Finally, the day that all baseball fans anticipate more than any other has finally arrived. The Indians' pitchers and catchers officially reported to Goodyear today in preparation for the 2014 season. While many players have been in town working out for much of the winter, this was the day that every pitcher and catcher was required to arrive by and, except for John Axford, they are all here. The Indians haven't done anything as a team since the beginning of last October when they lost their one game Wild Card play-off against the Tampa Bay Rays and because of that limited success in reaching the play-offs but receiving an early exit, the Indians have very positive feelings going into this season, but still have the hunger for more.
Most of the pitchers in camp will be familiar to Indians fans, but there are a few new faces as well. Most notably, left handed specialist Josh Outman who came over in exchange for Drew Stubbs and Shaun Marcum who is fighting for the final available spot in the rotation. Outside of those two, the Indians have no new players brought in with Major League deals but do have Matt Capps, JC Ramirez, Mike Zagurski, Tyler Cloyd, Scott Atchison and David Aardsma all in camp competing for the final two bullpen positions.
This time of Spring isn't really for deciding who will win what roles, however, but is more about slowly getting back into shape and avoiding injury later in camp. Last season, the Indians top two relievers (Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano) each dealt with injuries in the Spring, likely because they tried to ramp things up too soon in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. Neither pitcher ever really came back from these early camp injuries, both spending time on the DL during the season and struggling when they weren't.
This season, there are a few injury risks and odd wind-ups that stick out that the Indians will want to be extra careful with. Josh Tomlin returned from Tommy John surgery to pitch in relief a couple times in 2013, but will be looking to rejoin the rotation for the first time in two years this season. He spent the off-season working out, but will be pitching with the team the first time and needs to take things slowly. The already mentioned Pestano is also coming off a disappointing season, although for different reasons. Although they didn't have injury issues, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco also struggled last season and will need to work early in Spring on maintaining a consistent delivery and keeping control of their pitches. While Tomlin, Bauer and Carrasco are all technically teammates, they will be enemies this Spring as they are likely competing with each other (and Marcum) for one or two open roster spots. Still, all these pitchers will have to move slowly as to not risk injury. This position will likely not be decided until the last week of Spring and it would be disappointing if it was decided because one or more competitors were hurt.
Of course, the catchers are reporting as well, including starters Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes. In addition, former Indian Luke Carlin and former top prospect Matt Treanor will also be in camp. Since there is little hitting going on this early in camp, catchers are little more than an automatic ball return for the excessive amount of pitchers in camp. Because they need the extra back stops, the Indians have also brought up Roberto Perez, Jake Lowery and Tony Wolters to the Major League camp. While none of these catchers should have Major League aspirations quite yet, it should be great for their development to catch these veterans. The Indians have big plans for Wolters, who they transitioned from second to catcher for a better shot at the Majors, and just working with real MLB pitchers should help him with his defense and game calling ability, something he needs a lot of work on.
While there aren't any games being played quite yet, the longest stretch without baseball has come to an end and Clevelanders can start dreaming of the World Series yet again. If the Indians are successful in 2014 it will almost certainly be because of their starting rotation and bullpen and those players are working hard already to be ready for the regular season.
Stretching and arm circles, the most important part of Spring Training.
For these and more pictures all throughout Spring Training, check out the Burning River Flickr page here.