Friday, 15 April 2016

Impact Indians - Danny Salazar 04/15/16

We're nearly two weeks into the 2016 season and so far the Indians are doing okay. We're not setting the American League on fire exactly, but we're holding our own (and we're above .500, always a cause for optimism). At the time of writing they're 4-3 after topping the Tampa Bay Rays last night to take the series and the New York Mets come to town tonight for a three-game set. Hopefully we won't see any more weather-related postponements in the near future.

I don't get a great deal of time to write on here anymore but I wanted to start a series of posts that I can bash out whenever I get the chance. I'll do that by looking at players, often one individual but maybe more than one at a time, who have been particularly impactful recently, be that in a positive or negative way.

And so begins the 'Impact Indians' series here at England Tribe.

Now I know seven games is a minuscule sample size of data to look at and garner any quality meaning from but Danny Salazar's first two games of the season are worth a closer look, mostly because he's been so darned impressive.

Salazar, our maiden Impact Indian on the blog, has gotten off to a strong start in his first two games, pitching well against the White Sox and the Rays, taking home the win in both starts.


On April 8th in winter-conditions (including snow) at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Salazar pitched 5.1 innings allowing just 2 hits and 1 run (a Todd Frazier homer in the 4th inning), with 3 walks and 7 strikeouts. The frigid temperature of south Chicago couldn't cool down Salazar's sizzling fastball as he repeatedly hit 95-mph, sometimes ratcheting it up to 98-mph. Salazar has a great slider and an impressive sinker but he got through the White Sox almost exclusively on his heater. The offense backed him and the Tribe were victorious as 7-1 winners to spoil Chicago's home opener.


Last night Salazar made his second start of the year at Tropicana Field as the Indians looked to win their three-game series against the Rays and he was even better against Tampa, allowing 3 hits over 6 innings, with 0 runs allowed, plus 3 walks and 9 strikeouts. He out-dueled Rays ace Chris Archer and got some help from the Tribe new boys, with Marlon Byrd making an outstanding catch in deep right field as well as clubbing his first home run of the year, as the Tribe held on for the shutout, winning 6-0. Salazar picked up his second win also.

So far through two games the 26 year-old right-hander has pitched a total of 11.1 innings with 16 strikeouts, 6 walks, all to the tune of a 0.79 ERA and a 2-0 record. Now I'm not stupid enough to think a couple of games is indicative of what the rest of the year holds in store for Salazar. I'm not trying to predict the future here anyway. Instead I am merely celebrating what a solid start Danny has gotten off to, and I'm hoping it's a sign of things to come for the rest of 2016.

The thing is, I don't think Salazar has gotten close to his best form yet, and understandably so given we're not even two full weeks into the season. The 6 walks over his two starts are a minor concern but this is probably down to him feeling his way into his pitches this early on. Plus pitchers walk betters, this is a fact of life, so I'm not expecting perfection from Danny every start he makes (hell, even the ridiculously accurate Corey Kluber has 4 walks so far). Salazar's fastball has never been in doubt, that much was evident when he blazed onto the scene in 2013, but his breaking stuff, albeit very impressive, can be a bit unpredictable at times. You saw that last night at times, as a few pitches got away from him, slipping out of his hand wrong, just a little wild.


Nevertheless, Salazar is off to a nice start in 2016 and if he can continue to remain this consistent, he could have a very good year indeed. Danny's next start will likely be at home to the Mariners on Wednesday April 20th. So congratulations to Mr Salazar on winning the very first Impact Indian award.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Spring Training 2016 Part 2: Bullpen

With Spring Training finally here, we now get to see some signs of what this 2016 Indians team has in store for us.

Yesterday I looked at the position players, primarily focusing on the abominable outfield situation. Today I'm going to talk about Cleveland's relief pitchers and who can win jobs this March.

A Sigh Of Relief: The Bullpen


In 2015 the Indians bullpen posted a 3.12 ERA, the second lowest in the American League, only bested by the eventual champs Kansas City (a 2.72 ERA). The relief unit was a serious strength in Cleveland, led by Cody Allen (2.99 ERA and 34 saves), Bryan Shaw (2.94 ERA in 64 IP), Zach McAllister (3.00 ERA in 69 IP) and Jeff Manship, who was a revelation (0.92 ERA in 39.1 IP). Assuming these four men are locked in, that only leaves approximately 3-4 open spots, probably 4 given that manager Terry Francona is keen on carrying an extra reliever.

Let's look at the contenders, starting with the right-handers:

Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong and Dan Otero are all on the 40 man roster at this time.


Adams spent most of 2015 with the big club and pitched well, compiling a 3.78 ERA over 33.1 innings. Adams attacks hitters with an upper 90s tailing fastball and has a slider that confuses hitters as it's more of a slurve. Unless he has a terrible Spring he should stand a good chance to be on the roster come Opening Day.

