if that didn't get you out of your seat, then you're simply dead. Enjoy those worm races in your backyard...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Cleveland Indians next starting pitcher is...

It's distinctly hard to remember just when Fausto Carmona stopped being a factor as a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cleveland Indians. Some will point to the playoff meltdown in 2007, when Carmona never made it out of the fourth inning and was lit up for a 16.50 ERA.  Some will point to the 2008 and 2009 season, which were marred by injury and general poor play, and saw Carmona demoted to the minor leagues.  Some may even point to the 2010 season, in which Carmona was a more than serviceable 13-14 record, and a 3.77 ERA. Of course, Carmona was more Jake Westbrook in 2010, than he was ace 1B for the 2007 Tribe.

It was becoming increasingly clear that while Carmona was busy becoming this year's opening day starter (3 IP, 11 H, 10 ER) for the first time in his career, he was nowhere near the status of a staff ace.  His number one status was based simply on the fact that heading into this season, the Tribe staff was full of unknown commodities in Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco. It's almost funny now to think that Carmona was thought to be the best of that bunch.  As it turns out, he wasn't, and it appears as though he wasn't even close.

Let's not just throw Carmona under the bus here.  Can he be a quality starter?  You bet he can, as he showcased from April 7th through April 17th in which he went 7+ innings in all three starts, giving up a total of only three earned runs in 21 2/3 innings.  After one bad outing, Carmona was back again, with three more starts of 7+ innings, only giving up three runs in 22 innings.  For those counting at home, Carmona made six outstanding starts in seven appearances, giving up a total of six runs in 42 2/3 innings.  For those counting at home, that's a 1.26 ERA.  So there is his tantalizing talent.

The problem with Carmona when he's in "ace mode" these days is that you never really know when it's going to disappear, as it did after the third game during that second stretch of games on May 8th.  Starting from his next start on May 13th, Carmona has gone 1-7, and given up 4, 8, 4, 7, 4, 6, 2, 7 and 3 earned runs before he was injured in yesterday's game.  His ERA during that stretch was 7.99, and people began clamoring for a change, whether it be Carmona moving to the pen, or just plain moving.  With Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and especially Carlos Carrasco making a case to be the staff ace, Carmona slowly became an afterthought as a starter, and a major thought as a reminder to bad baseball.

To top it all off, Carmona was not only feeling pressure from starters at the big league level, but Triple A Columbus boasts a loaded staff that includes four starters not only announcing that they may be ready for a move to the big leagues, but HAMMERING on Carmona's front door, letting him know that another bad start or two, and his time would be finished in the rotation.  Still, Carmona remained in the rotation...

...until yesterday.

Yesterday, Carmona has pitched a solid two innings against Cincinnati, giving up only two hits, while striking out one.  Unfortunately for the big righty, his 6'4", 240 pound body wasn't built for speed...or even maybe running.  Carmona laid down a bunt and began barreling down the first base line in, trying to stay out of a double play.  As he approached the bag, gravity took hold as he stumbled, hit the bag, and careened over it like he'd been tackled.  The result was a strained right quad muscle and a trip to the 15-day DL.

It's funny how injuries can take care of roster issues.

Enter a four-man push from Triple A to take Carmona's potential two missed starts (one before the break, and one after) and make a case for a longer stay.  While it's doubtful that Carmona would return in any capacity but as a starter, it could get dicey should someone fill in and pitch as well as the staff is pitching in Columbus.  Of course, Carmona's job may not be the only one under scrutiny, right Mitch Talbot?

