Welcome back, baseball. We missed you.
A long offseason in the books with dramatic changes around the league and a grueling Spring Training season completed, baseball is set to resume this week with games that actually count in the standings once again with players on rosters whom you may have heard of before.
Every division saw its fair share of changes and the American League Central Division was no exception. With all of the moving and shaking completed, the Central could be one of the most contested divisions in Major League Baseball.
As a low budget team, the Indians really need to bank on being able to raise their players through the farm system. This requires solid coaching, good leadership, and some talented players. This puts a lot of pressure on the front office to make sure that they are going into the draft fully prepared to select the best player they can that will impact them in the future. Unlike the college drafts in the NBA and the NFL, it usually takes years for players to develop in the minor leagues before they’re ready for their time to shine in the MLB, which makes it difficult to predict if a player from the draft is actually going to ever impact the team. Over the last couple of seasons though, the Indians have been prosperous in their drafts, which has boded well for them over the last couple of seasons.
Prior to 2008, the Indians had not been very good in their drafts, and the result of their poor drafts is shown in how they performed between the 2009-2012 seasons. Between 2004 and 2007, the Indians first pick overall consisted of Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, David Huff, and Beau Mills, all of whom are either not in the majors or are not contributing much to a major league team. Huff saw some time with the Giants and Yankees in 2014, but it was only out of the bullpen instead of in a starting role like he was drafted to fill. Crowe spent most of his career being injured with the Indians, but was eventually released. He spent some time in the minors in 2014 with Detroit, but never cracked the majors with them.
Over the past few years the Indians have been tagged with the labels the likes of “young,” “inexperienced,” “youthful,” and “still learning.”
Those tags were used in 2011 and 2012 when talented clubs started strong and finished poorly and far out of the postseason. They were thrown around when that team, under the guidance of Terry Francona, did better, but still only managed one postseason contest – a 2013 Wild Card loss to Tampa – over the past two campaigns.
As the Tribe embarks on the 2015 season, it is now time for those tags, also could be called excused, to go away. Yes, the core of the team was very young the last few years. However, that core group has now had several seasons to learn. It is time for those guys to take the next step. It’s time to change from a young, good team that is overwhelmed under the bright lights to an older, more-experienced group that can handle the pressure and handle the expectations that will now be on them after two straight winning years.
The Indians are moving into 2015 with little change in the names from their 2014 roster. While the Opening Day roster will not be set for another couple of weeks once Spring Training starts to get underway, it’s safe to say that many of the faces Clevelanders will see take the field on April 10 will be similar to those they saw the year before.
Despite invitations to big league spring training, it’s doubtful that prospects such as Francisco Lindor or Tyler Naquin will make the big league team from the get-go. Rather, their invites to spring training will serve as springboards to their careers and will give them a taste of the Major League atmosphere.
More likely than not, though things have the potential to change, the Indians Opening Day roster will be comprised of player who saw Progressive Field last season. As the season continues, it is likely that some of the organizations’ high level prospects will have their chance to make an impact with the big league team but, for now, fans will likely be treated to the same familiar faces they have seen on the field before.
On Friday, former Indians closer Bob Wickman celebrated his 46th birthday, which saw his age finally surpass his career-high saves total of 45 with Cleveland in 2005.
When Wickman hung up the cleats for good following the 2007 season split with the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks, he was the Indians all-time leader in career saves with 139. He had taken ownership of the title on May 7th, 2006, moving past Doug Jones for the top spot on the list with a typical Wickman save.
In the past couple of weeks it has been reported that the Cleveland Indians may be interested in adding one more proven arm to their bullpen. Such a move would certainly be helpful, and perhaps even necessary. However, standing pat with where the bullpen is right now may not hurt, either.
The trouble with projecting a team’s bullpen is that so many relievers go through up and down seasons. A lot of them are inconsistent. Other than closers and top-notch relief pitchers, many hardly ever have consecutive good or great years. It is why there are still a lot of known relievers on the open market teams tend to shy away from giving a lot of money or years to relief pitching.
