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February 28, 2006  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Tuesday, February 28  
With two days to go until the exhibition opener, it's time once again for the CIR's annual look at the players who have descended upon Winter Haven. In the last report, we concluded our look at the position players. Today, we'll take a look at the 11 pitchers who can count on being on the South Side on opening day.


CC SABATHIA: Dominant down the stretch (46 K, 43.1 IP, .187 BAA), the unquestioned ace of the staff. Given the questionable contracts handed out this winter (Jarrod Washburn, $37.5 million, 4 years), (Esteban Loaiza, $21.3 million, 3 years), (Kevin Millwood, $60 million, 5 years), (AJ Burnett, $55 million, 5 years), how good does the CC Sabathia extension ($7 million-2006, $8.75 million-2007, $9 million-2008) look now? On the flip side, how much money did CC leave on the table by giving up two years of free agency? If Millwood is worth $60 million....

CLIFF LEE: Great growth season, fewer walks, fewer homeruns, no second half fade. One of the best left-handers in the league.

JAKE WESTBROOK: Indians looking at a potential $5.6-$6.1 million option decision next offseason if Westbrook tosses another 210+ solid innings.

PAUL BYRD: If you can't beat'em, sign'em. Byrd owned the Indians (as most soft-tossers have over the years) so at least we won't have to face him. When healthy, Byrd posts solid numbers and, given the market this year for veteran starters, getting away with a two-year deal for roughly $7 million per, well, they could have done worse in the guaranteed dollars exposure. But, as the Baseball Forecaster notes "a 35-year old with this injury track record is a huge risk".

JASON JOHNSON: Last three years: 3.98 pre-All Star Game ERA, 5.43 post-All Star Game ERA. Only signed to a one-year deal with a $500k buyout that will likely be utilized in the offseason barring a career year from the right-hander. The question to be answered, could the $4 million Johnson will earn have been spent on other needs with Jason Davis providing a similar level of performance from the 5th spot?

BOB WICKMAN: Is it a coincidence that Rolaids just opened a warehouse/distribution center in the Cleveland area? Uncloser like numbers across the board but somehow gets the job done. Can he do it one more year? If not, the bullpen could be looking at a 2004 upheaval.

GUILLERMO MOTA: Was one of the more dominant setup men in the NL in 2003-04. Injured last year and was beyond awful on the road (5.91 / .313) as compared to the friendly confines of Joe Robbie (3.60 / .192). Will be given the chance to handle the 8th inning.

SCOTT SAUERBECK: Aspires to be more than a LOOGY but numbers (.162/.608 v LHP, .377/.949 v RHP) say otherwise. Nothing wrong with being one of the best LOOGIES in the game.

RAFAEL BETANCOURT: Quietly establishing himself as one of the better setup guys in the league. This should be the year he pops up on everyone's radar.

FERNANDO CABRERA: The future. Dominated AAA to the tune of a 11.92 K/IP ratio and 0.92 WHIP. Stayed strong in the bigs with a 8.51 K/IP and 1.14 WHIP. Has struggled with his control but trends are positive. In line to close in 2007.

MATT MILLER: Tends to be viewed as a ROOGY but has shown the ability to handle left-handers. If he's healthy, his ability to dominate righties and induce ground-balls (and double-plays) will be invaluable in the middle-to-late innings.

In the next report, we'll take a look at all the other pitchers in camp along with the group of hurlers fighting for the last spot on the staff.


February 23, 2006  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Thursday, February 23  
With spring training upon us, it's time once again for the CIR's annual look at the players who have descended upon Winter Haven. Yesterday we examined those position players who have already booked tickets north. Today, we'll take a look at the position players who are battling for the two open positions on the roster along with the rest of the non-pitchers in big league camp.


KELLY SHOPPACH: Probably should have been included in the "guaranteed to head north" crowd, but the Indians did bring in a couple of veteran backstops to give him a little push so we'll play along and consider this an open spot. Could open an intriguing mix of possibilities if he shows his bat can play at the major league level. Power isn't the question, he blasted 26 bombs last year and led the IL in homeruns per at-bat, it's whether he can maintain a high enough average (or draw enough walks to maintain a decent OBP) to go along with the longballs. Well regarded defensively, he has nothing left to prove in triple-A. It would be a big surprise if he's not on the roster come opening day.

EINAR DIAZ: Back on the Winter Haven diamonds. Since being traded, along with Ryan Drese, for Aaron Myette and, to a lesser extent, Travis Hafner, Diaz has hit .257/.635 (03), .223/.595 (04), and .208/.525 (05). That's about as negative a trend as you can get.