Here's a look at the four starters from Columbus in the mix to take over for Carmona:

Zach McAllister: 8-3, 2.97 ERA, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 97 IP, 86 H, 32 ER, 6 HR, 21 BB, 71 K:

Had Carmona's injury occurred  a month ago, I doubt there would have been any doubt that McAllister would have been the player to call up.  Not only was he pitching better than anyone on the Columbus rotation, but a good case could be made that he was one of the best starters in the entire minor league system.  He was the first player in all the minors to get to seven wins (without a loss), and he was dominating with a sub 2.00 ERA.  On May 31, he had his first true bad start, but has maintained his ace-like status since then.  No, he wasn't pitching at the same clip as before, but obviously the 2.97 ERA showcases a pitcher who is clearly ready for a push.  Still, McAllister has never pitched in the majors before, and likely won't be the guy they choose for two-spot-starts.  He's been overshadowed over the past month by three others who have been lights out.  Still, McAllister started on Friday night, so he'd be in line to make the start on Thursday with six-days rest.  Corey Kluber, who started yesterday, is just depth fodder, and doesn't figure into this mix.

David Huff: 8-2, 3.74 ERA, 0 CG, 89 H, 35 ER, 7 HR, 23 BB, 51 K:

 Huff has the most experience of the bunch, having pitched much of the 2009 and 2010 with the Indians.  The lefty was the favorite heading into 2011 to become the #5 starter, but was simply outpitched by Josh Tomlin.  Huff started off the year with Columbus scuffling a bit, but since June 8th, Huff has made four fantastic smarts against one bad start, to get his name into the mix.   During those four outstanding starts, Huff has gone 4-0 (5-0 overall, winning the bad start against Gwinett), giving up 17 hits, three runs and six walks in 27 innings pitched, while striking out an impressive 24 batters, which isn't really his game.  His 1.00 ERA during that span certainly has the Tribe brass taking notice, and with only two starts planned, Huff may have the best mentality to come up.  He certainly isn't the most flashy of pitchers, fitting into that Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey mold as being a location pitcher.  Still, when he's on, he's pretty darned good.

Jeanmar Gomez: 8-2, 2.49 ERA, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 79 2/3 IP, 22 ER, 4 HR, 27 BB, 68 K:

Gomez is the only one of the current Clippers' starters who has played at the big league level this season.  While he wasn't dominating by any stretch, his last two starts were very, very good before being demoted.  Gomez was rolling through the end of May and most of June, absolutely dominating the International League.  Over his last eight starts, Gomez has gone eight innings three times, seven innings three times, and six innings once.  He's gone 56 1/3 total innings, giving up 46 hits, 13 runs, 19 BB and struck out 45 batters.  Don't forget, Gomez also made 11 starts in 2010, so there is definite experience here.  It appears that Gomez is a pitcher the the Tribe brass like right now, so he could be the favorite.  He does make a start today, so take a quick look at the box scores in Columbus today.  If he's pitching well and comes out of the game with any sort of a pitch count, he'll likely be the guy on Thursday for the Tribe.

Scott Barnes: 7-2, 3.40 ERA, 0 CG, 76 2/3 IP, 29 ER, 11 HR, 31 BB, 82 K:

Barnes may have the best upside of all the starters.  While he has similar intangibles as Gomez, being a power lefty certainly helps.  He's had a hot June, which has placed the 23-year-old directly in the mix.  Since his May 24th start, Barnes has gone 47 1/3 innings, giving up 35 hits, 10 earned runs, 4 HR and 16 walks, while striking out and impressive 55 batters.  When this kid is on, he can absolutely dominate with an attacking, 94 MPH fastball, a plus changeup and an improving slider.  While Barnes certainly has the most ups of this group, his one downfall is that he didn't play a Triple A game until this season.  If it were a normal season in which there weren't three other starters pitching extremely well, Barnes would clearly get the call.  As it stands now, I can't see the Indians rushing Barnes to the majors.  While he'll be a factor in 2012, I think 2011 will go to Tribe vets Gomez and Huff, and McAllister, who's in his second full season at Triple A.  Still, Barnes is an intriguing pick.

At the end of the day, the Tribe can't go wrong with any of the four starters, but if I had to put odds on it, I'd say Gomez is the guy at the head of the back, followed by Huff, McAllister and Barnes.  The irony is that I think Barnes has the best stuff, but will get the last look.  Gomez seems to be the flavor of the month, and he's absolutely earned it.

