It's way too early to draw any conclusions, or even make partial conclusions, from spring training game. Pitchers by and large aren't throwing their offspeed pitches. This year's schedule makes these first games even more irrelevant, as normally at this time games would be another week away. The World Baseball Classic has lengthened the Cactus League schedule, and also the evaluation process. Sure, the two home runs (and three in two games) by Ryan Raburn will be filed away by the Tribe front office, but only if he's doing this in two weeks against pitchers throwing their complete arsenal. The vast majority or major-league hitters are going to crush fastballs, and that's what we've seen in the first couple outings.
But even though you don't want to be drawing meaningful conclusions from these early spring games, Raburn is going to have a leg up on making this club. Before his disastrous 2012 campaign, he had a career batting line of .269/.323/.456 (OPS+ of 106) over 1497 plate appearances. But the 2012 season torpedoed what was shaping up to be a nice career for a utility guy; he hit .171/.226/.254, which earned him some time in the minors and a release this past November.
Obviously nobody was going to give him a major-league deal after a season like that, but he was one of the higher-profile NRIs signed by any club this winter. He's 32, so perhaps 2012 represented a clear career cliff dive, but maybe it was just a slump. If it was just an aberration, Raburn is an ideal AL bench guy; he can play every position except except shortstop and catcher, and has historical hit left-handed pitching very well. His splits against left-handers isn't quite as valuable as it would have been last year, but a lefty-masher is always going to be a welcome addition to a bench, especially when that lefty-masher can play almost anywhere in the field. For instance, he could pinch-hit for Lonnie Chisenhall against a matchup left-hander, and go out to play third the next inning.
Giambi also seems a favorite to make the club as a pinch-hitter/occasional DH. I think his real competition is from Rule 5 pick Chris McGuiness, who would serve a similar but not quite exact role if he made the club. A lot of the talk early this spring has been about Giambi is a great clubhouse guy and would be a great hitting resource for young guys like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis; not coincidentally, Giambi's locker was placed between Chisenhall's and Kipnis'.
Raburn was discussed above, but let's delve into the latter portions of Hoynes' notes:
No problem: The Indians desperately need more innings from their top three starters. Not only will it protect the young starters in the fourth and fifth spots, but it will keep the bullpen from being overworked.
Masterson and Jimenez have the stuff to dominate a lineup, but neither could consistently throw strikes last year. It's one thing to be bad, another to be inefficiently bad, forcing your manager to pull you before the fifth inning. A major-league can handle an occasional early exit by a starter, but when those early exits are happening twice or three times a week, last August happened.
That's why it's crucial for Masterson and Jimenez to be much more efficient with their pitches. They have the stuff to be constantly in and around the strike zone, and to get those crucial 10-pitch innings.
AL Central News
The White Sox picked up third baseman Connor Gillaspie from the Giants a couple days ago in a trade, sending back RHP Joe Soptic, a high-risk/high-reward arm who pitched (badly) in the South Atlantic League in 2012. Gillaspie is probably going to make the club, given that he's out of options. He was picked by the Giants 37th overall in the 2008 draft, and was blocked by Pablo Sandoval at third base.
A look at who will be filling out the Tiger bullpen this year. Familiar faces are Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, and Octavio Dotel, with Bruce Rondon (Detroit's #3 prospect by BA) getting a spot, and eventually closing.
A comparison of who each AL Central club will be playing up the middle. Needless to say, the Indians don't fare too badly here.
Reds at Indians, 3:05 PM (split squad)
Indians at Brewers, 3:05 PM (split squad)
Yes, I said today's games, as the Indians are playing both the Reds (at home) and the Brewers (on the road). WTAM will again broadcast the Indians/Reds game, while the Indians/Brewers game will be broadcast on MLB.com.
A lot of the rotation candidates will be pitching today:
Today's Classic Clip: Laurel and Hardy do the dishes...