GM: “We can make up the ground that we’ve lost so far.”
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti met with reporters prior to Monday’s game against the Royals, hitting on a variety of issues facing his team. The GM discussed his club’s slow start, Francisco Lindor’s hot start, Nick Swisher’s comeback and more. Here is a transcript of the Q&A:
Q: How concerned are you over the slow start?
In an ideal world, we would’ve won more games than we have already, but I think we’ll refrain from reading too much into just a handful of games. I continue to believe in the roster that we have and that we’ll play better than we have so far.
Q: Does the way the Tigers and Royals have started add any sense of urgency?
There’s a sense of urgency to every game. I think we have enough things that we need to focus on in-house, to control and try to improve the way we’ve played, rather than focus on anyone externally. The good thing is we’re going to have our opportunities to play those teams a lot over the balance of the year. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can certainly make up the ground that we’ve lost so far.
Q: Do you find it difficult not to overreact to Detroit, considering the way things have gone the last few years?
Not necessarily to any one team. I thought you were going to ask do I find it difficult not to overreact to any game. Yes, that’s always difficult. We’re all emotional and we all care so much and try to win every game that we can. I think the thing we’re all focused on is how do we help our group play to its potential and it’s capabilities. That’s where we’re spending all of our energy.
Q: As we get closer to a month in, and people see Jose Ramirez isn’t performing the way you guys want, and it seems like every time he misses a play in the field there’s a public outcry for Francisco Lindor. He’s hitting .300 now. What is it that’s keeping him in Triple-A? What do you guys want him to continue to work on? What do you say to people who say, ‘Why isn’t Lindor here?’
Well, I would encourage them to take a look at Jose Ramirez’s body of work. Not only what he did last year at the Major League level, but the way he played and performed throughout our development system, because he’s a guy that’s produced at each level and played very well at each stop he’s been at, including the Major Leagues. Admittedly, he’s had a rough start to the season — offensively especially — but he’s the same guy that came up last year, struggled initially and then figured things out the second time, and performed pretty well and was a big part of our team’s success in the second half. That’s the first part.
The second part, with Francisco, we’re really encouraged with the progress of his development. I think we said that in Spring Training and at the end of Spring Training. He took advantage of the days that he was in Goodyear and the offseason to continue to improve as a player, and he’s continued on that path in Columbus. He has a bright future in front of him that he can control in terms of the type of player he’s going to ultimately become. He’s on his way to doing that. What the timetable is for his ascendance to the Major Leagues hasn’t changed from what we talked about in Spring Training.
Q: What does Lindor still need to do? Is there something specific?
There’s a litany of things, a number of things that we’ve talked with, not only Francisco, but each player has a specific developmental plan that we talk with them about. Rather than getting into the specifics of those, because it’s something that’s really between the player and us, I can tell you that Francisco is committed to that plan and has worked extraordinarily hard to continue to improve and get better as a player.
Q: Do you ever worry about a player in Lindor’s situation wondering, ‘What else do I have to do to get that call?’
If we weren’t communicating with him, I’d worry about it. But, we are. Francisco has got a very clear understanding of the things that we’ve partnered with him and talked with him about, that he can continue to improve as a player. In fact, Tom Wiedenbauer, our field coordinator, was here and we just spent an hour talking about Francisco and other guys on the Columbus team, and where they are in their plans and their progression. I’m very confident that Francisco has a really clear understanding of the things he’s working on. So, I don’t think there’s that frustration with him, while there may be some uncertainties for people that don’t have a chance to see Francisco play every day and part of the process. I can understand why that would be the case, but I don’t think that’s an issue for Francisco.
Q: Offensively, are you starting to get a clear picture of what type of player Lindor is?
I think we believe he has a chance to be a complete player — offensively, defensively, on the bases, as a teammate, as a leader. He’s on that path. I think he’s a guy that’s always controlled the strike zone well, manages at-bats well from both sides, has shown power as well. We wouldn’t set any limit as to what type of player he can be offensively, other than a pretty good one.
