Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cleveland Indians Roster Breakdown

Starting Rotation

CC Sabathia, LHP: Sabathia started the opener against Chicago well, until he fell off the mound throwing the first pitch of the 3rd inning. Later that inning, he had to leave with a strained abdominal muscle. The Indians training staff says the injury has nothing to do with his weight. He'll be out 3-5 weeks. Oh, and for those Clevelanders who want to get rid of him: hey, he's the winningest active pitcher 25-or-younger. Isn't that good enough for you?

Sorry, couldn't find a picture of him in the all-red throwbacks.

Jake Westbrook, RHP: Westbrook is one of the best in the league when it comes to ground ball to fly ball ratio, and this year is no exception so far. Westbrook is now 2-0, giving up uny 3 runs in 13.2 innings of work.

Clifford Lee, LHP: Lee's first start was a tough one, giving up 3 runs and hitting two batters in 5.1 innings. Fortunately, games like that are the exception for Lee. Lee was the only member of Cleveland's young core talent not to sign a big long-term deal this offseason, and he says he won't negotiate during the season.

Paul Byrd, RHP: Fifteen years after being drafted by Cleveland, Byrd is starting for the Indians. Byrd is replacing Kevin Millwood, who led the league in ERA but got virtually run support last year. So, what happens in Byrd's first start? He gives up 5 runs but wins an 11-6 game.

Jason Johnson, RHP: Johnson wasn't even supposed to start until later this month, but then Sabathia went down. Johnson responded with 7 innings of shutout ball against the Twins. Not bad for a 5th starter. I see Johnson as the next Scott Elarton - a mediocre pitcher on a bad team who becomes a good pitcher on a good team. Like Westbrook, Johnson is best when he can make the opposition hit the ball on the ground.


Bob Wickman, CP/RHP: Wickman always makes things interesting (his 1-2-3 inning Friday fills his quota for the month), but he does get the job done. He tied for the league lead in saves last year, and he already has three in 6 games this season.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP: Betancourt has proven to be a solid setup man who can also pitch 2+ innings a game in middle relief. He's pitched 3.2 scoreless innings so far this season.

Fernando Cabrera, RHP: Many think Cabrera is the closer of the future for the Tribe. He had a rough spring training, and it carried over to the opener when he gave up 6 runs in middle relief against the White Sox. Cabrera bounced back with a scoreless inning in Byrd's 11-6 win the other day.

My weekly Baseball America prospect email told me he had a bad spring.

Jason Davis, LRP/RHP: It's been decided that Davis, a former starter, will now work exclusively out of the bullpen - he won't even spot start. Called up when Sabathia was put on the DL, Davis has yet to appear in a game this season.

Danny Graves, RHP: Just what the Indians need - another wild but effective relief pitcher. So far, Graves has been wild - 2 walks and 2 hits in 1.2 IP - but he's also been effective with zero runs and 1 win. We'll see how long this lasts.

Matt Miller, RHP: Miller, the sidearmer, has developed into a decent middle reliever. His 3.86 ERA so far is uncharacteristically bad for him, and I mean that as a compliment. It should be all uphill from here.

Guillermo Mota, RHP: Mota battled injuries during the offseason, so manager Eric Wedge has been selective when giving his new reliever work. Mota is tied with Miller for the most IP by a reliever, and he also has yet to give up a run.

Scott Sauerbeck, LHP: Sauerbeck has never had good control in his time with the Tribe, and this year is no different. Of the 7 batters he's faced, Sauerbeck walked two and hit one. He's more of a middle reliever than a shutdown lefty specialist, so there's a chance Cleveland will be shopping for a LOOGY come the trading deadline.

Batting Order

Grady Sizemore, CF: Unlike last year, the Cleveland bats have gotten off to a hot start in April. It all starts at the top, and that's Sizemore. Grady goes all-out on both sides of the ball, and he's a legit star. No he hasn't drawn a walk yet this season, but I can live with that when he plays the way he does. Plus, it's said that he has the talent to one day become a 3, 4, or 5 hitter. After he had 22 HR in his first full Major League season, I'll believe it. With a new 6-year contract, perhaps we can pencil Grady into the #3 slot in the 2011 lineup.

