Saturday, April 1, 2017

Indians Spring 2017 Recap, Player Evaluations, and Predictions

hello there, Indians fans! how happy are you that Cactus League play is finally over? i know a lot of us have been very anxious for the 2017 season to get underway ever since things did not end how we wanted them to on the night of November 2, 2016. and now, after a shortened offseason and a longer spring training, we are just TWO DAYS away from meaningful game action and Indians Opening Day! this may arguably be the toughest weekend of the year for Tribe fans. so while everyone's waiting, let me present a recap of the Tribe's spring, including a review of player performances, as well as some predictions about how the reigning American League Champions will do this season!

before i start though, i want to acknowledge all the new readers who discovered my blog over the winter. so here is a special welcome to the viewers in the following countries: Netherlands, Indonesia, Brazil, India, Croatia, Singapore, Finland, Georgia, Portugal, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan. many thanks to each one of you for reading, and i hope you enjoy the blogs i post this year! and if i left you out, let me know you were here by telling me where you're from in a comment below!


Spring Training 2017 Overview

Indians Cactus League games took place from February 25 - March 31, consisting of three split-squad days and just two
days off. the players all reported to Goodyear, Arizona, earlier than usual, not only because some flew out there immediately after Tribe Fest on January 28, but also due to the World Baseball Classic being played during spring this year. as a result, spring training was prolonged. however, for the players who went to the WBC and missed a few weeks worth of games with the Indians, the extra time to be able to come back and rejoin the team was beneficial. the conclusion of the Tribe's spring schedule found them in Phoenix on March 30 and 31 for two exhibition games against the Arizona Diamondbacks in their Major League ballpark, Chase Field. call that a little pre-season teaser road trip, if you will. though by that time, spring had more than worn out its welcome.

when it was all said and done, the Indians played 36 total spring games and finished with a record of 17-16-3. while that may be somewhat disappointing, it's nothing to be alarmed about. you know how spring works: the regulars don't play full games; the normal starting lineup doesn't play all together until the end; people are batting out of batting order position; there are pitchers on the mound in certain innings who normally wouldn't be pitching in those spots; and once you get into the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, you're seeing names that most people have never heard of. for all those reasons, the actual win-loss record in spring isn't very important. the main goal is for players to get prepared for the regular season, and i think a lot of our guys are more than ready to start playing for real. so are the fans.


Tribe Predictions

now i will share my prediction for the Tribe's 2017 season. if everyone plays to their maximum capabilities and we don't have to endure too many serious or persistent injuries, then i think this team as currently constructed will have a win-loss record of 92-70.

honestly, the Indians are a shoo-in to win the AL Central Division. that's not me being cocky, that's me logically looking at the other teams in the division and realizing that everyone else is facing some problems. i'm sure we'll lose our fair share of games to each team, but unless we completely collapse, i believe we'll own the Central. no need to even deliberate over a Wild Card spot.

how far they will go in the playoffs is the only real question here. to find out who i think will make it to the World Series and who will lose out, read all the way to the final section of this blog entitled "ALCS, NLCS, & World Series Picks."

a few of my favorite sources also made predictions. here they are:

Paul Hoynes said in his cleveland.com article that the Indians will go 90-72, win the AL Central, and have a chance to not only get back to the World Series this year, but win it. then in another article, Hoynsie predicted they'll only advance to the ALCS and lose to the Boston Red Sox.

Zack Meisel stated in his cleveland.com article that the Indians will go 93-69 and win the AL Central. in another article, Meisel agreed with Hoynsie, predicting that they'll make it to the ALCS, but lose to the Red Sox. maybe these guys are erring on the side of caution so as to not jinx the Indians.

Terry Pluto documented in his cleveland.com article that the Indians will go 91-71 and win the AL Central. he predicts they'll get back to the World Series, but doesn't think they'll win it.

Jordan Bastian, on the other hand, wrote in his bastian.mlblogs.com blog that the Indians will win the AL Central, beat the Houston Astros in the ALCS, and then beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. now that's more like it! we'll see who's right come late October.

what do you think? leave a record prediction in the comments below!


Offseason Moves

the Indians didn't have to make a whole lot of moves this past offseason because the majority of the team that went to the 2016 World Series was retained. they really only needed to upgrade a few areas and they did just that (shockingly) without trading anyone, but instead by signing a few FREE AGENTS.

let me start with the big surprise, the acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion. the Indians came to an agreement with him on December 22, 2016, but the deal wasn't formally announced until January 5, 2017. the Tribe inked Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million contract, the largest in franchise history. there's also an option for a fourth year at $25 million, or a $5 million buyout. when i was picking out potential 1st basemen to obtain for my Tribe Needs: Looking Ahead to 2017 blog, i automatically assumed someone like Encarnacion wasn't on the Indians' shopping list because 1. he was going to be very expensive and 2. they would have to forfeit their 1st round draft pick. apparently, the front office had the okay to spend money and felt as though EE would be worth the cost of losing their #1 pick.

by bringing in Encarnacion, the Tribe consequently bid adieu to Mike Napoli. now Encarnacion will share the 1st base duties with Carlos Santana, although they've already declared that Santana will be the primary 1st baseman and Encarnacion will mainly DH. despite him about to turn 34 years old, he was one of the most coveted free agent power hitters in baseball, having averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBI over the past five seasons. you wanted a right-handed power bat, Tribe fans, you got it. needless to say, he'll be batting cleanup.

another unexpected and impressive free agent signing the Indians made was left-handed reliever Boone Logan. the 32-year old agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million deal with a $7 million option or $1 million buyout for 2018 on February 2, 2017, made official on February 7. a second lefty to go with Andrew Miller in our bullpen was also another big need on my Tribe Needs list, and i did specifically include Logan in there. while i was a little put-off by how much money the Tribe paid him, i think he could quite possibly give us the best bullpen in the AL.

lastly, i believe 30-year old Austin Jackson was a great pickup as well. the Indians actually signed Jackson on January 25, before Logan, to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp and an out clause (on March 26). he was to receive a $1.5 million base if he made the team and could also earn incentives that would bump his salary up to $4 million.

