Spring Training Notebook: Roster takes shape

There’s less than a week and a half left until the Cleveland Indians open up the 2013 regular season, and it seems as if almost all the puzzle pieces have come together.

It was a busy week for the Indians as the team announced a handful of roster decisions. A number of the previous Spring Training position races now seem to be clear, and we should have a pretty good idea as to what the team’s 25-man roster will look like.

So with that being said, let’s not waste a minute, and let’s look back at the busy week that was…

Player of the Week

Cord Phelps — Utility, 6-for-15, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K.

No official move has been made, but it does appear as if the writing is on the wall for the switch-hitting Phelps. Even though he’s had a tremendous spring season, he seems all but destined to begin the 2013 season back at Triple-A Columbus. In reality, Phelps is a casualty of there being too much of good thing. Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles both have the versatility that Phelps possesses, but Phelps also has one thing that the other players lack — minor league options. While Phelps’ time is not going to come at the start of the season, one has to believe that he could be the first Indian recalled from Columbus if Raburn starts to falter. Phelps has gone 15-for-43 (.349) overall this spring, and it’s clear that the Indians really do like his bat. He’s been unimpressive in two previous stints, but he’s never got a consistent shot. Mark my words, that shot will come sometime this season.

News & notes

— Goodness. Where in the world do we begin? The first big news of the week came on Monday when the Indians announced that neither Daisuke Matsuzaka nor Matt Capps would make the Major League team. Neither one of these moves was necessarily surprising, but it was somewhat surprising to see the response from both players. Matsuzaka has since decided to accept a minor league assignment from the Indians while Capps is weighing his options. Both players had solid camps for the Indians. In eight innings, Matsuzaka posted a 2.25 ERA while Capps posted a 3.60 ERA in five innings of work. The significance of Matsuzaka at Columbus may seem minor, but it really could pay dividends down the road. Do you remember last season and some of the guys the Indians promoted to start games at one point or another? Does Chris Seddon ring a bell? This is not a knock against Seddon, but Matsuzaka will make for a much better option should the Indians need to replace someone in the rotation. As for Capps, time will only tell what the right-hander decides to do. He’s clearly not happy about not making the team, but he’s also clearly not ready. It would be nice to be able to have him as an insurance policy at Triple-A as well.

— Another big bit of news came on Thursday when the Indians reassigned Trevor BauerCorey Kluber and Scott Barnes to Columbus. The significance of these moves is that it confirms what most of us already knew: Scott Kazmirhas won the fifth starter’s job and Nick Hagadone will join Rich Hill as the other left-handed reliever in the bullpen. From the start of Spring Training, it seemed as if Bauer was a long shot to make the Major League roster, and that thought has now been proven. The much-heralded prospect posted a 4.50 ERA with nine strikeouts and four walks in 14 innings this spring. He certainly was impressive at times, but it was also evident that he really needed to work on his command. Triple-A should afford him that opportunity, and it probably will not be too long until we see him make his Major League debut.

— Hagadone definitely deserves the other left-handed spot in the bullpen, especially after he had a 0.00 ERA and struck out 11 batters in 7 2/3 innings this spring. However, perhaps the more interesting question is what exactly happens with Barnes? In 6 1/3 innings this spring, Barnes posted a 2.84 ERA with seven strikeouts and two walks. While he was not as impressive as Hagadone, he was impressive nonetheless, and it’s somewhat of a shame that both relievers did not make this year’s team. It appears as if the Indians are committed to now developing Barnes as a reliever, and his deceptive delivery certainly suits him well in that role. Still, wouldn’t now be a good time to at least see if he can still develop as a starter? If a need arose in Cleveland, it probably would not be hard for Barnes to move out of a starting role and back into the bullpen. There’s been no indication that this is a proposition that the Indians plan to entertain, but it would be nice if the team decided to go this route.

— One player who remains on the Indians’ Spring Training roster is first baseman Chris McGuiness. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Rule 5 selection will be offered back to the Texas Rangers. He’s been somewhat unimpressive this spring as he’s gone just 6-for-37 in 21 games. Regardless, you have to feel for this kid. Imagine the pressure that he’s under right now. McGuiness has never played above the Double-A level, yet he entered Spring Training with the distinct possibility that he could make the Opening Day roster of a Major League ball club. You have to believe that his stomach has been filled with butterflies on a number of games this spring, and it’s easy to see why. He’s not going to make the Indians’ Opening Day roster, but the fact that he’s still on the Indians’ roster at this point is telling. It would appear as if there could be a deal in the works between the Rangers and Indians, which would result in McGuiness staying with the Tribe. Perhaps this is not the case, but then why would he still be in camp? The answer to this question will probably be answered sooner rather than later.

— In his last two spring outings, Ubaldo Jimenez has gone at least five innings, allowed two earned runs and walked a total of just one batter. For the entire spring season, he has a 4.91 ERA in 18 1/3 innings of work, while striking out 14 and walking just three. Not everything has been perfect as he’s also hit two batters and recorded two wild pitches, but it’s somewhat troubling to see so many fans still down on Jimenez. Yes, his velocity is down. Yes, he’s allowed a lot of hits. Yes, he still seems to mentally lose it at times. But he’s also walking far fewer batters. There’s no reason to believe that he can be the great pitcher that he once was in Colorado, but the lower number of walks do indicate that he can be a better pitcher this season. That’s not saying he’ll even be a good pitcher, but he should be better, and that’s a start. After the debacle of last year, the Indians can take all the improvement they can get when it comes to the pitching department.

— As stated earlier, it appears as if Kazmir has earned a spot in the Indians’ rotation, but Carlos Carrasco is still in camp with the Major League club. Carrasco been less than stellar this spring as the right-hander has a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings of work. It seems highly unlikely that he has a legitimate shot to make the team’s rotation, but it does seem as if he could have a chance to make that Opening Day roster. That statement may seem peculiar as Carrasco is obviously only going to have a role on this team as a starting pitcher. However, it’s entirely possible that he starts in Cleveland just so he can serve the six-game suspension from 2011. This may be looked at as a cheap tactic, but it’s one that the Indians could and should consider using.

Quick hits

— In eight games for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, catcher Carlos Santana went 6-for-22 with two home runs, one double, three RBI, five runs and nine walks. I’m sure it gave Santana great pleasure to play a key role in his home country winning the WBC. Also, it’s nice to see that Santana played so well. I enjoyed the WBC and while I understand some of the detractors’ points, ask yourself this: Where in Spring Training can a player get at-bats more meaningful than the ones Santana took part in during the WBC? The answer? No where.

— One other name that has been interesting this spring is Jerry Gil. The right-hander was informed Thursday that he’ll start the season in Columbus, and everyone definitely saw that coming. Still, his performance has been impressive as he has posted a 2.57 ERA in seven innings of work. He has an absolute rocket for an arm, and he’s actually only been pitching for a few years as he first cracked the Majors as a shortstop. There’s no telling if he’ll actually get a look this season, and it could be unlikely given the number of high-quality relievers in the Indians’ system. Still, Gil and his live fastball are enough to make him a more than worthy minor league signing.

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