TIM LAKER: Spent last year at triple-A Durham in the Devil Rays organization after leaving the Indians. Likely headed back to the IL with the Bisons.


BRANDON PHILLIPS: How far has his stock fallen when he's out of options and isn't considered a lock for the roster when his main competition includes Ramon Vazquez and Lou Merloni? Since hitting .327/.380/.502/.886 in double-A at the time of the trade, Phillips has hit .208/.553 (03 in Cleveland), .296/.769 (04 in Buffalo) and .256/.735 (05 in Buffalo). Piling on, after a glimmer of hope in '04 with an improved BB/K ratio (44/56), Phillips returned to his free-swinging ways with 39 walks and 90 strikeouts last year and the pedestrian .256/.735 averages noted above. So what does the Tribe do with him? Keep him, hope for the best, and pray he's not a clubhouse disruption? Expose him to waivers and hope he slips through? Even if he does, what's another year in Buffalo going to do for both his career and attitude? Best guess, Phillips has a good enough spring that the Tribe can move him for something towards the end of March. My money is on the Nationals and Braves.

RAMON VAZQUEZ: Can't hit a lick but with Belliard and Peralta up the middle, all he needs to do is step in occasionally and play solid defense. In combination with a Phillips deal above, I wouldn't be surprised if the Indians make a deal or waiver pickup towards the end of spring to bolster this spot in the lineup.

LOU MERLONI: Better hitter than Vazquez but he's not going to play short for an extended period. Missed most of last year with an ankle injury after signing with the Angels in the offseason. If he's healthy and Eric Wedge wants another bat for the bench, we could be Louuuuuuuuuuuing it up at the Jake again this year.


RYAN GARKO: Will rake and bide his time in Buffalo until a spot opens up in Cleveland. Glove continues to be a question, even at first, but should hit enough to make the glove workable. Could be a candidate to be included in a mid-season deal to bolster the big league club. The Tribe has a lot of options at this position.

MICHAEL AUBREY: Limited to just 66 games the last two years due to injuries. Just needs to get out on the field for an extended injury-free stretch.

RYAN MULHERN: Number three in the Indians list of upper level first base prospects. Named the Tribe's minor league hitter of the year after blasting 32 homeruns and posting a 1.106 OPS at Kinston and a .980 OPS at Akron. With that on his resume, it's a bit surprising that he was left off the Indians 40-man roster and then went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft in December. Reasons? He was old for the lower levels (24), struck out a lot (114 K's in 403 ABs), and has some holes in his swings that scouts say will be exploited at the higher levels. Weren't those scouts saying the same things about Luke Scott two years ago?

ANDY MARTE: Plenty of time to talk about Marte this spring. BA just ranked him as the #14 prospect in baseball.

JOE INGLETT: Probably not a prospect but hard not to root for him. Doesn't impress the scouts much with his skills, but all he does hit, including .320 in Akron in '04 and .330 last year in Buffalo. Should have a solid 4A career.

JAKE GAUTREAU: Also probably no longer considered a prospect after being a first round pick of the Padres back in aught-1. Solid year at Buffalo, hitting .253/.322/.454/.776 with 49 extra-base hits. Position change likely with Andy Marte now in the fold. FYI, Corey Smith posted almost identical numbers, albeit his were in double-A.

BEN FRANCISCO: Monster winter in Mexico, hitting .296/.348/.510 with 13 homeruns and 11 doubles in 243 at-bats. Temper the enthusiasm by recognizing he accomplished that by swinging from the heels as evidenced by the 55 strikeouts which was, by far, the worst K/AB ratio of his career, although it does expand on a trend he started last year in Akron. The least heralded of the Indians top outfield prospects, John Sickels compares Francisco to Coco Crisp at the same age. Interesting.

BRAD SNYDER: The next Paul O'Neill? Sounds good to me. Still strikes out a ton but he draw walks, steals bases, has big power, a good glove, and a strong arm. Everything you're looking for in a right-fielder. Likely will start the year in Akron, move up to Buffalo mid-season, and get the Starbucks treatment in September.

FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ: Did he finally turn the corner in winter ball? Hit .337/.887 with 25 BB / 30 K's in his native Venezuela. A full year of triple-A pitching will be a fine test.


JAVI HERRERA: Struggled against first taste of double-A pitching last year, hitting just .226/.294/.341/.635, after spending just a half-season in high-A ball. Will spend a lot of time behind the dish before heading off to minor league camp.

ARMANDO CAMACARO: Herrera's backup in Akron. Someone has to catch all the pitchers in camp.

