"We do have reason for optimism," said Eric Wedge as he enters his third season as Cleveland manager…
Signing Martinez Has Many Benefits
When that player is a catcher, a position where talent is at a premium throughout all of baseball, it's all the better. And when you add in the fact the player is a class act both on and off the field, you have the makings of a long-term relationship that could prove instrumental in the team ending its now 56-year World Series Championship drought. Martinez is the type of player and person around whom you build a franchise. He was raised by his mother in Venezuela in a family so poor that it often had only rice on the dinner table. Although he rarely said anything publicly, Martinez has very much anticipated the day he would be offered a long-term contract. Not for himself, mind you. Rather, he wanted a contract so that he could bring more of his family to the United States. Venezuela remains a very dangerous country. You take your life in your hands every time you leave your home. Sometimes even being at home isn't safe, evidenced by the fact the mother of Tigers relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina was abducted from her home by criminals looking to cash in on her son's fame and fortune. Last year, Victor brought his mother to the United States to live most of the year. In the future, he hopes other family members will follow suit. The more family members who come to this country, the less Victor has to worry about off-the-field matters. Martinez's signing by the Indians does more than just tie up the services of one of baseball's best up-and-coming players. It will also allow them the luxury of possibly trading some of their talented young catchers who are scattered throughout the minors. The Indians have the rare luxury of having blue-chip caliber talent at all four of their top minor league affiliates. At Class AAA Buffalo, the Indians have Ryan Garko, whose offensive prowess far outweighs his defensive talent at this point in his career. Garko, who proved last year he could hit on every level, will be the Bisons' everyday catcher. If he has any defensive ability at all, the Indians, who have a plethora of former catchers coaching and managing throughout the system, should be able to get it out of him. If not, he likely will either move to first base, where he played some at the end of last season, or become strictly a designated hitter, ala Travis Hafner. If the latter is the case, then Garko, who might be the best hitter to come through the Tribe's minor-league organization since Manny Ramirez, might become very attractive trade bait providing Hafner continues to hit the way he did in 2004. At Class AA Akron, the Indians have Javier Herrera, who is the exact opposite of Garko. Herrera, the team's second-round draft pick in 2003, is a defensive specialist. It's unlikely he'll ever be a big threat at the plate, but he does an excellent job of handling pitchers. Another defensive specialist is David Wallace, who is the starting catcher at Class A Kinston after spending most of last season at Class AA Akron. Wallace, who signed with the Indians as a non-drafted free agent, is a 6-4, 230-pounder with some pop in his bat. But much like Herrera and Wyatt Toregas, who is the starter at Lake County, he takes as much pride in his handling of that day's pitcher as he does his own offensive performance. Lake County pitching coach Scott Radinsky said, "The one thing all of our catchers are able to do `separate' their offense from their defense. "I've seen Wyatt and the other guys take an 0-for-4 day, but then get back there (on defense) and still work the pitcher and get the most out of him. All of our catchers get the most out of their pitchers. They are able to separate the 13 different personalities (of pitchers) we have and get the most out of them." Radinsky, an 11-year major league veteran, says the catcher's ability to do that is vital. "It is the most special relationship there is on the field, period, by far. What people don't see is the conversations that go on during batting practice and the conversations that go on in the clubhouse. "Any time you are willing to give your time as a position player, especially a catcher, to a pitcher, it brings instant respect. If you as a pitcher respect the catcher, you are going to throw whatever he calls." Herrera, Wallace and Toregas all have the potential to make it to the majors. One will likely eventually be Martinez's back-up in that it is highly unlikely current backup Josh Bard will accept being a backup for more than another year or two. Jim Rickon, hitting coach at Lake County and a former catcher in the Indians organization, said, "There are a lot of teams Josh could be a starting catcher for in the majors." If that's the case, he should have some trade value once he approaches free agency. All in all, the Indians find themselves in very good shape at the catching position, especially now that Martinez will be with the team throughout this decade.
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