Catching a break

Meet catcher Luke Carlin. You might remember him from the 14 at-bats he had with the Indians during the 2010 season. Or maybe you don’t. Either way, the veteran catcher is an integral piece within the Spring Training puzzle.

Third-string catchers always are. They are the forgotton men in camp every spring. This year, the Indians know they have a budding star in starting catcher Carlos Santana and a sound backup in Lou Marson. Behind them are a handful of experienced catchers helping handle the work load of the thousand arms in camp. They are the unheralded backbone of Spring Training.

It is an unglamorous job that gets nearly zero attention every year. At the end of spring, the big league team heads north and the third-sting backstops are given a pat on the back and a ticket to the Minor Leagues. They are depth. They are men charged with grooming and molding young arms. They are not expected to play big roles in the big leagues.

What’s the point? Simply that there are men in camp with stories to tell — stories that rarely are heard outside of their circle of teammates. Carlin happens to be part of a bigger story — one now on shelves in your local bookstore. Pitcher turned best-selling author Dirk Hayhurst released his second book, “Out of My League,” last week and Carlin is a prominent character within the story.

Carlin and Hayhurst were Minor League teammates and roomates with Triple-A Portland in 2008, which is the season detailed in Hayhurst’s latest baseball book. They were teammates long before that year, but it was in 2008 when they both fought hard to get a taste of The Show and finally got their first cup of coffee.

I’ve known Hayhurst since his days with the Blue Jays. He joined the Toronto organization in 2009 and ord quickly began to spread that he had a book coming out. His first book, “The Bullpen Gospels,” was a tremendous look at the often brutal life of a Minor Leaguer, especially one living as a non-prospect.

I loved “The Bullpen Gospels,” because it shed light on things the general baseball fan doesn’t see. It’s easy to say that Minor Leaguers do not live a posh life, but it’s another thing for one of them to put in writing in a detailed way that’s both touching and humorous. Hayhurst’s follow-up book takes things up a notch.

The second book discusses the tough balancing act of playing baseball, trying to make that final jump from Triple-A to the Majors and dealing with everything in between. There is the issue of poor pay in the Minors, trying to keep family life stable, and also doing anything you can to overcome self doubt, along with the built-in obstacles within baseball’s structure.

Baseball players are human, but they are often treated like pawns in a big game of chess. There are roster situations at play and the unsaid wish for some teammates to fail so you might get that elusive taste of success. Then, there are the baseball hierarchies at play among ballplayers both at the Major League and Minor League levels.

Hayhurst does a wonderful job of conveying all of these things in his books and that, to me, is why they are must-reads for any baseball fans. These aren’t baseball books. Baseball is just the backdrop.

When I got my advance copy of “Out of My League,” my wife actually read it first and had trouble putting it down until she was done. She enjoyed reading Hayhurst’s story of dealing with life as a ballplayer while working on getting engaged and planning a wedding. My wife also felt she could relate some given that she has a baseball writer for a husband.

Full disclosure, I enjoyed “The Bullpen Gospels” better than “Out of My League,” but I believe that is because the first book was so new in terms of what it offered. The second book builds on that first story and, if it stood alone, I’d probably sit here raving even more about it because I wouldn’t have the option of comparing the two. The bottom line is they are both solid reads that provide great insight to life behind the scenes.

After reading the books, you won’t view a player such as Carlin in the same light. A decade into his pro career, he’s 31 years old with only 126 at-bats in the big leagues under his belt. But he’s an important piece within Cleveland’s Minor League structure, and he’s spent his career trying to advance beyond that third-string label.

