Spring Training is a little over five days away, and I’m excited. Now, I always get geared up for baseball season, regardless of how the Indians are expected to do that year. And this year, it’s expected to get ugly, as the team is clearly rebuilding. However, I found it pretty easy to come up with five reasons to be excited about the 2010 Cleveland Indians. Now, nothing’s as exciting as winning, but there are other positive things about this team. These are not in any order of importance.
The new blood on the bench with Acta at the helm
In a passive offseason, the Tribe’s biggest addition was the hiring of manager Manny Acta to replace Eric Wedge. I think the routine had grown stale under Wedge’s regime. By the end of last season it looked like some players quit on Wedge (Yeah, I’m calling you out, Jhonny Peralta). And the Tribe had grown tired of stumbling to terrible early season records, as Wedge’s teams treated April like spring training.
It was time for a change, and the Indians think they found the perfect guy for the job in Acta. I’m looking forward to seeing some new decisions on the field different from what Wedge would have made (maybe now poor Raffy Perez won’t be so abused). I’m excited to have a manager that will (supposedly) give the younger players a longer leash than Wedge did. I don’t think Acta was the perfect choice like the Indians do, but he does bring a lot of enthusiasm to the job, which he probably will need with the team he has right now.
The return of Jake the Snake
Yes, I know the Jake the Snake nickname isn’t very original. But I do think it applies to Jake Westbrook, because when he was at his best he was slithering in and out of trouble, living off the ground ball.
With Westbrook (supposedly) finally healthy, I’m really excited to see Jake back in action for the Tribe again. His gutty performance kept us in Game 7 of that painful 2007 ALCS versus Boston (yes, I know he took the loss. Losses are a terrible statistic and this is just another example of this). The Tribe desperately needs a veteran presence in the rotation, and while unlikely, Westbrook is kinda the only one left. That too could change, as Jake’s in the last year of his wasted three year deal, and as of right now, doesn’t figure into the long-term plans of the franchise. If Westbrook returns to form, he could be gone at the trade deadline.
But these are what if’s and maybes. Right now Jake Westbrook is a Cleveland Indian. So I’m hoping for lots of sinkerball-induced grounders to AC and Valbuena for some pretty double plays and more of the gutty, grinder mentality of Westbrook, if for nothing else than a reminder of the good ole’ days.
The beginning of the Matt LaPorta era
- Ok, so technically it started last year. But this year LaPorta doesn’t have to compete. As soon as he’s healthy he’s basically guaranteed a spot in the lineup. And this excites me, as LaPorta was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia deal, the mega-prospect who’d make us all forget about Sabathia. LaPorta’s first full season in the majors will (hopefully) show the promise that made him a top prospect. The dude’s supposed to be a hitting machine, but he’ll have to learn to adjust to Major League pitching.
The stage is all yours, Mr. LaPorta.
The Tribe’s Outfield in June
Two spots in the Tribe’s outfield are set in stone: a (supposedly) fully healed CF Grady Sizemore and a budding All-Star in Shin-Soo Choo in right. Left will be a battle between Trevor Crowe and rookie Michael Brantley, to be decided in spring training. I’m on record with why I think Brantley should start the season in the minors, but by June it should be sorted out, with Brantley eventually claiming the LF spot. If this happens the Tribe has an incredibly dynamic outfield, with speed at all three positions. If all goes according to plan Brantley could eventually hit leadoff, allowing Grady to drop down to the three hole.
The Arrival of “Smooth” Santana
Probably better known by the name of Carlos Santana, this catching prospect is ranked the #3 prospect by ESPN.com’s Keith Law. Acquired in the Casey Blake steal (also known as The Greatest Trade Ever No Matter Who The Tribe Got Back), Santana is expected to make his big league debut later this year. Whether or not he seizes the starting catcher’s job this year or next is yet to be seen. But scouts are positive he’ll be a monster. One scout said he’s like former Indian Victor Martinez, but can actually catch. Sign me up. “Smooth”, can’t wait to see you.
So there are five reasons off the top of my head to be excited about 2010. Not as good as winning, but hey, we’re better off than the Pirates.