Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 2/21/12

Pitchers and Catchers have reported to Spring Training!!! Wahoo!!! Rejoice!!! Man I love baseball. Man I love me some Tribe action!!!

With Manny Acta and his coaching staff arriving in Goodyear to get things started, the media had their first crack of the spring to ask the questions they’ve been working up in their minds all offseason.

Acta is the anti-Eric Wedge. The guy is an open book. He is as truthful and as upfront as a manager can be, and its refreshing. Its no wonder his players all love going to battle with him every day. So when he met with the scribes on the first official day of Spring Training, he gave the answers as honestly as he could. In reading what he had to say, I had some thoughts of my own. So without further ado, yours truly will tackle the Acta quotes, reading his tea leaves, via the Tweets of the one, and only, king of Tribe inside scoop, and the best baseball beat guy in town –  Jordan Bastian of Indians.com.

Indians’ Opening Day starter will be Ubaldo Jimenez or Justin Masterson. Acta said decision will be announced after first week or so of throwing.

Its obvious to think that this spot is Masterson’s. The guy is the Tribe’s horse and for the last two years has made a believer out of many, including me, who thought he was best suited for the bullpen. The crow I ate tasted sweet. But it’s not as cut and dry as you may think. While so many were down on Ubaldo, who was inconsistent to say the least when he came over from Colorado last July, the guy still has #1 starter stuff when he is right. The Indians are banking on the offseason work he put it, getting him back on track. If Ubaldo comes out like gang-busters and looks terrific in Spring, why can’t he get the opening day nod?

Prediction: Don’t fool yourself – Masterson will take the mound on April 5th against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Acta said decision between Lonnie Chisenhall & Jack Hannahan for the starting 3B job will likely “take all the way to the end” of Spring Training.

I absolutely believe this to be true. Chisenhall is in an interesting situation. At this point, he should be the guy at third base every day, now and for the future. But something happened on the way to making Lonnie “the answer;” Jackie made himself an indispensable member of the Indians. With a defense that was average at best, Hannahan not only became a stabilizer, but he should have won the Gold Glove. The guy is a vacuum at the hot corner. On top of his defense, Hannahan, a career punch and judy hitter, somehow began carrying the offense during the month of August, when he hit .420 with 13 RBIs, just as he had lost his job to Chisenhall.

Lonnie is the future, but the Indians love Hannahan’s defense and ability to hit left-handed pitching (even though he is left-handed himself). With so many guys in camp with Major League experience as non-roster invitees, its very possible that if Hannahan and Chisenhall both have solid springs, as does a guy like Jose Lopez, Chisenhall will start in AAA. His defense is still a work in progress and he could use work against left-handed pitching. There is no doubt he will be up at some point playing every day, but I think Hannahan could certainly get the call from Acta.

Prediction: I’ve gone back and forth on this. The brass loves the intangibles that Hannahan brings, but I think Chisenhall’s bat will be too good in spring to send down to Columbus.

Acta said Casey Kotchman signing likely means more time at DH for Carlos Santana. Views Kotchman as an everyday guy at 1B. Less time for Travis Hafner vs LHP?

This is an interesting one for me. Kotchman’s glove, not his bat, may keep him in the lineup against a lot of lefties, depending on which Indians starter is on the hill. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Kotchman and Hannahan were the cornermen whenever Masterson and Derek Lowe – two ground ball specialists – are on the mound.

As for Santana DH’ing – I think his bat has to be in the lineup 162 games. Acta has to make that work one way or another. Against lefties, Lou Marson (.297 vs lefties, .191 vs. righties in 2011) will and should catch. Hafner (.233 vs lefties, .302 vs. righties in 2011) should sit with the amount right-handed options available to Acta (i.e Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Matt LaPorta (hahahaha Kidding!). If you want to sit Kotchman against a tough lefty and play Santana at first, go with one of the options I just listed.

When a left-handed starter faces the Tribe, you will see the Indians lineup transform, mix and match, and look for the best one through nine they can. The way Kotchman handles the bat will most likely tell a lot about how Acta makes these moves. If he hits like he did last season in Tampa (.289/.340/.709 vs. lefties, .313./394/.838 vs. righties), he will end up getting what Acta says he should get; the majority of the at-bats at first base.

Prediction: Over the first two months, we will see Santana DH’ing vs most lefties with Marson catching, Kotchman at first, and Duncan in left field. Any attempts they can to keep Hafner healthy, which essentially is sitting him against lefties, will happen from day one.

Two bullpen spots up for grabs. Frank Herrmann might have “a bit of a leg up” for 1 of the jobs, but no guarantees.

There are a ton of arms vying for those two spots. The Herrmann/Chad Durbin duo was the perfect long/middle/pitch when the Tribe is losing so as to not waste the “good five” relievers last season. This offseason, the Tribe brass added a bunch of guys who have Major League bullpen experience to battle it out for that Durbin spot. Chris Ray, Robinson Tejeda, Jeremy Accardo, and Chris Seddon all will get their shot, as will lefty Nick Hagadone. I figured Hagadone would play a key role in this season’s pen, but with both Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez returning, he may be on the outside looking in for one more year, and ride that I-71 shuttle, Jenny Lewis style.

Prediction: Unless the “Harvard Heater” completely falls off the table in Spring, he starts as the sixth man in the seven man pen. Wheeler is essentially the same guy as Durbin; a veteran who has had some quality years, hasn’t fallen off the Major league radar as of yet and can provide multiple innings. I think Wheeler has a solid spring and holds off Hagadone and Accardo for the final bullpen spot.

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