A Spring of Big Changes and New Faces for Cleveland Baseball
The Cleveland Indians are gearing up for what Major League Baseball hopes will be a more normal season. Last year, teams didn’t play until July due to the pandemic.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto is in Goodyear, Ariz. this week for Spring Training. He says the pandemic is only one reason why camp has a whole different feel this year.
A changed game
MLB teams usually invite 100 or more players to Spring Training before cuts and option assignments narrow the list. It's been reduced to about 70 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pluto says the Indians are also playing fewer games.
"Often times they'd play two games in a day. If you're a really good team like the Indians a few years ago where you could almost name the starting lineup before [the season] began, it really wasn't that important. You'd just get those guys in shape," Pluto said.
But this is a new team of mostly young players.
"Right now, Shane Bieber at the ripe old age of 25 is the ace of the staff. A bunch of the other starters, whether you're talking about Aaron Civale or Zach Plesac or Triston McKenzie... they're young guys with less than two years in the big leagues."
Major League Baseball teams are on track to play all 162 regular-season games, after playing a shortened 60-game season in 2020. Still, Pluto acknowledges how much the pandemic has dramatically changed the sport.
"You have these teams trying to work in a team sport but doing it on a totally individual remote basis most of the time, except when they actually go out and play the game," Pluto said.
The Goodyear atmosphere
Pluto's trip to Spring Training last year was cut short when the league shut down amid the pandemic. He says the feeling this year is different.
"There are about 1,000 people [at the games]. They have limited seating scattered across the ballpark that holds about 9,000. You could hear the ball into the mitt and the crack of the bat. You could hear guys kind of yelling," Pluto said.
"You're not only going to see a bunch of new faces and young faces but probably changing faces during the course of the season."
Still, Pluto says he believes MLB is figuring how to operate during the pandemic.
"It's eerie but you feel like baseball is going in the right direction to be able to play," he said.
Update on the Francisco Lindor trade
The Indians are in cost-cutting mode in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The website FanGraphs estimates the team's 2021 payroll at $53 million. Forbes has it at $38 million. It was $86 million last year.
So, Pluto says the team is rebuilding with young players after trading star shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets in January.
In return the Indians got four players. Shortstop Andres Gimenez, 22, appears to have the position locked down.
"He's a really good fielder. There was some question on how he'd hit, but he's hitting .370 this spring," Pluto said.
Pluto stops short of saying Gimenez is the next Lindor, but believes the team got a solid shortstop to replace him for a number of years.
Meanwhile, Amed Rosario, another shortstop acquired in the Lindor trade, is getting time in the outfield.
"I don't think he's going to open the year in center field," Pluto said, adding that the team will likely be trying many options in the outfield.
A time for adjustments
Spring Training is when underperforming players make adjustments to their game. That's been the case for pitcher Logan Allen, a former top-100 prospect acquired from the San Diego Padres in the 2019 Trevor Bauer deal. Pluto said the coaching staff changed his windup and now he's in the running for a spot in the starting rotation.
"[He] has struck out 11 and hasn't walked anyone in nine spring innings and [has given up] one run," Pluto said.
Pluto said a player like Allen is an example of the team's philosophy in building a roster, saying they take a "big volume approach" when trading big-name players like Lindor and Bauer.
"They bring in a whole bunch of prospects and then try to sort them out," he said.
Can they contend?
Pluto thinks it's unlikely the Indians will make the playoffs this year.
"I think they're a .500 team or a little bit above and that probably isn't enough to contend. They probably need something extraordinary to happen," Pluto said.
With Opening Day on April 1, Pluto says fans will need to do their homework.
"You're not only going to see a bunch of new faces and young faces, but probably changing faces during the course of the season as the Indians try to figure out which of these young guys can play and which can't."