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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Speed Kills

The Indians' speed, Zach McAllister emerging, Lots of Leadership & Trevor Bauer

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Speed Kills
March 13, 2013
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Today, I find myself sprinting down the street here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Why? I'm celebrating the Indians newfound speed. Last year, the Indians looked like a bunch of Casey Kotchmans and Shelley Duncans. They were about as athletic as a rock, and specialized in drawing walks to get on base.

Walking will not describe the Indians in 2013.

Sure, I could segue right into a conversation about striking out, but I'm sprinting in a different direction today. The Indians are fast. The could and should have five guys with 10 or more stolen bases, and likely three of those will have at least 30, if not more.

The Indians have also become one of the most athletic teams in 2013, which should improve the all around defense. What does that mean for the 2013 season? Your guess is as good as mine, but at the very least, the Indians are going to be exciting....

...and it makes me want to run.....right into this week's Corner....

This baseball team is going to have a crazy amount of speed all throughout the line-up. Last season, Michael Bourn stole 42 bases, Drew Stubbs stole 30 bases, and Jason Kipnis stole 31 bases. You can add Michael Brantley to the equation as well. While Brantley isn’t a speed demon by any stretch, you certainly could pencil him in for 15 or so stolen bases in the line-up, depending on where he bats.

Asdurbal Cabrera is another player that you can certainly count on for some stolen bases as well. He’s had two seasons in which he’s stolen 17 bases, and while I wouldn’t expect speed on the basepaths from Indians’ shortstop, he’s certainly capable of it.

Those five players could account for the Indians entire stolen base count of last season (110) without much of an effort, and the Indians should be in the upper quarter of the league with regards to stolen bases.

I’m not one to think that stolen bases are all that important in the grand scheme of things, but they can certainly be both a game changer and a mental advantage as the year progresses. The Indians will possess three guys that can steal a base at any time, and two more guys that can steal a base when they need to. That’s more than half the lineup. When you add four other guys that can hammer the ball out of the park (as well as three of the five guys that steal bases), and you begin to see the team really start to take shape.

This team will be able to beat you down with power, and wear you down with speed, at least on paper.

It will be interesting to see how the speed plays out this season offensively, because there are some legitimate bats now that can put the ball in play. You never want to run yourself out of a game, but the Indians could quite literally “steal” baseball games this season utilizing a small ball strategy. I’m not a proponent of it as a team mentality, but I definitely could buy into it as an in-game move.

The flip side of this team is the defensive ability in the “T-Zone.” The Indians have Cabrera, Kipnis and Bourn up the middle, with Brantley and Stubbs forming the T in the outfield. The defense should be greatly improved overall once the outfielders figure out their “new” positions. Brantley will be returning to left, while Stubbs will be returning to right. Once these guys get used to calling others off, they should be as good as any.

At the very least, they’ll get to a lot of baseballs.

Cabrera and Kipnis aren’t the best defenders on the planet, but Cabrera is a bit better than folks think, and Kipnis continues to improve day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to year. He’s just that kind of player. With the overall defense improving, perhaps that “speedy” approach will help a rotation that looks like it’ll need it this year.

Leadership has been a question for this team over the past few years. There hasn’t been one guy who you could point to as a leader in the prototypical sense. This “black hole” has sucked in guys like Jason Kipnis and perhaps Justin Masterson in recent years, as they’ve tried to take on far too much. Kipnis clearly was worn down last year come August, and Masterson was trying to make 12 pitches every time he threw the ball.

Some of that had to do with a simple lack of talent, don’t get me wrong here, but a lot of it had to do with the simple fact that this team really didn’t have guys that had “been there before.” That has clearly changed, and is something that Francona has been preaching since players started reporting.

The clear guy at the forefront of all the leadership talk is Nick Swisher. He’s always been an affable player, and he’s backed that up by putting wood to the baseball. It’s interesting to see how his attitude and demeanor have been perceived in the past.

With the Yankees, there was some criticism about his mentality because it grated on some of the veteran’s nerves.

Here in Cleveland, it’s clearly the opposite, as his plow forward, in-your-face positivity is exactly what this team needs, not to mention its fan base. That alone doesn’t make a leader though. He has to back it up with play, and he certainly has that ability.