i felt this was an important signing because, aside from a 1st baseman and lefty reliever, the Tribe needed another outfielder. that was particularly true after it became more evident that they weren't really getting anywhere in their talks to bring CF Rajai Davis back. but it was also a necessity as insurance just in case Michael Brantley was not ready to go for Opening Day. i know the Indians have some in-house OF options, but bringing someone else in with experience was a much better call here. and i again did have Jackson on my wish list, so i was enthused to learn that, on March 26, he was told he would in fact be on the OD roster.🙂

some people might wonder, why didn't the Indians use the Boone Logan money to re-sign Davis instead of Jackson, and get a cheaper left-hander for our bullpen? i thought that, too, if i'm being completely upfront. however, if Jackson is healthy now after his knee surgery, then he was a fantastic deal because he's a great defender and fast on the basepaths.

how would you rate the Indians' offseason? was there someone else they should have gone after and acquired? sound off in the comment section below!


Things We Didn't Have Last Year

i always like to make a list of things the team didn't have a year ago that they have now that could potentially help them perform better. this time, my list is a bit shorter because, again, most of the Indians squad from last season is the same.

some things that might make a difference this year that we didn't have last year:

--Encarnacion's bat. i'm banking on this guy hitting at least 35 homers and driving in close to 100.

--Andrew Miller in the bullpen for the entire season. those Ks are gonna add up quick.

--Carlos Santana being in his walk year. sometimes that's all it takes for a player to be at the top of his game.

--Yan Gomes back healthy. fingers crossed. basically any production we can get from the catcher's position is a bonus.

--Michael Brantley. if his August surgery eliminated all his shoulder and biceps pain, then this gives us a huge advantage.


Player Evaluations

now here's the part where i like to kind of recap every individual player's spring and go over any concerns i might have.

keep in mind, spring numbers do not always resemble the kind of year a player is going to have. a bad spring performance does not mean a player will have a bad regular season, as spring stats can be misleading. due to the heat and humidity out in Arizona, it's sometimes harder for pitchers to throw there. for example, they don't always have control over their pitches, such as their breaking ball won't break. on the contrary, the hot weather can also have the opposite effect on hitters, often giving them a boost in their bats. so, just like the final spring record is nothing to get worked up over, a player's final stats in spring are certainly not the be-all, end-all determining factor for how his year will play out.
 
anything can happen once all the stats reset to zero and the fresh season officially begins. altogether, i saw a lot of positive things in camp and have many reasons to be excited for the upcoming campaign.

STARTING ROTATION:

no questions here this year. our starting five was set long before anyone even reported to spring training. Corey Kluber is the ace, Carlos Carrasco is #2, and Danny Salazar is #3. as for the last two, Terry Francona has gotten on board with my preferred order of Josh Tomlin #4 and Trevor Bauer #5. (actually, he insisted he ordered them that way due to early season pitching matchups, but still, i like it. i like it a lot.) like last season, the Indians have a couple off days early on in April, but Tito vowed that everyone would be pitching in order and no one would be skipped, at least not in the first week. it is possible that one of the starters ends up as a temporary option in the bullpen somewhere down the road though.

now let me start with the evaluations.

--Kluber was brought along slowly this spring because he pitched the most out of any starter in the 2016 playoffs. he didn't pitch in a Cactus League game until March 6 and was rusty. as spring went on, however, he began to hone in on his pitches and the strikeouts kept piling up. in five games and 23.1 innings, he struck out 28. on the downside, he gave up 18 runs and four homers, three of which came in his final spring start. he also walked seven and acquired an earned run average of 6.17. but he will be the Tribe's Opening Day starter and he's ready. he's in good shape and after a very heavy workload last year, his arm feels good. if past seasons are any indication, then we might see him struggle in a few outings early on, but it won't last. the Klubot will be activated eventually and then it's lights out for the hitters he faces.

--Carrasco had some right elbow soreness and inflammation that kind of came out of nowhere. one day, he couldn't throw his breaking ball without pain and gave up three home runs, including one grand slam, and eight runs in just 1.2 innings. after a little downtime and a short paternity leave, he returned and threw all his pitches again with no complaints. once he completed his final start, he'd appeared in six total games, pitching 15.0 innings, and had a 10.80 ERA with a record of 2 wins and 2 losses. overall, he gave up seven homers and walked four, but also struck out 13 batters. he didn't accumulate the number of innings in spring that the team wanted, he only pitched about half as much, and will probably be limited to pitching 4 or 5 innings in his first couple starts. the jury's still out on if his elbow truly is okay, but i have no reason to believe it's not until we hear otherwise.

--Salazar had one bad start due to control issues and that skewered some of his overall spring stats. he only allowed one home run until his last start, in which he gave up two homers to the same player. he finished with a 4.85 ERA, went 2-1, and walked a team high 14, but also struck out a team high 37 batters! furthermore, he pitched a team high 26.0 innings in seven appearances. this was the best spring i've seen from him. he had his fastball working and when that's good, his offspeed stuff (his changeup) is also good. if he can stay healthy, he's going to have a hell of a year, i know it.

--Tomlin, like Kluber, was given a little more time to get himself ready for spring games because of his number of playoff appearances as well. the first spring game he started was on March 9 and he pitched a skilled 3.2 innings. it looked like he hadn't missed a beat since his last outing in 2016 and had picked up right where he left off. he had a few rough starts following his debut though, particularly his final one, when he gave up four home runs in 7.0 total innings. maybe it was due to him being stretched out more, i don't know. Francona didn't seem bothered by it. speaking of, Tomlin did not pitch for the Tribe in the last week of spring. the Indians opted not to have him pitch at Chase Field against the Arizona Diamondbacks because he's scheduled to pitch against them in his first regular season start. therefore, he made four total starts in spring, the least of everyone. he finished with a 5.50 ERA, allowing 13 runs and seven home runs. conversely, in typical Tomlin fashion, he did not walk anybody. i reckon he's gonna be fine once he's out of the desert.

