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3 Cleveland Indians Patience will be key as this former power takes the next step in rebuilding

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

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March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

3 Cleveland Indians Patience will be key as this former power takes the next step in rebuilding

The player who walks around the Indians' clubhouse with the
nickname "the Franchise" is a 21-year-old rookie with 31 career
major league at bats. He listens to Nelly and Outkast before
games, and when he's bleary-eyed in the morning it's because he
was up late manning the controller of his PlayStation2. On one of
those nights midway through spring training, the player, Brandon
Phillips, was checking out the newest baseball video game when he
let out a yell in his hotel room. "[The game] had me in the
starting lineup," he says. "I couldn't believe it." The virtual
Phillips went 1 for 3 with a home run that night, hours after the
real Phillips had gone 0 for 4 with a strikeout in an exhibition
game.

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

While the prized second-base prospect--acquired from the Expos in
a six-player deal for ace Bartolo Colon last June--frequently
looked in spring training as if he were in over his head, the
nickname speaks to his potential. He is a five-tool talent who
hits for power, has good range and can fly. In fact, with half
the players on Cleveland's 40-man roster either rookies or
wide-eyed prospects, auditions for three infield positions
(including second base) and two spots in the rotation looked like
tryouts for American Idol.

General manager Mark Shapiro, who enjoys talking about Japanese
business models and has on his office bookshelf titles such as
The Mind of the CEO, is focused on long-term reward. One year
removed from a 91win season and the team's sixth playoff
appearance in seven years, Shapiro, starting with the trade of
Colon, overhauled the roster during a monthlong purge in which he
made six trades with five organizations, involving six Cleveland
players. Now the Indians are loaded with emerging young talent.
"There's no timetable with what we're doing," says Shapiro, "but
we'll be where we want to be eventually."

Youth movement or not, veteran outfielder Ellis Burks believes
the Indians can contend sooner rather than later. "I don't think
we're going to have to be as patient as people think," he says.
"These guys can grow up fast." No one has had to mature faster
than lefthander C.C. Sabathia, who at 22 is the league's youngest
No. 1 starter. "Sometimes I do feel older than I am," says
Sabathia, who was a combined 30-16 the last two seasons,
including 17-5 as a rookie in 2001. But he got off to a horrific
start last year, going 6-9 with a 5.34 ERA before winning seven
of his last nine decisions with an ERA of 2.54. "I took a lot of
things for granted last season," he says. "I didn't realize how
much hard work I needed to do, and I wasn't very prepared for
games. Last year was a reality check."

Sabathia spent much of the off-season in the living room of his
Vallejo, Calif., home studying videotape of his 33 starts in
2002. He took copious notes and scribbled comments into a
notebook he plans to carry with him everywhere. Sabathia noted
hitters' tendencies and saw glaring inconsistencies in his
delivery, particularly in his release point. He's also keeping an
eye on his diet. Last spring he arrived at camp weighing an
estimated 305 pounds, but this year he came in at around 275, in
large part because he has stayed away from KFC and Taco Bell.
Sabathia hired a personal chef while at the team's Winter Haven,
Fla., spring training camp and plans to do the same when he gets
back to Cleveland. "Now it's all about throwing the ball
consistently and coming to the ballpark in shape and prepared,"
says Sabathia. "It should be an exciting year for me."

The most exciting thing for Indians fans may be the future.
Rookie first basemen Travis Hafner, acquired in December in a
trade with the Rangers, may not be in the starting lineup for the
opener, but the club envisions him as its long-term replacement
for the departed free agent Jim Thome. (Hafner hits with
Thome-like power from the left side.) Catcher Victor Martinez,
24, is widely regarded as the best young hitter at his position
in baseball (an Eastern League--high .336 average for Double A
Akron last year; .281 in 32 at bats for Cleveland), and though
he'll start the season at Triple A Buffalo, he'll probably be
recalled by midseason.

"I'm glad we're bad now," says Phillips. "It gives us younger
guys time to get better." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON TURNING HEADS Phillips has all the tools to be a star, but like many of his teammates he is short on experience.COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES SPENCER

IN FACT
Rightfielder Karim Garcia, who played in 53 games last season,
led all major leaguers with 0.98 RBIs per game.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Indians

"They've gone through the root canal (first losing season in nine
years); now the recovery process can start. They're still in
transition, but at least they've got a plan.... Jason Davis and
Ricardo Rodriguez are good, young power pitchers. Davis is a
four-pitch package, but everything keys off the fastball.
Rodriguez walked more guys than he should have last year, but
he's the most advanced of the youngsters. If Jason Bere and Brian
Anderson stay healthy, the inexperience of the rotation won't be
an issue.... Danys Baez is back in the bullpen where he belongs
because his splitter and fastball are his only two pitches.... In
the outfield Milton Bradley has ability, but you wonder whether
he'll bring it to the table, and Shane Spencer was a good pickup.
He's a surprisingly good defender, and he's in the best shape
he's been in for a while.... The infield's a mess. Rookie Travis
Hafner had a good spring, but what happens when pitchers find his
holes? He kills mistakes over the plate, but will he hit good
pitching? ... It's heresy to Cleveland fans, but one of the best
things the club could do is trade Omar Vizquel for more young
talent."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Bradley
SS Vizquel
LF Lawton
DH Burks
RF Garcia
1B Hafner
3B Blake
C Bard
2B Phillips

MILTON BRADLEY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 201 .249 9 38 6

OMAR VIZQUEL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 106 .275 14 72 18

MATT LAWTON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 167 .236 15 57 8

KARIM GARCIA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 114 .297 16 52 0

TRAVIS HAFNER* (R)[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 155 .342 21 77 2

CASEY BLAKE*[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 238 .309 19 58 24

JOSH BARD* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 283 .297 6 53 0

BRANDON PHILLIPS* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 227 .279 9 32 8

BENCH

SHANE SPENCER[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 218 .247 6 34 0

JOHN MCDONALD

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 358 .250 1 12 3

DESIGNATED HITTER

ELLIS BURKS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 64 .301 32 91 2

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH C.C. Sabathia 44 13 11 6.4 1.36 4.37
RH Jason Bere[#] 219 1 10 5.4 1.47 5.67
LH Brian Anderson[#] 204 6 11 5.9 1.32 4.79
RH Ricardo Rodriguez(R) 193 2 2 5.9 1.40 5.66
RH Jason Davis(R)[**] 168 6 2 5.9 1.34 3.51

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Danys Baez 58 10 11 6 1.46 4.41
RH Dave Riske 255 2 2 1 1.64 5.26
LH Carl Sadler 298 1 2 0 1.28 4.43

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats [**] Double A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD
74--88
third in AL Central

MANAGER

Eric Wedge
first season with Cleveland