The Indians could go in a different direction altogether, and call up Gomez or Huff prior to the break, and if they struggle, bring up the other after the break, looking at both as spot starts.  While I doubt they'd do that, it could be a possibility based on timing.  With Huff scheduled to start for Columbus prior to Thursday, they could call up Gomez on Thursday, the Huff after the break with enough rest.  Of course, this isn't taking into account McAllister and/or Barnes, who could both do the same.  Still, I don't see the Indians wasting an option on either with Huff and Gomez ahead of them.

As for Carmona?  Get health, and come back like the guy that dominated in 2007, and earlier this season.  If you don't, watch out for the Clippers buzz-saw.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Tribe Tall Tale, headlined by Russell Branyan, hit batters and drag bunts

Branyan with the Mariners (Photo: Matt McGee)
Russell Branyan.

The name alone has a bit of that Paul Bunyan quality. You know, that larger than life, tall-tale kind of feel, and in many ways, Russell Branyon the person fits the name perfectly.  Sure, you could make the analogy that his prodigious swings at a baseball were the stuff of legends. When "Russell the Muscle" walked up to the plate, chances were pretty good that two things were going to happen:

  1. Russell Branyan was going to swing for the heavens...and...
  2. Russell Branyan was going to strike out
But, you see, that's not the tall tale that I want to discuss with you today.  No, today the focus is less on how Russell Branyan swung the bat, and more on how Russell Branyan helped Cleveland rob the Seattle Mariners.

Last night, the Cleveland Indians continued their miraculous 2011 season with a come-from-behind victory over the Cincinnati Reds.  The Tribe entered last night's game with a 26-15 record, which was the best in baseball.  While they had lost their last two games against the Chicago White Sox, they had maintained a five-game lead in the Central.  At home, Cleveland had won their last five games in their last at bat.

Why mention last night's victory?  It has the tall-tale, Russell Branyan feel to it.  The Indians fell behind the Reds and starter Travis Wood, 4-0.  Wood, a wily lefty, was weaving one of those improbable games from a starter that keeps most of his pitches below 90.  Through five innings, Wood was pitching a no hitter.  

Indians fans who have been waiting for the bottom to fall out of this season were starting to climb atop their soap boxes, ready to begin their diatribes about how all the signs were there for the end.  Grady Sizemore went on the DL earlier in the week, depriving the Tribe of the motor of their offense.  Travis Hafner then went on the DL, depriving the Tribe of the muscle of their lineup.  Gone were, in many ways, the two main cogs in the Indians offense.

Then, during last night's game, Alex White, the Indians #1 prospect, was pulled from the game after the third inning with a "middle finger strain."  Indians' announcer Rick Manning immediately connected the injury to that of Adam Miller.  Miller was the Tribe's top pitching prospect during the mid-90's, throwing a mid-to-upper 90's fastball that would occasionally hit 100.  Then, in 2007, he missed most of the season with a strained tendon in his middle finger.  The problem was still there in 2008, and he had to have a procedure that many thought would end his career.  Well, it didn't, but that story would pull us too far away from our current one, so that's for another day.  Long story short, by the sixth inning yesterday, Indians fans were faced with getting no-hit, losing their third game in a row (with two more against Cincy), no Sizemore, no Hafner, no White (who may or may not be facing a similar injury to his finger as Adam Miller, who then missed four seasons), and with a not-so-friendly schedule coming up (Cincy/Boston/Tampa).

Our tall tale picks back up in the sixth inning.  With one out and Wood pitching, former Reds player Austin Kearns broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle.  Jack Hannahan and Michael Brantley would follow with singles of their own, scoring Kearns, which broke up the shut out.  Asdrubal Cabrera walked, loaded the bases.  Then Shin Soo Choo was hit, scoring another run to make it 4-2.  That was it for Wood.

In came this giant of a kid, 6'8" Logan Ondrusek for the Reds.  He walked his first batter, Carlos Santana, to make it 4-3.  Shelley Duncan than hit a sac fly, tying the game, before Ondrusek would end the inning.