--Bauer was classic Bauer this spring. what i mean by that is, after a very short break from baseball, he spent the majority of his offseason preparing for 2017. that included adding another pitch to his repertoire, known as a split-finger fastball. did he really need another pitch though? nonetheless, he had a good spring, finishing with the lowest ERA of all the starters (4.74) and a 3-0 record. in six starts, he pitched 24.2 innings, the second most of everyone in the rotation, and acquired 18 strikeouts. he also gave up five home runs and allowed six walks. just like Tomlin, he did not pitch in an Indians game in the final week of spring, but he and Tomlin both pitched in a minor league game on March 31 to get their last bit of work in before the regular season.

for whatever reason, each starter (minus Bauer) had trouble in his last Cactus League start. but a little adversity is good, just as long as it doesn't happen during the 2017 campaign. i know the ERAs of all our starters aren't exactly desirable, but i can say with confidence that they all have great stuff and there were definite flashes of how dominating they can be when everything comes together. again, pitching can be more arduous in Arizona, so the final numbers aren't necessarily red flags. if everyone can maintain their health, then this is one of the most intimidating starting 5s in the league, hands down.


DEPTH IN COLUMBUS:

unforeseen surprises occur in baseball all the time, so you always need to have more than five starters handy. so now let me talk about who the Indians have stashed in Triple A Columbus that could be called upon in an emergency and how they performed in spring.

--Mike Clevinger couldn't locate his fastball in his first start with the Indians, and he may have been partially distracted in his final start that came shortly before his wife gave birth to his second daughter. overall, he didn't have the flashiest spring, but had a 2-1 record. he made five appearances and finished with an 11.12 ERA in 5.1 innings. he also allowed two home runs and walked eight, but i'm not worried about him. while in camp, he worked on minimizing the tap of his lead foot before throwing his pitches. Clevinger will likely be the first guy called up if something happens to anyone in our current starting 5 thanks to the experience he gained in the bigs last season.

--Ryan Merritt will be known around Cleveland as the hero of the 2016 American League Championship Series for a while. the southpaw started the Tribe's first Cactus League game this year and had some difficulty. he appeared in four games before being optioned to Columbus, performing best in his last two. all-in-all, he gave up eight runs, one homer, and two walks while striking out seven in 8.1 innings. i think he'll provide good depth for us if needed at some point this year.

--Shawn Morimando also made four appearances with the Indians in spring, including one start on a split squad day. his final numbers were nothing to write home about, although he didn't allow any home runs. he gave up six runs on 12 hits, walked two, and struck out 11 in 8.2 innings. he needs more time in Triple A to work on his stuff before he's ready to be a fixture in the big leagues. but he should be a promising future option.

--Adam Plutko had an excellent spring in four outings with the Tribe. he amassed 10 strikeouts while only giving up one run in 8.0 innings pitched, and was also credited with two saves. i don't know if he'll see time in Cleveland as a starter this season, but he may join them in the bullpen down the road like last year.

--Chris Narveson struggled this spring. in 9.2 innings of relief, he gave up 11 hits, three home runs, and six runs. he also compiled an 0-2 record with a 4.66 ERA after six appearances out of the bullpen. so why did i list him here? because the Indians plan to use him as a starter in Columbus. he got the start on March 30 and in 5.0 innings, he gave up five hits and five runs, but also struck out five. that brought his total spring ERA up to 5.52 and he finished 0-3. i'm not that familiar with this guy, and i can't imagine him getting called up ahead of our other options unless we are in dire need.

--unfortunately, i can't include Cody Anderson on the list this year because he recently had Tommy John surgery on March 27 in Dallas, Texas, and will be out for 12-18 months. (and that could be why Narveson got a Triple A starting spot...) initially, Anderson had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow back in November 2016, shortly after the World Series ended. as he began to increase his throwing intensity in camp, he felt a sharp pain in his elbow, which turned out to be a mild UCL sprain. a second opinion from Dr. Keith Meister--one of the doctors who operated on Brantley's biceps--confirmed the sprained ulnar collateral ligament along with a mild flexor strain. following that, Anderson decided it would be best to have the reconstruction surgery. he never pitched in one spring game and now will be shelved for the entire 2017 season and possibly miss the early part of 2018 as well.


BULLPEN:

coming into camp, our bullpen was almost completely filled. spots were already occupied by Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, and Boone Logan. and once we got to the end of spring training, it was revealed that Shawn Armstrong would also be making the roster and pitching in relief for us, at least for the start of the season anyway.

--due to their workload in the playoffs, Allen and Shaw were brought on a little more slowly. neither appeared in a game until March 5. Allen pitched a total of 8.2 innings in nine games, gave up four runs on six hits, and struck out eight. he had one categorically bad outing, when he gave up three runs and was charged with a blown save. other than that, our closer looks ready to go.

--Shaw of course stayed true to form and had his annual underwhelming spring. he was still working on things right up through his last appearance in the final game, which was one of his worst. overall, he allowed 19 hits, 16 runs, but only two homers in nine games and 7.2 innings. he finished with a paltry 17.61 ERA. Francona did not seem concerned, assuring the media that the ball was coming out of his hand good, he just wasn't locating. but is that really all it is? every year we wonder, is this going to be the year all those innings from previous seasons catch up to him? but then he goes out there and, aside from a few stinkers, is one of the more reliable pitchers in the 'pen, especially as he racks up innings on his stats sheet. so how can i expect anything else from him right now?

--Miller also should have taken things easy at the start of spring, but he had to get ready for the World Baseball Classic. his first outing in the WBC was not good--he gave up TWO home runs and the internet practically blew up. yet in his first game back with the Tribe, he looked like his usual self. overall, he pitched 7.0 innings in seven games and had a 5.14 ERA, giving up two homers and striking out eight hitters. i'm not worried and i anticipate he will set a strikeout record this year.

