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3.24.2014

Springing Into Action: Brantley's Spot and Finding a Place for Chiz

Nino Colla | Monday, March 24, 2014 | | | | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

Things are starting to come together for this version of the 2014 Cleveland Indians as they round the corner of spring training. Plenty of roster moves have been made in the past few days, and plenty more to follow as the Opening Day roster beings to take shape. We've got just one week to the season's beginning, and I really can't believe it is already here.
Photo - Chuck Crow via Cleveland Plain Dealer

I said this last time, but I think things go quickly when you are paying less attention or are less entrenched in the happenings. Other things for me have been going really slow. The baseball season though? It has approached very quickly.

I'm not sure I prefer that though. I like to stop and savor each moment. I like it taking forever. The anticipation, the build-up, the fact that I get to let my steak marinate for an extra long time so that when I do finally get to enjoy it, it tastes really freakin' good.

Here's a first for you. I'm going to be out of town for the start of baseball season. I'm going to miss the first three games. So, I guess, I do have to wait. I have to wait a little longer than all of you. Which is why I'm throwing myself back into the fray right now. I'm going to let this week-plus between now and real live Indians baseball that counts go by incredibly slow. My steak needs some seasoning before I bite in.

I've been sitting back, reading what I can, catching up on the happenings, trying to stay in the know, so that when I did make this return into posting, I wouldn't be completely lost. The truth is, this is just like picking up an old book. The more you read it, the more you remember how it goes.

I'm on a roll with the analogies so far.

So what do I have for you on this lovely Monday morning where it seems we just can't get past this cold weather? While, my analogies are in mid-season form, my segues are not quite there, so you'll have to excuse me while I transition rather awkwardly. Kind of like how you struggle to bring up the real topic you wanted to talk about in the middle of one you really can't concentrate on because you are thinking about how to bring up the real topic you wanted to talk about.

I'm hitting 1.000 so far boys and girls. I'm a regular Luigi Rodriguez.

There's the segue! Spring stats are overrated, but is there anything Michael Brantley doesn't hit? Hopefully he isn't getting a head-start on the season and this is just a warm-up for what's to come with him this season. He's crushing it so far and that is really good to see on the heels of his contract extension. To me, it will be interesting to see how Francona shapes up his lineup from the outset. I'm sure he has a better handle on things this year than he did last year, knowing his talent a lot better and everything.

But, I have to wonder if he's thinking about a configuration that will be able to be consistent from 1 to 162, where he won't have to make any sort of drastic switches and configurations. Of course, with the possibility of missing Michael Bourn to start the season, that pretty much ruins that idea, but he has been slotting Brantley fifth. I know spring is about ABs and not so much the position, but the past few games are a good indication of what a manager is looking to do and lately, it's been Cabrera, Swisher, Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, Gomes.

And really, those are the Indians six best hitters that will be in the Opening Day lineup, so you theoretically want your six best hitters hitting first. The matter at hand is the configuration of it. It mimics what Tito was doing last year towards the end with Swisher, Kipnis, and Santana in the middle of the order, but of course slightly adjusted given Bourn's absence. Cabrera, who was shifted down to sixth towards the end of the season has been leading off. An interesting choice given it was Brantley who was typically the lead off guy when Bourn was out at the beginning of the year and when he missed those three games in the end. Brantley had normally occupied the fifth spot (more than any other position) but was usually Tito's swing guy in putting him in spots all over the lineup.

Do you give Brantley a more regular position, or is part of his value hitting wherever on God's green earth Tito needs him to hit? Is Cabrera leading off to start the season in Bourn's absence (if that's what ends up happening) the right move? Tito said he is just trying to get Cabrera the at-bats right now and will likely not go with that, so I'd have to assume it is back to fifth/sixth in the order come season starting, which may be the best for him to start out and take the pressure off.

Right now, numbers suggest Cabrera is well on his way to thinking bounce back for 2014. He's off to a good start this spring with his .341 average and .438 OBP. Of course, that's 15 spring games and not an indicator of anything special, but it is better than sitting around .100 with double the strikeouts to walks.

I've gone on record, both here and other places that have asked for me to participate in their season previews, that I think Cabrera is going to come out this season firing. This club has put a lot of backing into him by not trading him, even if they were close or entertained the possibility more than any other player on their roster. I think they saw what Ubaldo did last year and realize that if they can squeeze a good season out of Cabrera, which he is more than capable of giving them, they'll get rewarded in multiple ways.

