Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 35 days
Abraham Almonte came to camp a year ago in his familiar 35, the same number that he had worn in his first three seasons with the Indians. He wouldn’t get to keep it, however, as he was designated for assignment at the end of the spring and was selected off of waivers by the Kansas City Royals, preventing him from joining just a handful of players in club history (Wayne Kirby, Enrique Wilson, and Tom Buskey) to wear 35 for more than three years for the Tribe.
Now, 26-year-old right-hander Ben Taylor will see if he gets to keep the number for himself for a second season after appearing in just six games for the Indians last year.
Cleveland scooped up the lightly used arm of Taylor in a February 2018 waiver claim from the Boston Red Sox, the team that had drafted Taylor in the seventh round in 2015. The Red Sox rushed him through the farm system while using him sparingly along the way, as he worked in just 14 games (ten starts) in his debut season in 2015, appearing in 55 innings, and just 79 innings in 36 games in 2016 between two levels. The Red Sox used him 14 times over 17 1/3 innings during the 2017 season after he won a spot in their big league bullpen to open the year, and their minor league affiliates added 14 more games and another 15 2/3 innings to his right arm. All in all, it accounted for a grand total of 78 games pitched and 167 innings worked in his two and a half years in the Red Sox organization before he relocated to the Indians.
Towards the end of spring last year, the Indians optioned him to Columbus and designated him for assignment a week later, outrighting him to Triple-A after clearing waivers unclaimed. His contract was purchased from the Clippers in early May, and after a quick option out after four days, he rejoined the club for five more days later in the month before being sent back to the minors for the remainder of the year.
Taylor worked primarily late in games for the Clippers, posting a 7-2 record on the year with eleven saves. He provided a solid 2.84 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP while averaging 11.1 strikeouts and 1.42 walks per nine innings pitched. He had a few bumps in May and July, when he allowed seven and six earned runs respectively, but he allowed no more than three walks in any given month. He posted a stellar 3-0 record with a 1.17 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in June and ended the season on fire, allowing just one run (a solo homer) on seven hits in 14 2/3 innings over his final 12 appearances (0.61 ERA and a 0.61 WHIP).
Despite the strong end to the year, the Indians did not bring him up for a September cup of coffee. He had pitched in a professional career-high 52 games on the year and had totaled 63 1/3 innings of work after working in just 28 games and 36 innings the season before for the Red Sox organization, so there may have been a desire to limit his pitch count while Cleveland prepared its staff for the postseason. With the Indians, he allowed four runs on six hits with eight strikeouts and a walk in six innings of six regular season games.
Taylor will have a chance to fight for a spot in the bullpen, with plenty of positions up for grabs on the Tribe roster for the coming 2019 campaign.
Almonte failed to take advantage of repeated opportunities to claim a spot in an Indians outfield that was thinned by injury. His third season with the club in 2017 was largely lost to injuries. He slashed .233/.314/.366 in 69 games, but showed less speed and less pop than in previous seasons. The 28-year-old switch-hitting outfielder missed time with a right biceps strain early in the season and a left hamstring strain late that cut into his playing time and his effectiveness when in the lineup. While he did not miss an extended amount of time with the injuries, he spent a significant amount of time in the minors rehabbing with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, appearing in 23 games for the club over the course of the year.
Almonte was acquired from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2015, when his predecessor in the number 35, reliever Marc Rzepczynski, was dealt west. Almonte had been pushed out of a crowded outfield picture with the Friars, leading to a needed change of venue. He started his Indians career strong with a promising showing, putting on an extra base display with nine doubles, five triples, and five homers in 51 games, but a performance enhancing drug suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season dramatically altered his future and cost him the ability to play in the postseason. He would match his .264 batting average from the previous season while once against flashing some big extra base hit numbers (almost exclusively his 20 doubles), but he could not replicate his numbers, which were drastically reduced in his third season with the club.
Rzepczynski took over the 35 in Cleveland when he joined the Tribe at the trade deadline in 2013, the second of three different times that he was part of a July trade deal in the span of five years. He proved to be well worth the cost of A-baller Juan Herrera at the time, as “Scrabble” posted a 0.89 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in 27 appearances for the Indians’ Wild Card team in 2013. He made 73 more appearances the next season, earning his first big league save in his sixth season, but he was traded for Almonte with the Indians out of contention in 2015.
