The Cleveland Indians Report is an independent fan website. Make sure to visit the OFFICIAL Indians site at

Contact CIR | Guestmap
FAQ | 
Free Newsletter

This Space for Rent

MLB Press Pass
Plain Dealer
Akron-Beacon Journal
Lorain Journal
Lake County News-Herald
Canton Repository
Buffalo News
ABJ Aeros Blog
LC-Eisenberg Blog Youngstown Vindicator
Warren Tribune
Pro Sports Daily

MLB | AAA | Hi-A | Low-A

BA Scores | MLB | ESPN
BA Stats | ESPN Stats
Baseball Reference
Baseball Cube
Baseball Almanac

Cleveland Indians
Buffalo Bisons
Akron Aeros
MiLB Akron Aeros
Kinston Indians
MiLB Kinston Indians
Lake County Captains
Mahoning Valley
MiLB Mahoning Valley
GCL Indians


Major League Baseball
Minor League Baseball
International League
Eastern League
Carolina League
South Atlantic League
NY-Penn League
Appalachian League
Venz Summer League
Domn Summer League
Arizona Fall League
Dominican Winter League
Mexican Winter League
Venz Winter League
Panama Winter League

Fanhome Forum
Bernies Insiders
MLB Forums
ESPN Board
Yahoo Board
Sports Central
CSML Mailing List
Team One Baseball

Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
JDMs Rookies
Baseball Encyclopedia
ATM Reports
Baseball Immortals
Baseball Almanac
Top Prospect Alert
MLB Contracts
Baseball News Blog
Baseball Primer
Statistics Glossary
Minors First
Skilton Baseball
Futility Infielder
Boy of Summer
At Home Plate
Tribe Miracle Comeback

Curse of the Bambino
Orioles Hangout
Birds in the Belfry
Batter's Box (Tor)

White Sox Interactive

Newberg Report
Elephants in Oakland
Future Angels
Purgatory Online (ANA)

Braves Journal
Broad and Pattison (PHIL)

Astros Daily
Cub Reporter
Addison Chronicle (CHI)
Red Bird Nation

Ducksnorts (SD)
Only Baseball (SF)

February 28, 2003  

Friday, February 28

Take me out to the ballgame,
Take me out to the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I ever get back,
For it's root, root, root, for the Indians,
If they don't win, it's the same,
For it's 1, 2, 3 strikes, Cory's out,
At the old ball-game

Oops...I can't help myself from falling into the 80s version of the song.

The Indians open the exhibition season today with games against the Pirates in Winter Haven and the Twins in Ft. Myers.

Here's the WTAM broadcast schedule (thanks Andy) and you can listen online at or go old school and listen on the radio at 1100 AM. On days when WTAM is not broadcasting, you can also check out Gameday Audio on to see if the other team has radio coverage.

Feb. 28: MIN @ Ft. Myers, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 1: DET @ Lakeland, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 2: DET @ Winter Haven, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 7: ATL @ Winter Haven, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 8: PHI (and Thome) @ Winter Haven, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 9:PIT @ Bradenton, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar 10 : NYY @ Winter Haven, WTAM*, 1 :05 pm
Mar. 12: MIN @ Winter Haven, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 14: LA @ Winter Haven, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 15: HOU @ Kissimmee, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 16: TB @ Winter Haven, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 20: HOU @ Kissimmee, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 21: BOS @ Winter Haven, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 22: DET @ Winter Haven, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 23: CIN @ Sarasota, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 24 : ATL @ Disney, Fox, WTAM, 7:05 pm
Mar. 25: HOU @ Winter Haven, Fox, WTAM, 1:05 pm
Mar. 26: MON @ Winter Haven, Fox, 6:05 pm
Mar. 27: DET @ Lakeland, WTAM*, 1:05 pm
Mar. 28: @ CIN, Great American Ballpark, WTAM, 7:10 pm
Mar. 29: @ CIN, Great American Ballpark, Fox, WTAM, 1:10 pm
* denotes a delayed broadcast on WTAM due to scheduling conflicts

Starting lineups for today's games as listed in the Canton Repository...

The starting lineup vs. Pittsburgh — Coco Crisp, CF; Omar Vizquel, SS; Matt Lawton, LF; Karim Garcia, RF; Victor Martinez, DH; Ben Broussard, 1B; Casey Blake, 3B; Josh Bard, C; Brandon Phillips, 2B.

The starting lineup vs. Minnesota — Milton Bradley, CF; Bill Selby, 3B; Shane Spencer, DH; Travis Hafner, 1B; Wendell Magee, RF; Chris Magruder, LF; A.J. Hinch, C; Zach Sorensen, SS; John McDonald, 2B.    

Terry Pluto has a nice article in the ABJ about Joel Skinner and his wife's battle with breast cancer. Skinner will understandably be away from the team throughout the season as she goes through her chemotherapy. Thoughts and prayers to the Skinner family.

The local papers are reporting positive results in the first steps of Ricky Gutierrez' rehab. Gutierrez himself is quoted as saying that he believes he has a chance to be ready for opening day. Overly optimistic? Absolutely. But given where he was a few months ago, I think we would all feel that way. Ricky still has to face live BP, field a popup, and get himself back into shape, but all signs are positive right now. Good for him.

Paul Hoynes notes in the PD that David Riske is working on a splitter and Brian Anderson is replacing his slurve with a more traditional curve ball.
Ellis Burks is expected to sit out the weekend games due to a sprained left wrist.

Former Indians left-hander Tom Martin signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.

Just in case you missed it, Jim Thome homered in his first at-bat with the Phillies.
Single-game tickets for the Lake County Captains go on sale at 9:00 A.M. on Saturday.

Single-game tickets for the Akron Aeros go on sale at 10:00 A.M. on Monday.

I added a series of FAQs to the CIR website. They cover such topics as Roster Management, Free Agency & Arbitration, the June Draft, the Rule 5 draft, About the CIR, and a miscellaneous one for everything else. I often refer to these while compiling the daily reports and I thought you all might find them handy as well.

The CIR will not publish over the weekend but I'll see you on Monday, Have a good weekend everyone!


February 27, 2003  

Baseball is back! I'm listening to the Pirates and Phillies on MLB Radio. FYI...Jim Thome went deep in his first Phillies at-bat.

Thursday, February 27

Intrasquad game number two is in the books. Here's the highlights...

Greg LaRocca doubled for the second day in a row and knocked in a run.

Ryan Church and Coco Crisp added RBI singles.

CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Aaron Myette, Jason Stanford, and Jamie Brown all tossed a scoreless inning.

Fernando Cabrera retired only one of the six hitters he faced and allowed two runs on four hits.

Correction from yesterday, Francisco Cruceta threw a scoreless inning, not Fernando Cabrera.

The Indians will workout today (no intrasquad game) and the exhibition season starts tomorrow with Ricardo Rodriguez taking the mound in Winter Haven against the Pirates. You can listen to that game on WTAM 1100. Jason Phillips will start for the split squad team that travels south to Fort Myers to face the Twins.

Yesterday, I wrote the following in regard to Padres closer Trevor Hoffman missing the first half of the season...
"...and it might also make the Padres seek out additional bullpen help this spring, which the Indians may be able to provide in the form of "out of option" pitchers Jerrod Riggan, David Riske, Aaron Myette, Jake Westbrook, etc. Just a thought."

Darren in the U.K. read that and forwarded a link to a Plain Dealer article in which Mark Shapiro is quoted as saying that the only player on the 40-man roster who is out of options is Aaron Myette. Paul Hoynes reiterated that statement in today's Ask Hoynsie.

First off, we know that's incorrect because John McDonald is out of options as that was one of the bigger roster issues from last spring. But I think the inference in that statement was directed towards the younger players. If that's the case, and Riske, Riggan, and Westbrook have options remaining, then that would certainly be good news for the Indians as it would provide them some additional roster flexibility this season. I still think Riggan will be the odd man out and have to be removed from the 40 to clear space for an NRI who makes the roster but we went over all that last week.

But what if that statement is incorrect? Check out the following series of transactions. Remember that a player on the 40-man roster can be optioned to the minor leagues three times and the "times" are actually calendar years. A player could be optioned five times during the 2002 season and that would count as only one option year. For further info on options, check out the Roster Management FAQ.

1999: Riske's contract was purchased from Buffalo on August 9 and he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time.  He spent the rest of the season with the Indians save for a short rehab stint in Buffalo.

2000: Riske spent most of the year on the major league disabled list but the Indians media guide notes that he was OPTIONED to triple-A on September 5 to pitch for the Bisons in the playoffs.  This would be option number one.

2001: Riske is OPTIONED to Buffalo during spring training and spends the first 2-1/2 months in triple-A.  This would be option number two.

2002: Riske is OPTIONED to triple-A on July 20.  This would be his third and final option.

2000: Riggan's contract was purchased by the Mets on 8/28 and he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time.  The Mets then OPTIONED him back to triple-A on 8/30.  This was the funky transaction that I referred you to the Ultimate Mets Database for explanation.  This would be option number one.

2001: Started the year in triple-A so I assume he was optioned out.  The Indians media guide goes on to note further that he was recalled in April by the Mets and OPTIONED back to Norfolk on April 30.  This would be option number two.

2002: Riggan was OPTIONED by the Indians to Buffalo on April 24 and July 6. This would be his third and final option.

2000: Westbrook was OPTIONED to triple-A Columbus by the Yankees in spring training on March 7

2001: Westbrook was OPTIONED to triple-A Buffalo by the Indians in spring training on March 20.

2002: No options. Spent most of the year on the major league disabled list and his stints in the minor leagues were rehab assignments.

So there you have it, according to the Indians media guide and official MLB transactions from last season, the Indians used Riske's three option years in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and Riggan's three option years were used by the Mets in 2000 and 2001 and the Indians in 2002. Jake Westbrook is the only one who looks to have an option left after the Yankees used one in 2000 and the Indians used the second option in 2001.

