Just two days remain until pitchers and catchers are due to report for spring training, meaning the final phase of the offseason is about to start!
In anticipation of what’s coming up on the calendar, in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our participants: What will you be looking for most in spring training? Some of us talked about position battles, some mentioned adjustments we hoped specific players would make, and some of us are most looking forward to preseason traditions and the thrill of watching baseball again.
In addition to the usual suspects from Wahoo’s on First, we had the honor of being joined this week by WaitingForNextYear‘s Craig Lyndall and The Tribe Daily‘s Nino Colla. Here’s what we all had to say:
Craig Lyndall: Most people will be looking for answers to questions in the outfield in Spring Training. I’ll be looking to make sure that guys like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are truly going to be the answers we need them to be. A lot of people have seemingly already taken these two for granted that they’ll produce in these spots. To me, the Indians season hinges on guys like Chiz and Kipnis even more than identifying a bat in the outfield. I’ll be most interested in those two.
Nino Colla: You never know with spring training performances and how or if they will translate to the regular season, so I will have my eye on the position battles. I’m interested to see how the infield shakes out with all the players involved in the mix. Third base is up in the air and if you ask me there is even a remote possibility that Lonnie Chisenhall doesn’t start the year in Cleveland. The backup infield spots are still a mystery and what happens if an injury occurs somewhere like it did with Jason Donald last year?
The outfield even has an impact on what happens as there could be one less spot for a true infielder depending on who they pick. There are so many names involved in the backup jobs that the battle for the last few spots on the roster could get real interesting. You have to figure guys like Jason Donald and Shelley Duncan have the inside track to jobs, but then again, you just never know.
Lewie Pollis: Aside from the givens—I think everyone’s excited just to see baseball being played again—the story I’ll be following the closest is how (if at all) Grady Sizemore‘s approach at the plate has changed. After establishing himself as one of the most patient young hitters in baseball in his healthy years, his plate discipline has completely tanked over the last two seasons. Injuries certainly had a part in that, but strike zone judgment isn’t the kind of thing that should be permanently impaired.
Lonnie Chisenhall’s plate discipline is obviously an issue as well, as is Matt LaPorta‘s—both will have to show improved approaches at the plate in order to make the team out of spring training. The difference is that they’re (relatively) young and are just having trouble adjusting to big-league pitching. They’re worth watching too, but their needing to learn more patience doesn’t concern me as much as Sizemore needing to remember his.
Finally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Chris Perez‘ fastball velocity. I don’t expect him to be fully up to speed (pun intended) immediately, but his average fastball velocity fell by more than a full mile per hour in 2011, and it’s no coincidence that his strikeout rate saw a corresponding dramatic decline (8.7 K/9 in 2010 to 5.9 last year). If he’s still having trouble harnessing his old velocity he could be in trouble in 2012.
Geordy Boveroux: Improvement. All I want to see is a step forward all around. I don’t need any player coming into camp completely rebuilt and looking like a whole different player, I just need to see the guys we have right now play the way they’ve always played but just take that next step.
The roster is filled with underachievers or guys just scratching their potential. Lonnie Chisenhall can show us that sweet stroke that made him a top prospect, Ubaldo Jimenez can look more like his 2009 self (he won’t ever put up 2010 numbers again) or Matt LaPorta can raise our hopes once more.
I don’t care where it comes from, or who does it. I just don’t want to see the same old Cleveland team. This Tribe roster is stacked with talent, they just don’t quite know how much yet.
Steve Kinsella: What I look forward to the most about Spring Training are the early reports of who arrived in shape and who hit the buffet table over the winter. I’ll never forget Kevin Mitchell being so out of shape and failing to complete even half of the Warrior Run and being forced to ride a bicycle around the Chain of Lakes Stadium to shed pounds.
I also like how the manager usually delivers messages to a player through the media. I like to call these messages the manager’s lies. Last year, it was Manny Acta suggesting that the Aaron Laffey was in competition for the fifth starter spot (Laffey was traded March 2nd) and that Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips were in competition for the backup catcher position (neither was called up during 2011).
Brian Heise: This may seem like a bit of a generalization, but I’m really looking forward to the position battles this spring. For the first time since 2008 the Indians are expected to be legit contenders in the AL Central and that means it’s vital they have the best lineup ready to go opening day.
There are quite a few areas where the Indians need someone to come out and establish themselves from the get-go. Can LaPorta win back his job at first with a solid spring, or is it Kotchman’s to lose? Can any camp invites surprise us and challenge Brantley, Choo, and most importantly, Sizemore in the outfield? What about third base? Can Lonnie Chisenhall get off to a fast start and claim third base or will we open the year with Jack Hannahan? Will Kipnis prove that second base belongs to him and those 30 some games last season weren’t a fluke?
It gets even more interesting in the pitching department. The Indians are set after Masterson, Jimenez and Lowe, but what about the fourth and fifth spots? Is Tomlin ready to go? Will Slowey, Harden, or one of the Triple-A starters surprise us and steal a spot in the rotation? In the bullpen someone almost always turns heads and earns a spot out of nowhere. Who will it be this year? I can’t wait to find out.
What this all comes down to is if the Indians want to compete in 2012 they can’t have any questions or uncertainties going into Opening Day. They have to know that the lineup they put out on the field from day one is their absolute best possible lineup. Hopefully all these battles help them figure that out.
Katie Hendershot: Spring training is a test of many uncertain factors. In many ways, there are things from last season that we can look at as positive indicators The bullpen was a bright spot in 2011. Spring training will hopefully show that the bullpen will be just as dominant in 2012. That will be the key for the Indians not just this year, but for years to come.
Ultimately though, I would hope to see something from Lonnie Chisenhall. I like Jack Hannahan, but Chisenhall is supposed to be the future at third base. Last season was a disappointment as far as his production at the plate. Going forward, I think that it’s in the best interest of the Indians that Chisenhall starts the season at third base, and contributes to the team right away in 2012, much like Jason Kipnis did once he was called up last season. It’s a new season, and I would hope to see that Chisenhall has moved past last year.
There are many other question marks and players that need to show improvement, but I think Chisenhall is one of the major points.