--McAllister was the only reliever to get stretched out for the purpose of possibly making a spot start during the regular season. he started one spring game and, in what was probably his poorest appearance, he allowed five hits and two home runs in 2.0 innings. in spite of that, i believe he's primed and ready to be another staple of the bullpen. he pitched 11.2 innings in nine total games, striking out 12 batters and walking just one. he surrendered three homers overall and earned one save. in general, he pitches very well unless he's hurt, so remember that if McAllister is ever largely inefficient on the mound for several consecutive games this year.

--Otero had the best spring out of everyone. he started off very strong and didn't give up a run until his 9th appearance on March 26. prior to that, he had 8.2 clean innings of work. he finished right behind McAllister for most innings pitched with 11.1. in 11 games, he gave up two walks, no homers, and just the one run. he also struck out five and had a 0.79 ERA. fantastic.

--Logan got roughed up after his first outing and had some more struggles along the way. he was also apparently continuing to work on stuff, right up to the final Cactus League game. when spring ended, he had a 9.90 ERA in 11 appearances and 10.0 innings. he gave up 11 runs, two homers, and four walks, but he did strike out 14. i didn't get a sense of dependability from him and i worry that his $5.5 million deal was a mistake. to be honest, i would say right now he's the weak link in our bullpen, though he may not be that weak. it's probable that he can become a dominant second left-hander in the pen to get out lefty hitters.

--Armstrong was pretty much equal with Otero in terms of effectiveness. he did a lot in the offseason to make improvements and it showed in spring. he worked on his mechanics, used weighted balls to train, and increased his bullpen work. he also kept in touch with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. he didn't give up a run until his 9th appearance on March 27 after 9.1 perfect innings. he finished with two runs allowed, three walks, 10 strikeouts, and 10.2 IP in 11 games. he also compiled a 2-1 record and 0.84 ERA. moreover, the Tribe tried to stretch him out so that he could pitch in multiple innings this year. he was my preference to complete the bullpen because he really seemed to be locked in this spring. he's had some success with us in the past, so here's hoping that continues.


RELIEVERS IN COLUMBUS:

every relief pitcher who was relegated to Columbus should fear not, because there's a very big chance that they will all be making that drive up the I-71 to Cleveland sooner or later this season. and the Indians have several candidates to choose from when they need someone.

--Nick Goody had a very strong spring, finishing with a 0.90 ERA before being optioned to Columbus. he appeared in 10 Cactus League games, pitched a total of 10.0 innings, and induced 11 strikeouts. he allowed a mere one run while walking three. Francona outwardly stated that he would have made the team if they were going with an 8-man bullpen. Goody will probably be the first reliever called up when the Indians need a fresh arm or perhaps have an open roster spot, and i think he will definitely be helpful in our bullpen.

--Kyle Crockett had one of the better springs out of all the relievers and was a contender to get that final spot in the bullpen right up until the last week. (although, i think the writing was on the wall for the lefty when Logan got signed.) in 10 outings and 10.0 innings, he struck out 13 and didn't walk a batter. he gave up three runs on nine hits and did not allow any homers. he also earned one save in two opportunities. he looked like the Crockett i always thought he would be, but never seems to be when he's actually on the Major League team. evidently, he pitches best when he gets rest in between appearances, but that won't always be the case in the majors and that's presumably why he hasn't done consistently well during his time with the Indians.

--Carlos Frias didn't do too bad, but he also didn't get that much time on the mound either. in six games, he gave up nine hits and allowed three runs in 7.0 innings. in addition, he earned one save. like Goody and Crockett, he wasn't given the news that he would not be opening with the Indians until the final week of spring. i don't know much about him, but we should see him in Cleveland sometime this year. maybe he'll turn into a reliable bullpen weapon for us.

--Tyler Olson pretty much lost his shot to begin the year with the Indians once they signed lefty Logan, which is a real shame because he had the much better spring of the two. in 11 games, he gave up three runs, one home run, and six walks. he struck out 11 in 10.2 innings, earned a save, and acquired a 2.53 ERA. i expect him to get at least one call up this season.

--Joe Colon's 19.80 ERA looks horrible, but he only pitched in five spring games with the Tribe. in an early outing, he allowed six runs and two home runs in 1.0 inning. he spent a lot of time away from the club while taking part in the WBC with Team Puerto Rico, which basically ruined his chance of making the roster. in his first appearance back from the WBC, he gave up a grand slam in the 9th inning and blew a game for us. knowing him from last season, i can confirm he's better than that, but clearly needs some time to work out his kinks.

--Perci Garner pitched in four games with the Indians before being optioned to Columbus fairly early in spring (March 12). he didn't allow any runs, walked five, and induced five strikeouts in 3.2 innings. it's inevitable he will pitch for Cleveland this year.

 --Josh Martin gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in 8.0 innings in eight games this spring. five of those runs did come in just 1.0 inning, however. his total ERA was 10.13. i don't know much about Martin either, but he wouldn't be my choice for a call up if we can avoid it.

--Steve Delabar struck out 10 batters, but walked nine in eight appearances. he also allowed 12 hits and six runs in 8.1 innings. i can see the potential here, though i'm not sure how he will perform in high pressure Major League situations. 

--Tim Cooney was diagnosed with a strain of the flexor digitorum superficialis muscle, aka the left mid-forearm, the day after spring games started and will be out for 10-12 weeks. he was optioned to Columbus before the middle of March. if he makes it up to Cleveland, it won't be until later in the year and who knows how he will do... 


OPENING THE SEASON ON THE DL:

before i go into the position player evaluations, i must acknowledge the guys who are currently injured and will not be starting their year with the Tribe just yet.

--Jason Kipnis is still a ways away from playing with the Indians. when he first got to Goodyear, the team mentioned that he was on a "special" throwing program to build strength in his shoulder. then when spring games began, it came out that he felt discomfort when he was throwing the ball and had a strained right rotator cuff. he received a cortisone shot and was shut down for five days before resuming throwing. on March 9, he made his Cactus League debut as the DH, but was shut down again on March 12 for two weeks because of the strain. then a week later it was announced that Kip would be out 4-5 weeks and starting the season on the disabled list because of inflammation. many fans are equating Kip to Brantley, which i don't understand because those are two, well actually three, entirely different issues. Kipnis seems to only have pain with throwing, as he did go 2-for-5 at the plate in his two spring games. hopefully the extra rest will take care of the problem and nothing lingers into the season.