Having said all that, I have to give Mark Shapiro and the Indians the benefit of the doubt on this one and trust them when they say that Aaron Myette is the only player out of options. Perhaps the Indians media guide is incorrect, perhaps the quotation was not put in its proper context, or perhaps I'm just completely off-base on the whole topic (wouldn't be the first time, I know). Just don't be surprised if we start hearing about other players being out of options at the end of the spring. If anyone else has a different take on the above series of transactions, please send me an e-mail, I'd love to hear from you.

Marshall McDougall is earning praise from Buck Showalter in Rangers camp.  He's also spending quite a bit of time at second base, which makes sense considering the Rangers have Herb Perry, Hank Blalock, and Mark Tiexiera at the Hot Corner (and not necessarily in that order).

The reconstructed Veterans Committee announced the results of their Hall of Fame balloting and the result was (drumroll please)..... no one received enough votes to be elected. Mwop, mwop, mwop, mwop (you know the sound I'm trying to make here). Gil Hodges (61.7%), Tony Oliva (59.3%), and Ron Santo (56.8%) received the most support of the players. Doug Harvey (60.8%), Walter O'Malley (48.1%), and Marvin Miller (44.3%) received the most support of the non-players. 75% was required for election and the VC will vote again on the players in two years and the non-players in four years. I voted for Joe Gordon (16.9%), Walter O'Malley, Charlie Finley (40.2%), Marvin Miller, and Gabe Paul (3.6%) in the voting conducted by Baseball Prospectus where Ron Santo (77.4%) was voted into the hall by internet voters. Those scalawags, how could they not see that Gabe is HOF worthy?

If you're headed to spring training next month, make sure and check out the spring training guides at


February 26, 2003  

Wednesday, February 26

It may only have been an intrasquad game but nothing warms the heart of a baseball fan than the first spring action of the year (especially when there's six inches of snow on the ground). Enthusiasm is always high this time of year but check out these stories from two of the Tribe's beat writers. Regardless of how you feel about the Indians rebuilding efforts, I defy you to not get at least a little excited about the talent the Tribe has in camp this spring after reading these articles.

Terry Pluto in the ABJ | Jim Ingraham in the LMJ

You can read all about the action from yesterday's intrasquad game in those two articles, but here's a cliff notes version for the web-impaired.

Bill Selby went yard off of Brian Anderson.

Karim Garcia took Jason Phillips deep.

Matt Lawton doubled home two runs off of Jerrod Riggan.

Jeremy Guthrie struck out the side (Ivan Ochoa, Ryan Church, Corey Smith)

Fernando Cabrera worked a 1-2-3 inning.

Victor Martinez, Greg LaRocca, Jody Gerut doubled.

Milton Bradley tripled.

Casey Blake was hit by a pitch, caught looking at strike three, and threw a ball away in the field. Rough debut.

Note: I believe the Alex Ochoa mentioned in the PD as doubling in yesterday's game is actually minor league shortstop Ivan Ochoa who should be the starting shortstop in Kinston this year. Alex Ochoa, the journeyman outfielder, signed a minor league deal with the St.Louis Cardinals. As an aside, the fact that Ivan is part of the Tribe's minor league minicamp speaks volumes about how highly they regard him despite his lack of offensive output thus far in his career.

A five-inning intrasquad game is scheduled for today and it does not look like there will be a game on Thursday. Friday begins the exhibition season as the Indians will host the Pirates in Winter Haven and send a split-squad down to Fort Myers to face the Twins.

Injury updates: The PD notes that Ricky Gutierrez has started swinging the bat and taking ground balls in the field while Mark Wohlers threw off the mound yesterday with no pain.

Sheldon Ocker notes in the ABJ that the Indians may remain in Winter Haven for the next few springs while they negotiate/wait for their proposed new Ft. Myers home. He also speculates the Indians may be interested in the Devil Rays facility in St. Petersburg should the D-Rays leave after this season. The Rays have previously expressed interest in moving out of their home city to expand their fan base further into Florida.

Matt Whitney's surgery went well, he's expected to start his rehab on March 11, and be ready to play in the Instructional League in October.

I've been gormless and failed to keep up with A.Word.A.Day. That's corrected and I'm back on track starting with the report.

Padres closer Trevor Hoffman made the decision to operate now on his ailing right shoulder and will miss at least half the season. He'll go under the knife on Friday and the exact rehabilitation timeframe will not be known until after the surgery. This opens the door for Jaret Wright in the Padres bullpen and it might also make the Padres seek out additional bullpen help this spring, which the Indians may be able to provide in the form of "out of option" pitchers Jerrod Riggan, David Riske, Aaron Myette, Jake Westbrook, etc. Just a thought.

Blue Jays pitcher Tim Young was involved in a car accident yesterday but was unharmed. Young spent a few weeks with the Bisons last year during the International League playoffs.


February 25, 2003  

Baseball Prospectus has a Q&A with Mark Shapiro posted.

Tuesday, February 25

Need to cure the winter blues? Stop by the CIR Bookstore where you can warm up with a copy of the CIR 2002 archives or a number of baseball books and videos. Plus every purchase you make results in a small referral fee thanks to an association with and helps to keep the CIR free of charge.

Intrasquad games start today. Exhibition games start on Friday.

The big news from yesterday was the disclosure that Matt Whitney broke his leg in two places and could be lost for the season. The Indians won't know for sure whether he will play again this year until they receive the post-op report from the doctors but the initial reports don't look promising. What's even worse is how the injury happened. Was it sliding into a base? Nope. Running into the stands after a pop-up? Nope. He was chasing after a basketball and stepped on a sprinkler head control box that was hidden in the grass, rolled his ankle, and snapped his leg in two places. Ouch. John Farrell was quoted as saying that it's the organization's policy to prohibit playing basketball and even though this was a freak accident it does not remove responsibility from the player. Ouch again (but he's right).

Whitney was expected to be the starting third basemen for Lake County but now his development will be pushed back one season. Fortunately, this should be viewed as simply a setback and not a long-term setback (Farrell's words). As a power-hitting third basemen, Whitney's legs are not as important to his game as they would be for a speedy centerfielder. It's still a serious injury, but it should not affect his long-term potential (I hope). As for who plays third in Eastlake this year, I think you have to look at the possibility that Pat Osborn will start the season there. The PD notes today that he is scheduled to start at Kinston (as we speculated last week) but I think that was due to the presence of Whitney more than anything else. With Whitney removed from the picture, the Indians really don't have a need to skip Osborn a level. If he does start at Kinston, then I think you'll be looking at some combination of Matt Knox, Scott Threinen, Angel Abreu, and/or some utility guys at the hot corner for Lake County.


February 24, 2003  

AP is reporting that Matt Whitney has broken his leg and is out for the season. This sucks. Here's the link to the AP wire story. More tomorrow in the daily report.

Monday, February 24

Intrasquad games start tomorrow. Exhibition games start on Friday. I can't wait.

Not much else is going on, though, so injuries typically dominate the news at this time of camp. Here's an update....

Matt Lawton is on an every other day throwing program along with some position specific activities. The ABJ adds that he'll play in at least one intrasquad game this week.

Josh Bard participated in yesterday's workout, along with the other catchers, and participated in approximately 75% of the drills. He's missed the last few days with a sprained left ankle.

Mark Wohlers threw from 90 and 120 feet over the weekend and will throw off the mound for the first time on Tuesday.

Jim Ingraham reports in the LMJ that Eric Wedge has confirmed that the Indians will keep seven relievers on the opening day roster (as we speculated) and that Danys Baez, Terry Mulholland, and Mark Wohlers have secured spots. That leaves four spots open with (my speculation here) Carl Sadler, David Riske, and Aaron Myette the front-runners for three of them. The final spot could go a number of ways as we discussed last week.

Paul Hoynes notes in the PD that Rick Helling and Jeff Suppan were among the pitchers considered by the Indians before they signed Brian Anderson and Jason Bere. Both Helling and Suppan misread the market. Helling wanted a two-year deal and ended up signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Orioles. Suppan also wanted a multiyear contract but ended up signing a minor league deal with the Pirates that's also worth a reported $1 million. I'm not sure either would be better than Anderson or Bere (they're all marginal with their own strengths) but both have certainly been more durable throughout their careers which better fits the "innings-eater" role the Indians want their two veteran starters to fill this season.

Our San Diego spy (codename Chirps) reports that Bruce Bochy has named Jaret Wright as the biggest surprise of the first week of camp. Wright is working out of the bullpen with the Padres and Bochy's plans are to "put him in for an inning and then just let it go". With Trevor Hoffman's availability for opening day (and the season) still in question, Wright could pitch himself into a significant role in the backend of the Padres bullpen with a good spring. I'm not necessarily saying closer, but the opportunity would certainly be there. Why Jaret did not work out of the bullpen the last two years with the Indians remains a mystery that I haven't seen a satisfactory answer for yet. In other Padres news, our spy did send this link to a Brady Anderson trying to make the Padres article on, but has not reported anything on Charles Nagy. Apparantly, Nagy does not indulge in the excesses of the local hot tub scene where Chirps does his best networking.

Peter Gammons writes about Brooks Kieschnick and his continuing conversion from the outfield to the pitchers mound, which started last spring in camp with the Indians. It's an interesting plan, especially for an NL team.

Aaron Myette makes Gammons list of "out of option" players to watch this spring in this espn column. Former Indian Tim Drew also made the list but I think he has a pretty good shot at making the Expos bullpen. It's an intriguing list of players and I could see the Indians taking a shot at a Ruben Mateo (instead of Wendell Magee or Chris Magruder as the 5th outfielder) or Chad Harville type (power arm for the bullpen) if the opportunity presented itself.

Speculation continues that Kenny Lofton is close to signing a one-year contract with the Pirates. With exhibition games starting this week, the list of available free-agents continues to be reduced, with only Lofton, Chuck Finley, and Kenny Rogers remaining as the big names on the market.


February 22, 2003  

Saturday, February 22

I did forget some stuff. Welcome to the Baseball America edition of the CIR. You'll see what I mean in a minute.

All 62 players are in camp. 38 minor leaguers have also reported for a special minicamp according to the Morning Journal. Travis Fryman is in Winter Haven as a special instructor and he'll be working with Corey Smith, Matt Whitney, and Pat Osborn in the minicamp.