The Indians have also brought in Brett Myers. While Myers isn’t known for his affability, he’s definitely known for expecting a bunch from the team that’s playing behind him, and the rotation that he’s a part of. He’s rubbed guys the wrong way in the past for several reasons (including some outside the foul lines), but could provide an interesting voice to a rotation that really has lacked that punch since CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook left.

Past these two, however, the team seems ripe with “lead by example” type guys. Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and Mark Reynolds all fit into this category, and I haven’t even talked about the Chris Perez’s, the Vinnie Pestano’s, the Joe Smith’s and the Cody Allen’s.

Francona likes teams with a lot of personality, and this team seems to have just that.

Which leads me to a very…very brief discussion on Jason Giambi. I’m on the fence with regards to whether or not he should make the team, and I’m basing that on the singular fact that the first reason you bring a guy like Giambi in is because of his leadership ability. The key to leadership from a 42-year-old pinch-hitter is his ability to be good when he gets into a game.

A 25-man roster can’t sustain holding onto extra coaches. That’s what coaching staffs are for.

For Giambi to make this team, he has to be able to hit when brought in to a ballgame, and he has to be able to pass on his knowledge of the game. If he can’t do both, he shouldn’t be in this organization as a player. The catch here is that he is so good with the young players in the role as a mentor, that certain teams could overloop his potential lapses on offense.

The Indians aren’t one of those teams.

Terry Francona and Jason Giambi are quite obviously friends and respect each other greatly. If you listen to Francona talk about Giambi, you’d get the impression that he’s already made the club. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case, but wouldn’t be stunned if he was let go as well.

It’s possible that Francona and Giambi are using each other’s talents to their mutual advantage. Francona has some young guys that need to be fostered along, and has a new mentality to bring into a town that is desperate for it. Giambi can get to players on a daily basis a bit deeper than the manager simply because he’s still an active player.

On the flip side, Giambi was an eye-lash away from becoming the next manager of the Colorado Rockies. He’s highly thought of around the league as a guy that will coach for a long time after. Working with Francona will give him some more experience, and perhaps he can latch on with the Indians for one more season, or even springboard from the Indians’ camp to another team.

I just don’t see Francona wasting a roster spot on a guy unless he earns his keep. Giambi is only halfway there.

There is a lot to be impressed with this spring training, but there is one guy that is standing out to me with both play and mentality, and that’s Zach McAllister. From the start, I’ve been impressed with his size and his ability to throw strikes. I wouldn’t say he has overpowering stuff, but he certainly can bring it when he needs to.

A lot of times, a ceiling will be placed on a player before their true ceiling is known. I remember talking to a scout a few years back about Cliff Lee, a season after he won 14 games. “He’ll never be great,” the scout said. “He’s too stubborn, and his pitches will always be too flat.” When I asked him about his age and ability to continue to develop, he said, “He’s hit his ceiling,” and walked away.

I haven’t seen him since, but boy would I like to see him one last time.

I’m certainly not saying with any certainty that McAllister is going to be as good as Cliff Lee, but there are signs that he has the make-up to be that good.

He’s been outstanding on every level. What has always impressed me with regards to McAllister is his poise on the mound. There have been a lot of guys that have shown poise in the past though, that haven’t panned out. Guys like Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey come to mind right away, so it’s hard to put that feather in any cap.

Past the poise though, and you have a big kid at 6’6” and 240 pounds, and when he throws a baseball, he has to look like he’s five feet away when he lets go of the baseball. You add to that the impressive angle at which he brings his pitches in, and he is creating a lot of problems before hitters without even pondering his stuff.

So, how good is his stuff?

At 25 years old, he already has good velocity, and could still see an uptick there. With that said, you have a kid that throws in the low 90’s pretty regularly, has really good location, and has a high baseball IQ and because of it, has a quick learning curve with most tasks.

His primary focus this offseason is varying his times to the plate and becoming less predictable. The coaching staff has been more than impressed with his drive to do it better, and Francona has even mentioned that his time to the plate is nearly a non issue already.

If McAllister eventually wins 20-games, I won’t be surprised. I don’t think it will be this season, but I do think that it will happen down the road. Well, he may not win 20, but he’ll showcase the ability to do it.

Once he puts his time in on this club, I think you’ll find McAllister to become one of the staff and team leaders.

