Spring Postcard: Question marks will define the Indians' season
Bounceback candidates Fausto Carmona and Travis Hafner have had great springs
Grady Sizemore is the centerpiece for what could be a solid offense
Even if Jake Westbrook makes it back, the starting rotation has issues
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. The mystery of Fausto
The story has been told again and again: In 2007 Fausto Carmona was one of the best starting pitchers in the American League. In 2009 he was one of the worst. The difference was staggering. In 2007 the league hit only .248 against him, And he walked 2.6 batters per nine innings. In 2009 the league hit .295 against him, and he walked 5.0 batters per nine. There were many theories, among them: The league started laying off his heavy sinking fastball, Carmona lost command, Carmona lost confidence and so on. Whatever the case, Carmona, 26, has been terrific in spring -- he has an 0.45 ERA over his last four starts -- and has the Indians believing that he might return to 2007 form.
2. Hafner or half empty?
Travis Hafner's story is not so different from Carmona's. From 2004 through 2006 he hit .308/.419/.611 with a 170 OPS+. He absolutely was as good a hitter as anyone in the league. Pronk, as they call him, has had to deal with a severely injured shoulder the last three seasons and his production has fallen off dramatically (.255/.362/.434). Hafner, 32, says that the shoulder is healthy, and that he feels he can get back to being the dominant hitter he was four or five years ago.
3. Making the Grady
Going into last season, Grady Sizemore was widely viewed as one of the best players in baseball. In 2008 he had his first 30-homer, 30-stolen-base season, he won his second straight Gold Glove, he scored 100 runs for the fourth straight season and he played in at least 157 games for the fourth straight year. And he had injury problems for the first time in his major league career -- and he struggled in 106 games, hitting only .248 with the lowest slugging percentage of his career (.445). He, like Carmona and Hafner, is having a terrific spring, making the Indians surprisingly optimistic about this season despite their 97 losses in 2009.
You probably did not know this, but the 2009 Indians were just one short of the American League record with 10 different players who hit double-digit home runs. Of course, half of those players are gone, including Victor Martinez (Boston), Ben Francisco (Philadelphia), Ryan Garko (Seattle), Mark DeRosa (San Francisco) and Kelly Shoppach (Tampa Bay). But if -- admittedly there are a lot of ifs -- Sizemore is healthy and Hafner still has something left, this team could score a lot of runs. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo had a 20-20 season last year and punched up a team-high .394 on-base percentage. Asdrubal Cabrera looks like a promising young offensive shortstop. And everyone is waiting for big-time prospect Matt LaPorta to start hitting.
New Face, New Place
He's actually a familiar face -- Branyan was drafted by the Indians in 1994, and he hit 20 home runs for the Indians in 2001. He then began his long journey back, and what a journey: He was traded to Cincinnati, signed with Atlanta, was traded back to Cleveland, was traded to Milwaukee, was released and signed with Tampa Bay, was traded to San Diego, was released again, signed with Cleveland (third time with the Tribe), was sold to Philadelphia, was traded to St. Louis, was let go, signed with Milwaukee, was let go, and finally last year signed with Seattle. He had his best season as Seattle gave him 500 plate appearances for the first time in his career, and he hit 31 homers. And now, at age 34, he's back with Cleveland for the fourth time.
Wish You Were Here
Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia
It's easy to forget that not only were the Indians one game away from the World Series in 2007, but they were also more or less the consensus choice to win the division title last year. Things went very wrong -- to the tune of 97 losses -- and now the Indians are a popular choice to be among the worst teams in baseball. The reason: that starting rotation. As Indians, Sabathia and Lee won the Cy Young Award in 2007 and 2008, respectively, but in 2009 Cleveland starters had a 5.30 ERA -- and that number is even worse when you take out Lee's half season. The Indians are counting heavily on a big Carmona bounce-back and the return of Jake Westbrook, who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and made only five starts in 2008. And even if those two do return, the rest of the rotation has a lot of question marks.
One of the best prospects in baseball, catcher Carlos Santana was sent down for a little more seasoning, but don't be surprised if you see him up by June. Santana was crushing the ball during spring training, and it seems pretty clear that he's just about ready not only to play in the big leagues but to be an impact player.
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