Paul Hoynes noted in the PD that 25 of the 40 players on the roster remain unsigned. I'm missing one because I show 26 unsigned players which include Fernando Cabrera, Jason Davis, Brian Tallet, Ryan Church, Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Brandon Phillips, John McDonald, Josh Bard, Victor Martinez, Alex Escobar, Covelli Crisp, Jody Gerut, Luis Garcia, Milton Bradley, Aaron Myette, Alex Herrera, Carl Sadler, Chad Paronto, David Riske, Jake Westbrook, Jerrod Riggan, Alberto Cruceta, Cliff Lee, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jhonny Peralta. Most, if not all, of these guys will be signed for the major league minimum (or very close to it) and there should not be any problem getting them inked by the March 11 deadline.

The spring training dish from Baseball America answered my Derek Thompson question from yesterday. According to major league rules, Thompson will have to spend 90 consecutive days on the Dodgers major league roster in 2004 to fulfill the Rule 5 requirements, or be offered back to the Indians for $25,000. It'll be interesting to see what the Dodgers do. That's basically 18 months for a pitcher coming off major surgery who has never pitched above Class-A. Incidentally, Thompson was ranked as the 15th best prospect in the Dodgers system by BA.

Travis Hafner was rated the second best prospect in the Puerto Rican league and Francisco Cabrera was rated number seven by Baseball America. Victor Martinez was ranked the third best prospect and Alex Herrera number five in the Venezuelan league. Luis Garcia was number six in the Mexican League.

In BA's college preview, they ranked the top 50 prospects by class. Indian draftees included the 20th best senior, U$C shortstop, Anthony Lunetta (42nd, 1999); the 26th best junior, LSU right-hander Brian Wilson (30th, 2000), and the 16th best junior, California 3B Conor Jackson (31st, 2000); the 33rd best sophomore, Cosumnes River JC right-hander Nick Pesco (25th, 2002), and the 6th best sophomore, Mississippi right-hander Alan Horne (1st, 2001); and the 43rd best freshman, San Diego State outfielder Curt Mendoza (19th, 2002). The Indians hold the rights to Pesco as a draft-and-fellow until one week before the June draft this year. As leverage, he's signed with the University of Oklahoma for the 2004 season.

BA also took an early look at the top 100 college prospects for the 2003 draft and Indian draftees on the list include Conor Jackson (#17), Brian Wilson (#30), and Nebraska left-hander Aaron Marsden (#69, 34th, 2001). Jackson is BA's first-team All-American third basemen and he's also out of the lineup for several weeks with a sprained right ankle.

Travis Hafner (#3), Brandon Phillips (#10), Victor Martinez (#17), and Cliff Lee (#19) rate among BA's top 20 rookies for 2003.

Former Indians among the non-roster invitees throughout baseball include: Rich Rodriguez (Ana), Scott Morgan (CWS), Hansel Izquierdo (Bos), Steve Woodard (Bos), Chris Coste (Bos), Earl Snyder (Bos), Jose Cabrera (Min), Mitch Meluskey (Oak), Mike Edwards (Oak), Pat Borders (Sea), Lee Stevens (TB), Ryan Thompson (TB), Bruce Aven (Tor), Rudy Seanez (Tex), Mike Jackson (AZ), Ron Villone (AZ), Carlos Baerga (Az), Julio Franco (Atl), Donzell McDonald (Atl), Mark Watson (Cin), Kent Mercker (Cin), Sean DePaula (Cin), Heath Murray (Cubs), Chad Allen (Fla), Jose Colon (Mont), Tony Medrano (Mont), Brooks Kieschnick (Mil), Eddie Perez (Mil), Jed Hansen (Mil), Mark Budzinski (Mil), Calvin Murray (LA), Jay Bell (NYM), Jim Crowell (Phil), Jesse Levis (Phil), Todd Pratt (Phil), Julian Tavarez (Pitt), Brady Anderson (SD), Charles Nagy (SD), Jon Nunnally (SL), Todd Dunwoody (SL), Nerio Rodriguez (SL).

The Lake County Captains announced that single game tickets will go on sale on Saturday, March 1 at 9:00 AM. Individual box seats for all 70 home games will be on sale, including the team’s April 10th home opener against the Charleston Alley Cats.  Box seats are $8 each.  For more information, visit the Captains official website at

The PD noted earlier in the week that the Indians extended their working agreement with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese League for three more years. They've been associated for eight years, although the Tribe has yet to sign a Japanese player.

Have a great weekend everyone!


February 21, 2003  

Friday, February 21

Have you started preparing for your fantasy drafts yet? No? Well, don't worry because the guys at Diamond Science have you covered with the 2003 Fantasy Baseball Players Guide. Over 800 players are analyzed with commentary and 2003 projections and they also provide salary valuations for 12 different kinds of scoring systems. You know those guys who always finish in the money in your league? They've already started their draft prep. Isn't it time you started yours? Check out Diamond Science. You won't be disappointed.

And if you're a fantasy guy, you owe it to yourself to check out the Baseball Derby.

With spring training fully underway, it's time for the CIR's annual Spring Training preview. Over the last two days, we've taken a detailed look at the pitchers and position players in camp. Today, we'll ask 20 questions facing the Indians this spring. I originally planned on expanding on the list of the questions but, as you'll soon read, this report is long enough, so I'm just going to let the questions stand and we'll take another look at them at the end of the spring.

1) Is it talent or just hype?
2) Who is Eric Wedge?
3) Who will be the 4th and 5th starters?
4) Can Brandon phil the second base spot
5) Casey at the hot corner?
6) Can he Karim it for 162 games?
7) Thomenator to the Hafnerator?
8) Is Josh Bard ready to play everyday?
9) Is Milton game for the leadoff spot?
10) Can CC deal an ace?
11) Will Danys be Mariano Rivera?
12) Will we see the real Matt Lawton?
13) Is Alex Escobar worth the wait?
14) Can Gutierrez resume his career?
15) Are the Indians out of options in the bullpen?
16) Was Jeremy Guthrie worth it?
17) Magruder, Magee, or a surprise?
18) Who backs up Josh Bard?
19) How will the Indians juggle the 40?
20) Will the fans care?

Great question from Jim on my projected opening day rosters in which he noted that I had four non-roster invitees (Tim Laker, Casey Blake, Bill Selby, Chris Magruder) on the 25-man roster and was wondering which players would be removed from the 40-man roster in order to make room for them. Great discussion on the website comments as well. If you're a newsletter subscriber and haven't checked out the website in awhile, you're missing out on some great discussions.

First off, let's talk about the NRIs (nor-roster invitees) and how many will make (have a chance at) the opening day roster.

We know that there will be an NRI as a backup catcher (AJ Hinch or Tim Laker). That's one.

We also know that there will be an NRI at third base or utility infield (Casey Blake, Bill Selby, or Greg LaRocca). That's two.

There is also a good chance that an NRI will make the team as a utility infielder (Selby or LaRocca) if Johnny Mac starts at second base. That's a definite two and maybe one more.

There is also a good chance that an NRI will make the team as the backup centerfielder and 5th outfielder (Chris Magruder or Wendell Magee). That's a definite two and maybe two more.

So to make room for these guys, anywhere from two to four spots will need to be cleared off of the 40-man roster. Using my opening day projections, here's how the Indians could accomplish that.

Two spots will be cleared by placing Bob Wickman and Ricky Gutierrez on the 60-day disabled list. Another would be cleared when Jerrod Riggan is designated for assignment. That leaves one spot remaining and I think Chad Paronto would be the likely candidate to be designated. Of course, injuries (think Alex Escobar last spring) happen, and while it's not the preferred method of clearing roster space, it would free up a spot if the injured player could be placed onto the 60-day disabled list.

Jim also notes that because of the lack of "assignable" players on the 40, this might increase the chances for an outfielder like Jody Gerut to sneak onto the opening day roster since he is already on the 40. It's an interesting thought and the eventual decision (using my projection above) would be whether the Indians prefer keeping Chad Paronto and using Gerut as the 5th outfielder or letting Gerut play everyday in Buffalo, using Wendell Magee/Chris Magruder as the 5th outfielder, and risk losing Paronto to clear a spot on the 40. Note: even though Paronto has options left, he would go through waivers since he would be removed from the 40-man roster. My choice would be to let Gerut play everyday but there certainly exists the possibility of him making the opening day roster with a good spring.

After Paronto, your next assignable choices would be Jake Westbrook, Aaron Myette, David Riske, Terry Mulholland, Carl Sadler and all those guys look like they will be on the opening day roster. Myette, Riske, and Sadler, especially, are not players you would want to lose in order to add an AJ Hinch or Wendell Magee to your roster. Offensively, the choices are even slimmer as the 19 position players on the 40 are either established veterans or solid prospects. Only Ben Broussard might fall into the expendable category but, since he has options left, he's a player the Indians would be looking to trade for lower-level prospects (i.e., don't have to be on the 40) instead of designating him for assignment and removal from the 40 (where he would probably be claimed off waivers).

As I mentioned in the pitchers preview, this lack of expendable players on the 40 significantly decreases the chances of Billy Traber breaking camp with the Indians as well as being promoted during the 1st half of the season. Why would the Indians clear a 5th spot for Traber and risk losing a Riske or Sadler when they have other viable options already on the 40? It just doesn't make sense. This will be a continuing issue for the Indians throughout the season when they look to add injury replacements. At least during the first couple of months of the season, before injuries and trades may create more wiggle room, you may see a parade of Selby, LaRocca, Magee, etc., being designated, purchased, and designated again depending on what particular holes the Tribe has to fill for a couple of weeks. It's definitely going to be interesting to watch how the Indians juggle the roster this year.

The big news from the first week of camp has been the injury to Cliff Lee, who will be out for the next three-to-six weeks with a strained abdominal muscle, which he pulled during the last week of the Indians developmental program at Jacobs Field. This effectively removes Lee from the starting pitching competition and probably places him in extended spring training to start the season. While this is certainly a disappointment for Lee, his development is still on schedule and this should be viewed as nothing more than a minor setback. Lee's injury opens the door further for Brian Tallet and/or Jason Davis to make the opening day roster as the 4th or 5th starter.