The same goes for Armstrong, who pitched just 8 innings at the MLB level in 2015, but performed well (a 2.25 ERA with a 12.38 K/9). He was even better at AAA, where over 49.2 innings he had an outstanding 14.50 K/9 and a 2.36 ERA with 16 saves. He'd need to be something awful this month not to be on the Opening Day roster.

That leaves Otero, who was picked up from the Phillies in December for cash and is coming off a poor 2015, pitching a sky-high 6.75 ERA over 46.2 innings. However Otero was untouchable as recently as 2014 when he was one of Oakland's top bullpen arms (a 2.28 ERA over 86.2 innings) and he's a groundball pitcher through and through, a factor possibly in his favor with our renewed infield defense. Otero will be looking to bounce back with the Tribe but he'll need an impressive Spring to get back on track.


On the outside looking in is a group of righties on minor league deals, and there might be a diamond in the rough among them. Joba Chamberlain, Felipe Paulino, Craig Stammen and Jarrett Grube will be looking to catch the club's eye this month (or catch on with someone else).

Chamberlain is on his fourth team in the last year, and he didn't pitch exceptionally well in 2015 (4.88 ERA in 27.2 major league innings). He did lose a bunch of weight over the winter but his chances of cracking the Indians roster are slim.

Paulino last pitched in the majors for the White Sox in 2014 and spent all of 2015 with the Cubs' AAA farm team in Iowa, starting 20 games and pitching to a 4.93 ERA over 104 innings with 83 strikeouts. He's aiming for a spot in the bullpen but like Chamberlain, he'll need a remarkable Spring to show the Indians staff that he can be a valuable reliever. He wasn't exactly lighting up AAA.

Stammen missed nearly all of 2015 due to a right flexor tendon tear but has been a stellar reliever in the past, and was a workhorse between 2012 and 2014 (if there is such a thing as a bullpen "workhorse"), leading MLB relievers with 242.2 innings pitched, with a 2.93 ERA over this stretch. He probably stands the best chance of upsetting the current group and winning a roster spot, provided he can prove his health.

Grube is 34 years-old and pitched half of 2015 in Mexico and the other half in AAA Columbus. He was very effective, especially with the Clippers, posting a 2.26 ERA over 79.2 innings, starting 13 games. However, despite showing he's still got some spark, Grube is most likely a depth arm at this stage in his career and will likely wind up back in Columbus as a mentor to the young arms on the farm. He'd need a phenomenal Spring to make the club but who knows, he could provide some value if he carries that AAA form to the MLB stage.


One right-handed pitcher I've neglected to mention who is almost guaranteed a spot is Tommy Hunter. The 29 year-old veteran signed with the club a few weeks ago, a one-year deal worth $2 million. He's recovering from surgery so will miss Spring Training but could be with the team by late April. With the money invested, he'll get a shot in the major league bullpen once he's healthy. The powerful Hunter pitched 60.1 innings between Baltimore and Chicago in 2015, posting a 4.18 ERA.

Now, let's look at the lefties:

The Tribe currently have Giovanni Soto and Kyle Crockett on the 40 man roster.

Soto made a brief stop in Cleveland in 2015, pitching 3.1 innings over 6 games and didn't allow a run. He spent the rest of the year in AAA Columbus, pitching 53.2 quality innings to a 2.68 ERA. I like Soto's chances to make the big club but I feel the 24 year-old could get overlooked in favor of a veteran. There's no harm in Soto earning more experience at AAA but he looks ready for MLB to my eyes.


Crockett on the other hand struggled in 2015, at both MLB and AAA levels. He had location issues and didn't look like the same pitcher as the impressive rookie in 2014. With the Tribe, Crockett threw 17.1 innings over 31 games, compiling a lackluster 4.08 ERA. In Columbus he was actually worse, a 5.97 ERA over 28.2 innings. Crockett's future is still bright but he needs a positive showing this Spring to make the big league roster. Otherwise he'll start the year in Columbus but will more than likely be back in Cleveland at some stage during the year.

A trio of veterans earned minor league deals this off-season and will compete for a lefty relief role with Crockett and Soto; Joe Thatcher, Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny will be looking to shine in Arizona.

Thatcher is 34 years-old and doesn't overpower hitters but outsmarts them instead. He split time between Houston and AAA Fresno, pitching relatively well at both stops. With the Astros he pitched 22.2 innings in 43 games to the tune of a 3.18 ERA. At this stage of his career you wonder if he'd settle for another year in Triple-A so if he doesn't break camp with Cleveland, expect Thatcher to catch on with someone else.

