With Spring Training right around the corner it is time to start looking forward and thinking about the Cleveland Indians as much as humanly possible. After the dismal 2009 season, hopes are not high for the already regressing Indians fan base, and with attendance levels already at rock bottom, its hard to imagine anyone will actually show up to games early on in the year unless the team really plays well under new skipper, Manny Acta. A lot of fans were happy to see Eric Wedge dismissed, and after being a big fan of his for the past 5 or so years, I must admit I had soured on him a bit and I thought it was time for a change. Acta has done nothing but impress since being hired and he is going about getting the fans excited for 2010. So while we are getting ready for the season to start, we wanted to compile a list of things we are excited for in 2010, and things to watch for this season. – I want to get this out of the way before anyone reads on, I am admitting here and now that I think that the Indians will be better than last year, much better in fact, and I am very optimistic about this coming season. I might be crazy, but you have to be to root for the Indians. – So with that out of the way, here is the list of what to watch for this season with your beloved Cleveland Indians.
– The emergence of Carlos Santana. After learning about the devastating trade of Victor Martinez last season there was a long grieving period, it was time to start getting acquainted with his heir apparent. Carlos Santana reminds me a lot of Victor, only he has more skills behind the plate then Martinez did. He is the #11 prospect in the MLB, he hits the cover off the ball, has a laser arm to nab runners, and he should be with the team around the time of June, unless the combo of Marson, Torregas and Redmond really does nothing. Had he not gotten hurt during Winter Ball, I would have pegged him as the opening day Catcher. As sad as it is to think this, he might make us forget about Martinez pretty quickly.
– Shin Soo Choo. Not to downgrade the skills of Grady Sizemore (he will be on the list as well obviously) but Choo is the most talented player on this roster. He hits for average, for power, has speed, is a Gold-Glove caliber fielder, has a cannon arm from right field. He has a great head for the game. I’m excited to see him enter into his prime and build off of the awesome year he had in 2009.
– Actavision. Manny Acta has done just about everything right in getting the job with the Tribe. There has been some criticism about the team hiring a guy who has the record he does, but he did coach the Nationals who never really put much talent on the field for the coach. Not to say that the Indians roster is full of all-stars, but it will be very interesting to see how Acta runs this team. He has already decided that the team has the potential to contend this year, and while that might be a pipe dream (I agree with him) he is ready to go, and ready to work with this group of players. It could be the right person at the right time to help turn this team around, despite the ‘rebuilding’ mode the team does have a lot of talent, as a group and individually, that just needs the right motivation and consistency. Players like Jhonny Peralta might really get a lot out of the new coach and his staff. This is the AL Central, a division that is winnable every year.
– Matt LaPorta. Now is the time to see if the CC Sabathia trade will work out for this team. The pressure is on LaPorta, who was great in AAA last year but a little less than awesome when he got the call up to Cleveland. He needs to play to his potential for the franchise to feel the least bit good about the Sabathia trade, and he will be a big part of this teams offense this year, especially if Hafner’s struggles with shoulder issues continue.
-Michael Brantley. He is in the top 50 prospects in the MLB. He is 22. He is fast, fast, fast and faster. He was really impressive when he came up last year after Sizemore went on the DL. He did nothing but get on base and play awesome defense, he might be this generation’s Kenny Lofton, but I think he has even more potential. He is lean, muscular, and he can play ball. I salivate over the idea that him, Sizemore and Choo are going to play outfield for the Tribe for years to come. It is not yet clear if he will be with the Tribe to begin the year, he might need some more at bats at AAA, but he will be the everyday left fielder very, very soon.
– Will Hafner be back to normal? This question, and his gigantic contract, have been looming over the organization the past few years. The one time the Tribe opens the wallet up big time, the guy’s arm dies and he can’t do the one thing he was on the roster to do, swing the bat. His work ethic and attitude have been amazing throughout the ordeal, but if things are not back to normal this year, the team needs to find away to shed his contract or re-structure it to make it more friendly to the team.
– Sizemore being healthy. This is another key to the success of the team this year. Sizemore battled injuries all season long in 2009 and it showed in his production and the team’s play. A switch to 3rd or 4th in the lineup might also be on the horizon for the Tribe’s CF, especially if Brantley makes the roster out of Spring Training.
-The Bullpen. I know, I know, I said the evil words. The ever expanding group that inhabited the Indians bullpen in 2009 certainly was something you never wanted to see take the field. But if you are the type of person who noticed trends, you will be right with me on this one. Every year since 2003, the Indians have had one atrocious year in regards to the bullpen, followed by a year of lights out bullpen production. Example. 2007. AMAZING year for the bullpen, 2008 wasn’t too bad, but 2009 was disgusting. 2005 was a great year for the ‘pen, 2006 not so much, and then 2007 and they were all good again. If you look at the group of guys, the production should really not be bad. Kerry Wood should be better this year, especially if he gets into a game more then once a month, Chris Perez, Raffy Perez (who might end up being a starter), Tony Sipp, Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith. It should, and I stress the ‘should’ part of that statement, be a good unit.
– Sandy Alomar Jr back in and Indians uniform. This is just gravy. The Tribe’s all time hero Catcher, back in Cleveland to coach, to mentor the young group of Catchers the team has coming up through the system. Santana, Torrgas and Marson will benefit tremendously from Sandy’s coaching.
– The new DP Tandem. Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena are a combo to love up the middle. Unless the Tribe manages to sign Orlando Hudson, this will be the dynamic duo up the middle that will bring memories to us all of Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar turning 2. Valbuena, a natural ShortStop has range that few other 2nd basemen can match, and he is a slick fielder, Cabrera is even better.
– Asdrubal. We need a cool nickname for Cabrera. A-Cab? Ace? Something catchy. Anyway, this guy is a stud. He is steadily improving his offensive game, and he is already a Gold Glove caliber defender at SS. If his offense stays on par with what he did last year, despite injuries, he could very quickly become an All-Star.
– Which Fausto will show up? Dr. Fausto or Mr. Carmona?
– How will the Starters perform? Last year was a rough year, the trading away of Cliff Lee just a year after we traded CC. No front end starters on the team, except the recovering Jake Westbrook and the wildcard Carmona. Laffey is the next best option, and he is still young and developing. David Huff won 11 games last year as a rookie, but had an ERA near 6. Justin Masterson struggled in his switch to the rotation, but he is full of potential as well. Personally, I like him better as the late inning guy in the bullpen, but thats just me.
So that’s what we were able to think of. We think a lot of people really think that there is not much to look forward too, but the Tribe does have a pretty talented roster, a new coach, and it is baseball. Anything can and will happen in the MLB, and every year there is a team that turns it around after a really bad year and surprises everyone, it could be the Indians this year. The Lake Erie Soldiers are very optimistic for the 2010 season, and I plan to be at every game on the east coast within driving distance.