As for the Tribe, the team has a number of worthy arms, in-house, to round out a potentially formidable relief corps. The bullpen was a strength for Cleveland last year. However, other than closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw, there are not a lot of long track records among the players who will report to Arizona with a shot to be a part of the Indians Opening Day bullpen.
The minor leagues will once again be a testing ground for a potential future Major League change, as Major League Baseball has decided to use pitch clocks in all Triple-A and Double-A parks during the upcoming season.
The decision, made by Commissioner Bud Selig before the office was turned over to Rob Manfred, came after a successful trial run for pitch clocks and other pace-of-play initiatives in the Arizona Fall League. With the clocks, pitchers in Arizona had 20 seconds to execute a pitch from when they received the ball. The specifics of this upcoming season’s pitch clocks have not yet been ironed out, though it is anticipated the timeframe will be the same. The placement of the clocks, said Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, will likely be two clocks behind home plate and a third along the outfield wall.
In 2013 Jason Kipnis was an American League All Star second baseman who played an important role in helping the Indians to that season’s Wild Card game. In 2014 Kipnis had his worst big league campaign and the Tribe offense stalled at times with one of its key players scuffling.
Needless to say, the Tribe could really use the Kipnis who made his Major League debut in 2011 and was one of the club’s best run producers from that point through 2013.
With the off-season coming to a close, baseball fans everywhere are starting to get excited about the prospect of pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona in less than two weeks and the prospect of prospects themselves. The offseason is a chance for players who have already “made it” to the bigs to continue to improve their stuff and maintain their dominance, and is also an opportunity for younger guys to put together the performances that will prove their worth during spring training. Whether prospects and players in the minor league ranks have invited to big league spring training or not, the Arizona pre-season is still their chance to prove where they should be in the system, and, perhaps more importantly, why they should still be there.
All organizations obviously have those players that they predict will make it far within the system. Whether it is breakout stars like Giovanny Urshela or Ryan Merritt, who recently were awarded the Lou Boudreau and Bob Feller awards, respectively, for their minor league performances, or highly-touted prospects like Francisco Lindor and Clint Frazier, there are players throughout the minor league ranks that the Indians are preparing for a career with the big league team. One such step in this preparation is the annual Winter Development Program.
This weekend the Cleveland Indians kicked off the 2015 season with their TribeFest, a two-day interactive experience between the team and fans before starting spring training in just over two weeks. The weekend provides three sessions, full of activities for all ages and is a perfect way to get through the winter doldrums. Over 8,000 fans walked the concourse participating in social media events, autograph sessions and more. It’s a 15% increase from last year.
For me, the culminating moment was Saturday morning when the Indians released their promotional schedule. While many fans will be excited for bobbleheads, fireworks and dollar dogs, I’ll have one specific date circled on my calendar in front of all of them.
A little bit of cold in the air, construction work all around, and plenty of snow covering the field at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario could not keep the legions of baseball fans in Cleveland from coming to the Indians’ home on Saturday to celebrate life as a Tribe fan.
The third annual Tribe Fest is well under way, with the Friday night VIP session and two of the three weekend public sessions in the books already. As with the previous two years, fans came out of their winter hibernations to soak in an opportunity to see some of their favorite Indians, past and present, and representatives from the front office and broadcasting team in a unique chance to rub elbows with some of the stars of the game.
This has been a quiet off season for the Cleveland Indians. Even quieter than many others in the past.
In the Tribe’s two biggest moves, the team added a pair of talented players both coming off seasons marred by injury. If starting pitcher Gavin Floyd and power hitting first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss can each remain healthy, the Indians have upgraded themselves tremendously.
However, even if either one or both additions fail to materialize, Cleveland still has a roster and the coaching capable of contending for a postseason berth. The difference will be whether the Tribe is contending with the Tigers for the American League Central crown and the rest of the AL for league supremacy or for a second Wild Card appearance in two years.