"It's just dry lightning on the horizon line"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
Cactus-League-Logo.gifWe’re about one-third of the way through the Cactus League schedule, and we’re exactly three weeks away from Opening Day. What have we learned about your 2010 Cleveland Indians?

Uh, can I get back to you in a few weeks?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering spring camp the last six years, it’s that the eyes play tricks on you in this environment, and you have to condition yourself not to read too much into what you witness, good or bad, in exhibition play. And you definitely don’t read too much into the first 10 games of exhibition play.

That’s a lesson general manager and team president-to-be Mark Shapiro has also learned over the years. But he spoke with reporters and gave his thoughts about what’s transpired, to this point, and those thoughts, as well as my own, are all detailed here.


  • The most puzzling element of spring camp to this point has been the Russell Branyan saga. He strolls into the complex around the time his teammates are heading out to stretch, and he’s coy — if not completely evasive — with the media regarding the status of his recovery from lower back problems. Branyan has a herniated disc in his back, and it has prevented him from setting foot on the field with his teammates for something so simple as a morning batting practice session. He told reporters the other day that he had stopped taking groundballs and swings and was hoping to play catch on Sunday. Not the best timetable to be on with three weeks left in camp, obviously. But the company line is that as long as Branyan can play the final week of games, he can be adequately prepared for the season. (Which leads me to ask… what are we doing out here for six weeks?)
  • Any early regrets for Shapiro from signing Branyan to a $2 million guarantee? “We knew there was rehab to finish when he came in,” Shapiro said. “The pace of that was going to be somewhat undetermined until we got him going. He hadn’t performed at an intensity or day-to-day level like Spring Training requires. I still feel optimistic and positive that he’ll be ready for the season. If something changes on that end, [head athletic trainer] Lonnie [Soloff] would be the one to comment.”
  • Also of note on the injury front, Kerry Wood did not throw his anticipated bullpen session today, and Manny Acta gave no timetable for Wood’s return to Cactus action. Here’s the full story on that.
  • What if Branyan isn’t ready to go by Opening Day? Well, you could see an Opening Day lineup with ties to the lineup the Indians turned in against the Brewers today, in that Matt LaPorta could be at first base and Michael Brantley could be in left field. But that’s not guaranteed. The Indians are certainly going to keep Brantley’s arbitration clock in mind with any decision they make. As of now, he’s ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. LaPorta, on the other hand, is on the big club no matter what happens with Branyan.
  • Here’s Shapiro on the distinction between LaPorta and Brantley (who is profiled on Indians.com today): “LaPorta’s a guy that, age-wise, profile-wise and experience-wise, is ready to compete at the big league level. Regardless of what adjustments he has to make, he has to be up here in order to get better. Michael Brantley is a different story. He’s 22 years old, he had a solid but not special Triple-A season, and he had 100 good plate appearances up here, whatever that means. He does have an approach on the field that’s above his chronological age. That being said, there’s benefits to him being here and there’s benefits to him being finished in the Minor Leagues. We’re not going to make a decision off a Spring Training performance for anybody.”
  • Tratalbot.jpgde acquisition Mitch Talbot, who turned in three perfect innings against the Brew Crew today, is getting rave reviews — from Shapiro, from the coaching staff and from Manny Acta. He’s out of options, and he’s all but assured a job in some capacity, as long as he’s healthy. If he doesn’t make the rotation, he can be a long man out of the bullpen. “I’ve been impressed with Talbot,” Shapiro said. “He has a looseness to his delivery. I’ve seen him go out without his best pitch, his changeup, and still compete in Glendale the other day. His slider has been surprisingly good. We had that as his third pitch. In talking to him, he hasn’t thrown his best changeup yet, so that’s a good thing.”
  • Talbot seemed to have his best changeup, and then some, today. He was so efficient against the Brewers that he had to throw 20 extra pitches in the bullpen, so that Rafael Perez could get into the game. “He’s flying high right now,” Acta said of Talbot.  
  • Of the three candidates for the last two rotation spots, Talbot is the most likely to land a bullpen job if he doesn’t win a starting job. The Indians might consider that possibility with Laffey (though it seems doubtful, given that there’s already depth to the ‘pen, and Laffey is much more valuable as a starting alternative). I haven’t heard one person mention Huff as a bullpen candidate.
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Acta has confirmed jobs for Wood, Chris and Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp. That leaves several guys (Hector Ambriz, Jensen Lewis, Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright) competing for two spots, with the potential for Talbot and, to a lesser degree, Laffey, to enter that mix.
  • Huff got knocked around today, to the tune of five runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. “I left some pitches up, and they definitely capitalized on them,” Huff said. “I saw some good signs on a few pitches to guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.”
  • Lonnie Chisenhall, Nick Weglarz, Zach Putnam (sent out today) and Josh Judy were among the young prospects that have stood out to Shapiro. But he also had this to say about early spring evaluations: “Go back and look at the history of interviews done 10 days into Spring Training and the guys marked as future superstars, and you’ll probably find a pretty low success rate.”
  • Listening to Shapiro and pitching coach Tim Belcher, all indications are that Jeremy Sowers (sore left shoulder) will begin the season on the disabled list so that he can adequately stretched out as a starting alternative. The Indians don’t seem to see much value in putting Sowers, who is out of Minor League options, in the ‘pen at this point. Sowers will make his spring debut Thursday, working two innings against the Reds.
  • Mark Grudzielanek, 39 years young and vying for an infield utility job, has made a positive first impression in camp. The Indians want to see how his body holds up to the grind, but so far, so good.
  • There have been rumblings among scouts that the Brewers have decided they don’t have room to keep Chuck Lofgren, who they plucked from the Tribe in the Rule 5 Draft. If that’s the case, the two sides could work out a trade, or the Indians could buy him back for $25,000 and stick him in their Columbus rotation. We’ll see.
  • Believe in the Bobcats.



