Featured as one of three guest speakers at Youngstown State University’s First Pitch Breakfast on Saturday was Cleveland Indians’ president Mark Shapiro. Along with speaking on behalf of YSU and his love for baseball in northeast Ohio, Shapiro spent a few moments previewing the upcoming season.
Shapiro has been the Indians’ president since the conclusion of the 2010 season. He has been with the organization since 1991 and became general manager in 2001 after John Hart left. The Indians reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007.
Q) Are you going down to spring training right after this?
A) I will not. Now, I’m the president, so I go back and forth. My first trip is on the 23rd [February]. I go down about eight days or nine days and then go back for a week. Then I’ll be back there for the whole last 2 1/2 weeks.
Q) Fans love talking about baseball this time of year. What can you tell them to get them started? (asked by Mike McLain of the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio)
A) I think our offensive team has a lot of upside. We didn’t have the kind of years you typically have from [Michael] Bourn and [Nick] Swisher. Asdrubal Cabrera’s another guy that we expect to bounce back. I really feel like Yan Gomes catching for a whole year is a pivotal factor for this team, both from a leadership standpoint and offensively what he brings.
Starting pitching is going to be the key. I felt that way last year, and I feel that way this year. We had a couple of big surprises and some big holes to fill. But a guy like Danny Salazar coming in and pitching for a whole year should make a big difference.
Q) Some guys left in the bullpen but then you sign a guy like [John] Axford. How’s the bullpen shaping up?
A) I think the biggest void in the bullpen is going to be Joe Smith. It’s easy to overlook the impact he made. Arguably the best setup, eighth-inning guy in Major League Baseball last year. Those are going to be tough shoes to fill there. I think Axford’s got a chance to pitch effectively in closing games. Chris Perez last year was good at getting a save, but he was a challenge to get there a lot of times. I don’t want to overlook how hard it is to get those three outs, but I think Axford’s stuff and ability to strike people out is going to be a plus for us at the end of the game.
Q) How does Carlos [Santana] look at third base?
A) Enough to be an option. There’s still a lot of work. We respect the fact that he took the initiative of wanting to play third base, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Q) How do you feel about some of the new rules like expanding instant replay and no more home plate collisions?
A) I’m on the committee. The home plate collision rules are not done yet. There’s still a lot of negotiating going on. I feel like instant replay’s going to be a net positive. I think the message there is we hope to have the right system in three years. We’re not looking for the perfect system for day one, but that we’ll be better right away.