Mark Wohlers was diagnosed with tendinitis in the right elbow and has not thrown from the mound for over a week. Wohlers even went to see Dr. Andrews in Birmingham where no damage was found and the injury was determined to not be related to the Tommy John surgery he had in 1998. The PD reported this morning that Wohlers is probably a week away from throwing off a mound. Not that losing Wohlers for an extended period would be a major blow, but I have a bad feeling about this one.

Josh Bard sprained his left foot and has sat out of workouts the last couple of days. He's listed as day-to-day.

The Indians first intersquad game is scheduled for Tuesday (Feb 25) and the first exhibition game is scheduled for one week from today (February 28). Can you believe that Tom Hamilton will be back on the airwaves in one week?

The ABJ quoted Eric Wedge as saying that he still views Jhonny Peralta as a shortstop and the article went on to note that the Indians have not made a decision as to whether Peralta will play third or short in Buffalo. This contradicts what Mark Shapiro has been saying all winter and a position switch certainly seems appropriate with Omar Vizquel and Brandon Phillips ahead of him. I'm thinking he's still bound for the hot corner.

RHP Chad Durbin was signed to a minor league contract and he's expected to miss the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. A product of the Royals system, Durbin has a career record of 11-22 with a 6.01 ERA in 48 career appearances (47 starts). His best season was 2001 when he made 29 starts for the Royals and went 9-16 with a 4.93 ERA. His record notwithstanding, I've been impressed with Durbin when I've seen him pitch, not that that means anything. I also remember reading discussions on Durbin moving to the bullpen and perhaps that's what the Indians are thinking as well, given all the starters in the upper levels of the system. This is your typical lightning in a bottle signing.

Catchers Tim DeCinces and Josh Goldfield were also signed to minor league contracts. DeCinces is a 28-year old left-handed hitter who was originally drafted in the 17th round out of UCLA by the Orioles in 1996. He spent last season in the A's system where he hit .280/.327/.488 in limited duty (82 at-bats). If the last name sounds familiar, yes, he is the son of former Orioles and Angels third basemen Doug DeCinces. Goldfield was originally a 41st round pick by the Diamondbacks in 1999 out of Moorpark College. A collision at home plate in 2001 led to concerns about his throwing arm after he developed shoulder problems and, ultimately, led to his release by the D-Backs. He spent portions of 2002 in the independent Northern League and the independent Western League where he posted a combined OPS of less than .500. Ouch! If they stick with the organization, DeCinces could end up in Akron while Goldfield looks like single-A material to me.

Incidentally, in that same 41st round of the 1999 draft, the Indians selected (and could not sign) a young left-hander named Roger Ring out of a California high school. Four years later, Goldfield is in the Indians camp and (Roger) Royce Ring is in the White Sox camp after being selected in the first round last June out of San Diego State.

Derek Thompson tore a ligament in his elbow and will miss the entire season due to reconstructive surgery. He'll spend the entire season on the Dodgers disabled list and make the major league minimum of $300,000 (which will help to ease the sting of a lost year of development). Should the Dodgers elect to keep him, I'm not sure if a full season on the major league disabled list fulfills the Rule 5 requirement of keeping a player on the major league roster for one year. If I hear anything in that regard, I'll pass it along. has an article on JD Martin in which Neal Huntington explains the organization's fastball emphasis with JD.

Since more than a few of you asked, here is the official definition of a Shinzik. A Shinzik is the owner at your rotisserie auction draft who will always bid $2 regardless of the player called up. For example, you call up AJ Hinch for $1 and the Shinzik will always bid $2 amid a flurry of paper shuffling and deep thought. The Shinzik is usually unaware of the player called up for bid but finds it impossible to pass on the bidding because, after all, the player might be good. Appropriate use of the word can be found in the following examples, such as "stop shinziking me!" or "I can't call him up now, someone will shinzik me" or (my personal favorite) "Sorry, I have to shinzik you, but....$2". Named after a beloved former member of the NCRL, there is a Shinzik at every draft. Be cool and use it at your drafts this spring.

I have a feeling I'm forgetting something, but that's ok, because I Am Hot! Have a good weekend everyone!


February 20, 2003  

I'm swamped today. 20 questions and a news update should set everyone up nicely for the weekend. See you tomorrow!


February 19, 2003  

Wednesday, February 19

With spring training fully underway, it's time for the CIR's annual Spring Training preview. Yesterday, we examined the pitchers in camp. Today, we'll examine the position players fighting to make the opening day roster. On Thursday, we'll ask 20 questions that need to be answered by March 31. To conclude the week, Friday will serve as a general news update on all the Tribe happenings from the first week of spring training. Position players, start yer engines....

TRAVIS HAFNER: Hopefully, the Indians first basemen for the next six years. They should stick him 6th in the lineup and let him play. Major rookie of the year candidate.

JOHN MCDONALD: Will either be the starting second basemen or the utility infielder. The funny thing is that I don't think he'll have much of a say in the matter as it will solely depend on what Brandon Phillips does this spring.

OMAR VIZQUEL: Will he be reenergized with all the youth around him or will we be talking about Omar moving to second base this time next year?

ELLIS BURKS: Professional hitter. Only question is whether he'll hit 3rd or 4th.

MATT LAWTON: All signs point to a healthy (and motivated) Lawton by opening day. He's not going to make us forget Manny Ramirez or Juan Gonzalez but a .280/.390/.450/.840 season with 15-20 homers would be a big addition to the Indians lineup. I think he can do it, if healthy.

MILTON BRADLEY: Starting centerfielder. Will have to show the Indians something this year or he'll be battling Coco Crisp, Alex Escobar, Jody Gerut, and Ryan Church for playing time next year. He'll lead off this spring and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do from that spot. I can't stress enough how big of a season this is for Bradley.

KARIM GARCIA: The Indians need Garcia to be for real. I need Garcia to be real considering I have him for 19 in the NCRL. Garcia needs Garcia to be real if he wants to be viewed as anything more than a 4A slugger. If he flops, the Indians offense will be in serious trouble and Garcia will be out of here faster than you can say Luis Garcia and Alex Escobar. His plate discipline (or lack thereof) is a major concern but I'm holding out hope for improvement in that area this year.

SHANE SPENCER: Will be the 4th outfielder and spell Lawton and Garcia in the corners and, occasionally, Hafner at first base.

JOSH BARD: Will be the starting catcher and probably has the first half to prove he can handle major league pitching. If he struggles, Victor Martinez will get the call and Bard will be a capable backup. If he hits, the Indians have a very pleasant problem on their hands. Put it this way, if Einar Diaz can land Travis Hafner, what would a comparable defensive player with some offensive skills and a club friendly contract be able to land in trade? Just a thought.

AJ HINCH: I list him first because he's my choice to win the position and I fully admit that this is due to a Baseball America/hyped prospect bias. In my defense, Hinch does have a solid minor league track record at the plate and power traditionally develops last at the major league level for catchers.

TIM LAKER: Great story as he's battled back from a serious pancreatic infection last year. Career minor leaguer, this is his best shot at making a big league roster. His familiarity with Josh Bard, Eric Wedge, and the Indians young pitchers definitely works to his advantage. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he's the guy and, you know what, I've talked myself into it. Laker is my choice for backup catcher.

BRANDON PHILLIPS: The party line is that Brandon Phillips will start the season in triple-A. In reality, though, if Phillips hits .300 this spring, shows patience at the plate, and turns the double-play consistently, there is a very good chance that he will be the Indians starting second basemen in Camden Yards on March 31. Personally, I think he would best be served with a half-season of triple-A success under his belt but if he hits his way onto the roster this spring, I can't see the Indians not giving him the opportunity. The Cardinals took a chance in 2001 with Albert Pujols and it paid off tremendously. The Padres took a chance last year with Sean Burroughs with mixed results. We'll see what happens this spring.

CASEY BLAKE: With Ricky Gutierrez not expected to be ready for the start of the season (if at all), minor league vet Casey Blake has been given the third base job to lose. Now the Indians haven't come out and said that directly, but what other options do they have? Not many. Blake has a solid minor league track record, decent power and speed, and a decent glove. If he hits .260 this spring and shows a competent glove, I can't see the Indians going outside the organization for help at this stage in their rebuilding process. If Blake hits .180 and struggles in the field, the following two guys will be give a look before a trade is explored. As an Indian fan, the notion of trading for a third basemen is intriguing, but let's face it, the Tribe will be bottom feeding and do you really want to trade a prospect for a one-year player who will probably not be much better than what we have internally? Sure it's a possibility we could trade for a Hank Blalock type of prospect but that's a little different of deal than looking to plug a hole (or gap). The best thing for the Indians this spring is for Blake to hit and claim the job.

BILL SELBY: If Blake falters, Selby will be there. See the utility player spot below for more on Selby.

GREG LAROCCA: If Blake falters, LaRocca will be there. See the utility player spot for more on LaRocca.

If Brandon Phillips starts the season at second, John McDonald will be the utility infielder. If Johnny Mac is starting at second, the utility infielder will be either Bill Selby, Greg LaRocca, or Zach Sorensen (long shot). Selby may have the edge because he would be one of the few left-handed bats for the bench and could platoon with Blake at third. LaRocca may have the edge because he can play short. I think Selby will win this battle.

CHRIS MAGRUDER: Started hot with the Indians and ran everything out which endeared him to the fans. Still, he didn't hit all that much last year and his greatest strength entering this season is his ability to play all three outfield positions and switch-hit. The Indians will have four guys on the bench with two (Hinch/Laker, Spencer) guaranteed to hit from the right side so Mags ability to switch around may give him an advantage over his right-handed hitting competitor, Wendell Magee. I say "may" because I think that will only come into play if they have similar springs.

WENDELL MAGEE: Signed as a minor league free agent, Magee has more major league experience than Magruder and he can also play all three outfield positions. He's also probably more of a pure hitter but he's also never met a pitch he didn't like so the Tribe may be cautious of letting his approach at the plate rub off on his younger teammates.