He has bounced around since landing in San Diego, joining the Oakland A’s in a trade in December of 2015, when he was dealt with first baseman Yonder Alonso for former Indian Drew Pomeranz, fellow pitcher Jose Torres, and outfielder Jabari Blash. He was moved to Washington before the waiver deadline in 2016 and spent 2017 in Seattle with the Mariners. He opened 2018 in the Pacific Northwest, but was released midseason and returned to Cleveland for five games in the number 33 before he was released and rejoined the Mariners for the remainder of the season. He is now in camp with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he is teammates with Almonte as fellow non-roster invitees.
While Rzepczynski and Almonte have been around during the Indians’ most recent run of success in the standings, three recognizable names handled the task during the Tribe’s sustained stretch of winning in the 1990s.
Kirby, a 13th round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983, reached the Majors for the first time with the Indians as a September call-up in 1991 while wearing the number 73. He moved into 35 for the next year and would put up the best numbers of his eight-year big league career during his five and a half seasons in Cleveland. He finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in his third season in 1993 when he drove in 60 runs, stole 17 bases, and played in 131 in what would be the most action that he would see in his career.
The outfield picture would get a little crowded in the years that followed as he hit .293 in 78 games before the strike in 1994 but saw his average plummet to .207 in 101 games in 1995. With playing time dwindling and his production suffering, he was claimed by the Dodgers off of waivers during the 1996 season. He spent time with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, and Baltimore Orioles organizations from 1998 to 2000 and wrapped up his playing days in independent ball in 2001 at the age of 37.
The number quickly found a new home after Kirby left Cleveland, as rookie right-handed reliever Danny Graves wore it when he made his Major League debut in July of 1996. He would make just 20 appearances for the Indians in 1996 and 1997 before he was dealt at the ’97 trade deadline to the Cincinnati Reds in a six-player swap that brought infielder Jeff Branson and starting pitcher John Smiley to Cleveland in a move that did not work out for the Tribe as Smiley’s season and career came to a halt just six starts into his Indians tenure.
Graves would go on to become one of the better closers in the game while with the Reds, making the National League All-Star teams in 2000 and 2004. He won a career-high ten games in relief in 2000 and saved as many as 41 games in his last full season in the Queen City in 2004 (in his first season back in the bullpen after an ill-fated trip to the starting rotation the year before when he went 4-15 with a 5.33 ERA). After his release by the Reds during the 2005 season, he was signed by the New York Mets and returned to Cleveland the next season, pitching in what would be the final 13 games of his big league career before time with the independent Long Island Ducks in 2007 and in the Minnesota Twins farm system in 2008. He was a spring roster cut the following year by the Houston Astros, bringing his career to a close.
The number collected just a little bit of dust before Wilson put it on less than two months after Graves was dealt away. He spent parts of four seasons in Cleveland, appearing in as many as 113 games in 1999 while working as a utility man for the club. The next season, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates with Alex Ramirez for Wil Cordero.
A year later, he would land in New York with the Yankees and served as a bench piece for the club over four years. His first three years in the Big Apple resulted in trips to the playoffs and two trips to the World Series, but he and the Yankees came away on the losing end in both series. He spent the 2005 season in Chicago with the Cubs for 15 games and another 20 games in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles. He concluded his playing days with 62 games at Triple-A for the Red Sox in 2006.
After Wilson left town, the number was absent from the back of a player for nearly ten years, but it did get some time in the dugout and in foul territory in coaching boxes around baseball when Joel Skinner wore it while serving as the club’s third base coach.
Other notable 35s in Tribe history (48 in total): Bruce Campbell (1935-36); Ken Keltner (1937); Jackie Price (1946); Don Black (1946); Wally Judnich (1948); Harry Simpson (1951-53); Pedro Ramos (1963-64); Stan Williams (1967-69); Gaylord Perry (1972); Cecil Upshaw (1974); Phil Niekro (1986-87); Casey Kotchman (2012).
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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