There’s been a lot of banter about Scott Kazmir and just how good he’s going to turn out to be. He’s pitched well, but there is a legitimate concern that he doesn’t have the stuff to be a solid major league starter at this point. There are tons and tons of questions about the guy, but I’m just not there yet with regards to becoming a naysayer.

By all indications, and this is all second hand, Scott Kazmir is throwing free and easy. The only question that I have is whether or not he has actually reached his ceiling or not. Sure, he looks good now, but will this version of Scott Kazmir be effective all season long?

He’ll need command of all his pitches…his breaking ball, his change-up and his fastball…to be an effective starter. Right now, he’s really not close.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s not the best option for the Indians in the #5 hole. He may very well be. Right now, he seems to have grown up a bit from the youthful starter that he was prior to 2011. If he can begin to match the talent-level, and he could, then he could be an incredible addition.

There’s a long way to go though.

Jason Kipnis gets to slow down this year, and I can’t wait to see what that means for his advancement. What do I think? I think he turns into one of the best players on the team.

Trevor Bauer is going to be special. I don’t know what his deal was with Arizona, and I really don’t care. Whatever that was over there, it hasn’t traveled with him over here. Francona loves this kid’s stuff, and loves this kid’s make-up.

While it’s clear that Bauer has a long way to go, Francona made a very pointed and curious statement a couple of days ago when he said that “just because he’s (Bauer) not fully developed or reached his potential yet, it doesn’t mean he won’t break (training) with us.”

In his last start, he focused on his offspeed stuff, and his changeup was just devastating. At one point, he had thrown 40 strikes in about 50 pitches, and mostly his offspeed stuff.

Bauer has a lot of growing up to do, but he’s only 22-years old, and he seems to have a drive to become the best player he can be. He may walk down his own path, but most great players do. Bauer will be up sooner, rather than later, and I’m just not sure why folks don’t seem okay with that.

He very well could be this team’s ace…this year. I can’t wait to see him pitch some live baseball.

The Indians announced today that RHP Frank Herrman underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in New York City. His ulnar collateral ligament was reconstructed, and he’ll be out for 12-18 months. Good luck goes out to Herrman from the writers here at IBI.

The Rearviewmirror:

Venezuela was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Monday night, and I couldn’t be happier. No, I don’t have issues with their politics or their baseball, I’m just glad to see Asdrubal Cabrera home. Rumor has it that he’s still in great shape, and coming in looking to improve his numbers this year heading into a contract season.

Cabrera could explode this season, with the spotlight off him as he just now enters the prime of his career.

While there’s white smoke coming for the new Pope, there’s still black smoke with regards to the choice of the Indians #5 starter. Kazmir is still the favorite, but I have to believe that Trevor Bauer is still a possibility. I know there are reasons why Kazmir makes more sense, but at the end of the day, it should be the best starter.

Now back to my sprinting...gotta keep up to this team...

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Jwahoo
March 14, 2013 - 2:01 PM EDT
@ Jim. I hear you. You want to win and thats obviously understandable. I am realistic with Kazmir but we have to be with Bauer as well. A few years ago everyone and their mother was all about Chisenhall starting at 3B in a very similar sort of situation. (we would have lost a contract year) A couple years later Chiz is now ready to go. Very happy we waited a saved a contract year.

You don't have to keep Bauer in the minors all year. Just start off with Kazmir. See what hes got. If it blows up. Bring in Carrasco. Once the time frame for Bauer is up then bring him in if he seems ready. This gives him some to adjust and come in with confidence and dominate from the start. By doing this, you get to see what Kazmir and Carrasco can bring to the table and get another year of Trevor Bauer under club control at the very peak of his ability.

Its nice that we even are able to talk and debate about who should start in the rotation and who should start in AAA though right Jim? Instead of just throwing out whatever we happen to have at that moment.
Jim
March 14, 2013 - 12:10 PM EDT
The pitching staff will work itself out.

Jwahoo, I know the numbers game with regards to starters, and I love Kazmir. I'm just saying, "let's be realistic with his expectations." A lot can happen between now and April first. If Kazmir is free and loose and shredding, he should, of course, stay, for all the reason that you stated. But, if Bauer is absolutely dominating in his "growth stage," then you bring him up without hesitation and to hell with the extra year.

PErhaps you dance a bit with Carrasco's scenario, and there are other things at play, but the only way you use Kazmir in front of Bauer is if he's pitching better (he is right now).