BEN BROUSSARD: The only way Broussard makes the roster is if Matt Lawton cannot start the season in the outfield (or if Ben hits .400 with 8 homeruns). He's not going to beat out Hafner at first and he can't play centerfield which is a requirement for the 5th outfielder. I still like his promise as a hitter and it'll be interesting to see how he responds to starting the year at triple-A. If Hafner develops as hoped, he will be prime trade-bait this offseason.

VICTOR MARTINEZ: Ticketed for triple-A to work on his game-calling and throwing mechanics, Martinez will be up for good sometime this summer. It's possible he could hit his way onto the opening day roster, but I think the Indians want to avoid having Bard and Martinez split time this year as much as possible.

ALEX ESCOBAR: Last time this year, Escobar was THE prospect in the system. Now, he's the forgotten child, which might not be such a bad thing for his development. Unless he murders the ball like Engelberg this spring, he'll play everyday in Buffalo.

JHONNY PERALTA: Peralta is getting some press as a thirdbase option but do you really think the Indians are going to let him convert to a new position in the major leagues when he's never even played at the triple-A level. Nah, me neither. I think they're tossing his name out there to make people forget the real options at that position this spring and I can't say I really blame them. Peralta will be the starting third basemen in Buffalo.

LUIS GARCIA: No real chance to make the roster this year. If his plate discipline improves, 2004 will be a different story.

RYAN CHURCH: See Garcia, expect Church is bound for Akron.

JODY GERUT: Could conceivably sneak onto the roster if Magruder and Magee really struggle, but I think he's headed back to Buffalo for another season.

COCO CRISP: The Indians want Crisp to play everyday and they've already stated that the only way he makes the roster is if Milton Bradley is injured.

DUSTY WATHAN: Veteran minor league catcher brought in to help catch all the pitchers in camp.

ZACH SORENSEN: Veteran Tribe minor leaguer is a long shot for the utility infield position.

RICKY GUTIERREZ: Still recovering from offseason spinal surgery. Ricky and the Indians won't know until he takes the field whether he can play this year (or ever). Both sides will, understandably, be very cautious in his rehab.

Much like the pitchers, there will be a lot of prospects in camp but competition will really be limited to only a few roster spots. The most visible battle will be Brandon Phillips against himself at second base. Casey Blake will have to show he can handle third and, after that, there's the battles at backup catcher, utility infielder, and 5th outfielder. Admittedly, that's not too sexy and the real excitement this spring will simply be watching the kids play and see how they fare against major league competition. Almost all of them will be farmed out to start the season, but they'll be back, and the lineup on August 1 could look vastly different (and cooler) than the nine that take the field on opening day. Be patient, the kids are coming.

Catchers: Josh Bard, Tim Laker
Infielders: Travis Hafner, John McDonald, Omar Vizquel, Casey Blake, Bill Selby
Outfielders: Matt Lawton, Milton Bradley, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, Ellis Burks, Chris Magruder

Milton Bradley (CF)
Omar Vizquel (SS)
Matt Lawton (LF)
Ellis Burks (DH)
Karim Garcia (RF)
Travis Hafner (1B)
Casey Blake (3B)
Josh Bard (C)
John McDonald (2B)

Milton Bradley (CF)
Brandon Phillips (2B)
Matt Lawton (LF)
Ellis Burks (DH)
Karim Garcia (RF)
Travis Hafner (1B)
Victor Martinez (C)
Jhonny Peralta (3B)
Omar Vizquel (SS)

Tomorrow: 20 Questions for Spring Training.


February 18, 2003  

Tuesday, February 18

With pitchers and catchers already in camp and position players scheduled to report today, it's time for the CIR's annual Spring Training preview. Today, we'll take a look at the pitchers toeing the slab in Winter Haven. Tomorrow, we'll examine the position players, and on Thursday, we'll ask 20 questions that need to be answered by Opening Day. To conclude the week, Friday will serve as a general news update on all the Tribe happenings from the first week of spring training. Onto the pitchers...

CC SABATHIA: The ace of the staff. (I dare you to find this kind of in-depth analysis anywhere else).

BRIAN ANDERSON: Hopes to give the Indians 30 good starts that will land him a long-term deal in Cleveland (or elsewhere) next year. Will be counted on for six innings minimum per start and to help the young left-handers on the roster.

JASON BERE: The Indians are hoping for a return to 2001 form. I'm just hoping he makes it out of spring training healthy.

DANYS BAEZ: The closer. I hope the Indians don't use him in a 9th inning only role. They should use him in a Mariano Rivera role and let him work in the 8th if the situation demands it.

MARK WOHLERS: Setup man for Baez, but now we have to add "if healthy".

TERRY MULHOLLAND: Versatility and wisdom is why Mulholland will be on the staff. He'll work in long, middle, and short relief and may make the occasional start. If he can teach CC how to hold runners on base, his contract will be paid for.

CARL SADLER: I'm including Sadler in this portion of the breakdown because that's the indication from Tribe management. If he blows up, however, his position is not so strong to prevent him from being sent down to Buffalo. Barring that, he's the lefty setup guy. Quite a jump from starting in Kinston two springs ago.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ: At the end of last season, the Indians pretty much said that Rodriguez was going to be in the rotation next year. In fact, they may have said that directly but my memory is a little foggy. Sometime over the winter, however, they backed off those statements and simply added Rodriguez to the list of pitchers competing for the two open spots in the rotation, although he has generally been mentioned first among the candidates. I'm not sure if this change of thought is to reduce the pressure on Rodriguez or prevent him from becoming complacent this spring but, whatever the reasons, Rodriguez is the clear front-runner for one of the two spots. He's the most advanced (in terms of triple-A and major league service), and held his own in the big leagues last year. Barring injury or collapse this spring, Rodriguez will be in the Indians opening day rotation.

CLIFF LEE: Out 3-6 weeks with a strained abdominal muscle, Lee would have been a favorite for one of the open rotation spots. He'll start the season in extended spring training and probably move onto Buffalo from there which fits just fine into his development cycle. Just hope the Indians are cautious with his rehab and that he doesn't come back too early and develop mechanical issues to compensate for the pain.

BRIAN TALLET: With Cliff Lee removed from the opening day picture, I think Tallet emerges as the front-runner for the 5th spot in the rotation. He posted nearly identical 3.08 ERAs last year in Buffalo and Akron and was not overmatched in his brief stint with the Indians in September. He's more advanced than Davis and throws harder than Traber. He's also added a changeup as his third pitch, according to John Farrell in today's PD, which has enabled him to remain as a starter. If you remember, there was talk last year about moving Tallet to the bullpen. I think the 5th starter spot is his to lose and as long as he holds his own this spring, he'll break camp with the big club.

JASON DAVIS: Last year, most of us would be saying "Who?" when asked about Jason Davis. Now, he's the 9th ranked prospect in the system (according to BA) and has the highest upside of the five prospects competing for a spot in the rotation (according to Mark Shapiro). Davis is the perfect example of how quickly a power arm can move through the system when the mental, physical, and mechanical aspects of the game all come together. Still, Davis has only 13 career appearances above the high class-A level and his relative inexperience could be the deciding factor in him being sent to triple-A to start the season if it comes down to a choice of Davis and another pitcher and they have similar spring performances.

BILLY TRABER: Of the five prospects, Traber is probably the longest shot to make the big leagues. First off, he's still not on the 40-man roster and while that's not nearly as important a factor as it is during the offseason, it's still something to consider. Adding Traber to the 40, requires someone moving off and if the race is tight between Traber and Tallet/Davis for the 5th spot, this simple roster issue may be the deciding factor. On that note, I don't think we'll see Traber called up to the big leagues this year until he is ready to stay as there's no sense in wasting 2003 as an option year for a two start injury replacement gig when you have Jason Phillips, Mark Thurman, etc., to handle that role. The other factor, and most important, is that Traber is a finesse pitcher and those pitchers typically need more seasoning than the power arms (or so the thinking goes). Of course, if he posts a 1.00 ERA in the spring, he can easily force himself onto the roster.

JAKE WESTBROOK: I'm not a big Westbrook fan, but the Indians must see something in him because he always seems to get mentioned as someone to keep in mind when discussing the rotation. Westbrook is out of options so the Indians are going to have to keep him on the roster or expose him to waivers. With Cliff Lee out of the running, his odds of winning the 5th starter have slightly increased but I think his best chance at making the opening day roster will be as the long man/spot starter in the bullpen.

JASON PHILLIPS: A personal favorite, Phillips will most likely start the season in Buffalo as triple-A insurance for the young guns.

MIKE THURMAN: Triple-A insurance. His best shot may be as the long man out of the bullpen if Jake Westbrook and Jason Phillips can't go at the start of the season.

AARON MYETTE: Power arm who has dominated in triple-A but struggled with his control and keeping the ball in the park. Problems that are not mutually exclusive. The Indians are moving him to the bullpen in the hopes of duplicating their success with Steve Karsay in the late 90s. Myette does not have any options remaining so the Indians will have to keep him on the opening day roster or expose him to waivers where he will surely be claimed. He's got a great arm and unless he completely blows up this spring, I can't see the Indians letting him get away without a longer look. On a personal note, he's been on/off my AL rotisserie league since his days in the White Sox farm system so if he's going to break out, it might as well be right under my nose. Unfortunately, Harold will probably shinzik my $1 sleeper bid with an automatic $2 bid at the end of the draft and he'll blossom for someone else (sigh).

DAVID RISKE: Riske is another who may be out of options. If so, he should be a lock for one of the three open spots. Heck, even if he does have an option left, Riske should still be a lock for the bullpen. His surface numbers may not have been pretty last year (5.26 ERA) but he struck out 65 in 51.1 innings which led all American League pitchers with more than 50 innings in K/9 IP (Thanks Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia). He was also bothered by back and hamstring injuries throughout the season but rebounded to hold hitters to a .185 average in the second half and .106 in 13 strong September innings. If healthy, Riske is a major sleeper whom I would not be surprised see emerge as the primary setup man for Danys Baez this year. Here's the American League K/9 IP leaders (it's a pretty impressive list).

