Spring Training games have begun for the Indians, and optimism is high. With the signings of Terry Francona, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the fans finally have something to be excited about. Despite the question marks surrounding practically every potential member of the starting rotation, there’s hope amongst the fanbase that the Tribe can be competitive in 2013. However, there are many decisions to be made and spots up for grabs on the Opening Day roster.
Due to the questionable skill of the Indians’ rotation in 2012, the prospective starters will likely be under a lot of scrutiny in Spring Training. These exhibition games will be key in giving new hire Terry Francona an idea of what he has to work with. We know Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, and (probably) Zach McAllister will occupy the first four spots in some order. But who ends up with the fifth?
Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both signed to minor-league deals, look to prove they can replicate past performances after injuries and downward spikes in production. After two years out of baseball, Kazmir reportedly has his fastball up to a consistent 94-95 mph after it had fallen to around 90 previously. Francona has praised his performance in training camp thus far. Kazmir has pitched well in the past (239 strikeouts in 206.2 innings in 2007) but missed the entire 2012 season after a collapse with the Angels in 2011. Kazmir is only 29, which means he should be able to get his physical skills back to where they were previously.
Matsuzaka finally feels healthy after dealing with several lingering injuries and a Tommy John surgery in his final few years in Boston, and his past relationship with Francona might give him a leg up on the fifth spot. The Indians hope to see him get close to his past level of production, where at his peak he showed potential.
The signings of Matsuzaka and Kazmir are both low-risk, high-reward deals that could pay off for the Indians down the stretch of the season. These two pitchers proved they had talent in the past. If they can rediscover it, the Indians will be lucky. And if not, they can move on.
Carlos Carrasco will return after missing all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, but according to GM Chris Antonetti his involvement will likely be limited in 2013.
Trevor Bauer, the Indians’ top prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball according to Baseball America, has a ton of future potential but it is not clear when exactly he will be ready to pitch in the big leagues full-time. Bauer will probably end up being a midseason addition to the rotation, but how he looks in Spring Training could go a long way towards showing the team how he is growing and improving as a player.
It’s also important to note that he has had minor clashes with teammates and coaches in the past. In Arizona, he and the training staff were reportedly at odds over Bauer’s rigorous training that includes extensive long tossing. However, Indians management is more than okay with letting him do his own thing if it works. Even though it is early in the year, any time spent in a conducive developmental environment is worthwhile. It could end up helping Bauer out down the road in May or June when the team thinks about calling him up.
These options are certainly not ideal for the Indians. It is reasonable to believe that none of these players will have a positive impact this year after their past performances. But with a market thin on affordable pitching and a less than satisfactory farm system, the Indians will hope to rely on at least one of these players to start the season.
Outside of the final rotation spot, Spring Training games will be a good opportunity to see how the pitchers who have already made the rotation perform. Ubaldo Jimenez has struggled with his mechanics since his trade to Cleveland, and his velocity has dropped as a result. Last season’s No. 1 starter Justin Masterson never quite put things together despite showing flashes of brilliance. Brett Myers was a closer last season for the Astros. As Katrina has explained, Zach McAllister showed promising signs as a rookie and should earn a spot, but he will need to improve in 2013.
Kyle Lohse rumors aside, the Indians do not have much hope of signing a new pitcher, so they are going to have to look internally for quality pitching. The decision of who will begin the season in the rotation is an important one, and Spring Training should add some clarity to a situation that has little at the moment.