Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 40
Bob Toth | On 15, Feb 2020
Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 40 days
Will this year finally be the year for Bobby Bradley?
Bradley made his long anticipated debut for the Indians in 2019, but he was able to enjoy just a quick cup of coffee for Cleveland as his minor league production failed to translate to the Major League level in his first taste of big league pitching.
A third round pick in the 2014 draft, Bradley has proven just about all that he can prove on the farm, where he has steadily provided the organization with majestic blasts and lots of offensive support in general. Unfortunately for him, the team traded for Carlos Santana last offseason, bringing the switch-hitting slugger back to town through at least the 2020 season (the team holds an option on him for 2021 at $17.5 million) while presenting a decent road block in Bradley’s path to a regular spot on the 26-man roster.
In his sixth professional season, Bradley continued to send souvenirs over the outfield walls, but he also kept up a high strikeout rate (something that has also followed him throughout his climb through the farm system). He hit eight homers in 39 games in his first taste of the pro game after signing in 2014 while playing in the Arizona League. In his first full season in pro ball, he posted a .264/.357/.518 slash in 110 games between Class-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg in 2015, hitting 27 homers and driving in 92 while striking out 150 times in 110 games.
He appeared in 131 games in each of the next two years, spending all of 2016 back at Lynchburg before moving on to Akron in 2017. In 2016 (while still just 20 years old), he saw his average fall to a .235 clip, but he walked 75 times to make up for some of the lost production. He hit a career-high 29 homers that season and eclipsed the century mark in RBI with 102. With the RubberDucks in 2017, he hit .251 with a .331 OBP and a .465 slugging percentage with 25 doubles, 23 homers, and 89 RBI.
Bradley spent much of 2018 back at Akron, where he had a drop off in some of his numbers. He supplied a .214/.304/.477 slash with 19 doubles, 24 homers, and 64 RBI in 97 games, but he was still promoted to Triple-A Columbus later in the campaign. He added three homers there over 32 games while putting up a .254/.323/.430 slash.
Bradley returned to Columbus for the 2019 season and was off to an impressive start overall (.292/.359/.638 with 17 doubles, 24 homers, and 55 RBI through his first 67 games) when he got the deserved call to The Show. He debuted on June 23 with a double in four trips and his first MLB RBI against the Detroit Tigers. He repeated the same performance against the Kansas City Royals the next day. He had his first career two-hit game on July 4 in his fifth look at the Royals on the year and doubled in each of his next two games to give him a modest three-game hitting streak.
On July 13, he launched a majestic blast to the back row of the right field seats off of Minnesota’s Tyler Duffey for his first big league homer. The 457-foot blast was hit harder (113.5 MPH) than any of the homers hit by left-handed batters days earlier during the All-Star Game. He went hitless over his next two games before he was optioned back to Columbus when Zach Plesac was recalled to make a start. While Bradley had shown some flashes of the power potential that he has, 20 strikeouts in his first 49 plate appearances were not helping his cause.
Bradley spent the final two months of the year back with Columbus and struggled to keep up the strong numbers that he had put up before joining the Indians for the first time. In his final 40 games, he hit just .214 with a .320 on-base percentage, recording six doubles, nine homers, 19 RBI, and 62 strikeouts over a span of 169 plate appearances.
In his 15 games with the Indians, he hit .178 with a .245 OBP and a .356 slugging mark with five doubles, one homer, and four RBI. In his remaining 107 games at Columbus, he put up a .264/.344/.567 with 23 doubles, a career-high 33 homers, and 74 RBI. He struck out 153 times with the Clippers to give him a career-high 173 between the two levels on the year (exceeding his 170 in 2016).
With obstacles in his way in the Majors (at least for the near future in the bodies of Santana and probable designated hitter Franmil Reyes) and looking to be in need of consistent at bats, it is tough to envision a circumstance in which Bradley opens the season on the Indians’ roster (barring another spring of injuries for the club). The strikeouts will always be a part of Bradley’s game, but he needs to offset that with some consistent production with the eye and with the bat to make up for the missed opportunities at the plate. In the meantime, Santana will continue to keep the seat warm for him, and Bradley will have to hope that his future includes time with the Indians and that he does not follow paths similar to other touted first base options that failed to pan out for the club. With several options remaining, the Indians do have some time to figure out what they have in Bradley, and he has time to prove to the organization that he is ready for a permanent home in downtown Cleveland.
There was a point in time nearly a decade ago that the professional career of Bartolo Colon appeared to be at its end. Somehow, with a fraction of the stuff that he had when he hit the pro game with the Cleveland Indians in 1993, he has stayed in the game, been a serviceable pitcher, and is relatively beloved by fans across the nation and the world.