AL K/9 IP (min 50 innings pitched)
1) 11.40 David Riske
2) 11.38 Johan Santana
3) 10.86 Troy Percival
4) 10.83 Kaz Sasaki
5) 10.79 Pedro Martinez

ALEX HERRERA: Had a great spring last year. Suffered through some personal and health issues last season but still posted solid numbers when all was said and done. Fresh off another strong winterball showing, Herrera is a strong contender for a bullpen spot. He's not the top prospect he was last season (agegate, etc.) but I think he's going to help the Tribe this year whether he starts the season in Cleveland or not. With Mulholland and Sadler already "guaranteed" spots, Herrera will really have to impress this spring (dominate right-handed hitters) for the Tribe to carry three lefties in the 'pen.

CHAD PARONTO: Like Riske, Paronto battled injury problems all of last season. When he pitched, he wasn't that bad, although he wasn't that good either. Be encouraged by the fact he held hitters to less than a hit per inning last year. Be wary of the pedestrian K:IP ratio. Longshot to make the roster.

JERROD RIGGAN: Like Riske and Myette, he's out of options thanks to a two-day stint with the Mets in 2000 that is explained on the Ultimate Mets Database (scroll to the bottom). Riggan was simply awful with the Indians last year although his triple-A numbers were more in line with his previous performance. If everyone is healthy and Myette and Riske have solid springs, I think Riggan is going to be the odd man out in favor of a Jake Westbrook type who can work three-to-four innings at a crack. Depending on what kind of spring he has, I suppose he could be traded but more than likely, he'll be exposed on waivers at the end of camp, leaving the Indians with Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, and Billy Traber remaining from the Robbie Alomar trade.

JOSE SANTIAGO: Nothing against Jose Santiago, but the only way I would want to see him on the opening day roster is if three of the above relievers are injured during the spring. Even then, I would lean toward Dave Elder, Ryan Larson, Jason Beverlin, etc.

FERNANDO CABRERA: You can't teach 98 mph. Mark Shapiro notes in today's Plain Dealer that Cabrera will start the season in the Akron rotation but his future could still include a move to the bullpen.

FRANCISCO CRUCETA: In camp because of his spot on the 40-man roster. Still a few years away. Yesterday, I forecasted he would start in Akron although he might be a candidate to return to Kinston with Cabrera ticketed for the Aeros rotation.

JEREMY GUTHRIE: In camp because of the major league contract that Scott Boras negotiated. He'll start in Akron. Next spring, he should fight for a rotation spot.

JAMIE BROWN: Brown will be a minor league free-agent after this season. It's going to be difficult for him to pass all the arms in front of him so his opportunity this spring is to pitch well enough to attract interest from clubs next year.

LANCE CARACCIOLI: Looks like a switch to the bullpen is in the offing. With all the arms in front of him (and the fact he hasn't been mentioned in the rotation mix), that may be his quickest route to the big leagues. Carl Sadler and Alex Herrera are ahead of him but neither has proven anything at the big league level for an extended period so he could be in Cleveland pretty quickly if he adjusts to working out of the 'pen.

JASON STANFORD: He's in the same boat as Jamie Brown except the Indians control his rights through 2006. As I mentioned yesterday, he pitched well last season in double-A but could return there again this season as a numbers game victim. All he can do is keep pitching well and take advantage when the opportunity presents itself.

JASON BEVERLIN: Pitched well in triple-A last year. Had a brief stint with the Tribe before being claimed on waivers by the Tigers. Resigned with the Indians in the offseason. Will once again serve as triple-A insurance.

JASON BOYD: Could force his way onto the opening day roster with a strong spring but that's an extreme longshot. Odds are much better for a trip to Buffalo.

BOB WICKMAN: Will miss most of 2003 after offseason surgery. The question now is whether he will reclaim his closer role if he's healthy in 2004.

JACK CRESSEND: Claimed off of waivers when the Twins designated him for assignment. Still not ready to pitch, he should start the season in extended spring training.

The Indians have a lot of spots open on the staff but if everything goes as planned, the competition may actually be minimal. In the rotation, Ricardo Rodriguez and Brian Tallet are the front-runners and if they pitch well this spring, the others are probably ticketed for triple-A regardless of their performance. In the bullpen, I personally feel that David Riske and Aaron Myette are all but guaranteed spots so that really leaves only the 12th spot open for competition. If the Indians decide a pure long man is needed for that role, Jake Westbrook looms as the front-runner there. If they decide to fill it with the best available pitcher, than we'll see some open competition amongst Alex Herrera, Jerrod Riggan, Westbrook, etc. Obviously, everything changes with injury and poor performance but if the pitchers stay healthy and have decent springs, here's how I forecast the opening day pitching staff....

STARTERS: CC Sabathia, Jason Bere, Brian Anderson, Ricardo Rodriguez, Brian Tallet
RELIEVERS: Danys Baez, Mark Wohlers, Carl Sadler, Terry Mulholland, David Riske, Aaron Myette, Jake Westbrook

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the position players.


February 17, 2003  

Monday, February 17

This is the seventh (and final) report in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Concluding today, a different position will have been reviewed in each of the previous six reports that has taken right to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's early spring training and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the outfield depth in the system. Today, it's the pitchers that warrant a closer look.

CC Sabathia is the ace. Whether he is ready for that role is another question that will hopefully be answered this season. If his 2002 finish is any indication, however, he is off to a fine start as he went 7-2 with a 2.90 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .224 average against over the last two months of the season. With offseason reports having CC well below the 300 pounds he waddled into Winter Haven with last spring, all signs are positive for a breakout year. As with any young pitcher, however, those signs are cautioned with two simple words "barring injury". Brian Anderson and Jason Bere will be the #2 and #3 starters and we've discussed them at length in recent months. Both have had recent health issues with Bere especially being doubtful for the 30+ starts the Indians are expecting from these slots in the rotation.

That, of course, brings us to one of the main questions entering this spring, which is who among Ricardo Rodriguez, Jason Davis, Brian Tallet, Cliff Lee, Billy Traber, Jason Phillips, Jake Westbrook, and Mike Thurman will emerge as the 4th and 5th starters. I'm going to deal with this in greater detail in a separate report later this week but we already know that Cliff Lee is out of the opening day mix thanks to a second degree abdominal strain. For now, I'm going to forecast Ricardo Rodriguez and Brian Tallet as the 4th and 5th starters and save the reasoning for later in the week.

With three young pitchers and two varying degrees of fragile veterans in the rotation, the Indians are expected to carry a twelve man pitching staff which leaves seven spots open for the relief core. Danys Baez is the closer and Mark Wohlers (elbow soreness?) will be his primary setup man. Carl Sadler (barring a spring collapse) should be the first lefty out of the pen and Terry Mulholland seems to have a spot locked up and will be used in a variety of roles (setup, situational, middle relief). That leaves three spots open for Aaron Myette, David Riske, Jerrod Riggan, Alex Herrera, Chad Paronto, Dave Burba, Jose Santiago, Dave Elder, and Jake Westbrook to fight over. Myette would seem to be an early favorite given his power arm and lack of minor league options. Riske has shown flashes of quality work in the past and Herrera has a power arm from the left side. Elder was not overmatched by big leagues hitters in his short stint last year, Riggan still carries an impressive minor league resume, and if Westbrook is not in the rotation, his ability to pitch extended innings in the early-to-middle portion of the game will be a plus in his bid for a roster spot. With all of the above, you can insert "barring injury and/or spring collapse" in front of their names because this battle will be waged on performance. For now, I'm going to forecast Aaron Myette, David Riske, and Jake Westbrook as the final three members of the Indians bullpen.

The Bisons rotation will be one of the most talented in the minor leagues. From the discussion above, we'll remove Ricardo Rodriguez and Brian Tallet from the mix so that leaves us with a base of Billy Traber, Jason Davis, and Cliff Lee (when healthy, I assume he'll be sent down to triple-A for some work). Jason Phillips should claim one of the another spots as he comes off an impressive 2002 campaign that was tarnished by offseason shoulder surgery. The other spot will probably be rotated amongst a group of pitchers until a youngster who needs the ball every 5th day is either demoted/promoted and claims that spot as his own. Candidates for that role include Jason Beverlin, Mike Thurman, Lance Caraccioli (if he's not in the bullpen), Benj Sampson, Jason Stanford and Jamie Brown (if they're not in Akron). Current forecast: Traber, Davis, Lee, Phillips, Beverlin.

The Bisons bullpen should also be very strong this year. Using the major league forecast as a base, Alex Herrera, Dave Elder, and Jerrod Riggan should all see work in the later innings and they all should also see plenty of time in Cleveland this year as well. Lance Caraccioli is a candidate for conversion to relief as is Benj Sampson. Jose Santiago and Jason Boyd will be in the mix as well. Jason Beverlin and Mike Thurman will fill the long-relief role when they're not in the rotation. I would expect Dave Burba to retire rather than accept a triple-A assignment but he's another long-relief/5th starter candidate if he agrees to be sent down. If he's returned from the Red Sox this spring, Matt White (Rule 5 pick) would also be a prime candidate for the Bisons bullpen. Jack Cressend, Dave Maurer, and Chad Durbin will start the season on injured reserve.