An equal-opportunity gratuitous picture.

Jason Michaels, LF: Replacing Coco Crisp, Michaels will be under the microsope all season. I think everyone got a little nervous when Michaels made an awkward dive at a double hit past him on Opening Night. But, he's played well since. On a team that couldn't bunt to save their lives last year, Michaels has already attempted two sacrificies early in games. One was a popup to the pitcher and the other was foul over the backstop, but it's the thought that counts. This team struggled when it came to bunting and aggressive baserunning over the past few years. The fact that Michaels and/or the combination of Wedge and hitting coach Derek Shelton are trying to correct those flaws is a good sign.

Jhonny Peralta, SS: Peralta is the only everyday hitter to get off to a slow start, but he's sure to turn things around soon. And is it really that slow of a start? He's hitting .231 with 9 K's in 26 at bats, but does have a hit in each of Cleveland's 6 games so far and has scored six times. Plus, according to Peter Gammons, Peralta and Ronnie Belliard are one of the best double play combinations in the AL.

Travis Hafner, DH: The more Hafner plays, the more he reminds Clevelanders of Jim Thome is his prime. The Tribe's current big country farmboy is always going to work deep into the count. He has the power to stay back on the ball and hit it deep to center or left center. And, like Thome, he has the ability to go on absolute tears for a week at a time. Hafner just finished a streak of reaching base on 11 straight plate appearances: 3 walks, 3 singles, three homers, and a double. Oh, and I know it's early, but he's slugging .957 right now with an OPS of 1.457. Now signed through 2008, that's not bad for a guy acquired for Einar Diaz (now back with the Indians) and Ryan Drese.

Victor Martinez, C: Martinez is arguably the best hitting catcher in the game today. Or is there that much of an argument? Martinez may not be locked in at Hafner's level, but his performance so far is nothing to laugh at. That, and if you don't like what you're seeing now, you have until 2010 to change your mind.

Ben Broussard, 1B: Broussard is the first of a couple Indians who needs to prove he belongs here. His defense is OK but not spectacular. His long swing makes him very streaky at the plate. The singer/songwriter/guitarist used his free time to produce a 12-song CD last season. This year he's dropping the guitar and will use that free time to focus on his day job - in the hopes of holding on to the starting first base job in Cleveland.

Ronnie Belliard, 2B: Belliard has become the emotional leader of this team. He's a gritty, gutsy hustler who's never afraid to crack a joke to loosen up his teammates. (He followed Omar Vizquel's lead in serenading Bob Wickman during games to keep the closer loose.) Belliard strained a calf muscle on Thursday (coming off of the field between innings, go figure) and is listed as day-to-day.

Aaron Boone, 3B: When the Indians traded for the best third base prospect in baseball, Boone responded with a spectacular spring. He's carried that performance into the regular season so far. Boone is an all-around player: good defensively, smart on the bases with decent speed, and - for now at least - good with the bat.

Casey Blake, RF: Other than Broussard, the Indian with his job most at stake was Casey Blake. Blake broke out in 2004 to the tune of 28 HR and a .271 average. He followed that up in 2005 with 23 HR, but with only a .241 average. He's off to a hot start in 2006, driving in 6 runs in 6 games with an OPS of 1.100. Plus, in only his second full season in the outfield, he's already a workable defensive right fielder with a very good arm.


Kelly Shoppach, C: Shoppach, a young prospect from the Red Sox system, is said to be Major League-ready defensively, and it shouldn't be long until his bat catches up. True to his status as a Theo Epstein prospect, Shoppach walked in his only plate appearance of the season.

Eduardo Perez, 1B/OF: Son of Hall of Famer Tony (he was on the Big Red Machine), Perez was brought in to platoon at first against left handed pitchers. He's proved his worth so far, hitting 2 home runs in 6 at bats.

