Francona Excited about Spring Training

Dave Mitchell February 8, 2013 Comments Off on Francona Excited about Spring Training

Even as there is ice and snow on the ground and basketball is in the forefront, now is the time to direct attention to the boys of summer. Monday for most clubs, including the Cleveland Indians, pitchers and catchers will report to Arizona and Florida for spring training. With the promise of warm weather and sunshine, the sounds of a ball hitting the bat and gloves will echo in the air around the country.

For Terry Francona, this will be a return to the game he loves on the field. After taking a year off to be an analyst for ESPN, the former Boston manager is ready to take charge of the Cleveland Indians.

It’s great to be back on the bench. I loved being at ESPN and they treated me great, but spring training is different.”

Francona won two World Series titles with the Sox and is taking over a regime that is suffering the same curses Boston went through. Cleveland fans haven’t celebrated a championship since 1964. Although the Indians have been to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and came within one game of going in 2007, when they were beaten by Francona and the Boston Red Sox. Still no celebration.

Now the job of making that happen belongs to Francona. He knows the Cleveland fans are dying for a winner, but cannot consume himself by trying to win for the fans.

That’s unfair to the players. I understand the fans are suffering but you cannot play the game to break the curse.” Francona added “when we do win a championship it will be awesome.”

Optimism abounds for every major league team at this time of year, yet many questions need to be answered. That includes Cleveland, where the manager expects pitching to be his biggest concern.

Pitching always gives you a chance to win. We have a lot of depth, but a lot of questions to answer.”

Three answers to the rotation are set, the rest could be a mystery. Etched in stone, barring injury, is Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jiminez and Brett Meyers as the “big three.” Francona hesitates putting them into any order or announce the opening day starter until later in March. Francona said Cleveland needs “good innings” from all their starters this year.

The final two spots in the rotation will be a battle between Carlos Carrasco, Cory Kluber, Zach McAllister, newly acquired Trevor Bauer and possibly Scott Kazmir. Josh Tomlin is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August.

22 year old Trevor Bauer will be the most watched in camp by the fans and media. Acquired from Arizona in December, Bauer has a very sketchy past. Arizona’s owner was so disgusted with Bauer he ordered the D’Backs GM to get rid of him. Bauer has some ideas on his warm up style and the way he throws in between starts. Francona, who dealt with different personalities in Boston, isn’t fazed, calling Bauer a “nice kid” and a “hard worker.” Adding later, “Being quirky isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

Kazmir, whom Francona called a “wild card” in the rotation search, is a three-time All-Star who led the AL in strikeouts in 2007. Four years ago he suffered a minor elbow injury that didn’t require surgery, yet seemed to throw his mechanics out of whack. The 28-year-old spent last season in the independent Atlantic League. He has a 66-61 career record with a 4.17 ERA in 179 starts for Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels. He went 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 2007 for the Rays. It’s expected he will begin the season in Columbus to work out his motion and release and be brought up later when needed.

Pitching isn’t the only question mark. Center field and lead off are important spots, and the same two players will battle for each one. Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley are the same player, only they bat from different sides of the plate. Last year Brantley was a ray of sunshine for a disappointing team, while Stubbs was less than stellar for the division winning Cincinnati Reds.

Both want to play the center field spot. Yet the best guess is Stubbs will play center and Brantley will go to left. Francona plans to sit down with both and together discuss the position early in Goodyear. But he knows whoever mans the position, it’s in good hands.

Stubbs will probably bat leadoff, although the Reds could never win consistently with him there. In fact, the Reds traded him for Shin Soo Choo, will will play out of position in center just so he can bat leadoff. This will be an experiment Francona is hoping works out so that Brantley can bat elsewhere in the order.

Another question mark is a Rule 5 draft pick by the Tribe in left-handed hitting first baseman Chris McGuiness. McGuiness was the fifth overall pick off Texas’ Class AAA roster. McGuiness, 24, hit .268 with 25 doubles, 23 homers and 77 RBI in 132 games at Class AA Frisco.

McGuiness follows in another left handed first baseman the Indians traded with Texas to get after the 2001 season, Travis Hafner. Hafner showed promise early in his career, and the hope is McGuiness can achieve the ability Hafner showed early.

We need to get a good look at McGuiness in spring training.” Francona said they might switch him around so they can get him at-bats. The tricky part is a decision on McGuiness has to be made by the end of spring training to either keep him on the major league roster all year or send him back to Texas.

The way this team is built, Francona expects the Indian hitters to strike out a lot. Stubbs and new first baseman Mark Reynolds combined struck out almost one/third of the total the entire Indians team did in 2012. That’s why Francona comes back to pitching being the key to success.

If the pitching holds true into the 7th and 8th innings a homer can win some games.”

For the Indians to win games this year, they must have most of these question marks come through. There are still others that need to be answered, such as the bullpen and designated hitter. Still, Francona is happy to be back on the field and out of the booth, where he belongs.

And he’s not anxious to go back anytime soon.


Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show returns on March 4th, at 9pm with a two-hour special.