4 Cleveland Indians Self-made power hitter Jody Gerut puts some muscle in the rebuilding project

April 04, 2004

As a Stanford history major in 1999, Jody Gerut produced a
20-page senior paper that examined the intricacies of patent law
in the Soviet Union. As bright a ballplayer as he was an
academic, Gerut determined three years later that his career
would stagnate in the minor leagues unless he reinvented himself
as a power hitter. "It was what I believed I needed to do to turn
heads," says Gerut, who popped 22 home runs and had a .494
slugging percentage in 480 at bats as a rookie last season. "I
had been satisfied with my seasons up to that point [.291 career
batting average and a season-best 11 homers in three minor league
seasons through 2002], but they weren't getting me anywhere. I
came to the point of saying, 'O.K., you want home runs? Here are
home runs.'"

In the Indian's stripped-down lineup--five regulars began last
season with less than 50 games each of big-league
experience--Gerut emerged as the big bopper, testament to both
the success of his metamorphosis and the shortage of power around
him. Avoiding the division cellar thanks to hapless Detroit, the
Indians lost 94 games and finished 13th in the AL in runs per
game (4.31), slugging percentage (.401) and total bases.

Gerut, however, was a smash, leading the club in home runs and
extra-base hits and finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the Year
voting. "We don't have a prototypical third or fourth hitter, and
as a corner outfielder, you have to be a run producer," says
general manager Mark Shapiro. "Jody's smart enough to realize
it's all trade-offs--trade off some on-base for some power, and
drive the ball a little bit. He's never going to be a pure
50-home-run hitter, but he's the whole package: makeup,
character, work ethic, good defense."

A second-round draft pick in 1998, Gerut played to Stanford type:
He was defensively sound, hit selectively and for average, struck
out infrequently and delivered the occasional blast as a bonus.
He enjoyed his best minor league season in 2002, batting .322
after a midseason promotion to Triple A Buffalo, but homered only
once in 55 games. Postseason conversations with Shapiro and
Indians brass left him convinced that he needed to beef up his
output. "It was difficult," he says, "because I liked the player
I was."

Gerut returned to his off-season home in Arizona and began
working out with Jay Schroeder--"He's like the Rocky trainer, in
a little room at Gold's Gym," Gerut says--whose unconventional
techniques focus on force absorption and include, for example, a
bench-press drill in which you let go of the weight at the top of
the press, then drop your hands fast enough to catch it.

While Schroeder helped him add muscle mass, Gerut helped himself
by studying videotapes of the game's best power hitters, such as
Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Eric Chavez. The
common denominator that he detected? "They were making educated
guesses, because they looked bad almost as much as they looked
good," Gerut says. "Even Barry, who's the greatest in the game at
being patient and having strike-zone command, looks dumb
sometimes. You can tell they have an idea of a pitch they want;
they go with it, and they live with it if they're wrong."

Although his walk-to-strikeout ratio inverted as he whiffed more
than ever, Gerut became the long-ball threat that Cleveland's
lineup craved. The problem is, any help in that department is
still categorized as potential. Catcher Victor Martinez, who hit
22 homers at Double A Akron in 2002; designated hitter Travis
Hafner (14 in 291 at bats with the Indians); and raw, athletic
centerfield prospect Grady Sizemore, who'll begin the season at
Buffalo, may provide middle-of-the-order juice down the road.
"One third of this season's goal is to be more competitive,"
Shapiro says. "Two thirds is to evaluate and develop."

While the rebuilding program proceeds, Gerut is content in his
role as the Indians' only confirmed masher. Articulate and
witty--in a team biography, he listed the Roman Coliseum as his
favorite road stadium--he chronicled his rookie season in a blog
on cleveland.com, recounting the time autograph hounds stalked
him into a New York City subway station, opining on Hideki
Matsui's rookie eligibility and musing on the possibility of a
sophomore jinx. It's good reading, and Gerut's blossoming into a
power hitter made for good viewing. It'll be another year, at
least, before the same is true of the Indians. --D.G.H.

COLOR PHOTO: MARK DUNCAN/AP SWINGING FOR THE FENCES Convinced that he has to hit for power, not average, Gerut is the Tribe's best home run threat.
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES BETANCOURT

IN FACT

Switch-hitter Milton Bradley led the AL last season with a .500
on-base percentage versus lefties.

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

"This team reminds me more of a National League club. They're
going to have to execute to score runs, but they're capable of
doing it. It's a very unselfish group of players, bunting and
taking pitches when they have to.... With the manufacturing of
runs comes the need to reduce strikeouts. Ben Broussard struck
out 75 times in 386 at bats last year, but he's shortened his
swing and learned to use the entire field.... Other clubs are
going to beat them mainly because they will have more pitching
depth than the Indians. C.C. Sabathia is fine, Jason Davis should
be O.K., but they have unproven youth and lack of consistency at
the bottom of the rotation.... There's a power righthander,
Fernando Cabrera, who will start the season in Triple A. He has
an above-average splitter and can throw his fastball 94 mph. I
wouldn't be surprised to see him pitching in Cleveland this
year.... The sleeper in the bullpen is Rafael Betancourt. I
really like his arm. He's going to skyrocket."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

LF Lawton
SS Vizquel
RF Gerut
CF Bradley
C Martinez
DH Hafner
3B Blake
1B Broussard
2B Belliard

MATT LAWTON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 146 .249 15 53 10

OMAR VIZQUEL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 268 .244 2 19 8

JODY GERUT
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 133 .279 22 75 4

MILTON BRADLEY
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 103 .321 10 56 17

VICTOR MARTINEZ
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 206 .289 1 16 1

CASEY BLAKE
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 217 .257 17 67 7

BEN BROUSSARD
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 181 .249 16 55 5

RON BELLIARD [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 295 .277 8 50 7

BENCH

ALEX ESCOBAR
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 284 .273 5 14 1

JOSH BARD
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 311 .244 8 36 0

DESIGNATED HITTER

TRAVIS HAFNER
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 171 .254 14 40 2

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH C.C. Sabathia 37 13 9 6.6 1.30 3.60
RH Jason Davis 112 8 11 6.1 1.32 4.68
LH Cliff Lee 68 3 3 5.8 1.17 3.61
RH Jeff D'Amico 199 9 16 6.1 1.40 4.77
[New acquisition]
LH Jason Stanford (R) 151 1 3 5.6 1.28 3.60

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH David Riske 101 2 2 8 0.96 2.29
RH Jose Jimenez 149 2 10 20 1.66 5.22
[New acquisition]
LH Scott Stewart 272 3 1 0 1.51 3.98
[New acquisition]

2003 RECORD
68-94
fourth in AL Central

MANAGER
Eric Wedge
second season with Cleveland

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)