Detwiler, still just 29 years-old despite feeling like he's been around forever, didn't enjoy a great 2015. Split between Atlanta and Texas, Detwiler had a 7.25 ERA combined over 58.1 total innings in 41 games, including 7 starts. His days as a starter are likely over and he'll be considered strictly as a reliever by the Indians. He'll need to really turn things around if he harbors any hopes of staying long-term in Cleveland.


Last but not least is Tom Gorzelanny, the 33 year-old swingman who has been an effective arm since 2012 but took a step back last year. Gorzelanny spent most of 2015 in Detroit, throwing 39.1 innings in 48 games for a 5.95 ERA. He's another reclamation project that the Cleveland front office love so much but there's very little risk involved, as is the case with most of these guys. Hopefully his new arm slot will benefit him in his attempt to stay with the big league club.

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That's my look at the bullpen. It's a lot of guys for only a handful of spots but if I had to start the season today I'd take Allen, Shaw, Manship, McAllister, Adams, Armstrong, Stammen, and Soto. I'd possibly take Thatcher or Crockett instead of Stammen at this point because one lefty in Soto probably isn't enough.

Next up will be a look at the rotation because despite a strong core, there's some business at the back end to be taken care of before April begins.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Spring Training 2016 Part 1: Position Players

Spring Training is finally underway and MLB teams are playing baseball again. It is glorious. The wins and losses don't count but there's still a lot of important baseball to watch and discuss.

Your 2016 Cleveland Indians have a few questions to be answered before the season gets started in just under a month's time. Let's take a look at some talking points:

Who The Hell Is Playing The Outfield?


With the news last November that Michael Brantley underwent shoulder surgery, the already uncertain Indians outfield suddenly found itself without it's most important player. He's in camp seemingly ahead of schedule but the club are being cautious with his return. Although he could potentially be healthy for Opening Day, it's probably better in the long run if he makes a slow return during April before stepping up activities into May.

Then came the revelation that Abraham Almonte, likely the Tribe's starting center fielder, will miss the first 80 games of the season after testing positive for performing-enhancing drugs. And just like that, Cleveland's outfield situation went from bad to worse.

Which leads us to the biggest and most concerning question entering the 2016 season: who have Cleveland got to man the outfield?

With the center field job open, there's one candidate who can take this opportunity and run with it. Mr Tyler Wesley Naquin, come on down and collect your prize.

Naquin, the 15th pick in the 2012 draft out of Texas A&M, is now 24 years-old and will be 25 by the end of April. He bats left-handed, throws right-handed, and is currently ranked by Baseball America as the Indians' 6th best prospect. Naquin spent 2015 between AA Akron and AAA Columbus, playing 84 games with a .300/.381/.446 (BA/OBP/SLG) batting line, clubbing 7 home runs, 27 RBI, to go along with 13 stolen bases and 40 walks. He missed a lot of time due to injuries, first missing a chunk of time after colliding with the outfield wall in late July and then missing the rest of the season after mid-August with a hip injury.


Naquin is still a bit of an unknown developmentally. Will he a power hitter? His career numbers thus far don't indicate that will be the case. Can he steal bases? Yes, he can, but he's not exactly a speedster. What Naquin does do well is get on base and play a solid outfield defensively. His abilities don't get fans quite as excited as his fellow outfield prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, but Naquin could become a reliable option and more importantly, he could be that right now, whereas Zimmer and Frazier are still a year or two away in their progress.

This is where Naquin has the advantage. He has the experience Zimmer and Frazier lack, and now with Almonte and Brantley suddenly absent, this is Naquin's chance to show the club he can be an option in the future, and a good one at that. I'm rooting for him, and it'd be nice to see a homegrown draft pick become a key contributor to the team. If he has a successful Spring, then the skipper will have little choice but to keep him on the roster and make him a starter on Opening Day. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't make the team out of camp, since he still has options to play at AAA, but it will definitely feel like a huge opportunity missed. Naquin just has to impress over these coming weeks. Easier said than done.

The alternatives to Naquin are a bit less inspiring. The likely candidates to play center field and man left field until Brantley returns are Rajai Davis and Collin Cowgill. Both players are good defensively but I'd probably lean towards Davis over Cowgill. Davis has the major league deal and his threat on the base paths gives him the edge. The Indians have invested nearly $5 million in him so you might as well see what he can offer. James Ramsey could also be an option here, after having a decent 2015 at AAA Columbus (.243/.327/.382 with 12 homers).

The dark horses for the outfield spots are Will Venable, recently signed to a minor league deal, Joey Butler, Robbie Grossman, Michael Choice, Shane Robinson and Zach Walters. Murderer's Row they most certainly are not...

Out of the bunch I'd like to see what Venable could bring, and I've rated him in the past. Whoever proves their worth, Terry Francona will have a wealth of platoon options this season. At the very least this Indians outfield has some depth to it.

On a positive note, right field has a sense of stability. After transitioning from third base midway through 2015, Lonnie Chisenhall looks to have made right field his own and despite his streaky bat, his defense is more than respectable.

