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02/11/10 10:00 AM EST
CLEVELAND -- There will be questions answered by the Indians in Spring Training camp.
The rotation, in which only a healthy Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson seem to have guaranteed spots, will be filled out from a mix of competitors that includes Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco.
Matt LaPorta's health will be evaluated, and his readiness for Opening Day will go a long way toward determining what the Indians do at first base and in left field. Utility infield and bullpen spots will also be filled.
But this will be an important developmental year for this organization, and the specific makeup of the Opening Day roster could prove to be a trivial matter by season's end.
What will matter more, in the long run, is whether a new manager, Manny Acta, can establish a positive, successful working environment with a young group of players. To that end, Spring Training, which officially kicks off when pitchers and catchers report to the Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 21, will be a meaningful evaluation period for a new coaching staff working with an impressionable group.
Acta, obviously, has given all this a decent amount of thought in the three and a half months since he took the job with the Tribe. And he assembled his coaches in Goodyear last month to talk about the challenges that lie ahead.
"I wanted them to hear how these players have been evaluated the last few years, physically and mentally," he said, "so they come into Spring Training and aren't blindsided by any of our players and approach each individual the proper way."
Of course, the coaches -- including pitching coach Tim Belcher, hitting coach Jon Nunnally, bullpen coach Scott Radinsky, bench coach Tim Tolman, first-base and catchers coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and third-base and infield coach Steve Smith -- are encouraged to only read so much into those reports. When camp begins, they'll form their own set of opinions.
The same goes for Acta.
"I'm not just going to rely on what I've heard," Acta said. "That's what Spring Training is for."
Acta knows he's inheriting a team that few people are expecting to contend this season. He adamantly refutes any notion that the club is in "rebuild" mode, but he also knows the concerns about the starting rotation, in particular, are real.
What Acta wants to do in the weeks leading up to Opening Day is establish an air of positivity in the clubhouse of a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2007. He wants his players not to focus on the talent that has been dealt away over the last two years, but on the talent that's here.
"Every one of these guys is confident in their abilities," Acta said. "They know what went wrong here, and we're going to throw some numbers at them, too, to show them what went wrong and how to fix it."
One area that interests Acta is the Tribe's trend of slow starts. The Indians had five losing Aprils in seven seasons under former skipper Eric Wedge, and Acta plans to address that with his club.
"We just need to make them aware of the slow starts and the plan we're putting together for Spring Training to see if that can help," Acta said. "Sometimes you do everything you can and, at the end of the day, you still can't control that. But we have a plan in place."
What does that plan entail?
"We're going to attack it different ways," he said. "The main thing is to probably put together our ballclub for the last week to 10 days and throw them out there, so they can be together and go all-out, so we don't have to turn on a switch in Chicago [on Opening Day]."
Acta seems to think he can assemble his Opening Day roster relatively quickly.
"We don't have that many spots [open]," he said. "We only have a couple of fights for spots. Most of the guys are pretty much settled. So it's just a matter of getting the best out of them and getting everybody on the same page."
One of the reasons the Indians hired Acta, disregarding his .385 winning percentage in two and a half years with the Nationals, was what they deem to be his ability to relate to young players and keep them motivated, even when the results aren't encouraging.
"He's obviously a guy that's got a lot of charisma, that's excited to be here," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "There is a power in the fact that he's excited to be here. He resonates a positive energy that I think has a chance to impact our team in a meaningful way."
In a matter of days, Acta and his coaches will get their first chance to make that impact. And Acta is expecting the players to be responsive.
"These are all high-character guys," he said, "and I know they're going to strive to make some changes here."