A certain negativity has injected itself into the Cleveland Indians' spring.
Once focused solely around the return of Michael Brantley (which hasn't really been fixed), now we hear Jason Kipnis is being shut down for a couple weeks due to a flared up rotator cuff, Corey Kluber might miss the first week of the season as they bring him on slowly, and Andrew Miller got utterly shelled in the World Baseball Classic. Also Cody Anderson's elbow is messed up, for those Tractorheads out there. And now Carlos Carrasco is apparently seeing what it’s like to be a pitching machine.
For a spring hopefully presaging a fun, winning season and another World Series appearance, things have gotten dark quickly. It seems like as good a time as any to be reminded of some of the good things that continue to exist for Cleveland.
If you like baseball, you love Francisco Lindor. Shoot, you could probably hate baseball and still love the guy just because he bought you a sandwich one time. No matter what else happens this summer, being able to watch a full season of him again makes baseball worth watching.
After the insane display he put on with Puerto Rico in the first round of the WBC as well as the damage he dealt in the postseason, this young man is edging toward superstardom like we haven't seen in Cleveland since a season and a half of Grady Sizemore. Nobody is more fun to watch than Lindor. He's what makes fans. Also he’s apparently turning into Roberto Alomar, which is nice.
Salazar looks his typical excellent self
I've been kind of vocal about not trusting Salazar for 200 innings, a mark he's never hit before. It's "tiny man throws hard" syndrome, it's just too hard on such a small guy to hit that kind of velocity for a long time. Tim Lincecum did it for a while, but slowly fell apart.
None of that matters for the moment, though, because Salazar looks excellent in the spring. Those arm issues that ended his season are not yet rearing their ugly head. He'll be vital for the Indians if they have to survive a no-Kluber situation to start the season. He's vital anyway, but more vital. You get the idea. The walks might be a bit of a concern, but he had a 2/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last spring too. He walks a lot of batters, it's what he does. He just happens to strike out about twice as many and not allow hits. Frustrating? Sure. But he looks like his best self already.
Here's hoping for 180 innings of that this year.
Encarnacion and Santana raining hell on the bleachers
While they probably won't be next to each other in the heart of the order, they're still the core of power for the Indians' offense.
Between Encarnacion just making loud noises in Arizona and Santana crushing other countries as a key cog in for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, they’re already pretty cool. In regular season terms, expecting 75 home runs between the two of them doesn't sound like it's outside the realm of possibility.
Santana has been a curious case this spring, his usually patient self not drawing a single walk so far, but he's gone 6-for-15 and has been central to the Dominican offense. Not quite Manny Machado, but vital.
Meanwhile, Encarnacion has average years that are as good as the best the man he's replacing, MIke Napoli, has ever done. Napoli's 30 home runs was a nice surprise. That would almost be a disappointment for Edwin.
Trevor Bauer is bound to be interesting
The young pitcher is certainly divisive among baseball fans, for a whole glut of reasons. Tribe fans in particular are growing frustrated with his lack of, well, something I guess. Perhaps it's the inconsistency that seems to plague him for stretches, or his fading down the stretch last season, or the drone thing, or the Twitter political rants. It’s easy to focus on the negatives. But what about the positives? Positions like his mid-90’s heat, or a simply excellent curveball, or the fact he had a 110 ERA+ last season along with a career high 190 innings pitched, plus playoffs?
Meanwhile his home runs and walks have been trending steadily downward. He’s only 26. At this point in his career, Corey Kluber was in the minors. Interesting doesn’t mean just on the mound stuff, which will make following Bauer an interesting time for the season, but even if all you care about is the baseball, this is something to be excited for
The growth, or return, of players we like
Whether it’s seeing if Tyler Naquin can hit a fastball up in the zone, whether Abe Almonte is going to be something more than a replacement level player, or the return of Yan Gomes to catching full time, there’s intrigue in the players already in camp.
The roster is mostly set, but seeing what they become is going to be fun. Naquin took the world by storm and captured hearts before turning into a strikeout machine in August. And everyone who cares about the Indians loves Yanny. He hit a homerun on Monday. That’s cool. It was such a miserable experience seeing him be the worst hitter ever last year. For everyone’s sake he needs to have seen to be back to something like what he was.
And Abe Almonte is awesome. Get used to it.
Other excellent things, lightning round
Jose Ramirez's hair, Jose Ramirez's helmet ten feet to his left (your right), Brandon Guyer being the best at what he does, the smile crinkles around Terry Francona's eyes, John Adams' war drum, a scoreboard that can fit 150 buses, Josh Tomlin's facial hair, sunshine, Bradley Zimmer getting called up, beer and hotdogs at the ballpark, beating on the Tigers, Tom Hamilton, the curious calls of Matt Underwood, Rick Manning’s teeth, Andre Knott’s head, throwback 70’s uniforms (hopefully), beating on the Tigers. And a host of other things.
So even if things have taken a turn of sorts in Arizona, by and large it’s looking pretty darn good.