--Lonnie Chisenhall looked to be having a nice spring until he ran into a wall--literally. a week before camp was supposed to break, Chiz ended up with a mild sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder after attempting to catch a ball and smacking into the right field wall at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. he was shut down for three days and, following his re-evaluation, he was told he would be opening the year on the DL. prior to that, Chiz obtained five extra base hits, including two home runs, and six RBI. he also played a couple games in center field and did well. he's not expected to miss too much time; in fact, the team believes he will only be out for the first week (road trip) of the regular season.


POSITION PLAYERS:

in the past, i have rated the hitters and split them up into sections based on if they did good or bad in spring. this year, i can't do that because i feel like every position player who made the 25-man had a positive spring. so i'm just going to go around the diamond, list everybody out, and make my analyzations.

--newbie Encarnacion had a good camp, batting .311 (14-for-45) overall, but in the beginning he was mostly hitting what i called a lot of weak singles. according to Terry Pluto, he's not normally a great hitter in the spring, so i guess we shouldn't panic because he mainly hit his home runs in BP. that's right, the big bopper didn't hit any bombs in Cactus League play until the very last spring game on March 31. his other extra base hits were doubles (five) and he had a total of seven RBI. he also struck out 19 times, which is something we'll simply have to live with. defensively, he made one error at 1st base, but Francona disclosed EE will DH more than play 1st base in the regular season.

--Santana spent a significant amount of spring away from the Tribe while playing for Team Dominican Republic in the WBC. before he left, he wasn't hitting much, but when he was in the tournament, he did well. and that continued when he rejoined the Indians. in 12 games, he finished 10-for-38 (.263) with four doubles, one home run, and four RBI. he's going to play a lot more 1st base this year than last season, so said Tito, and may also play in right field when the team plays in National League parks. i think he's ready and could rival his career high HR total from 2016.

--Francisco Lindor went all the way to the championship game of the WBC with Team Puerto Rico. he played A LOT for them and was one of their best offensive players. if you combine his stats from that and his spring with the Tribe, then nothing looks out of the ordinary, but truthfully, he did a lot better during the tournament. overall in Cactus League play, he bat .229 (8-for-35) with two doubles, one home run, and four RBI in 11 games. his sole error came very early on in camp. otherwise, he showed off his skills at short with a number of his routine outstanding defensive plays. he's as ready as he's ever gonna be for the regular season and i'm confident that he's going to have another spectacular year with both his bat and his glove.

--Jose Ramirez got the Indians' first hit of the spring this year and he played the most out of all the starters. he also got a five-year, $26 million contract extension. (one good season and they gave him a better deal than Brantley got before he even proved he could do it again? that's a dope agent Jose has lol) overall, he had a great spring, batting .304 with seven doubles (team high), one homer, and seven RBI, but his strikeouts were a little high (nine in 56 ABs) compared to what we saw from him last year. he began camp playing 3rd base, then had to move over and play 2nd once Kipnis went down with his shoulder pain. and the Indians have decided he will be Kip's replacement at 2nd, marking the third straight year that he doesn't open up the season at 3rd. but if you didn't know, 2nd base was actually his "natural" position, so his defense there shouldn't be a hindrance. case in point, he had no errors anywhere on the infield this spring. (and Tito already specified he's not planning on putting Ramirez in the outfield this year, fyi.) i'm still a bit skeptical that his bat will continue to be hot. i need to see it in order to believe that he's not a one-year wonder.

--Yandy Diaz, welcome to The Show! he was certainly the star of spring. he put together a performance much like Naquin did during ST 2016, batting .458 (22-for-48) with four doubles, one triple, two homers, a team high 15 RBI, and team high eight walks. he also had a team high 22 hits in 20 games and went 2-for-3 in each of his last four games. the only negative from his camp was that he missed a little time with a groin injury. i was amazed that he made the OD roster because of his current questionable defense. besides that, it's unknown as to whether or not his hot bat will remain as such in the cold Cleveland April weather. the Tribe doesn't typically allow first timers to debut right out of camp because there's a high probability they will start slow and lose confidence. i admit, i am nervous that that may happen with Diaz. i know everyone was rallying for him to make the team, and therefore my reservations will be met with incredulousness. sorry.

--early on in spring, Brandon Guyer had minor right hamstring soreness, which delayed his appearance in Cactus League games. he also had the flu for a short period of time. when he did play, he had a good camp--six RBI, one double, two home runs, four walks in 14 games. and of course, he got hit by three pitches, the most in spring. but you really can't complain about those stats from a platoon outfielder. although, Francona did publicize that he plans on playing Guyer more against right-handed pitchers this season because he thinks that will help him become an even better hitter against lefties. we'll see.

--Brantley had such an impressive spring that there was no way the team couldn't agree to put him on the OD roster, right? wrong. that decision still isn't official. they're waiting until tomorrow (April 2) to make sure Brant feels good and if he does, which i'm certain he will, then the exhilarating news will be reported. he played probably the least out of all the regulars, including the ones who went off to the WBC and missed time in camp. in his eight games, he bat .385 (10-for-26) and hit two doubles and two home runs while driving in five. he appears to be healthy and he's swinging the bat without any pain, which has to be the main takeaway from spring--not what his final numbers were, even though they were pretty damn good. and the fact that he's even being considered for the Opening Day roster, after everything he's been through, is enough for me to start getting excited for his Major League return. welcome back! (if you want full details of Michael's spring rehab, see my Brantley's Cactus League 2017 Rehab & Game Details blog.)