The game would remain tied until the eighth inning, when Russell Branyan would pay HUGE dividends.  

Earlier in the day on Friday, the Tribe placed Hafner on the DL and called up Columbus centerfielder Ezequiel Carrera.  Carrera was lights out in Columbus, hitting .317, with 33 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in 37 games.  He's also one of the best fielding outfielders in the Tribe's system.  Carrera was obtained by the Tribe last summer for, you guessed it, Russell Branyan.

Well, Carrera wasn't in Friday night's line up, but it was widely assumed that he would be playing center and starting against righties (moving Brantley to left), and used as a pinch hitter in the other games.

With two outs in the eighth inning, Shin Soo Choo found himself on third base after a near-homer-turned triple that had skirted down the wall in left field.  Reds pitcher, lefty Bill Bray, then intentionally walked Carlos Santana, putting runners on first and third.  With righty Shelley Duncan coming up to hit, the Reds decided to bring in righty Nick Masset to face him.  Manny Acta countered with...Zeke Carrera.

What happened next was the stuff of legends.  Mind you, Zeke had never...ever...played in a major league game prior to last night's game.  This was his first at bat as a big league player.  So, it was the eighth inning of a tie ball game.  So, there were runners on the corners with two out.  Other than that, everything was normal...right?!?  You have to admit, there's a bit of Russell Branyan-ness to the moment, isn't there?

Carrera came up to bat with ever right to take a pitch or two to take in the moment, or to at the very least, find his footing.  Instead, the peppy centerfielder lept at his one chance at surprise, and did something that only Willie Mays Hayes or Kenny Lofton would think of, he dropped a drag bunt down the first base line towards all star Joey Votto.  Votto fielded it and lunged at the fleet-footed Carrera, who nonchalantly stepped out of the way without breaking stride.  Carrera was safe on first, while Shin Soo Choo scored what turned out to be the winning run.

It was a huge win for the Indians, and a big moment for Carrera.  Carrera was believed to be a marginal prospect after his acquisition for Branyan last year, but he's definitely more than that, even in an outfield utility role.  He clearly understands his game, and based on the havoc he wreaked last night, has a bright future for the Indians.  All for Russell Branyan.

By the way, the winning run was scored by Shin Soo Choo, also acquired from the Mariners way back in 2006.  Choo was acquired from the Mariners for Indians first baseman, Ben Broussard.  How did the Indians get Broussard?

In 2002, the Indians acquired Ben Broussard from the Cincinnati Reds, for Russell Branyan.

In a final twist of fate, today Russell Branyan was released from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Drew Pomeranz tests hamstring in first start since tweak

Cleveland Indians 2009 #1 pick Alex White rightfully garnered much of the attention of most Indians fans yesterday as he made his first start with the big league Indians, some of that focus will shift to the Tribe's 2010 #1 pick, Drew Pomeranz.

While White was still pitching for Columbus, there seemed to be a growing sentiment that he wasn't the top pitching prospect in the organization.  Many were pointing to Pomeranz, whose first two starts were nearly perfect.  Pomeranz suffered a bit of a hiccup in his third start, giving up three runs while pitching with a tight hamstring.

Pomeranz' injury came in an evening start in Salem, Delaware.  The temperature never went above 60 degrees, and the big lefty found himself sitting a bit longer than normal prior to making his first pitch.  He had warmed up as he normally does prior to the game, but when the K-Tribe offense made a bit of noise in the first, Pomeranz admittedly tightened up.  Instead of stretching, and perhaps warming up a bit prior to taking the mound, he went out cold.  Pomeranz tweaked the leg facing off against Salem's lead-off hitter, Peter Hissey.  Ironically enough, the tweak came on the pitch struck out Hissey.  From that point on, he pitched a different game, even while pitching a solid game.