Some notes from Monday…

  • The Indians dropped their “A” game against the Reds, 12-7, on Monday afternoon. Offensive highlights for the Tribe included a three-run homer for Santana in the sixth and a leadoff triple in the first inning from center fielder Michael Brantley. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera went 1-for-3 with one RBI.
  • Starter Justin Masterson allowed six runs on five hits in just 1 1/3 innings for the Indians. Don’t go pressing the panic button. He only threw fastballs and it takes him some time to get a feel for his signature sinker. Masterson said he was about “halfway there” in terms of getting the sinker where it needs to be. The righty threw 45 pitches (25 strikes).
  • Masterson joked that the outing was “perfect” for him, because he got off to a rough start last spring as well. Looking back at it, Masterson gave up eight runs in his first 12 innings of Cactus League work last spring. He finished the preseason 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA. Then, all he did was go 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA out of the games in April en route to a solid season.
  • Derek Lowe turned in two innings in his spring debut for Cleveland and blanked the Reds. He created four groundouts, struck out one and only had one pitch hit beyond the infield (a Scott Rolen flyout). Lowe focused on throwing his sinker and said that relying more on that pitch again will be a key for him this year.
  • Other pitchers of note in the game against the Reds: reliever Dan Wheeler allowed four runs on four hits in one inning; reliever Tony Sipp gave up two runs on two hits in one inning; Zach McAllister logged two shutout innings. Sipp is in the bullpen. Wheeler is fighting for a bullpen spot. McAllister is in the mix for the fifth rotation job according to manager Manny Acta.
  • Acta acknowedged that he has kept in close contact with Roberto Hernandez — aka Fausto Carmona — over the past couple weeks. Cleveland has worked closely with the starter on a detailed throwing program for the time he is stuck in the Dominican dealing with visa and legal problems. Acta noted that Hernandez threw one inning against hitters at the Indians academy in the D.R. on Monday.
  • In a “B” game on Monday morning, the Indians lost 5-2 to the White Sox. Lefty Chris Seddon started for the Tribe and ended with four strikeouts in two shutout innings. Offensive players of note: Aaron Cunningham went 1-for-4 with an RBI; Trevor Crowe went 1-for-2; Andy LaRoche went 1-for-4 with a run; Fred Lewis went 0-for-2 with a walk; and Matt LaPorta went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
  • Minor League right-hander Austin Adams has been sidelined for much of camp early on due to soreness in his throwing shoulder. He said that he was able to resume a throwing program on Thursday. Adams one of the Indians’ better upper-level starting pitching prospects. Routinely hits high 90s on his fastball. Right now, he’s behind Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, McAllister, Scott Barnes, Corey Kluber and Seddon on the depth chart.
  • Chatted some with 3B Jack Hannahan this morning about the changes he made with his swing last season. He changed from a 34/31 bat to a 34.5/33.5 bat in the second half last year. Hannahan said the heavier bat forced him to step with his front foot to start his swing earlier. That adjustment in turn forced him to rely on his hands more in his swing, helping him drive the ball to all fields. The results were clear. He was hitting .213 (.637 OPS) on July 6. He then hit .327 (.890) in his final 40 games. Over his last 25 games, Hannahan hit .368 (.991).
  • On Tuesday, the Indians will host a split-squad Royals team in a 1:05 p.m. MT game at Goodyear Ballpark. Listed as available to pitch for Cleveland are Kevin Slowey, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Ray.

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Photo of the Day

Indians GM Chris Antonetti & White Sox GM Kenny Williams during Monday’s “B” game

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Indians Player Twitter Power Rankings

Big shakeup this week in the (now) bi-weekly rankings. Vinnie Pestano had a strong five-week run atop these standings, but I feel it’s time to let someone else have a crack at some #tweetsfromthetop. Welcome to the No. 1 spot, outfielder Shelley Duncan. Why the jump from unranked to top dog? First, he asked me where he was going to be ranked while we were standing in the tunnel at Goodyear Ballpark today. Second, he had the guts to tweet a photo of himself with Ron Paul at a recent Republican Debate out here in the Phoenix area. Well played, Shelley. Well played.

Week 6: Major League Rankings

1. @shelldunc (Shelley Duncan) — Last rank: NR
2. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano) – Last rank: 1
3. @tcrowe4 (Trevor Crowe) – Last rank: 6
4. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis) – Last rank: 4
5. @thethree8 (Joe Smith) – Last rank: 3

Sixth Man:  @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez) – Last rank: 5

Top Twitter Prospects

1. @C_M_Cook (Cole Cook) – Last rank: 1
2. @TDaddyNeal (Thomas Neal) – Last rank: 2
3. @NickBartolone (Nick Bartolone) – Last rank: NR

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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