My end point is just that Bauer is the type of talent that supercedes years of control if he's ready...the key being...if he's ready...
Jim
March 14, 2013 - 12:07 PM EDT
Francona LOVES Aviles...and should...he's what I love to call a glue player, and you'll see him in the infield and the outfield. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get time at all four corner positions, as well as short, second and perhaps even center (although first and center would be a stretch with the amount of players that can play there at this point).

Diaz...he's a good player...which is his ceiling. He could be a nice utility guy, and he has a cannon of an arm. If he hit for his size, he'd be in the bigs right now...
Chip
March 14, 2013 - 3:37 AM EDT
It's nice to see someone that views McCallister's potential as I do. I think he's gonna be very good and very durable.

With a little good juju, this team will have some pitching depth to deal. I'm not looking to trade anyone, but there could be a log jam if Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber, Salazar, or Barnes pitch like they are capable of. I think it is debatable that any one of those 5 can pitch as effectively as Myers, and better than Ubaldo of the last 1 1/2 years. A lot better!

I really like Aviles. I think he replaces Asdrubal quite nicely and being signed to a multi-year deal makes it likely to happen. It would take quite a haul to pry ACab away, but it should. Diaz is beginning to make me a believer that he could be a good MLB shortstop. He could back up Aviles or vice versa. If given that opportunity and performed adequately, that would create value for him too. Obviously, not everyone "pans out", but everyone mentioned has atleast shown the potential to be solid players. It's about time this team had a little luck.
ted
March 14, 2013 - 1:11 AM EDT
You didn't mention that base stealers can put on the starters concentration. I remember a game several seasons ago, the team still played at Municipal Stadium. Doc Medich was pitching and John Lowensrien and Boog Powell was the batter. Medich threw to first over and over. It was obvious that Medich did not want Stiner to steal second. He threw a pitch over the plate and Powell destroyed the pitch. It cleared the extra scoreboard in right field. I don't know how often that happens but it is cleas that Stiner was a part of Medich's failure.
yourtribe
March 13, 2013 - 11:42 PM EDT
Contract or not, how in the hell did hafner last so long? Should have been released three years ago.
jwahoo
March 13, 2013 - 8:15 PM EDT
I have to add one more thing.

I love the Bauer trade but it does not make sense for him to start off with the team or even give the spot to "the best starter". If we do that we lose Kazmir to another team willing to give him a shot AND lose a year of Bauer under club control. When Carlos Carrasco is ready to go someone is going to have to be moved anyway so we might as well see what Scott Kazmir can do and let Bauer develop some more and keep him under club control for longer. Although I do understand where you are coming from.

What interests me is what will happen if Carrasco is ready to go and there is no clear pitcher in the rotation to have removed. Of course this would be a wonderful problem to have and like they say " I am sure it will work itself out". But, another reason to be conservative with Bauer and bring him into the rotation at the optimal time.
Jwahoo
March 13, 2013 - 8:00 PM EDT
@Tony

I think thats exactly what they do.

If Giambi does not work out I could see Fedroff taking over later in the season. A good contact bat to add to a free swinging lineup.
Tony
March 13, 2013 - 7:32 PM EDT
Going to be very interesting to see what the Indians do with that final roster spot this spring. Do they carry Carrasco as a 13th pitcher for a week to clear his suspension? Or do they use that final spot on Giambi? Or, do they combine the two moves with Carrasco here for a week.....a backroom handshake deal with Giambi to stick around for a week and travel with the team....and then when the suspension is up option out Carrasco and add Giambi? I could see that. I think I might be fine with seeing what affect Giambi has if any as a 25th guy on the roster purely from a leadership standpoint. Dave Winfield 1995 redux?
Jwahoo
March 13, 2013 - 7:10 PM EDT
I think another reason they keep Giambi around is to protect their investment in Swisher. He has always had other vets around and has never had to be THE GUY. He might feel this season that he needs to do too much and it could affect his performance. Enter Jason Giambi. Giambi is about one of the best club house leaders you can get and will allow Swisher to settle in and get comfortable in his new role here. Swisher is a major cog in the improved lineup.

Of course thats not the only reason. Raburn and Aviles will get most of the playing time early in the season so no reason to let a young player rot away on the bench.

Plus, Giambi brings a true veteran bat that will draw walks and has some pop. If he is in over his head they can make a move later in the year when they have a better idea what they are working with.

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