ST, I’m tempted to say something about you make too big of a deal about things that have happened in spring training! (Insert emoticon)
So Laffey and Huff have had their first bad outings of spring training, but Talbot remains immune. With Sowers on the DL, I think I’m going to stick by my prediction that Huff ends up in Columbus, which means two spots in the ‘pen up for grabs. I honestly don’t know who those two would be, though. It’s really a mixed bag.
At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crowe in the line-up if Branyan isn’t ready by the regular season (and I honestly don’t think he will be). I just don’t see the front office giving into the arbitration calendar on Brantely, not after what they gave up to get him, and not when we’re in rebuilding mode, anyway. I realize they need to sell tickets, but I really, really doubt that Brantley starting the year in Cleveland is going to put more fans in the stands.

It seems to me, before Westbrook ended up having Tommy John surgery, he was held up in spring training by some “normal soreness” in his arm. And last year in spring training Grady was held out for some minor soreness that lasted all year. And in 2008 there was definitely nothing wrong with Hafner, except for the fact that he couldn’t lift a fork. I would not be shocked if this Wood injury progressed quickly from “lat soreness” to “shoulder surgery” … The way they talk about Branyan, you’d think he was Derek Jeter, a really consistent veteran hitter who can step in whenever and hit, rather than someone who even when fully tuned up has difficulty making contact with the ball. They’re talking about a guy who when healthy strikes out like every 2.5 at bats–so when they say Branyan will be fine with a week of spring training and a permanently bad back, that sounds insane. Is it part of Acta’s contract that he isn’t allowed to express concern about anything? “Joe Smith, he went out and hit a right handed batter, but the lefties were the ones who torched him. No big deal.” Wood, “it’s just a sore arm, not concerning at all”, Branyan, “He can’t swing a bat or even play catch, but he’s definitely my opening day 1st baseman.”

Just got around to watching the game, and I have to say that Talbot looked really, really good. I’d really like to see him make the rotation to see what he’s got in the regular season.
And it’s hard not to want Brantley to start in Cleveland, particularly when he manufactured the Tribe’s first run today.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a situation similar to last season with Laffey — if they need help in the bullpen, they move him over there when Sowers is healthy enough to return. But my picks for the start of the season are Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Laffey, and Talbot.

LACF, as everything stands now, i agree with you 100%. That rotation is fine with me, especially with Talbot’s numbers and the organization’s infatuation with him. I think Laffey deserves a rotation spot based on last year’s performance alone. Have him start the year in the Majors, and what’s the worst that could happen? If he doesn’t pitch well for a while, move him down to Columbus and give another guy a shot. It would also make a lot of sense for Crowe to be that outfielder. By putting him there, you achieve all of your goals if you are the front office: Give a young player more time to prove himself, prevent Brantley’s arbitration clock from starting, and give Branyan more time to heal this weird back injury. As a side note: I am really excited about watching Sipp pitch this year. He has shown some flashes of being great, and I hope he doesn’t regress this year.

Speaking of Branyan’s bad back (note the alliteration, kids), I love the nostalgic signing of Russell, but there HAD to be some kind of preventive measure taken in case something like this happened, right? Then again, I suppose that’s why we have a “rigorous physical examination” before we complete any deals.

“We knew there was rehab to finish when he came in,” Shapiro said.
I find that the strangest part. I guess the physical determined that he WOULD get better, or at least SHOULD get better, which doesn’t exactly fill me with a lot of confidence. It does make me wonder, however, if any of that $2M comes back if he DOESN’T get better, but so far I’ve seen no indication of that.

ST, if I were to guess, the comment about Branyan being the opening day first baseman sounds more like Shapiro than Acta.

Oh, cactus league – it even looks very sporty and firmy, all essay rate had written about that event a lot

And, just to rephrase that a little, it sounds more like Shapiro talking through Acta than anything else. That’s what I meant.
Also, did you guys see that Cliff Lee got tossed from a spring training game? Benches cleared in Spring. Oh Cliff Lee, how I miss thee.

yeah, it’s obviously the company line coming down from Shapiro, but I’m not sure why they think it makes themselves look better to ignore the obvious about Branyan. I’d say the Indians don’t do a very good job of evaluating injury risks, Knapp, Branyan, Hafner–whoever’s responsible for going over medical reports should be fired. It would have been much better to sign Wang to a similar contract to Branyan’s, $2 million with a $5 million option for 2011 and some incentives. Much more upside, because you have a potential ace pitcher for a cheap price next year. As it stands they might as well have given me $2 million, I may not be able to hit a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher, but I am at least physically capable of playing catch.

i don’t really have time for noticing some details in cactus league this time, cause need to have cutessays price to finish my current year

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ST, if I were to guess, the comment about Branyan being the opening day first baseman sounds more like Shapiro than Acta. philips xenon

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