--Tyler Naquin had another superb spring in spite of some bad luck. he fouled a ball off his foot during one game, then later was sidelined for a few days with bilateral knee soreness. his ailments could have been the reason why he cooled off after a very hot start. of his final five games, he went hitless in four. but overall, he hit five doubles and one homer, drove in five, and bat .333 in 39 at bats. in the outfield, he also attained one assist. it's been suggested that Naquin could possibly see time in right field this year if needed, and he's also going to face more left-handed pitching. so that will be interesting.

--Jackson proved to everyone that after his June 2016 surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee, he is healthy again. he got a late start to playing in Cactus League games, but when he did, he showed no signs of a setback. in total, he got 33 at bats in 13 games, hitting six doubles and one home run. he also had eight RBI. his one drawback is he's probably going to whiff a bunch, too. this spring he had 10 strikeouts and just three walks. furthermore, he recorded one outfield assist. he could potentially be like an equivalent for Davis because he's great in center field and has some speed, although i surely don't expect him to steal like Davis did last year. i'm happy A-Jax made our big league team, i feel that was the right choice, and i hope he does some good things for us this season.

--thankfully, we did not discover any discouraging news about Abraham Almonte this spring. (say no to drugs, kids lol) he had one of the better camps of all the regulars, yet he made the OD roster purely because Chiz is opening on the DL, which to me seems absurd. he can play all three OF spots; wouldn't you choose him for your squad independent of other players' health? he bat .352 in spring, hit four doubles and three home runs, drove in 12, walked six times, and even stole three bases. in addition, he had a 12-game hitting streak, which was the longest streak by an Indians player in the spring since Asdrubal Cabrera's 13-gamer in 2011. defensively, he acquired himself an outfield assist as well. i was abundantly pleased with what i saw from him in spring and i pray he's not the one who gets demoted when Chiz comes off the disabled list.

--Michael Martinez is not a favorite among Indians fans, i know. but the guy is a utility player and Francona loves him. and he actually had a pretty productive spring, batting .345 (20-for-58) with five doubles, one triple, one home run, and nine RBI. he mostly played 2nd base, but appeared in three games in the OF and obtained one assist. Martinez generally does not perform even close to this level during the regular season, so it's hard to get hyped about him. he may not stay on the big league squad the whole year and could be sent down and called up repeatedly as needed.

--Gomes had a tremendous spring and i think, after how his 2016 played out, he needed that. batting .370, he had six doubles, three homers, and seven RBI, and his nine extra base hits were the most out of all the guys in Major League camp. more importantly, his arm already appears to be in mid-season form, as he threw out (a catcher's high) four runners trying to steal, including two in one game. maybe now Gomes can put his past misfortunes behind him and be a valuable contributor in the lineup this year.

--Roberto Perez missed most of spring because he was part of Team Puerto Rico in the WBC, though he did have a few good games before he left. Perez only appeared in two games with his country's team and i personally think it was kind of a waste for him to be there for over two weeks. he needed the most practice out of everyone since he's never been that great with the bat. be that as it may, he did end up hitting .304 (7-for-23) for the Tribe with two doubles, two RBI, five walks, and one stolen base in 10 games. his skills behind the plate seem sharp, and his arm looked great, too, as he threw out three baserunners. with any luck, we'll get a little more out of his bat this season than we have in the past.
**edit: on April 2, the Indians signed Perez to a $9 million, four-year extension with club options for 2021 and 2022. congrats!


STARTING LINEUP:

right now, here is what i think our 1-5 lineup will be:
Santana 1B
Lindor SS
Brantley LF
Encarnacion DH
Ramirez 2B

after that, i'm not sure. Gomes might have a home batting 6th until Chiz returns. i don't know where the likes of Jackson/Naquin/Almonte will bat, but i'd imagine they'll be somewhere in the bottom 3rd of the order. and where should Diaz hit so that he's not overwhelmed during his first taste of the big leagues? 9th? it's tough to call. i also think there could be times when Santana doesn't lead off. then when Kipnis comes back, how does that affect the top of the order? does he go back to batting 2nd, which would push Lindor back to 3rd, and then does Brantley move to 5th, and so on? i'm not convinced that Brant will be the main 3-hole hitter. really the only player with a set BOP is Encarnacion--he's batting cleanup every day that he plays. there's still a lot to be finalized, but i'd bet Francona doesn't necessarily mind having this conundrum.

despite the current uncertainties, we're gonna have a pretty solid lineup from top to bottom. the first five is a very lethal group coming at opposing pitchers right out of the gate. and some of the others towards the bottom, if they are used in situations where they have the most success, then we will once again see a lot of offense from these guys. there are plenty of capable batters on this team who can hit at least 20 home runs, if not more. and regardless of who hits where, i think we're going to be tough on both right-handed and left-handed pitchers this year.

what are your thoughts on the batting order? comment below!


BATS IN COLUMBUS:

now let me go through a selection of the more notable players who are starting out their seasons in Triple A Columbus, some of whom may end up with the parent club before 2017 concludes. i'm going to provide a 👍 after my analyzations to indicate who i wouldn't mind seeing in Cleveland this year and who i think could help the most.

--Bradley Zimmer was another one of the stars of the spring, no question. except there was no room for Zimmer when it came time for the Indians to establish their 25-man roster. he got a lot of playing time with the Tribe, going 19-for-53 and batting .358 with five doubles, one triple, three homers, 14 RBI, team high four stolen bases, and team high 35 total bases. his lone blemish was one error in the outfield. he literally could not have done more, but could stand to play in Triple A for a while prior to joining the big leaguers. and i can see him being called up sometime this year.👍

--Giovanny Urshela took part in the WBC with Team Columbia, but he didn't miss much time with the Indians because his team didn't advance very far. he had a decent camp offensively, finishing with two doubles, two homers (one being a grand slam), and seven RBI. still, the Tribe decided to give Diaz the temporary spot at 3rd base until Kip comes back and Ramirez returns to the hot corner. i was taken aback by that decision because we know Urshela is consistently solid with his defense, which cannot be said for Diaz (yet). once toted as a top prospect in the organization, Ursh has not played in the bigs since 2015. and now i'm beginning to wonder if there's even a place for him with the Indians anymore. is it possible that his time has already come and gone? might his name end up on the trading table someday soon?

