The Cleveland Indians Spring Training camp has opened, which means the battles for jobs on the Opening Day roster will soon be underway.
Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall are vying for the starting job at third base. Casey Kotchman will have to fend off Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler to keep his place at first. Kevin Slowey will need to outpitch a slew of younger arms in order to earn a spot in the rotation. And it’s anyone’s guess who’ll replace Grady Sizemore now that he’ll be on the disabled list to start the season.
These position battles have been and will continue to be framed not just as which players are superior but whether the team should be looking more for experience or for youthful promise. So in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our participants: In general, should the Indians give more playing time to veterans or younger players?
In addition to the usual suspects from Wahoo’s on First, we’re proud to be joined by It’s pronounced “Lajaway”‘s Stephanie Liscio. Here’s what we all had to say:
Stephanie Liscio: This may seem like a cop out, but I’d like to see the person with the best numbers get the most playing time. While I hope that will be one of the young guys, since they’re the future of the team, I’m not opposed to a veteran getting significant playing time. It just gets tiresome to watch someone be an automatic out every time they’re at the plate—veteran, or young guy.
Lewie Pollis: As long as the Indians are in contention, the most important thing is to put the best player on the field. If it were pretty close in terms of true talent I’d prefer to give the a younger guy a chance over a proven veteran—the more exposure a prospect gets the better, and younger players usually have higher ceilings—but I wouldn’t want Matt LaPorta taking time from Casey Kotchman just because he was born later.
My bigger concern is that the Indians will give the edge to an older player even if it’s clear that there a better but less experienced alternative waiting in the wings.
Last year, Manny Acta continued to send Orlando Cabrera out to second base every day long after it was clear that the team had better options—Cord Phelps didn’t get enough of a chance to find his groove and Jason Kipnis wasn’t called up until the end of July.
We’ve seen hints of that sentiment in Cleveland’s offseason moves: the Tribe signed Andy LaRoche, Jose Lopez and Christian Guzman to minor-league contacts and tried to work out a deal with Julio Lugo even though the team already has two superior candidates for utility infield jobs in Phelps and Jason Donald. There’s no harm in a minor-league deal, but the Indians’ persistent pursuit of replacement-level veteran infielders doesn’t speak well for how the front office views the youth movement.
Obviously Cabrera didn’t cost Cleveland 15 wins last year, but if the Tigers hadn’t finished the season on a torrid streak and the race had stayed close, it’s possible to imagine a scenario in which going with the veteran would be why the Tribe had lost the division. In a tight pennant race every win counts, and past achievements shouldn’t take precedent over present value.
Brian Heise: I don’t think the indians should focus particularly on giving playing time to young players over veterans or vice versa this spring. Rather, they need to give the most playing time to the players they project to be in Cleveland this year on a full time basis.
The Indians showed last year what a dramatic impact getting off to a fast start can have on the overall tone of the season. They need to get off to a fast start again this year, not only for the benefit of their own psyches, but to put pressure on Detroit right out of the gate. The best way to do that is to get as many at-bats and reps in the field as possible for their everyday players. Granted, that’s no guarantee for a successful start to the season, but it would go a long way in preparing the team in the best possible way.
But, for the sake of providing a solid answer to the question, if i had to pick one or the other I’d lean towards younger players. Many of the veterans we have in camp we already know what they are. I’d much rather see a younger player have a fantastic spring, make the team as that surprise player, and be that piece we seemed to be missing all of last year.
Katie Hendershot: The Indians are in the position that they need to develop for the future. That’s how teams like the Indians operate. They develop young players from the start and compete with them later down the road. Players like Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana are key components to the future of the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are in a good position with the young talent in their control. They have the opportunity to build around a core group of young players that all have upside. Veteran players may perform well throughout the season and add a couple of wins, but when it’s all said and done, they aren’t in it for the long haul. It’s the young players who need to get major league experience, grow together as a team and potentially develop good team chemistry. There will be growing pains associated with giving more time to younger players over veterans, but in the end, it’s what’s best for the team.
The key here is that the players get consistent exposure. It can’t be a few at-bats or innings here and there. In order to get into a rhythm and reach their full potential, the young players must see a significant amount of time. Undoubtedly the players will slump, but it’s important that they have the ability to work through it.
Even if it’s not for the benefit of the current season, the Indians need to expose the younger players to more playing time for the benefit of the future. We may not see the payoff of the experience they gain this season right away, but the Indians will surely reap the rewards in the future.
Geordy Boveroux: I think the 2012 season should be a tale of two halves regarding playing time. I want to see the veterans out on the field Opening Day. This means Jack Hannahan at third with Lonnie Chisenhall at Columbus and Casey Kotchman at first with Matt LaPorta in Columbus as well.
Last year many of the young players seemed too comfortable in their positions. Due to Hannahan cooling off, Chisenhall felt too comfortable at third despite the fact he wasn’t producing. LaPorta was a similar story, as there was virtually no one to take his place in the lineup.
But as the year goes on, those young guys need to get in the lineup. Chisenhall should be at third everyday by June, and LaPorta should steal at-bats at first if he can produce in Columbus. Their upsides offer a lot more to a Tribe playoff run than Hannahan or Kotchman.