Nothing will officially be decided until the big day on June 7th, but this is the time of year when…
Time For Team To Believe In Own Prospects
One thing for sure, I can guarantee the Indians would not find themselves in a virtual deadlock with the Detroit Tigers for the top spot in the division without the contributions of these two young, talented home-grown prospects. That leads me to a question that begs to be answered … just how many more wins would the Indians have right now if management had allowed a couple of other youngsters to fill the left field spot? And just why are the Indians so reluctant to give their blue-chip prospects the opportunity to prove themselves on the major league level? Garko, whose clutch hitting more than makes up for any defensive shortcomings he has at first base, has a .319 batting average (second only to Victor Martinez's .324) with six homers and 15 RBI. This comes on the heels of his .292 average with seven homers and 45 RBI in 50 games in his first extensive major league action a year ago, when he didn't get an opportunity until veterans Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard were traded in separate deals to Seattle. Despite those solid numbers, Garko went to camp this past spring without a guaranteed job. He had to wait until it was determined how the utility infield job would shake out. Carmona, meanwhile, would have started the season at Class AAA if not for the injury that sidelined Cliff Lee to begin the season. And then, despite pitching effectively in Lee's absence, Carmona was sent down to Buffalo when Lee returned before getting a reprieve when Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list. The way Carmona has pitched as of late, there is absolutely no way the Indians can justify sending him down when Westbrook returns sometime in June. The 24-year-old Dominican has a 5-1 record, with a rotation-best 2.55 ERA, numbers that would probably land him the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind C.C. Sabathia if indeed the playoffs were to start tomorrow. While Garko and Carmona have gotten the opportunity to prove themselves, the same has not been true for any of the Tribe's talented trio of outfield prospects – Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez and Shin-Soo Choo. All three have proven themselves on the Triple-A roster and are at a point in their careers where they deserve at least a shot at being a platoon player in the majors. I can virtually guarantee that a combination of Francisco and Choo in left field would be more productive than David Dellucci and Jason Michaels have been this season. Thus far, the two veterans who play in a platoon situation have combined for a whopping two homers and 15 RBI in 120 at-bats. Dellucci is hitting only .230 with a lousy .290 on-base percentage. Michaels is hitting .273 with an equally-abysmal .305 on-base percentage. They have a combined three stolen bases. Francisco and Gutierrez, both of whom bat right-handed, and Choo, a lefty, have all had brief stints with the major league club this year. Choo, in just 17 at-bats with the Indians this year, has five RBI. Based on those numbers, if he had the 120 at-bats that Dellucci and Michaels have had this season, that would work out to 35 RBI. Francisco, Gutierrez and Choo also offer the slow-footed Indians some much-needed speed. As it stands now, the Indians really have no one to turn to late in a game if they need a pinch-runner for Garko, Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez or Kelly Shoppach, none of whom has the ability to steal a base or can even be guaranteed of scoring from second base on a sharp single. On top of that, the Indians would be saving $5 million if they went with the youngsters rather than the veterans. Dellucci is making $3.75 million this year. Michaels is making $2.05 million. Francisco, Gutierrez and Choo are all slightly under $400,000 apiece. The $5 million the team could have saved by giving their own prospects an opportunity, combined with the $5 million the team saved when Keith Foulke retired just prior to the start of camp, would give the Indians $10 million to sign a big-time closer. Some believe that Edward Mujica, who is getting an opportunity at the big-league level with the recent trade of Jason Davis, has the potential to be an excellent closer. And Rafael Perez needs to settle in strictly as a relief pitcher rather be shifted from the rotation to the bullpen. Once that happens, he should provide the Indians with another excellent southpaw coming out of the bullpen. Here's hoping the Indians don't continue to yank Perez in and out of the starting rotation to the bullpen and back -- as they did with former big-money signings Danys Baez and Jeremy Guthrie. Garko, Carmona have been given an opportunity and they have proven themselves. Francisco, Gutierrez and Choo, as well as Mujica and Perez, need that same chance, whether it is later this season or to begin 2008. Not all of them will make it, but let's hope we find out just how good they can be while they still are wearing Chief Wahoo on their uniform. And that in turn will allow the Indians to sign one or two top-shelf free agents, rather than forcing GM Mark Shapiro to make his typical bargain-basement acquisitions.
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