Future looks bright for Tribe this spring
Schudel remembers days when reports were few, but optimistic
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby
Among my fondest memories growing up is flipping to the sports section of my morning paper starting in mid-February and on through the end of March, because that was the only way to learn what the Indians were doing in spring training in Tucson, Ariz.
It didn’t even matter that the Indians were generally lousy every year from 1960 to 1972, finishing no higher than third (and only once) in that 13-year stretch. There was always hope every spring the new year would be different, and those dispatches from the desert would tell the stories of Vic Davalillo, Max Alvis, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell and the rest.
The Internet and social media make the news instantaneous now. But I believe others whose hair has grayed as mine has might agree when I say the minimal access made the reports we did
get from Hi Corbett Field in Tucson words to devour.
Spring training for the current Indians begins on Feb. 14 when pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Ariz. Their workouts begin the next day.
Position players are due in Goodyear on Feb. 18. The first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 19. The Tribe’s first Cactus League game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 23 vs. the Cincinnati Reds. And so the Indians’ quest for a third straight postseason berth begins.
“Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.” — Hall of Fame infielder Ernie Banks
The Indians are heavy favorites to repeat as Central Division champions. They are ranked sixth overall in Major League
Baseball by Bleacher Report heading into spring training. The Yankees (fifth), Nationals, Dodgers, Cubs and defending World Series champion Astros (first) are ranked ahead of the Tribe.
Indians manager Terry Francona has only a handful of questions to answer before breaking camp and heading to Seattle to play the Mariners on March 29 in the season opener. At the top of the list is monitoring the health of left fielder Michael Brantley.
This is the third straight spring Brantley’s health has been a concern.
His right shoulder was a question mark in 2016 and 2017. This spring,
Francona and the trainers are watching the progress of Brantley’s surgically repaired ankle closely.
“He’ll be dying to start the season on time, as he always does,” Francona said during Tribe Fest last month. “That will probably be our biggest challenge to make sure we get him back and keep him back and not let opening day be an arbitrary deadline.
But by all accounts, he’s doing terrific.”
Brandon Guyer can start in left field if Brantley still needs time to recover.
Yonder Alonso is replacing Carlos Santana at first base. Santana, who played with the Indians from 2010 to 2017, signed with the Phillies in free agency. It should be a smooth transition defensively. The question that won’t be answered in the desert is whether Alonso can maintain power for a full season.
Alonso changed his swing from 2016 to 2017 to hit for more power. He hit 20 home runs in his first 71 games last season — roughly a homer once every 3.5 games — and only eight in his last 63 games — roughly one homer every eight games.
Most importantly, Francona has to find a relief pitcher, or relief pitchers, to replace ironman Bryan Shaw, who signed with the Rockies in free agency. Shaw appeared in at least 70 games five straight seasons.
“It will probably take
more than one guy to fill what he did,” Francona conceded. “The good news is we have guys that can do that. I have no doubt guys will step up that we don’t know who they are yet.
“Last year in spring training, I don’t know how many people asked me about Tyler Olson. By the end of the year he had 20 scoreless innings.
“It happens every year and it will happen again. That gets exciting.”
Goodyear is 2,050 miles away, but it’s as though if you open a window facing southwest, you can hear the ball popping into the catcher’s mitt and the crack of the bat from here.
“It’s the fans that need spring training. You gotta get ’em interested. Wake ’em up and let ’em know that their season is coming. The good times are gonna roll.” — Famed sportscaster Harry Caray
George “Birdie” Tebbetts, Indians manager in Tucson, Ariz., on Feb. 27, 1963. Jeff Schudel remembers reading about the Indians at spring training while he was growing up.