His dad was on the Big Red Machine.

Ramon Vazquez, IF: Last year, former Dodgers starting second baseman Alex Cora was brought in as insurance for the young Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. As soon as Peralta proved he could handle the majors, Cora was expendable. So, he was shipped to Boston in exchange for Vazquez. Why trade utility infielders? Cora was arguably the better player, but he also cost $1mil more per year. In a way, the money saved helped lock up the future All Star Peralta through 2011.

Todd Hollandsworth, OF: The 1996 NL rookie of the year was signed as a fourth outfielder. He can play all three outfield positions respectably, and it looks like he has a good throwing arm. He hasn't played yet this season, but Hollandsworth will provide a veteran left-handed bat off the bench.

Coming Soon

Fausto Carmona, SP/RHP: Indians GM sees Carmona as a barometer of how far the team has come. A few years ago, Carmona might have been able to turn his good spring with the big league camp into a spot in the rotation, maybe even as the opening day starter. But now the team is a pennant contender, and they can afford to start Carmona in AAA to help him further develop. Depth is never a bad thing, especially when it comes to pitching.

Jeremy Sowers, SP/LHP: Two years ago, Sowers was setting the world on fire at Vanderbilt. Last year, he quickly rose from Hi-A Kinston to AA Akron to AAA Buffalo, where he started this season. Comparisons to Greg Maddux are sure to come left and right when you have the type of control Sowers had. In college, he posted 327 strikeouts to 86 walks. In the minors last year, he had 149 K's (in 159.1 IP) to only 29 walks, including a 70/9 ratio at Akron! When the Indians do need a fifth starter over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if they go with the tested Carmona, or if they take a gamble with the young and intriguing Sowers.

Ryan Garko, 1B: The lumbering catcher was moved to first base this spring, because he didn't have anywhere to go with Martinez and Shoppach ahead of him. He already looks OK on defense, but he's sure to improve with time. And, without having to don the tools of ignorance every day, he may see some improvement in his .310 career minor league average.

Andy Marte, 3B: Marte is quite easily the best third base prospect in the game. Casual Indians fans may still be upset with the Crisp trade, but that should all be forgotten once Marte makes an impact.

Jason Cooper, OF: Cooper may have farther to go than anyone else on this list, but his journey through the minors needs documenting. Cooper is yet another star in the newly-developing Stanford-to-Cleveland pipeline that includes Garko, SP Jeremy Guthrie, former OF Jody Gerut, and a handful of others. Just three summers ago I was in Lake County watching Cooper tear up Mid-A pitching. Now he's starting for AAA Buffalo and was invited to the big league camp for spring training. Cooper may not get as much press as some of the other Cleveland prospects, but he's got all the signs of being a great ballplayer.

Jason Dubois, OF: As Jeremy likes to say, he's not French, so it's pronounced du-BOISE. (But not like the capital of Idaho. OK, he didn't say that part, I did.) Dubois tore up spring training this year, and I'm sure some thought he was worthy of a spot on the Indians opening day roster. So far, Dubois has been a great AAA player but a mediocre Major League player. Time will tell if he can put everything together and stick around in The Show. The Tribe needs right-handed power to complement Sizemore, Martinez, and Hafner, so anything Dubois would be able to do would be a plus.

Franklin Gutierrez, OF: Gutierrez is the type of five-tool young Venezuelan talent that makes Peter Gammons excited and me even more excited. He has the range to play center and the arm to play right, the speed and contact ability to leadoff and the pop to hit cleanup. Right now he's batting leadoff and playing center for AAA Buffalo, but it should only be a matter of a few years before he's taking over for Michaels or Blake. Gutierrez and reliever Andrew Brown, who probably belongs on this list in his own right, were acquired from LA for Milton Bradley. Yet another coup of a trade by Mark Shapiro.

Not a mancrush... yet.