Pomeranz would give up his first professional homer in the next inning, but other than a visit to the mound from the trainer and manager Aaron Holbert, it was hard to see that Pomeranz was even hurt.  He struck out the first two batters that he face in a perfect first inning.  In the third, after giving up his first professional home run in the second, he pitched out a bit of adversity.  Hissey would hit a one-out double, then steal third.  With his back to the wall, Pomeranz did what he does best...he struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam.

Pomeranz would take himself out of the game, fearing that the hamstring would cause his delivery to change, which in turn could hurt his shoulder.  It's good to know that this kid gets it early on.

Pomeranz admittedly had quickened his delivery in his prior start against Wilmington, which kept his fastball from getting in on right-handed hitters.  While his overpowering fastball is generally too much for the high A hitters, if you throw enough over the plate, sooner or later someone's going to hit it. He gave up three runs during that outing, by far the most of in his first four starts of the season, but had figured how to slow down his delivery.  Then came the injury.
“That’s the way it works, right?” Pomeranz said. “I feel the best I’ve felt in a month and a half, two months. And the third pitch — perfect pitch, curveball — and it does that. I was like, ‘Aw, come on!’ ”

Overall, Pomeranz is 0-0 with a 2.00 ERA.  He's gone 18 total innings, while striking out 27.  He's walked a grand total of five batters.  He's equally tough against righties as he is lefties.  Left-handed hitters are hitting .167 against him, while right-handers are hitting .143.

Today, Pomeranz should be able to pitch on a more normal count, and continue his ascension through the Tribe's minor league system.  As he continues to pitch well, the comparisons with White will surely continue.  Who's better?  I'm sure if you talked with Drew, he'd immediately point to the fact that White has been with the organization for over a year, and has already pitched in the majors.  Of course, that doesn't mean the debate won't rage on.

White piggy-backed with Nick Hagadone during his run with Kinston last season.  He went 2-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 44 innings of work.  He struck out an impressive 41 batters, while walking only 19.  Opposing batters hit only .204 against him, which was third in the league.  White was bumped up to Akron during the third week of May.

Pomeranz enters May without nearly as many innings.  The other numbers not only stand up to White's, but are a bit better early on.  With the organizational pitching shuffling around because of injuries to Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco, Pomeranz may have an opportunity to move up soon.  Will it be before White's late April call-up from a year ago, or will the Tribe brass give Pomeranz a few more starts because of the depth of pitching?

As far as the debate goes, does it really matter?  At the end of the day, these two impressive starters aren't going to be facing off in a steel cage match.  Instead, they'll be facing off against opposing major league hitters, as two aces for your Cleveland Indians.

Orlando Cabrera continues Tribe's dramatic ride through April

Orlando Cabrera (Photo: Malingering)
Cleveland continued to win in dramatic fashion, as Orlando Cabrera took a first pitch fastball deep into center to score Michael Brantley.  Brantley had led the inning off with a single to right field off of Brayan Villarreal, who had just entered the game.  Brantley moved to second when Villarreal questionably tried to pick him off at first.  With first base open, Asdrubal Cabrera sacrificed Brantley to third.  Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana were then intentionally walked, bringing up Cabrera.

Cleveland had to come back from a two-run deficit when minor league sensation, and former first round pick Alex White gave up two 4th inning home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Ray Rayburn.  Cleveland would come back quickly though.  Carlos Santana belted a line drive home run in the bottom of the fourth, and Brantley would tie it with a home run of his own in the sixth.

White was solid in his first appearance, going six innings, giving up six hits, two runs and four walks (with two intentional), while striking out four.  As good as he was, the bullpen was better.  Joe Smith, Vinny Pestano, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp combined to give up only five hits with one walk and eight strike outs.