Yeah you can trade him ala Choo or whatever and get something in return, but that is just as guaranteed as a draft pick is in this day and age. I'm not saying Trevor Bauer is just as guaranteed as the draft pick the Indians will use in get in letting Ubaldo walk, but prospects changing systems, even if they are high profile guys, are not "can't miss" as you would think most are. Unless you are trading for major league talent, you are still dealing with a lot of unknown variables.

If they can turn Cabrera back into that shortstop that is playing rockin' defense and making the All-Star team for his bat this season, they'll get a productive spot in the lineup and a draft pick when he leaves. Just as they got with Ubaldo when he provided them a solid season out of the rotation (and was a large reason for their playoff push) and then a draft pick post-exit.

So who exactly is left on this roster with a week left anyway?

The Indians recently decided that Elliot Johnson will be when the club breaks camp, all but making it clear that Jason Giambi will probably be staring the season on the disabled list, or at least not on the active roster ready to contribute due to the rib issue. Johnson can now be a Goon in Training in joining Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, and should see some quality time out of the gate here with Giambi out. Johnson is very much like Aviles in that he can fill multiple roles, and Santana winning the third base job will benefit him greatly as I have to imagine Tito will try and be using Santana at DH in accordance with getting Aviles in the lineup (at third). It's just as much about letting Aviles play than it is spelling Santana at third.

That brings me to good old Lonnie Baseball. Or, Big Lon has he's taken to calling himself this offseason. The Chiz Kid has had an okay spring, hitting .289 with a .385 OBP, a home run, seven RBI, some walks, double the strikeouts. More importantly, he's hit .235 against lefties and five of his 12 strikeouts have come against his kryptonite in just 17 at-bats. Compare that to the seven strikeouts in 28 at-bats against righties, and it appears as if Chiz has made little progress in the thing that is holding him back the most.
Photo - Chuck Crow via Cleveland Plain Dealer

You can't compete with an All-Star caliber cleanup hitter. Point-blank. This was Chisenhall's job to lose from the very beginning. The fact that it was a "competition" is a complete farce. Chiz's only hope was for Santana to come out and be completely Miguel Cabrera-esque in his handled of third, butchering every ground ball hit his way, and air-mailing every throw over Swisher's head at first. That hasn't been the case, in fact, Santana has been statistically better than Chisenhall, handling a few more chances than Chiz and equaling the number of errors. Haven't not seen the games, I can't remark in terms of the range Santana has been able to cover, but I think it is safe to say that Chisenhall didn't get what he needed out of Santana at third to lay claim to the position.

So where does that leave him?

I really don't know. With Bourn out, the Indians are going to want another full-time outfielder who can handle center around to start the season, so it looks like Nyjer Morgan is going to T-Plush his way into Cleveland on Opening Day. That leaves little room, if any at all for Chisenhall. Even as a platoon option at DH, I can't see the Indians keeping him around to start the season. The thing that keeps sticking up to me is what they're going to do with the catching spot. Santana will catch this week and it seems like they're going to make him Gomes' backup, because A) Who are they really going to bring on to be the backup when you have another catcher on the roster and B) Why kill your versatility with having another catcher if you can avoid it?

Columbus has little to help Chisenhall with. He has nothing left to prove at that level and suggesting that "regular at-bats" will help him really is a farce in my opinion. Regular at-bats will keep him sharp, that's for sure and probably the best option come the time you want to/can bring him up, but he'll gain nothing in terms of progression by playing in Triple-A. He is not likely to learn anything that will be a game-changer for him, what he really needs is consistent major league at-bats. Something the Indians are not in a position to give him in a year in which they expect to compete. They want to load their lineup with all of their best players on a regular basis and by putting Santana at third, they maximize their talent and potential.

Chisenhall is just going to have to be the odd-man out for now in terms of regular playing time. It sucks, but that is the reality of it right now. But his saving grace of still being in Cleveland may be the fact that the Indians want to remain versatile and will do so by having Santana be the backup, which opens up plenty of opportunities to keep Chisenhall around in some capacity where he still hits.