Sure, he has had a long and sometimes successful Major League career, keeping his name in the news during springs and summers since debuting with the Cleveland Indians in 1997. But now, many years removed from a slimmer, more dominant flame-throwing version of himself, Colon now looks like an everyman, resembling more of a middle-aged man who had let himself go and now is attempting to squeeze his dad bod into a pair of baseball pants during some sort of midlife crisis at a winter fantasy camp.
Colon has taken the brunt of the jokes for being out of shape and being a really, really lousy looker while standing with a bat in his hand, but the joke’s on you – the 46-year-old with a career record of 247-188 over 565 career games is still hanging on in the pro game. After a year off in 2019, he will pitch in the Mexican League.
No one would have faulted the veteran right-hander if he would have hung up the cleats for good after the 2017 season, one that was met with relocation and tough times. Instead, Colon headed to spring training with the Texas Rangers, who signed him in February to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to camp. He made 28 appearances, including 24 starts, and at the age of 45 went 7-12 with a 5.78 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP as the oldest player in baseball, a title that he has held for each of the last three seasons. The season did include a personal highlight as he broke the record for wins by a Dominican-born pitcher when he exceeded Hall of Famer Juan Marichal’s 243. He also fulfilled a promise that he made to his late mother, who asked that he pitch until at least the age of 45.
Colon stated last September that he hoped to pitch again in 2019, and he looked to stay game ready this winter in the Dominican Winter League. He made two starts for Aguilas Cibaenas in Santiago, roughly an hour from his hometown of Altamira, but he allowed four runs on seven hits with three walks and a strikeout in three and two-thirds innings. In a dramatically slow moving free agent market, like many others, Colon remains available, but he will hope for a call from a club looking for someone to eat up some innings or one which suffers spring injury setbacks. While seeking new employment, Colon remains the active leader in career wins, one ahead of former teammate CC Sabathia (who announced formally on February 16 that he will retire following this season).
It was a long time ago now that Colon signed with the Indians. The year was 1993 and the contract was for the lofty sum of $3,000. He debuted in the minors the next year and he quickly climbed through the farm system, reaching the Triple-A level in 1996.
He made his Major League debut in the fourth game of the 1997 season, taking the mound for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels. He worked five innings and left with a no-decision in a 4-4 tie game as the Indians would go on to lose as Paul Shuey blew a 12th inning save on a walk-off grand slam to Tim Salmon. The transition was not entirely smooth for Colon – he spent time back in the minors (posting a 7-1 record with a 2.22 ERA in ten starts at Triple-A Buffalo). He went 4-7 for the Tribe with a 5.65 ERA and did not factor in the club’s heartbreaking postseason run.
He became a regular in the rotation the following season, joining the likes of Charles Nagy, Dave Burba, and another highly-touted young arm, Jaret Wright, and would be the Opening Day starter for the club in 2000, 2001, and 2002. He went 14-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 31 starts with six complete games and was named to the American League All-Star team in his first full season in the Majors in 1998. He won 18 games in 1999, topping the 200-inning mark for the second straight season, and added 15 more wins in 2000. He set new career-highs in starts (34) and innings pitched (222 1/3) for the Tribe in 2001 as he went 14-12 with his second straight 200-strikeout season.
He took the mound for the Tribe in the playoffs in 1998, 1999, and 2001. He nearly gave the club a quality start in his first postseason start against Boston in Game 4 of the ALDS, coming up one out short. His next outing was a gem, as he threw a complete-game four-hitter in Game 3 of the ALCS against New York. The following year, he was great in the ALDS opener against Boston, allowing two runs over eight innings, but was lit up for seven runs in one-plus inning in the 23-7 Game 4 shellacking. He shined with eight shutout innings against Seattle in the ALDS opener in 2001, but allowed three runs on six hits with four walks in a quality six and two-thirds innings in a Game 4 loss in the ALDS that series.
Things changed drastically for Colon in the 2002 season, as with eyes more closely observing the men and women entering the country after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, a more stringent border policy resulted in Colon aging several years in one offseason. In the spring prior to the 2002 season, he went from a 26-year-old to a 28-year-old as it was found that he was among numerous Dominican ball players who used incorrect ages in coming over to the professional game. His brother Jose, who was in the Indians’ farm system at the time, jumped from 23 to 26 in the same spring.
It was hardly the last time Colon made news in 2002.
He raced out of the gates to a 10-4 mark with a 2.55 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through his first 16 starts with four complete games and two shutouts. Manager Charlie Manuel’s Indians began the season with an impressive 11-1 start, but crumbled with a 2-15 stretch that included two separate six-game losing skids as the club would lose sight of the .500 mark for the rest of the season. After a 13-15 May and a 10-13 start to June, the Indians declared that the rebuild was on, trading the successful Colon on June 27 to the Montreal Expos, who were fighting for a spot atop the NL East with a 40-36 record, seven games in back of the Atlanta Braves while desperately needing an upgrade in their rotation.
