15 notes, quotes, or observations about the Cleveland Indians following their first two exhibition games of the spring:
1. I love the idea of Zach Walters as a super utility player. The Indians plan on working him into action this spring essentially everywhere around the diamond, including first base. Walters as a Ben Zobrist-type is intriguing, especially for a guy who has an ISO (isolated power) of .259 in 70 career big league games. Of course, detractors would point to his .193 career batting average and .253 career on-base percentage, or maybe to his 35 percent strikeout rate, and they’re right, making more contact and being a bit more selective are certainly areas the 25-year-old switch-hitter could improve.
2. But his 25 homers between Triple-A and the big leagues last season, in the current state of baseball’s lacking power, cannot be overlooked. And if he can bounce around the infield and outfield, and provide a long ball threat every time he’s at the plate, he could prove to be a big asset for Cleveland. He went hitless in three at bats on Wednesday with two strikeouts.
3. I don’t think the Indians get enough credit for the depth they’ve created in advance of the 2015 season. Sure, they are banking on several players returning from injury, like Nick Swisher, Brandon Moss, Gavin Floyd, and Jason Kipnis, but they are pretty well equipped to handle one or two setbacks along the way.
4. For instance, Swisher’s return from off-season knee surgery has been touch and go. The team, though, doesn’t feel any need to rush him into game action. At nearly every position, the Tribe has a pretty capable backup plan. Of course, that’s not Plan A, but if Walters, David Murphy, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn or others have to step in for the time being, the drop off should not be significant enough to put a big dent in the Indians’ early output.
5. Shockingly, I’m not even sure Swisher fits into the “vital for team success” category anymore. No matter how much depth the Indians have, they’ll need Kipnis to bounce back this season. Moss, if healthy, will provide a huge lift to the offense as well. They could really use a much more explosive Michael Bourn at the top of the order. And Floyd’s presence should lengthen out the rotation. But Swisher? He feels far more like the cherry on top.
6. The Indians appear to be a club that could survive and compete — even if the switch-hitter is never able to reclaim his consistent offensive threat status.
7. Carlos Carrasco was the Indians’ biggest proof that patience can pay off last year, but it can be easy to forget how well Nick Hagadone fits into that category as well. Written off as a hard-throwing lefty that would never figure it out, the 29-year-old posted a 2.14 ERA in his final 30 appearances last season, holding hitters to a .192 batting average and .549 OPS in that stretch. Hagadone was valuable because, despite being a lefty, he was more than capable of retiring both left-handed and right-handed hitters.
8. In 35 big league appearances, Hagadone held righties to a .211 batting average and lefties to a .217 batting average. If he carries over the same success, he not only becomes Terry Francona’s third potential bullpen south-paw, but he also presents a different type of left-hander than Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Crockett. And the diversity in the Tribe’s pen is one of the elements that makes them so effective.
9. His drop in walk rate last season was at the center of Hagadone’s turnaround, as he averaged 2.31 walks per nine innings in 2014, compared to 6.03 in 2013. He also focused more on throwing and trusting his slider. He threw his secondary pitch five percent more last season than he did in 2013. That helped lead to 10.41 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest rate of his big league career.
10. Zach McAllister worked two innings and gave up one run in the Tribe’s Cactus League opener on Tuesday, but it still remains difficult to imagine him claiming a spot in the team’s starting rotation (with Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Josh Tomlin, Bruce Chen, Shaun Marcum among others in the mix). And without any more options, McAllister — provided he pitches well enough — will have to earn a job on the team somewhere. The bullpen may be the ticket for the righty.
11. To keep their options open, McAllister will stretch himself out as a starter in camp, but there is no denying his effectiveness in his brief stint as a reliever in 2014. In 13 innings in the pen (granted, an extremely small sample size), the righty averaged more strikeouts and fewer walks than as a starter last year. In fact, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was nearly three times better as a reliever.
12. As a starter, McAllister often struggled the second and third time he faced a lineup in a game. In his career, hitters are slashing (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) .217/.271/.341 against the right-hander in their first at bat. That slash line jumps to .295/.357/.447 in their second at bat and .316/.374/.558 in their third.
13. Now, that isn’t the only factor in determining where a pitcher best fits. A similar case could have been made against Carrasco before his 10-start domination to close out 2014. Continuing to grow and trust secondary pitches, as Carrasco did with his slider last season, are critical. But for now, it appears McAllister is destined to find a home in the Tribe’s bullpen to open the season. And based on how well it went last year, that might not be such a bad thing.
14. Hyped prospect Francisco Lindor shined on Wednesday, collecting two hits and making two solid defensive plays at shortstop. The Indians have made the right call by making it known early and often that Lindor would not be making the club out of Spring Training. By getting out in front and making that decision, there will be no pressure on the 21-year-old to be anything other than himself.
15. Still, even in small samples, it’s easy to see why Lindor is so highly thought of. Defensively, he’s prepared. Offensively, there are still some small tweaks and development to be done. With some additional seasoning at the minor league level, as he is still just 21 years old, it is pretty easy to imagine the young shortstop having an impact on the club — possibly even as soon as this season.