Callaway Faces Challenge to Rebuild Tribe’s Pitching Staff
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the coaches selected to be a part of Manager Terry Francona’s staff.
By Mike Brandyberry
No one may have a tougher job on the Indians’ coaching staff in 2013 than new pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
Callaway, who was a dark horse to earn the job, will be entrusted to try and rebuild and retool a starting rotation that started the 2012 season as one of the Tribe’s strengths, but ended the year as the focal point of a disappointing second half.
Indians’ starting pitchers were only 48-76, with a 5.25 ERA in 2012. Worse yet, the starting rotation was only 15-42, with a 6.07 ERA in the second half of the season, including the disastrous August that became the worst month in franchise history when the Tribe was 5-24.
Callaway, 37, spent the 2012 season as the Tribe’s Minor League Pitching Coordinator in his third campaign in the Indians organization. He was previously the Pitching Coach at Class-A Lake County in 2010 and at Class-A Kinston in 2011 after hanging up his cleats after the 2009 season. Mickey pitched professionally from 1996-2009, appearing in 40 Major League games with Tampa Bay, Texas and Anaheim from 1999-2004 and made 6 starts for the 2002 World Champion Anaheim Angels.
The Indians interviewed four candidates for the pitching job: Callaway, Ruben Niebla, Dave Miller and Kirk Champion. Niebla finished the year as interim pitching coach and Miller was the Tribe’s bullpen coach all year. Champion was the minor-league field coordinator for the Chicago White Sox.
“That was the toughest hire,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said when Callaway was hired on Oct. 31. “Mickey did an incredible job preparing. We really pushed those guys hard. I think Mickey is going to be a star.”
Callaway’s biggest chore will be trying to re-establish both Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez as top of the rotation starters. Masterson was 11-15, with a 4.94 ERA in 2012 after having what looked to be a breakout season in 2011 when his ERA was only 3.21. His 2012 campaign was inconsistent all season, seeming to never be comfortable with his mechanics on the mound.
Both he, and Jimenez are big, right-handers with a lot of movement in their deliveries. Callaway will have to find consistency in both in order to restore their prior form.
“They’re both big guys,” Callaway told Bruce Drennan on All Bets Are Off on SportsTime Ohio. “If you’re bigger, it’s a little harder to repeat. It’s something they have to stay on top of throughout the season and make sure they maintain what they are trying to do.”
Jimenez, who was acquired on July 30, 2011 for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner, has been a major disappointment with the Indians. He led the American League in losses with 17 in 2012 and is only 13-21 with Cleveland. He has never shown the 15-1 dominance, or the fastball to go with it, that he demonstrated in the first half of the 2010 season with the Colorado Rockies.
“He still has very good stuff,” Callaway said. “He still has the ability to throw the ball in the mid-to-low 90s. He has a good curveball. He goes out there and competes every time and that’s what you are looking for. Good or bad he’s out there competing. He’s got great makeup and we’re going to build on that.”
Callaway flew to the Dominican Republic this winter to spend time with Jimenez and analyze his mechanics to prepare and build their approach heading into Spring Training. Jimenez is a free agent at the end of the 2013 season and needs a strong showing to help rebuild the Tribe and himself.
Along with fixing the issues of Jimenez and Masterson, Callaway will be expected to play a pivotal role in the development and maturation of right-handed starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer was the centerpiece of the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds and Didi Gregarious to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Indians believe Bauer, who was the third pick in the 2011 First-Year Draft, has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. It’s undecided whether Bauer will begin the 2013 campaign in Cleveland, or Triple-A Columbus. Bauer is rated the #17 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com
Callaway will not just have to rebuild a starting rotation in shambles, but also the left-handed side of the bullpen. With the release of mainstay, Rafael Perez, and the trade of Tony Sipp to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Callaway will be searching for new southpaw hurlers to run out of the center field bullpen by Opening Day. Contenders include Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, David Huff and long shot Giovanni Soto.
Regardless of the struggles in front of Callaway, he’s excited for the Major League opportunity and ready to start the process of building a staff with Francona.
“Tito is one of the best managers in baseball, if not the best,” Callaway said. “He’s a great guy and he’s there for the players. He makes it known that it’s all about the players and I feel the same way. We’re very excited to get started.”