Don't even ask me what the hell my preference is for the last rotation spot. I think it is going to go to Josh Tomlin at the outset, but as we know, rotations change on a monthly basis in the big league as injuries and what-not happen. I'm encouraged by Tomlin's performance, looking strong and posting some good Tomlin-like numbers (two walks in 14 innings), and that's probably what will give him the nod. He's pitched the third most innings out of all the starters, so it appears as if the limitations are not strict and the kid gloves are at least off.

I like everything about Carlos Carrasco and want him so desperately to be a starter because of his potential. But against better judgment, how can you entrust in him when he has given little reason to trust him in that regard? He needs to go to the bullpen (because lord knows there is need there) and figure things out first. I wouldn't even entertain Trevor Bauer and if you come at me with this Aaron Harang business, I'll harang you into the nearest tree and use you as a slingshot. I can only assume that harang in verb form means to toss and wrap around a tree. I assume that because I made it up.

I just took a shot at the bullpen, and rightfully so because I'm a little worried about the depth. I feel really good about the look of the back end, from Axford to Allen & Shaw and the lefties in Outman and Scrabble. Color me Canary Concerned (Crayola is calling) as to how the rest of the group will shake out. This team has lots of depth and options, but as far as reliable depth? It's a mixed bag. Pestano WILL be in the bullpen despite his blistering spring ERA, but that really isn't a concern for me because it was one bad outing.

I'd be more elated about the fact that Pestano has to feel really confident that the Indians are in his corner believe in him because it seems to me that his main issue may stem from confidence. He may have lost it, even if he doesn't realize it. I hope this backing is a confidence boost that he can use to just continue his momentum. He's healthy, and I think more importantly, he's confident that he's healthy and that might have been what held him back last year after he did return.

The other spot(s) could come anywhere, which is why you may be just better off using Carrasco. The problem with that is that if you only go with one more arm, you are denying Blake Wood, who's certainly been impressive in his nine appearances. Hard to argue with some good results, which is what he's produced thus far. They've certainly given Wood, CC Lee, and Scott Atchison (whyyy) plenty of opportunity to win a job, and all have had their own pluses.

However it works out, I feel good about the guys they have, its just a matter of finding the right combo to start the season. Remember the tactic the Indians have employed the past few seasons though. Bring in a guy to use and abuse during the early season because this is a marathon, not a sprint. That if anything good for a guy like Atchison, or even more of a reason to go with a guy like Carrasco who has length. Whoever ends up in the front-end is going to be called upon a lot as Francona finds and figures out his bullpen's groove and who goes where, while also trying to keep them fresh and not overworked to start the year.

And now, I'll go off onto mini tangents.

Nice to see the Indians giving Adam Miller yet another shot. If it ain't hurting anybody, why not? Maybe they'll catch some more Sugarland Skeeter magic (try and think of that in a non-dirty way please) after what they had with Kazmir last year. Maybe not to that extent this year, but an opportunity at the professional level could be a great boost for him now that he is apparently healthy.

I love what Bryan LaHair has done in just a few games. He's got virtually no time to make an impact on the races, or maybe he does. Whatever happens, I'd like to see the Indians try and hold onto him in Columbus. You never know when you might need a bat and the guy has proven he has got pop at the major league level.

It is an absolute feather in the cap of Al Ciammaichella that he has been able to sit down two years in a row with Indians President Mark Shapiro. It is a pleasure to sit around and be able to read someone with as much knowledge about the Indians from top to bottom be able to ask the President of our favorite baseball team questions, and get candid, well thought-out answers. Of course there's always some Shapiroese in there, but Shap is genuinely honest and even when he can't answer something, he's honest. When Al asked him about offering a qualifying offer to Kazmir, Shapiro responded in a way that told him he couldn't answer the question, but was still delicate in how he answered it. So hey, go give it a read.

As you have noticed, I've gone away from linking and story sharing within this post, kind of my feeling out process of how the blog is going to look. But I do need to share a few links, the Shapiro interview being one. The other being this great piece on Sports on Earth from John Perrotto about Terry Francona. A great look into how Francona has changed the culture in just one year, and how this club went from being an okay talented team with potential, to a team that found a swagger, added some key pieces, and is getting young-upstarts to compete for a guy who commands respect.

Everything else, pretty insignificant or unimportant in the grand scheme of this return post. Or I just glossed over it. That'll happen when you have a month of baseball to catch up on. More on the regular my friends, stay tuned.

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