The Indians' outfield of flamboyant Minnie Minoso in left, unpredictable Jimmy Piersall in center and zestful Rocky Colavito in right may not be the best in the business. But it's pretty good, and certainly one of the most colorful. Colavito, the happy young man from The Bronx, developed into one of the big hitters in the league last year (41 homers, 113 RBIs, .303 batting average). Minoso, the pride of Frank Lane and Cuba, is still a wonderful hitter at 36 (.302 batting average, 80 RBIs) and a joy to behold on the bases, if you're not the opposing pitcher. Piersall, who can't carry either of his sidekicks' bats, is still among the finest-fielding center fielders in the league. If the Indians let Vic Power play first base, they'll have the best around. If they make him play third, they'll have just another guy. That refers to his fielding; there's no doubt about his hitting ability. Last year he ranked fifth in the league with a .312 average. The catching is deep: Russ Nixon (24) is a high-average low-power hitter, and Dick Brown (also 24) a low-average, high-power hitter. When he was healthy, Herb Score was one of the best pitchers in the world (36 wins in two seasons). Crippling injuries have made him virtually useless to the Indians since then (four wins in two seasons). He threw hard in spring training without hurting his arm again, which was what Manager Joe Gordon was anxiously waiting to see. Twenty-two-year-old Gary Bell is one of the finest pitching prospects in sight, and Mudcat Grant, who can start or relieve, will do a good job. Cal McLish had a 16-8 record and a 2.99 ERA last year and must be considered the stopper of the staff until Score steps back up there.
The infield is miserable. Mickey Vernon was a good first baseman in his prime, but that was a long time ago. Now nearing 41, he will be able to give the Indians some good days (.293 batting average in 1958) but not many weeks. Woody Held, a converted center fielder, can't play short, and Billy Moran, who probably can, won't hit (one home run, .226 batting average). For that matter, Held, with a two-year major league average of .221, won't hit either. That may leave it up to 33-year-old George Strickland, who retired in 1958 but who unretired this year. Power is a misfit at third base; 33-year-old Randy Jackson, a legitimate third baseman and once a legitimate hitter, has averaged .209 at bat over the last two years. Minoso isn't in the outfield for his defensive abilities, and even the gifted Colavito loosens the outfield defense a bit because of his slow-footed pursuit of fly balls. Piersall makes up for a lot with his play in center, but if his hitting stays as bad as it has been for the past two years it may be just too much to make up. The pitching staff is untested. Score, at this point, is still an unknown quantity. Bell should be great someday, but that day is still a little way off. Cal McLish won 16 games last year, but he's 33 years old and he never had a season like that before. Matter of fact, he won only 19 games in the majors before 1958. Mudcat Grant won 10 games as a rookie last year but he also lost 11, and that doesn't sound too exciting. Behind these four are cast-off pitchers like Don Ferrarese, who couldn't make it with Baltimore, Hal Woodeshick, who couldn't make it at Detroit, and Dick Brodowski, who couldn't make it with Washington. Even 35-year-old Mike Garcia is trying a comeback after a back injury stopped his career last season.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
The big trades for Martin and Piersall are supposed to turn the Indians into contenders. It's true that the two newcomers improve the defense but neither is ballplayer enough to set off championship fireworks at the Cleveland lake front. Bob Tiefenauer, a knuckle-ball pitcher with rare control, won 17 games in relief at Toronto last year. He'll get a long look with Cleveland. Al Cicotte was an outstanding pitcher in the Cuban League this past winter and may have matured into a dependable starter. Tito Francona, a first baseman-outfielder obtained from Detroit, says he can hit if played regularly. Brightest new face is bonus rookie Gene Leek, who was playing for the University of Arizona in February. He was so impressive in training that he could turn out to be the answer to the third-base problem.
THE BIG IFS
Score is the biggest one. He has to come back, and Garcia should, too, if the Indians are to improve. McLish must have another year like 1958. Tiefenauer, or somebody, has to take up the relief burden left when Ray Narleski and Don Mossi were traded. Martin has got to be the sparkplug that he was not in Detroit last year. And Leek, or—again—somebody, has to fill that gaping hole at third.
The Indians have a handful of good players, and they have Frank Lane. Unfortunately, Frank can't play short or third and he can't pitch. Better players are needed. Lane will try to get them. Until he does, the Indians can't be viewed too seriously. It will take some doing for them to finish fourth again.
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