There's Some New Guys In The Infield



The Indians signed Mike Napoli back in mid-December to be their everyday first baseman but recently upgraded third base with the addition of Juan Uribe, on a one-year deal worth $4.5 million.

Uribe joins the Tribe after a 2015 season in which he traveled a lot. Juan split his time between three teams last year, playing in LA for the Dodgers, before enduring a stint in Atlanta, and finally ending up in New York with the Mets, going all the way to the World Series with them. Uribe had a batting line of 253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI, with a 104 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR.

Uribe will be 37 years-old by Opening Day and even if he hasn't got much left in the tank, his bat is still an improvement at third base over the young Giovanny Urshela, even if his glove isn't quite as good. Urshela flashed outstanding defense at the hot corner in 2015 but his offensive production still needs some work. With the signing of Uribe, it's almost certain that Urshela will open the season at AAA Columbus. This is probably for the best, as he can develop his bat away from the bright lights and pressure of the MLB stage. I'm a fan of Urshela and hope he can improve enough in 2016 that when Uribe likely departs after this season, Gio will be ready to step into his shoes.

I think the Indians will have no problems at all seeing Napoli and Uribe slot into this team. Both men bring a tonne of veteran experience and can be great mentors to the other young infielders on the club like Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar.

Part of me would have liked to have seen the Tribe add David Freese over Uribe but Freese probably would have cost more and wanted a longer deal. I'm happy with the Uribe addition and I hope he can bring some much-needed offense to this lineup. Plus, there's something loveable about Uribe's face.


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That'll do for the first part of this Spring Training preview/analysis/chit-chat. Up next I'll be taking a look at the questions surrounding the bullpen and the rotation, and who's in contention for those open spots.

Thanks for reading.

Photo credits to Jordan Bastian at MLB.com and Jonathan Quilter at Columbus Dispatch.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Indians Sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis

Wednesday afternoon saw the Indians react to the big Todd Frazier trade to Chicago by signing two veteran free agents in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, pending physicals.


Napoli is a 34 year-old right-handed bat who is expected to be the Tribe's primary first baseman, leaving Carlos Santana at DH. Napoli spent 2015 between Boston and Texas, being traded to the Rangers in August, and hit .224/.324/.410 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 18 home runs and 50 RBI over 133 games. The first part of his season in Boston was not so kind to him, batting .207/.307/.386 with a 85 OPS+, but he really turned things around back in Texas, hitting .295/.396/.513 down the stretch for an OPS+ of 143. The Indians will be hoping his late season surge is a sign of things to come. The deal is reportedly for $7 million for 1 year, making Napoli the Indians' most expensive signing of the winter thus far. I like this signing quite a bit and as long as he can stay healthy, Napoli's powerful bat is a welcome addition to the Indians' lineup. With this addition, the club now has three full-time 1B/DH types on the 25-man roster in Napoli, Santana and Chris Johnson. There's a strong possibility that three is a crowd in this situation and one of Santana or Johnson could be traded. Watch this space.


Davis is a 35 year-old right-handed outfielder and is somewhat of a journeyman over the course of his 10 year MLB career, featuring for 6 teams now including Cleveland. He spent 2015 with the Tigers where he hit .258/.306/.440 with 8 home runs, 30 RBI, and 18 stolen bases in 112 games. The Indians will be looking to get the most value out of Davis with his above-average defensive abilities. He can play anywhere in the outfield and has great range and speed, even at 35 years of age (he had a 8.2 UZR/150 in the outfield in 2015, his highest since 2009.) Davis is reportedly signing a one-year deal for just over $5 million, plus incentives, which is about in line with what Detroit paid him last year.

His acquisition is another example of the club's off-season strategy regarding the outfield; instead of trading prospects and young talent, the Indians seem content to pick up an assortment of veteran cast-offs hoping somebody elevates themselves and sticks on the team. Davis will compete with the other newcomers in Robbie Grossman, Joey Butler, and Collin Cowgill, as well as the incumbent outfielders already at the club in Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall et al. All the new guys will likely be keeping Michael Brantley's seat warm until he comes back, but Davis and friends will be hoping to show enough to stay on the club as a valuable fourth outfielder.

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Cleveland has finally put down some money, although not in the way many fans would have liked. The signings of Napoli and Davis are not blockbuster additions but they are probably the most realistic options at this point. Not only is Cleveland a small-market club with limited means, these days it can be a struggle to attract the higher-profile free agents who might choose to join a more glamorous club in cities with brighter lights. Most importantly, the new signings don't put pressure on the payroll like the Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher signings in 2013 did, and so there's very little risk if Napoli and Davis don't pan out. As much as I'd love to see a superstar outfielder join the team, I can't blame the organisation for holding onto their talent.

Thanks for reading.