Kyle Denney is probably the only certainty in the Aeros rotation at this early date in the spring. A year removed from surgery, Denney had a solid rebound year last season and was even listed as a rookie to watch in a Peter Gammons column earlier this offseason. He will probably be joined in the rotation by 2002 first round pick Jeremy Guthrie who is expected to begin his professional career in Canal Park this spring. That's the early prognosis from Tribe officials, although they have also speculated he could spend the first two-three weeks of the season in Kinston if the weather is extraordinarily bad in NE Ohio in early April. Francisco Cruceta is another high-profile prospect who could be headed to Akron for opening day. All he did after being acquired in the Paul Shuey deal was post a 2.50 ERA in 7 starts for the K-Tribe, striking out 37 in 39-2/3 innings. He did walk 25 in those 39+ innings but his first season in the States was a major success and he could move quickly if his control improves. There's some maturity concerns with Cruceta but he could move up early simply to open a rotation spot in Kinston (which we'll get to in a minute). After those three, the two most likely candidates would be holdovers Jamie Brown and Jason Stanford, both of pitched well enough to earn a promotion to triple-A but may end up victims of a numbers game if they can't win one of the open spots in Buffalo. This is nothing against Brown or Stanford but that's what happens when you have a system loaded with prospects, eventually someone is going to be setback to make room for others. Nick Moran (injured most of 2002), Kyle Evans, Shane Wallace, Nick Thoms, and Randy Perez may also contend for the final rotation slots. Moran and Wallace would most likely win the right to throw every 5th day while the other three project into the "holding the spot due to injury" type of role. Current forecast: Guthrie, Cruceta, Denney, Brown, Stanford

The above is also predicated on a Fernando Cabrera move to the bullpen which began late last season and continued in winterball. If the Indians decide to return Cabrera to the rotation, he will definitely be on the mound every 5th day for Akron. All signs point to him remaining in the bullpen and his power arm should play well there if he can mentally adjust to the new role. He'll be joined in the 'pen by Ryan Larson, Marcos Mendoza, and Jose Vargas, all of whom pitched well last season with Larson earning an invite to the Arizona Fall League. Mendoza, as a left-hander, could move quickly. Dan Neil, another AFLer, should also be in the Aeros bullpen as should Dan Guillory (injured most of 2002). Recent minor league free-agent signee Rafael Betancourt slots into the mix here and ancient (for single-A) K-Tribe reliever Aquiles Pinales would seem to have earned a promotion as well. Brandon Matheny bounced between the 'pen and rotation for Kinston last year and he could do the same again in Akron this year.

This is the level where it starts to get a little more difficult to forecast players as we're down to the leagues/ages where players typically start "jumping" levels due to advanced skills. I don't think that's going to happen in Kinston just yet but I do think we could see the the breakup of the "Fab 4" from the 2001 draft, but let's start with the definites first. Travis Foley (4th round) and JD Martin (1st round) will continue their climb through the organizational ranks as they move up to high-A ball together. Lost amid the prospect trades above him, Foley quietly broke out last season with a 13-4 record and a 2.82 ERA in Columbus, striking out 138 in 137-1/3 innings. He still remains a bit under the prospect radar but John Sickels has him pegged as the number 68 prospect in the minor leagues in an early release of his baseball prospect book which is pretty impressive for a kid who hasn't pitched above low-A ball. Martin did not have the filthy numbers he posted in 2001 but that's due as much to the Indians insistence that he use his fastball more as it is his own unperformance. He still struck out a healthy 131 in 138-1/3 innings.

Now we move to the question marks. If Jeremy Guthrie and Francisco Cruceta start in Kinston they will be in the rotation and that foursome might be the most talented in all of the minor leagues. If they don't, and we'll assume that's the case for this exercise, that will leave three spots open for competition. Fellow "Fab Four" members Dan Denham (1st round) and Jake Dittler (2nd Round) are definite candidates to make the move with Foley and Martin but they were also inconsistent last year in Columbus and it would not surprise me to see them spend the first two months in Eastlake before moving up. Mariano Gomez is another member of the Redstixx who seems primed for a move after a scintillating second half in which he joined the rotation and was lights out down the stretch. Shane Wallace (rebound from injury in 2002) should be throwing every 5th day somewhere and Kinston seems the likely location. Nick Moran, Kyle Evans, Hank Thoms, Randy Perez, and Jim Warden will also be in the mix for spots. I suppose we should note that should Derek Thompson (Rule 5 pick) be returned from the Dodgers, he would be a likely candidate for the Kinston rotation. Current forecast: Foley, Martin, Gomez, Moran, Wallace.

If you think the starting pitching is difficult to forecast, you can double the candidates for the bullpen spots. So instead of naming every possible pitcher, I'll just list the definites and the interesting names. Lee Gronkiewicz should move up a level and start as the closer for the K-Tribe. Scott Sturkie, Doug Lantz, Chris Cooper, Carlos De La Cruz, and Oscar Alvarez are candidates to join him in the bullpen. Shane Arthurs (my deep, deep sleeper choice for this season) would also seem like a candidate for a promotion. You can also add in any of the starters who don't win spots in the rotation and need to move to relief to continue their careers (Evans, Matheny, Ryan Prahm, Thoms, etc.).

Pitching led the Columbus Redstixx to the South Atlantic League finals last year and the Indians Sally League squad will once again be led by a formidable contingent of arms (and the offense should be much improved this year to boot). After reviewing the arms race in Kinston, I would not be surprised to see both Dan Denham and Jake Dittler return to low-A ball to start the season. Both showed considerable promise last year but they were also widely inconsistent and two months in Lake County isn't going to hurt their development one bit. I didn't mention Brian Slocum as a Kinston candidate but he's the type (college pitcher, high draft pick) who would be a viable candidate to skip a level and move right to high-A ball in his first full season in the minors. I don't think he will simply because the Indians already have enough candidates for the Kinston staff but he could move quickly if he pitches well in the first half. Mark Shapiro referred to Slocum as potentially having the highest upside of any player from last years draft class in an offseason interview and that is high praise indeed considering that includes Jeremy Guthrie.

So that's three spots down with Sean Smith, Blake Allen, Keith Ramsey, Victor Kliene, Michael Rogers, Juan Lara, and Fausto Carmona to fight for the last two spots. Smith is the draft-and-follow the Indians signed for first round money prior to the June draft and he seems a likely candidate to move up to full season ball. Ramsey is the 10th round pick out of Florida who had a 2.04 ERA in the Valley last year, striking out 71 in 61.2 innings. When he was drafted, there was talk of moving him to the bullpen and that could still happen. The rest will be in the mix. Current forecast: Slocum, Denham, Dittler, Smith, Ramsey.

Blake Taylor, Shea Douglas, and Michael Hernandez should be the mainstays of the Captains bullpen this season. Hernandez, especially, could move quickly if he can duplicate his 2.78 ERA and 58 K's in 45.1 inning performance of last season. He's got the quirky delivery that can be lethal to left-handers. Shea Douglas is another lefty who had an impressive debut in 2002, posting a 1.36 ERA and striking out 49 hitters in 33 innings in Burlington. Honeudis Pereyra, Ignacio Montano, Todd Pennington, Matt Wade, and Dan Rich, among others, will also be in the mix along with the starters who lose the battle for the rotation spots.

As always, the starting pitchers for the short-season clubs will be a mix of returnees, rehabees, draftees, stateside debutees, and bababooees. The returnees will start the season in extended spring training and be available for promotion when injuries occur at the lower levels. Dan Cevette, Juan Lara, Fausto Carmona seem likely candidates to return to short-season ball to start the season. I think we'll also see the U.S. debut of Venezuelans Edgar Morffe (6-1, 0.71, 63.1-32-19-64), Daniel Guzman (9-0, 0.95, 76-38-11-86), Carlos Alvarado (4-2, 1.04, 60.2-36-10-57), and Julio Pinto (6-1, 2.10, 60-45-3-44) this season as well. Some of those numbers (W-L, ERA, IP-H-BB-K) are just filthy.

A wise man once said that the surest method of developing two top starting pitchers is to start off with twenty and that's exactly what the Indians have done. The Tribe is absolutely loaded with pitching talent. They have two-to-three legitimate starting pitching prospects at every level of the system when some organizations have difficulty putting that kind of talent together at just one level. But there's that magical word again, prospects, which means potential, which means the players still have to prove it at the major league level. Not all will make it, some will fade because of injury, some because of poor performance, and some because of players yet to be drafted/acquired, but with the quantity and quality of arms the Indians have built, they should be able develop enough major league caliber pitchers to keep the big league club well-stocked while using the rest as trade-bait. As strange as it may sound given the emphasis on offense in the John Hart era, pitching is now the strength of the Indians overall organization.

Onto other news (note that I didn't say Tribe)....

If you had an Atari 2600, you need to check this out right now.

Anyone else find it ironic that there was a riot in San Francisco during a peace march? How can you take people marching for peace seriously if they riot? That's like me going on a hunger strike with a 10-minute allowance for lunch.

If Dennis Kucinich runs for President, I can't wait to see Chris Kattan impersonating him on SNL.

So Frederique was the Mole? I thought for sure it was Kathy Griffin. Guess I should listen to the wife more as Trish had that one pegged for a few weeks. I was leery of the Celebrity edition at first but it turned out to be pretty good and I hope they have another Mole over the summer. Onto Survivor, I have Janet in a pool at work. You know Janet, she's the one that was ready to pass out after two days. Yup, my $5 is soon to be a donation.

Position players report tomorrow. Warm weather is near.


February 14, 2003  

Friday, February 14

This is the sixth in a series of position reviews that will breakdown the depth chart at each level of the Indians organization. Continuing into the weekend, a different position will be reviewed in each report that will eventually bring us to the start of spring training. Keep in mind that it's early spring training and a lot can happen (injuries, trades, good/poor performance, etc.) that will shuffle players up or down a projected level. This exercise is simply an early look at how each position may look for opening day. Last report, we examined the depth at third base in the system.  Today, it's the outfielders that warrant a closer look.

Barring injury, the Indians opening day outfield looks to be Matt Lawton in left, Milton Bradley in center, and Karim Garcia in right. Lawton will be attempting to rebound from a disappointing 2002 season in which he played hurt for most of the year and posted a career low .236 batting average. Despite that low number, Lawton managed a .342 OBP which was highlighted by a very strong 59:34 BB:K ratio, which hints that there's a good probability for a return to normal production levels this season if he's healthy. And a healthy Lawton is just what the Indians offense will need, whether it's at the top of the order or in the middle of the lineup. A healthy Lawton will also make the $21 million (2003-2005) remaining on his contract a lot easier to move in July should the Indians entertain that option.

Milton Bradley returns as the starting centerfielder after a difficult 2002 season that saw him miss significant amounts of playing time twice due to injury. With Coco Crisp, Ryan Church, and Grady Sizemore lined up behind him, this is a make or break season for Bradley. He showed flashes last season of the five tool potential that has long made him a favorite of scouts but the final numbers were less than impressive (.239/.317/.406/.723, 9 homeruns). Bradley will be given an opportunity to claim the leadoff spot as his own this spring and I still think that projects as his best spot in the order given his speed/power combination. Of course, he needs to learn to take more pitches, increase his plate discipline, and improve his OBP, but he's shown some skills in those areas in the minor leagues so hope remains.

