The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need to answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ new players who will be trying to fill a role on the Tribe’s roster.
When a baseball team goes to the playoffs with 92 wins, as the Cleveland Indians did last year, it is hard to find a lot major weaknesses on a roster. That is certainly true of the Tribe, a squad that does not have a lot of roster spots up for grabs as spring training gets underway in Goodyear, Az.
Still, there was one major chink in the armor during last year’s run to the postseason. That was the difficulty to find someone who could have success as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen last season. Veteran journeyman Rich Hill had the worst season of his career, while young guys like Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes never looked fully comfortable in the majors.
It was not until July 30, when the Indians snagged lefty Marc Rzepczynski from the St. Louis Cardinals in a small trade-deadline deal, that the position became even somewhat settled. Rzepczynski came to Cleveland and had success. He became the team’s go-to southpaw in key lefty versus lefty situations during the stretch run.
Rzepczynski is back with the Indians and will almost certainly break camp with the club. If the roster is set as it was last year, and signs indicate it will be, the Indians would open the regular season with seven pitchers in the bullpen. Manager Terry Francona would love to have the bullpen contain a second left-hander he could go to when needed.
That battle to be the team’s second left-handed relief specialist could be one of the more intriguing ones in camp this spring. It could also take the longest for Francona and his coaching staff to make a final decision on.
General Manager Chris Antonetti has done his best to give his manager plenty of options. Hagadone and Barnes are still around and hoping to finally have big league success. Meanwhile, the Indians traded outfielder Drew Stubbs to the Rockies in November for left-handed reliever Josh Outman.
Among the many under-the-radar free agents Cleveland snagged and invited to spring training was a 28-year-old lefty named Colt Hynes. The Tribe purchased his contract from the San Diego Padres on Oct. 30. His major league resume is short and less than desirable. However, his time in the minor leagues shows he could be just what the Indians are looking for in the relief corps.
Drafted by the Padres in the 31st round of the 2007 First Year Player Draft, Hynes worked his way through San Diego’s minor league system. He finally got his shot in the majors last year. In 22 appearances, he allowed 17 earned runs in 17 innings, for a 9.00 ERA. Glancing at that, one would the the Indians had no business giving the guy a chance. However, his numbers at Triple-A Tucson indicate he may actually be turning the corner.
Last year, in the Pacific Coast League, he appeared in 31 games, covering 47.1 innings. He had a sparkling ERA of 1.52. It was a rebound to a disappointing 2012 campaign when the Padres tried to convert the career-long reliever to a starter. That year he had a 5.76 ERA, starting 21 games at Tucson.
Hynes said he is much more comfortable in the relief role, where he can rely on his two main pitches – his fastball and slider. Perhaps another season away from the failed starting experiment will be enough to push Hynes over the top and into a lefty specialist role with the Tribe. It would be a role he would embrace if given the opportunity.
“I’ll do anything I need to do, go wherever the club needed me,” Hynes said. “I feel like most players, just to have an opportunity in the big leagues as a younger player, just to get your foot in the door, you’ll do whatever it takes.”
The Indians certainly have a need for second left-handed reliever and the door is wide open. Outman probably has a leg up having had the most success of anyone aside from Rzepczynski as a southpaw in the majors. However, he is not guaranteed a spot on the club. There is plenty of room for someone like Hynes to move up. Hynes said the key for him will be to remain calm. The biggest difference he found in going from the minors to the majors for the first time last year was more in the head than anything physically.
“I feel like there’s more adjustments, as a player, for you to make mentally,” Hynes said. “Just being able to dumb things down and not get caught up in the hype of who you’re playing and what players are who they are. Just take a step back and realize we’re still playing baseball.
“That’s the biggest struggle, in my opinion, for young players coming up – not paying attention to the fact that you’re facing guys who are superstars and you’ve seen through your whole career.”
Hynes said he is going in to camp with mindset that he has as good a chance as anyone to make the Opening Day Tribe bullpen.
“I feel like there’s some opportunity here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to finding my role and seeing how I fit in. They have a winning tradition, making the playoffs last year and I would like to be a part of that if I get the opportunity to.”
Hynes will have the opportunity to prove himself. If he can put up numbers similar to what he did last year in Tucson, he will give Outman, Hagadone and Barnes a run for the second lefty relief spot. Of course, if he looks like the guy who threw in San Diego and struggled in his first big league go around, he will open the season in Columbus. Still, there is a chance. For a guy like Hynes, a chance is all the you can really ask for.
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/U-T San Diego