--Richie Shaffer (1st baseman) had a nice camp, but he didn't have a chance to make the team. he played in 25 games, hit five doubles, and drove in nine runners. not to mention, he actually led everyone in home runs with four. (and if you predicted that he'd be the HR leader this spring, please come to the casino with me! lol) i don't know if there will be much of a need for him at any point this season unless Santana or Encarnacion get hurt, and even then he may not be first on the call-up sheet.👍

--Daniel Robertson's spring went very well. he had 61 total ABs, the most out of everyone. he bat .328 in 25 games and hit two doubles, a team high two triples, and one home run. he also scored 13 runs and drove in nine. he even acquired one outfield assist and was part of a double play. unfortunately, he left the last game he was in early after seemingly injuring his hamstring, but not before going 3-for-4 with three RBI. irrespective of that, i'm unsure if he'll ever get to Cleveland this season.👍

--Eric Gonzalez (infielder) had what should be a confidence-boosting camp, especially after his struggles on the Indians last year. he bat .308 with two doubles, one triple, two homers, and 11 RBI, but he did strike out 19 times versus drawing only one walk. in addition, he committed two errors in 29 chances. towards the end of spring training, he was hit in the hand and then sat out some games. he's turning into a utility type player so the Tribe will have more options of where they can put him, but what he will bring to the team offensively remains unclear. the reason Martinez made the team over him, aside from all of MM's big league experience and versatility, is that the Indians wanted Gonzo to play every day, which he wouldn't in Cleveland. maybe we'll see him get called up later in the summer.

--Chris Colabello was yet another player from Indians camp who participated in the WBC. he represented for Team Italy, but was one of the first guys to return after his team was eliminated in the tournament. he ended up getting quite a bit of playing time in spring and put together a solid performance. he hit five doubles and three home runs, had eight RBI, and bat .356 overall. sadly this 1st baseman, through no fault of his own, lost his shot at breaking camp with the team once they signed Encarnacion. if EE goes down with an injury though, and the Tribe wants someone who can split time playing 1st base with Santana in his absence, i assume Colabello will be the their first choice call up from C-bus.👍

--Ronnie Rodriguez had what i'd consider a good camp for him. the 2nd baseman played in a significant amount of games and finished with four doubles, two home runs, and seven RBI. his name always seems to come up in conversations of who could the Indians use in a trade if they needed, so i question whether he will ever get called up before he's no longer in our farm system...

--Nellie Rodriguez (1st baseman) was the better Rodriguez this spring. in 14 games, he bat .370 (10-for-27), though nine of his hits were singles. on the bright side, he obtained four RBI, but also had nine strikeouts compared to one walk. he's another player that may never make it to The Show with the Indians.

--Eric Stamets, in my opinion, did not do much to get himself noticed this spring. he hit a memorable grand slam, which contributed to his nine total RBI, but for the amount of appearances he made, that .176 BA (from six hits in 34 at bats) was poor. he's not ready for the majors yet and frankly, there's nowhere to put this shortstop right now anyway.

--Adam Moore (catcher) had a good spring last year and had another one this year. before being optioned to Columbus, he appeared in 15 games with the Tribe. his playing time clearly increased due to Perez being away from the club for the WBC. Moore had a .375 Cactus League batting average, hit three home runs, and acquired eight RBI. he will only be brought up to Cleveland in an emergency because Gomes and Perez are our #1 and #2 catchers.

--Erik Kratz (catcher) also gained more appearances with the Tribe thanks to Perez being gone and Gomes being out on paternity leave for a few days. he knew he had zero chance of making the club, yet that did not deter him from trying his hardest to have a good spring and help the team. he hit a couple doubles and homers and didn't do too badly as a whole. how he'd do if he was called up though is anyone's guess. 


THE FUTURE:

finally, i want to take a minute to recognize the performances of two other special Indians prospects.

--catcher Francisco Mejia played with the Tribe for a little bit until he was optioned to Double A Akron on March 15 and he did quite well. he appeared in 11 games and bat .421 (8-for-19) with one double, two home runs (including one GRAND SLAM), and eight RBI. even with him mainly coming in later in games and not facing top tier Major League pitching, that's pretty extraordinary for a kid and i know it was a very valuable experience for him, too. he's one of our top prospects for a reason and i'm looking forward to his debut in Cleveland (which probably won't be until at least 2018).

--last month, i read that OF Greg Allen was going to start this year in Triple A Columbus. on March 30, however, an article proclaimed he will be opening in Double A Akron instead. he did not do as well as Zimmer and new Major Leaguer Diaz, but for all intents and purposes, he had a successful camp with the Indians. he had 11 hits, three of which were doubles, two RBI, and three stolen bases. he played the most time in the outfield between he, Zimmer, and Diaz, and had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. he'll likely be the last of this trio to debut in Cleveland, but he's definitely someone to keep an eye on down in Akron.


so did i cover everything? is there something about a player that i didn't point out that you think is important? and did i leave any player out that you want identified? leave your thoughts and player evaluations in a comment below!


Final Thoughts on the Season

for much of the offseason, the biggest worry revolved around Brantley being healthy and ready for Opening Day. and now that we know that he is, while that's great news, Tribe fans still can't quite jump for joy because of the question mark surrounding Kipnis. yes, with Kip out, the Indians are not at their strongest. but if there's one thing we learned from the 2016 campaign, it's that when someone went down, another player stepped in and stepped up. besides, April hasn't always been the Tribe's best month anyway, though it was something they worked on improving last season. so if they begin the 162-game marathon a little slow, they'll just have to make it up as the year continues on.

it's not going to be an easy journey, as anything worth having never comes easy. everyone in that locker room knows this team now has a target on their back; that's the downfall of going to Game 7 of the World Series. they've proven that they're a force to be reckoned with, and teams are going to have a little more motivation to try and beat the Indians in 2017.