JASON DUBOIS: The forgotten man. Pretty much given no shot of breaking camp with the Tribe but with a big spring? Let's not forget he blasted 31 homers and slugged .630/1.019 in triple-A in 2004. Let's also not forget he hit .222/.656 with the Tribe in his 45 at-bat audition. Like Phillips, a potential candidate to be moved later in the spring. I believe he has an option left, so a return to Buffalo and a mauling of triple-A pitching is, well, an option.

JOSE FLORES: 32 years young with 7 major league at-bats to his credit. Check out these BB/K numbers over the past four years, 54 BB / 33 K (05), 49/30 (04), 62/48 (03), and 56/53 (02). Should slot in nicely to the "guy who plays everyday at a different position in the Bisons lineup" role.

TODD DONAVON: 309 career stolen bases with an 82% success rate. Spent the last four years save for 45 at-bats last season in double-A with the Padres and Dodgers. Headed for the Bisons outfield.

That covers the position players in big league camp. In the next report, we'll take a look at the 10 hurlers guaranteed to be headed to the North Coast come opening day.


February 22, 2006  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Wednesday, February 22  
With spring training upon us, it's time once again for the CIR's annual look at the players who have descended upon Winter Haven. Today, we'll take a look at the position players who need only work themselves into shape to make the trip north come early April.


TRAVIS HAFNER: Pronk survived the plunk and established himself as one of the premier sluggers in the game last year. Now, just imagine what he could do with a full seasons' worth of at-bats.

BEN BROUSSARD: Will platoon with Eduardo Perez, Casey Blake, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, and any other right-handed bat the Indians can stick at first against a tough left-hander. Notoriously streaking, it will be interesting to see how much Eric Wedge sticks with a traditional lefty-righty platoon or chooses to rest Big Ben against right-handers when he's in a slump. This is a big year for Broussard with Ryan Garko on the way, the possibility of Victor Martinez seeing more time at first, and his own salary potentially pricing himself out of the Indians 2007 plans.

RONNIE BELLIARD: Has become one of the better second basemen in the American League. Traded walks for power in '05 with the OPS remaining the same (actually .001 higher).

JHONNY PERALTA: Strong second-half (.287/.382/.513/.895) bodes well for an avoidance of the sophomore slump as does the increased plate discipline he flashed down the stretch.

AARON BOONE: .730 second-half OPS was a big improvement over his disastrous first-half but a .645 OPS in September tempers whatever enthusiasm even the most optimistic of us could possibly muster. Whether looking over his shoulder at Andy Marte serves as motivation or a distraction will be one of the more interesting things to watch in the early part of the season.

EDUARDO PEREZ: Will platoon with Ben Broussard at first and possibly see some time in the outfield as well. Hit .259/.371/.526/.897 with 10 homeruns in 135 at-bats versus left-handers last year. Three year splits are even more impressive at .288/.397/.561/.958 with 19 longballs in 264 at-bats. Expect to see him hitting 6th or 7th against Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle, Mike Maroth, Kenny Rogers and company.

VICTOR MARTINEZ: Dude can hit.

GRADY SIZEMORE: What more can you say about his first full season in the bigs? Turned it up in August (.864 OPS) and September (.956). Struggles versus lefties (.245/.296/.364/.661) are something to watch.

JASON MICHAELS: Can he play everyday? Can he replace Coco Crisp? Does he even need too? Certainly, Michaels is going to be under the gun with the fans if he gets off to a slow start and he's not likely to provide the same power-speed combo as Crisp that excited the Tribe faithful. But if Michaels can come close to his .380 career OBP and provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Peralta, Hafner, and Martinez, he'll be fine. He also hits lefties well (you detecting a theme in the offseason acquisitions?).

CASEY BLAKE: Good old Casey. Much like Broussard, this could be his last season with the Tribe with younger, more talented, and less expensive options on the horizon. Really struggled at the Jake last year (.233/.297/.376/.673) while hitting well on the road (.249/.319/.498/.817). Note the large difference in slugging (.376 vs .498). With the uncertainty naturally surrounding Jason Michaels' move into a full-time role, the Indians really need Blake to provide consistent at-bats this year.

TODD HOLLANDSWORTH: Fourth outfielder or platoon partner for Blake and/or Michaels? Struggled in pitchers parks (LA) and sluggled in hitters park (Colorado) and is a long way removed from his 1996 NL Rookie of the Year award. Has historically hit righties better than lefties but that wasn't the case in '05 (.771 v LHP, .655 v RHP). Can play anywhere in the outfield but doesn't cover the ground he once did. Spotted well, he could be a nice pickup, but let's hope he doesn't have to be anything more than a 4th outfielder.

That's 11 spots filled and two to go. Coming tomorrow, a look at the contenders for the backup catcher and utility infield spots along with all the rest of the position players in camp.


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