The Indians finished the month at 18-8, with the best record in baseball.  Boy, it sure is hard to say goodbye to April.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bringing Back Boudreau covering IPI's bases

For those of you that don't know, I've been covering the Kinston Indians for Tony Lastoria's Indians Prospect Insider. Last week, Tony had successful surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney.  In the meantime, I have taken on the caretaker roll for IPI so that Tony can take some time to recuperate with his family.  Until then, the bulk of my work with be at IPI.  I'll be posting links here in the meantime, so that coverage maintains somewhat regular here, but all original content will be at Indians Prospect Insider for the time being.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Grady Sizemore set to return to Tribe line-up

(Photo: Mark Sobba--flickr creative commons)
Grady Sizemore will return to Cleveland today, starting in centerfield, as well as leading off.  To make room on the roster, starter Mitch Talbot will be placed on the 15-day DL, in a bit of a surprising move.

It was believed that Travis Buck would be sent down since he has an option left, but he gets a temporary reprieve.  Talbot is officially out with a strained right elbow, and likely won't be back until the middle of May.

On May 16, 2010, Grady Sizemore was hitting .211 without a home-run, and with a deplorable .271 OBP.  It would be the last game he'd play with the Indians in 2010.  Sizemore went on the DL with a sore knee, which turned into something a bit more serious.  After microfracture surgery, Grady was done for the season, and thought to be out six-to-nine months.

Fast-forward nearly a year.  Sizemore is currently wrapping up a stint with the Indians top two minor league affiliates.  Grady's combined statistics are fairly impressive.  He's batting a sizzling .353, with an OBP up to Grady standards, and then some, at .450.  He has six hits (2 doubles, a homer and three singles) and a 1.097 OPS.  Granted, our cross-section of games is only five games old, but compared to last season, these are surely re-assuring numbers.  Grady played all five games in center, without making an error.

So, what does this mean for the Tribe's centerfielder?  It means exactly what you think it does.  With Sizemore apparently fit and healthy for the first time in over a year, the Tribe management is set to bring him back up to the big league club.  It's unknown how much he'll play, but Manny Acta has already placed him back in center, and back in his familiar lead-off roll.

Both positions are currently owned by one Michael Brantley, who has done a tremendous job in his stead this season.  Brantley is currently hitting .333, with seven runs scored and two stolen bases, in only thirteen games.  He's played center in all 13 appearances, and in 36 chances, he has only made one error.  Brantley will officially move to left field, as well as move down in the order to make room for the Indians former all-star.

Sizemore has already said that he could care-a-less where he bats, as long as it's somewhere where he'd be productive.  Might Manny Acta play around with the line-up while the Indians are torrid hot to start the season, or will he just pop Sizemore back in, and let Brantley force his way onto the club?

Either way, it's a good problem to have.

Cleveland's Travis Hafner is Re-Pronkified, for now

If there was one thing that I was fairly sure about heading into the 2011 season, it's that Travis Hafner would never be the same player that he was before he signed his large contract, became injury prone, and seemingly lost all his power and worth to a rebuilding club like the Cleveland Indians.

I know it's early, but boy does it seem like I was wrong.

Tribe manager Manny Acta indicated early on in spring training that Hafner was going to play more this season, was 100% for the first time in a long time, and that there was no need to worry about the surgically repaired shoulder.

These comments weren't all that surprising, since we've been hearing the same thing since the days of Eric Wedge. What was surprising was the fact that other than Acta's brief bro-mance with the 34-year-old DH, there hadn't (hasn't) been all that much discussion about the shoulder from the Indians' camp. As a matter of fact, it's been a non-factor.

Hafner has currently played in 11 of the Tribe's first 14 games, and has done his best to imitate his former self. Hafner is currently hitting .293, with three homers, eight RBI and an .884 OPS. Last season, Hafner didn't hit his third homer until May 5th, and never hit above .281.

Certainly, the season is still early, but Hafner is clearly hitting the ball harder than he has in the past few seasons. Still, what I still can't get out of my mind, however, is the 2009 season, in which Hafner came out of the gate like the Pronk of old. After the sixth game of the season, Hafner had three homers and six RBI, and his slugging would ultimately reach a peak of .714 in those early days of the season.

I was already to re-dub Hafner to his old Pronk self. Unfortunately, the injury-bug bit, and Hafner was placed on the DL for soreness and fatigue to that wonderful shoulder.