The cost at the time was a lot of names unknown by most in the Cleveland market, as the team received veteran big leaguer Lee Stevens and minor league prospects Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore. Pitcher Tim Drew also moved to Montreal with Colon.
And thus ended Colon’s time in Cleveland. He continued his strong season for the Expos, matching his 10-4 mark from his time with the Indians over his 17 starts for Montreal through the end of the year. They finished second to the Braves, who ran away with the division by 19 games. Meanwhile, the Indians roster would see a lot of use from the three acquired prospects, with Phillips eventually relocating to Cincinnati while Sizemore became a fan favorite and big contributor until his all-out style of play caught up to him in the form of numerous career-altering injuries. Lee had his struggles, but he had his successes and brought home the team’s third AL Cy Young Award in 2008 before he was dealt in another blockbuster trade by the club in 2009.
Colon’s stay in Montreal was short, as he was dealt in January after the season with a minor leaguer to the Chicago White Sox for pitchers Rocky Biddle and Orlando Hernandez, utility man Jeff Liefer, and cash considerations as the Tribe’s former ace was entering the final year of his contract. He went 15-13 for the Sox with a 3.87 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and a MLB-leading nine complete games on the season.
A free agent following the season, he cashed in on a four-year, $51 million contract with the Anaheim Angels, who were hot off of a World Series win in 2002 before falling back to third in the AL West with a 77-85, leading to the desire to spend big to add Colon.
Coming off of a career-high 242 innings pitched with Chicago, Colon’s numbers during his first year in California were not what they had been throughout his previous big league experiences. His walks and hits allowed were up, as were his runs allowed as he ended the year with a robust 5.01 ERA in 34 starts. In the same number of appearances as the previous season, he pitched 33 2/3 fewer innings in his debut year for the Angels, but he did put together an 18-12 record as the club won the AL West (but was swept in the ALDS by the Boston Red Sox).
The next year was much better. Colon made 33 starts (222 2/3 innings), cut his walk rate by nearly half, reduced his hit rate as well, and won a league-best 21 games while making his second All-Star team (following his trip in 1998 for the Tribe). He would claim the AL Cy Young Award and the Halos pushed into the second round of the playoffs, losing to his former White Sox club in five games in the ALCS.
Things fell apart for Colon after that. He made just ten starts in 2006 and in the final year of his contract, he was 6-8 in 19 games (18 starts) with a 6.34 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. He signed with Boston following the season, but he appeared in just seven games for the club at the Major League level and nine more at the Triple-A level before returning to the White Sox as a free agent. With just 12 starts (3-6 record, 4.19 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) for Chicago and three more in the minors, he was released in September and his career appeared to be in jeopardy.
He did not pitch in 2010, outside of a handful of appearances in the Dominican Winter League, which caught the eye of New York Yankees coach and former Indians catcher Tony Pena. Colon signed with the club and won a job in their bullpen out of camp, but returned to the rotation quickly and went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA as a reinvented pitcher.
After his (temporarily) short stay in the Big Apple, Colon moved back to the west coast and spent two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, winning 18 games at the age of 40 during his third All-Star season. It led to a free agent deal with the New York Mets, where he spent the 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons and was again named an All-Star in his final season with the club while putting together a 15-8 record with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, leading the NL in fewest walks per nine innings for the second consecutive season.
He may have had one of the highlights of his career that season, when on May 7th, he took James Shields of the San Diego Padres deep for his first career home run in his 246th plate appearance. He ended the season with five hits (three for extra bases!), but owns a .085 lifetime batting average with 21 singles, four doubles, and the one home run. He has also walked just once while striking out 163 times in 322 career trips to the plate.
Colon signed with his third different NL East club in 2017, beginning the year with the Atlanta Braves. Things did not go as planned, however, as he began the year 2-8 with an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts and was released in July. He signed with Minnesota a few days later and went 5-6 with a 5.18 ERA in 15 starts for the Twins.
The fan favorite was back in the news on Saturday as news broke that he and another former Indian, outfielder Rajai Davis, have both signed on to play in 2020 in the Mexican League, where they will play together with the Acereros de Monclova.
Other notable 40s in Indians history: Jim Hegan (1942), Pedro Ramos (1962), Ken Harrelson (1969-1971), Rick Wise (1978-1979), Ernie Camacho (1983-1984), Bud Black (1988-1990; 1995), Kelly Shoppach (2013), Jerry Sands (2015), Craig Breslow (2017), Alexi Ogando (2018)
Photo: Icon Sportswire
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