We are barely more than two weeks from Opening Day, and spring training has quickly made the leap from harbinger of joy to interminable necessity that just teases us as we wait for time to pass. We read the articles on the progressions of Tribe players, watch the limited games until Random Minor Leaguer #47 starts playing third base, and rave over this player, complain over that one.
But none of it matters, really, even if the team, the media, our own mind even, tries to convince us. Some of what we see is a message for the future, some of it is just a filthy lie.
Carlos Santana will continue to be a good offensive player
The worst thing about Carlos Santana is that he isn’t Miguel Cabrera. He has one part of what makes the Detroit first baseman great in his plate discipline, perhaps even two with the power both can flash on occasion. It’s that pesky bat to ball part that really gets in the way. Despite all that, and though hitting .375/.429/.675 for the spring -- which is on par with Cabrera’s work at Progressive Field over his career -- Santana is going to be a key cog in the Indians offense. Take that how you will, but to me it translates to a wRC+ in excess of 125 this year with home runs well over 20.
Santana was sapped with injuries in 2015 and we’re going to see a better player this season, I'm sure of it. He’s never going to hit .300, but a .260 or so isn’t out of the range of possibility, especially if his BABIP swings from the .261 he logged last year to something a bit more lucky. He’s going to be peaking this season, and a lot of people will still probably complain about his batting average. He better hit though, he’s going to DH an awful lot. But at least his spring is a hint of a neat near future. To dovetail with that…
Mike Napoli is going to flash serious power
If you prorated Napoli’s spring work to a full season, he’d hit about 30 home runs, give or take a hot streak. The thing is, he’s not going to get the playing time to do that sort of thing. Look at what he did in 2015 -- a 154 wRC+ vs. righties and only 63 against lefties. Terry Francona loves his platoons, and Napoli is going to be a key piece in that.
Now, he’s apparently been told he will get a lot of time at first, which makes sense. He’s a good defensive first baseman, and only 1 out of 4 pitchers are lefties in the majors anyway, give or take. The Indians did a good job of balancing their lineup since those dreadful days when Phil Coke could come in and face lefties for two straight innings which means Napoli will get chances to work through LOOGYs. The hope is he becomes what Brandon Moss was supposed to be last year, and considering his track record is stronger, it’s easy to be a believer.
Expect something similar to that wonderful Ryan Raburn 2013, when he had 277 plate appearances, hit 16 homers and packed a 154 wRC+. The more the PAs climb, the more the stats will drop, but as long as he’s over 120 in his weighted runs created, everything should be fine.
Giovanny Urshela will be an offensive plus
This doesn’t mean he’s going to keep up the 1.164 OPS, but he should be an above average offensive player in 2016. He’s shown surprising power for his size in 2015 and now leads the team in home runs in Arizona with four home runs in 30 at-bats. I don’t think he’ll hit 30 or more in 2016, but 18-22 isn’t all the way out of the question.
The biggest blocks between him and really flourishing offensively are his strikeout rate in the majors -- at 20.1 percent it’s eight to ten points higher than anything he logged in the minors -- and the presence of Juan Uribe. Uribe has the veteran wiles and the attitude to make Francona give him the starting job, but all these visa problems he’s been facing this spring have been great for Urshela.
If you want to go run prevention, Urshela is the choice -- he’s more athletic, his arm is no worse, and he’s got the upside. And it’s not like Uribe has a brilliant bat by any means, though his career 87 wRC+ has experienced a renaissance the last few years logging a 104, 121 and 116 the previous three years. But he’s 36, he’s going to be more of a Jason Giambi clubhouse type for the most part.
The Tyler Naquin offensive explosion
We aren’t being seduced by this, right? I mean, we see the ruse, I’d assume. We all want a hitting center fielder like Grady Sizemore to return, or at least one that’s a consistent offensive positive like Kenny Lofton, and Naquin could well be something like that eventually.
He’s always hit in the minors, though the average did slip to .263 and the wRC+ to 127 upon being introduced to Triple-A in 2015 after two straight years of .300+ hitting and a 158 wRC+ 2014 in Akron. But he’s always gotten hits and had a 2-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 2015 in addition to actually being able to play center field well. Maybe he feels the pressure of Bradley Zimmer taking the job in 2017 and he’ll force a hand to get a real chance this year. I’m sure the Indians would rather he earn the job then Colin Cowgill or Will Venable. But he hasn’t walked nearly at all, he’s gotten a good number of bleeders to boost the average, though he does square up the ball pretty well. The Indians don’t need center to be a locus of offense, which works in Naquin’s favor, they just need him to catch the ball a lot.
Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw don’t suck
Between the two of them, they’ve pitched 9 ⅔ innings, allowed nine runs, five walks, struck out eight and have given up a homer. These are the guys that are supposed to be the anchors of the bullpen. These are not the numbers for two guys who are supposed to anchor your bullpen. Last year, though, Shaw was spending time working on a two-seamer in Arizona, then got back to shredding bats with his cutter.
There’s that inkling that maybe this is the beginning of the end for one or both of them. Relievers have a limited shelf life and most all of them hit a wall eventually -- that would be crushing for the Indians. As much as they rely on their rotation for success, they’ll need these two along with Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister and the others to end games for them. But they’re both getting those precious strikeouts and working into shape. As long as they’re in form as April dawns and they don’t blow some early games there shouldn’t be any problems.
Trevor Bauer’s middling numbers
It’s tough to argue against, since it’s only nine innings with a 4.00 ERA and Bauer had a combined 4.38 ERA the last two years, and he’s also given up the two home runs already. But there’s something about Bauer that just makes me think it’s all going to click soon.
The spring, as repeated ad nauseum, means nothing since these guys are working on stuff like new pitches and refined locations and might get rocked now and then. Just look at Danny Salazar as he perfects his changeup this year and the effect on his numbers, or Cody Anderson doing the same. Bauer is having a very Bauer-y spring -- not giving up many hits unless they’re clobbered, a bunch of walks and a bunch of strikeouts.
Honestly this one is wrapped in hope as much as prediction, but he’s going to have a very good 2016, and we’re just watching the final kinks get knocked out. Most if not all projections disagree, mainly because of the walk issues that have plagued his entire career. Can he harness the madness of the movement of his stuff? That’s the real question. If so, he’s going to be excellent. If not, get ready for a nine walk no-hitter.