Nobody thought it was all that serious, including Eric Wedge, but it turned out that Hafner had to miss over a month. He would return, and wouldn't have a horrid season, but Pronk was seemingly gone.

Enter 2011. The Indians are playing outstanding baseball, and find themselves at 10-4 early on. Every card is lining up for the Tribe so far, including Hafner. Is it a false sense of security for the Tribe slugger? Is he just getting some extra protection because of a slew of hot bats, or is the shoulder finally as strong as it was five years ago, prior to the injury-bug?

If it is, that false sense of security I just mentioned, just got a little less false.

Welcome back Pronk, we'll take it as long as we can get it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Asdrubal Cabrera grabs the Indians leadership reins

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Asdrubal Cabrera is the straw that stirs the Cleveland Indians' drink.

That's what I said four years ago when he made his debut for the Indians and helped lead the team to the 2007 playoffs.  That's what I said when he was out last season, nursing a broken forearm. That's what I say today, with Cabrera winning American League's co-player of the week after starting the season with four home runs in 10 days (he hit three last season, in an injury plagued year, and has never hit more than six in a season).

Cabrera's bread and butter will always be his defense. No, he's not Omar Vizquel, but who in their career was on the defensive side of the field? Cabrera has split his time between second base and shortstop over his career. As a shortstop, his career fielding percentage is an impressive .975 (Omar's, while clearly with a larger body of work, is .985). As a 2nd baseman, Cabrera has a .994 fielding percentage. Overall, he's at .983, while Omar's is .985. That's not too shabby for the start of a career.

This season, Cabrera has yet to make an error, and it should be interesting to watch him settle in at shortstop over the long haul. He's got soft hands, great footwork, good accuracy, has a high IQ, and is able to get to many balls that others can't get to. He can be an acrobat out there, but like Vizquel before him, it's not for show. He does whatever it takes to get into position, and has a strong enough arm to get the ball to first. Should he stay healthy and stay at the position, he's a gold-glover.

The big question with Cabrera has always been his offense. Could Cabrera turn into a productive offensive player, or would he ultimately be a one-sided defensive whiz? 2009 seemed to prove the former, as Cabrera played in 131 games and hit a stout .308, with 17 SB and 81 runs. He's now a career .284 with a lifetime .347 OBP.

Cabrera has always struggled being a selective hitter, but as he matures, that OBP could really start to take off. The other question with Cabrera has always been his power, of which he has showcased absolutely zilch over the length of his career...until this year. Cabrera's four homers in ten days is the most in that span that a shortstop has hit for the Tribe since 1960.

If you ask manager Manny Acta who the leader of the Indians infield is, without hesitation, he'll say Asdrubal Cabrera. That's saying something, considering the Indians signed former all-star and two time gold glove winner, Orlando Cabrera prior to the season. What speaks even more volumes is that Acta forced Orlando to move to second base, a position he played 37 times in nearly 1804 games total. The rest of the time, Orlando has been patrolling the shortstop position. Acta felt that Asdrubal's time was now.

Asdrubal Cabrera, at 25, is now one of the Tribe elders, and clearly a team leader. Only Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona can claim to have as much or more time with the Tribe in the bigs. Hafner is the DH, and has been a part time player for much of the past three seasons. Other than 2011, he's been nothing more than a struggling bit player. Carmona has been busy playing a game of pitching yo-yo since his break-out 2007 season. Sizemore has been nothing but injured for a season and a half. The only player who can lay claim to being an overall better player over the past four seasons is Choo, who certainly shares the mantle as an unofficial captain of the team.

Watch the Indians fortunes closely this year, and how they relate to Cabrera's play. Choo is currently struggling with a .184 average, with one homer and two RBI. The Indians, however, are thriving under the subtle leadership of one Asdrubal Cabrera. They've won eight games in a row, and are currently at the top of the A.L. Central heap.

While the Tribe starters are certainly a major factor in this newfound winning, Asdrubal is certainly the major cog defensively, and now offensively.

As Cabrera goes, so go the Indians...