Karim Garcia has the opportunity he has waited eight long years for and that is the chance to play everyday in the major leagues. He finally earned that right after leading the major leagues in RBIs over the last two months of the season and posting a .584 slugging percentage with 16 homeruns for the Tribe. The knock on Garcia has always been, and continues to be, his lack of plate discipline which was highlighted (or lowlighted) by 6 walks in 197 at-bats for the Indians and an OBP of only .317 despite a .299 batting average. There are very few players that have experienced long-term success at the major league level with those kinds of numbers and if Garcia does not make adjustments and learn to be more selective, major league pitchers will eventually adjust and eat him up. He bears close watching this spring and early in the season.

Shane Spencer will be the 4th outfielder and he'll see time in the corners as well as at first base. If Lawton is unable to start the season, Spencer is the most likely replacement. Chris Magruder and Wendell Magee will battle for the last outfield spot with Magee having the early edge, in my opinion, because of his experience and ability to play a solid centerfield. Ben Broussard is also a candidate but his chances dim significantly if Matt Lawton is anywhere close to being ready on opening day.

Ellis Burks deserves a mention here since there won't be a DH breakdown. Burks is simply the Indians best offensive player and will serve as a solid role model for his young teammates. He enters the season in the final year of his three-year contract with the Indians and he should be an extremely attractive player to a contending American League team should he decide to waive his no-trade clause this summer. As professional as they come, enjoy Burks at the plate while you can this season, and hope that the small drop in plate discipline last year was not the first sign of the decline that will eventually come at his advanced age.

Alex Escobar, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Luis Garcia. There will not be a more talented triple-A outfield than the foursome that will start the season in Buffalo this spring. Escobar has not played in a real game since September 2001 and this will be the first opportunity for Tribe fans to catch a glimpse of the five tools that made him the key to Roberto Alomar deal. Unfortunately, those tools are still very raw and Escobar needs time to work on his plate discipline (35:146 BB:K in 2001) while getting comfortable on the playing field again.

Coco Crisp is probably the closest of the group to the major leagues as Mark Shapiro has stated this offseason that Crisp is the primary center field backup should Milton Bradley be injured. Crisp was not overwhelmed, although he did not necessarily impress either, in his major league debut last year (.260/.314/.386/.700) which followed an impressive double-A campaign (.310/.372/.437/.809) that included 10 homeruns and 30 steals. His mix of speed and power is an intriguing combination at the top of the order and he bears watching this spring.

Luis Garcia is one of my breakout candidates this season. I don't have any statistical data to back that up, it's just the old fashioned hunch. Garcia had a decent season in double-A last year, hitting 25 doubles and 18 home runs, but his OPS was a less exciting .783 which is a result of the .338 OBP he posted. He had a fine winter in Mexico, hitting .307 with 16 doubles and 7 dingers but his OBP could have been better (.359) given his BA. His strength is his power (.445 and .456 slugging respectively) and that alone will earn him a look in the big leagues sometime this season. If his plate discipline improves, he could really blossom this year. He'll also see time at first base with Ben Broussard.

Jody Gerut is the final member of the big four. He can play all three outfield positions and he'll probably be the player that moves around to fit everyone else into the lineup. Gerut had a fine season last year at Akron (.829 OPS, 9 homeruns) and handled himself well after a midseason promotion to Buffalo (.800 OPS) although his power dropped significantly (.461 slugging versus .399 slugging). The encouraging sign was that his batting eye remained strong (34:30 BB:K in Akron, 23:20 in Buffalo) and that bodes well for this season. He's probably the least heralded of the four but I can easily see him sliding into a Chris Magruder 2002 season type of role this year with the Indians.

Speaking of Magruder, either he or Wendell Magee will also be in the mix for outfield at-bats depending on which one loses the 5th outfielder battle with the big club. Brant Brown is another option in the outfield, along with Bill Selby and Greg LaRocca.

While it won't be as strong as the Bisons, the Aeros outfield will once again be a strength in Akron. Ryan Church will return after a breakout 2002 season in which he dominated (1.002 OPS) the Carolina League the first two months of the season and more than held his own (.830 OPS) after being promoted to Akron. The only knock on Church was the massive drop in his plate discipline with the move to double-A (12:58 BB:K) and that bears watching this season. Given the players blocking him in Buffalo, Church may spend a majority of the season in double-A which should help him rediscover his command of the strike zone. There's also talk of playing him in centerfield this year and a consolidation season may be just what he needs to make a major move to the big leagues in 2004.

Joining Church in the outfield will be Grady Sizemore whom I can't wait to see play at Canal Park this year. All Sizemore has done since joining the Indians organization as part of the Bartolo Colon trade is hit and get on base. In his short stint in Kinston, Sizemore hit .343 and posted an unbelivable .451 OBP in leading the K-Tribe charge to the playoffs. He also demonstrated nice power, belting three homers, three triples, and nine doubles for a .483 slugging percentage (.934 OPS). Sizemore also has an uncanny batting eye (33:30 BB:K ratio for Kinston) which is incredibly rare for a player his age. If Church plays center, Sizemore will move over to left which may suit his arm better anyway. Grady may have been the third prospect in the Colon deal but his upside matches that of both Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee in my opinion. This time next year, he could be atop the Indians prospect charts.

Nate Grindell is a forgotten man in the Indians organization. While he had a solid season for the Aeros last year (.283/.335/.451, 11 homeruns), Grindell is destined to return to Akron for the third straight year. He's old for a prospect (26 in April) and the Indians control his rights for another two seasons so his future looks pretty bleak in terms of a major league shot any time soon. On the bright side (for him), he should get a lot of playing time with the Aeros and if he hits, that may earn him a deal out of the Indians organization.

Perhaps no player in the Indians organization is a better example of the effects of the Indians rebuilding program than Alex Requena. This time last year, in a barren farm system, Requena was considered one of the Indians better prospects primarily based on the fact that he was the fastest player in the organization. Flash forward 12 months and Requena is so far removed from the prospect radar screen that I don't see a starting spot for him anywhere in the system. I suspect he'll move up to Akron this year simply because he's spent the last two seasons in Kinston and the Indians need those Carolina League at-bats for better prospects. He certainly hasn't earned a promotion, though, posting a horrendous .595 OPS and striking out 132 times last year. Tyler Minges and Jorge Moreno are also candidates to move up to the Aeros outfield. Minges has some power skills but hasn't shown much of a clue at the plate in his five years in the Indians system.

Wily Taveras looks like the only sure thing in the K-Tribe outfield at this point in the spring and that's a good thing as Taveras will be coming off a strong 2002 campaign in Columbus where he showed a marked increase in plate discipline and posted a .385 OBP and stole 54 bases. Taveras was also named the best defensive outfielder in the South Atlantic league in a midseason Baseball America poll. He also sat out the last month of the season with torn ligaments in his left wrist. Still young, he'll play all of 2003 at age 21, Wily enters this season as a sleeper to watch in the outfield. Luke Scott (15 homers in 334 ABs) should man one of the outfield corners. He doesn't walk much but his raw power is intriguing. JJ Sherrill (whom we talked about in the second base analysis) will see a lot of time in the outfield as will Brian Kirby, Dennis Malave (32 steals), and Miguel Quintana. It's also possible that Alex Requena could return to Kinston for another tour of duty.

Another level, another loaded outfield in the Indians system. Perhaps it's too loaded which makes it very possible that one or two of these guys could jump a level and start the season in Kinston. We'll get to that in a minute. Jason Cooper signed late and was hurt, but still managed to impress in a limited 55 at-bat debut with the Redstixx, hitting five doubles and four homeruns and showing the raw power that the Indians liked when they made him their second round pick last June. Cooper comes from an advanced college (Stanford) and if any of the players in this group are ready to skip a level, it's Cooper. Ben Francisco is another 2002 draftee that impressed during his debut season and stands a chance at skipping a level. Francisco, who was also drafted out of high school by the Indians in 1999, flirted with .400 all season in the Valley before finishing at .349 and a healthy .918 OPS that included 23 doubles. He's solid defensively in center and I'm thinking that while he may be ready for high-A, he'll start the year in low-A with Wily Taveras ahead of him. Brian Wright will join his fellow 2002 draft picks in the Captains outfield after a solid pro debut (.285/.375/.413). I think the Indians will be looking for a lot more power from Wright this year. Speaking of power, Jonathan Van Every posted a .521 slugging percentage in the Valley last summer that included seven doubles, six triples, and six homeruns. He still doesn't demonstrate much in terms of plate discipline but the raw power is there. Nathan Panther is a raw athletic type who was not overwhelmed in his pro debut and should be making the move to full season ball. He'll need at-bats, though, to continue to transform those athletic skills to baseball skills and I'm not sure how many there will be for him in Eastlake. Mike Conroy hasn't done much since being taken with a 1st round sandwich pick in the 2001 draft but, at some point, the Indians need to see what he can do for a full season. This should be the year but will it be possible with all the players listed above him? You can also add Ricardo Rojas to the list of short-season players looking to move up.

Jason Nixon, Luis Hodge, Jose Cruz, Teodoro Encarnacion, Ricardo Rojas are all candidates to return to Burlington and Mahoning Valley this year. Chad Longworth should also make his pro debut, most likely in Burlington. There will be the usual addition of outfield candidates from the draft and Latin America as well.

The Indians outfield depth is a major organizational strength. The weakness is that there is not a projected Manny Ramirez among the bunch. Grady Sizemore probably has the greatest upside but he's not that kind of a hitter. Jason Cooper has the raw power but it's tough to make any kind of an assessment with only a 55 professional at-bat sample size to work with. Still, the Indians have legitimate major league prospects at every level and there are few organizations that can make that claim.

Next Report: Starting Pitchers

Today's report will be delayed until this evening. I got sidetracked during lunch by this. Enjoy!


The CIR is an independent fan website and is not affliated with the Cleveland Indians organization. Please visit the Indians official website at