this upcoming season will have its ups and downs. i'm anticipating many unforgettable moments this year, like walk-off wins and blowout games, web gems and jaw-dropping defensive plays, clutch ABs and record-setting performances, hitting streaks and winning streaks. i can't wait to see our starters go for complete game shutouts and strike out 10+ batters in a game. i wanna see the relievers come in and shut down their opposition. basically, i want the teams we play to leave the field in a state of embarrassment lol

on the contrary, i know we will have some exceptionally ugly games as well. there will be heartbreaking, last-second losses that sting. there will be costly mistakes and unsightly defensive blunders. there will be cringe-worthy at bats and baserunning gaffes. there will be unfavorable starts and finishes. and there will be injuries. this isn't anything new, these things happen all the time. but it's how the team handles these pitfalls that will determine if they are truly a contender. this team doesn't make excuses and doesn't let any of the negativity linger, and because of that, i think they'll bounce back and be fine when facing any hardships.

last year, the Indians were the epitome of a team. everybody worked together and they were so close to achieving their ultimate goal of winning the World Series. that unity is liable to exist once again because just about every player who went to the Fall Classic remains with us. and they've all bonded even more over that experience. even better, they're hungry to get one more win. am i fearful that the departure of some key players for the WBC may have disrupted or weakened the team chemistry? no. i'm confident that, at the helm of Terry Francona (the 2016 AL Manager of the Year, i might add), this Tribe team can put together a fifth straight winning season and make another run at a championship--and quite possibly win it this time.

we have an incredible starting five rotation and a bullpen that may be tops in the league. we have an extremely dominant lineup, one through nine, that every pitcher is not going to be happy to face. we have some bench options that are capable of producing when called upon as well. so if we can stay relatively healthy, then we will be one of the best teams in baseball this year. that's a fact and that's why i think every Indians fan out there should be enthusiastic and fired up for the new season. we have unfinished business to attend to, and we're gonna.

are you excited for this season? tell me why in the comments!


My Streak & 2017 Plans

my health is fair at best, i have never tried to hide that, and things always seem to crop up on me at the worst possible times. yet somehow, for the past six straight seasons, i haven't missed any Indians games. that's correct, at the conclusion of last season, i not only maintained but also extended my consecutive games streak. my 2016 was hectic, but i was fortunate enough to be able to organize my life schedule around baseball. no matter what i had to do, i was always free of obligations come game time.

that's one hell of an accomplishment, if i do say so myself, and at this point it's become an obsession. i have the best of intentions to keep my record intact and go for a lucky seven straight years without missing a game. i will do whatever is in my power to be unoccupied every time the Tribe plays. i don't want to be doing anything else if i know a game is on anyway. that said, i know that the day will come when i have no choice but to miss part of or an entire game. emergencies may force me to relinquish control, i understand that. the streak won't continue forever, but i'm hoping i can get at least one more year on it.😉

the Indians' promotional schedule typically helps me choose which games i'm going to go to each season. this year, i've picked out a total of 10 games to attend in 2017. i will be hitting up most of the games that include a bobblehead or replica jersey giveaway, along with some other special occasion games like the Home Opener and the last couple games of the season. health permitting, that is... i can't tell you how many times i've woken up on a game day and felt too sick to make the 2+ hour trek out to Cleveland. so here's to good health this year.🤞


for Tribe fans, the offseason lasted a mere 151 days from November 3, 2016 to April 2, 2017. (that's almost unheard of.) but because i was constantly writing blogs and keeping up with Brantley's rehab and hitting progressions, i really didn't even consider that time to be an offseason. i barely took any kind of break, but i'm not complaining. if i didn't love this, i wouldn't do it. i eat, sleep, and breathe Indians baseball and i'm explicitly ready for things to get "underway at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario!" i can't wait to see what happens this year. win/lose, good/bad, blowout or blown out, i will be cheering the boys on for all 162 games AND the playoffs cause i am Ride or Die and that is what i do. Let's Go Tribe!


ALCS, NLCS, & World Series Picks

every year i end my spring blog with my picks for who will face off in their respective championship series and who will emerge as World Series victors. and every year i am usually ridiculously wrong about my choices lol so here's what i got this time!

the ALCS matchup i'm seeing this year is Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox. i have to go with the biggest favorites here. sorry to everyone else in the American League, your season is gonna be irrelevant. and i'm undeniably drinking the Kool-aid because i am actually predicting my Cleveland Indians to be the AL Champs again and return to the World Series for the second straight year. i'm not saying it's gonna be a cakewalk though. this series winner may not be crowned until Game 7.

the NLCS matchup is harder for me to decide because i'm not as familiar with National League teams as i am AL. but after thinking about it for a while, i have chosen the Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals. i think this series will go at least 6 games, and while i am very tempted to pick the Nats here, i genuinely believe the Chicago Cubs will be the NL Champions again.

okay, so maybe it's a little boring or unlikely that both the Indians and Cubs will return to the Fall Classic. but you gotta admit, this would be one heck of a rematch. and i think that's who most Tribe fans want to face anyway, this time with a healthy 5-man rotation AND their best offensive player in the lineup.

after a change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the All Star Game no longer designates home field advantage, so it doesn't matter if the AL loses that game in July. while i don't have a prediction for what the Cubs' win-loss record will be, i do foresee them accumulating more wins than the Tribe, giving them the advantage this year. nevertheless, i don't view that as a key factor: i'm picking the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series in 6 games! Go fuckin' Tribe! #unfinishedbusiness

don't agree with me? that's fine, but tell me why! leave your predictions for the AL/NL Wild Card teams, ALDS/NLDS, ALCS/NLCS, and/or World Series winner in a comment below.

btw, Sports Illustrated has predicted a Los Angeles Dodgers-Cleveland Indians World Series with the Tribe coming out on the losing end once again.🙄 at least we didn't make it onto one of their covers. don't even get me started...


remember, for all your Michael Brantley news this season, follow me on twitter @clevelandgirl23. i retweet news and updates, tweet game info in real-time, and post game videos and pictures. basically, i am your one-stop shop for all things Brantley!😉

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thank you for reading!!!

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