'Tryouts' under fire for next five weeks

Kelly Shoppach ... he's stepped up

The schedule tells us that, as of this weekend, there are approximately five weeks of "tryouts" remaining for the 2008 Cleveland Indians. In reality, there are only 13 games which will really be a good test for the young players who are bidding for jobs next season. The other 22 games are against teams that are, just like the Indians, out of contention for a post-season berth this year.

It's tough to get a true read on a player when your team is going against one that is pretty much playing out the string. But when you face a team that is in the heat of the race and needs to win every game, you get a much better idea just how the player can handle pressure.

The tryouts for the Indians have actually been going on ever since general manager Mark Shapiro traded CC Sabathia prior to the All-Star break.

Thus far, several youngsters have definitely stepped up and given every indication they are going to be contributors next year and beyond.

The most impressive has been southpaw Rafael Perez, who has been virtually unhittable in all but one game in recent weeks. Perez has shown the ability to get out both righties and lefties and should be a strong contender for the closer role next season unless Shapiro is given the money to go out and sign a veteran for that job.

Also doing well of late has been right-hander Jensen Lewis. He's earned four saves in two weeks, but the real test will come when he blows a lead for a loss. How a closer reacts to adversity says volumes. But what Lewis has accomplished recently has helped his standing for next year.

Also impressive as of late has been second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who definitely appears to have matured since the beginning of the season. Cabrera arrived at spring training camp and acted like he was a proven veteran who had a lock on a roster spot. Part of that blame goes to the Indians' decision makers who never gave Josh Barfield a legitimate chance to win the second base job.

Cabrera appears to have gotten his act together during his time at Buffalo and is now playing very well both on offense and defense.

Catcher Kelly Shoppach, aside from a recent cold spell at the plate, has done well enough to lead some to believe Victor Martinez will see a lot more time at first base next season.

Ben Francisco has once again found his batting eye and can be used just about anywhere in the order. Also, Shin-Soo Choo has been swinging a hot bat since the All-Star Game.

On the other hand, the jury is still out on several young players, including Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Garko, Andy Marte, Edward Mujica and Jeremy Sowers. All have been consistently inconsistent and would be wise to keep an eye on the Tribe's transactions this coming off-season.

The Indians will closely watch right-hander Anthony Reyes and lefty Zach Jackson down the stretch, too. Both were acquired last month in trades and one or both of them could pitch well enough to lay claim to a spot in the starting rotation next spring.

The other thing that will interesting over the final five weeks is whether Martinez and Travis Hafner can regain their power strokes. Both veterans are doing well on minor league rehab assignments and should rejoin the major league club no later than Sept. 1. One or both might return a little earlier.

If they do, and if Cabrera, Shoppach, Francisco and Choo finish strong, the chances of the Indians becoming a contender as early as next season will be greatly enhanced.

But don't get too excited unless the young players do well against the likes of the White Sox, Twins and Red Sox, three contending teams the Indians will face a total of 13 times in September.

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