Q: What’s an ideal scenario for calling a guy like him up? Is it when he’s hitting well? When the Major League team is playing well, so he doesn’t feel added pressure?
In an ideal setting, in an ideal world, the team is playing great and the player is playing great and there’s an opportunity that naturally presents itself. But, rarely in life, as we’ve seen so far in the first few weeks, do we live in an ideal world.
Q: What are your thoughts on Danny Salazar, with where he was at at the end of Spring Training to where he is now?
Danny has made great strides in the first month of the season. I think he went down to the Minor Leagues with a clear purpose and, to his credit, he worked on the plan we discussed in Major League camp. He and Carl Willis and Ruben Niebla stayed consistent with that plan and put in a lot of work to get Danny to kind of execute the plan we talked about. He went down there with a purpose and worked his tail off to do it. It’s been really encouraging to see that progress come so quickly. I think Danny’s next challenge will be staying consistent with it. Can he continue with the work in between starts, the preparation and then when he takes the mound with that same approach that he’s demonstrated in his first couple starts up here, and the start he made in Columbus.
Q: What have you thought of Nick Swisher’s recent progress?
We spent some time with Nick today. He’s made great progress. The way he’s gone about his rehab has been extraordinary, with his mind-set and his approach and how committed he is to doing everything in his power to get back, not only to get back as quickly as possible, but to get get back as quickly and as completely as he can. I think he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable offensively. I think now the next step in the progression is to continue to build up his volume and to continue to build up his defensive play where he’s comfortable and unrestricted playing in the outfield. He’s made progress along those lines and hopefully will be ready in the near-term to impact our team up here.
Q: How has the loss of Yan Gomes impacted the rotation, if at all?
Any time you lose a player like Yan, we are cognizant of what he means to our team. There’s no replacing a guy like Yan Gomes. But, that said, I think Roberto Perez has stepped in and done an admirable job. He’s a guy that, if Yan weren’t our catcher, we’d feel completely comfortable having as our regular catcher at the Major League level. It’s also important to remember that there are a lot of things being thrown at Roberto right now for the first time, and he’s a young player that’s still developing. We’ve been really pleased by the way he’s gone about that. I think, in time, you’ll see him continue to improve as a player in all facets of his game.
Q: Back to Salazar, is it an advantage having Carl Willis around again to help out, given his experience?
Having Carl back in the organization is unquestionably an incredible asset to have. The fact that he’s in Columbus and sharing his experience with our guys, and not only having those experiences to share, but someone who is so aligned philosophically with who we are as an organization and what’s important to us in our developmental philosophies, has made that transition back here seamless. Carl, in a very short time, in Spring Training and the early part of the season, has already had a great impact.
Q: What do you make of Michael Bourn’s slow start? He’s healthy and running well, but what is your perspective?
I think offensively he’s still working to find his swing and his approach. I know he’s working with Ty and Q every day to try to get back to a consistent level of offensive performance. The way to do that is start with a consistent base, a foundation, with his swing and approach at the plate. He’s working to do that. He just hasn’t yet found it. The great thing about Michael is he’s never going to short-change the work. He’s going to show up today just as committed as he was yesterday and last week to try to get there. The encouraging thing is that he’s healthy. He’s not restricted physically in any way. In the past, when Michael’s been healthy, he’s been a productive player. We’re confident he’ll get back there.
Q: Are Indians fans ever going to see the impact he can have with his speed?
I think we saw it — it wasn’t the way we’d ideally like to see it — this weekend. On what we’re relatively routine double-play balls, he beat those balls out to first. I think if you look at his run times on those plays, they were still well above average. Now, we’d like to see that, instead of it being just beating out the back-end of a double play, maybe stretching a double into a triple and pushing the envelope, extending a single into a double and having that impact in center field. I think we’ve seen signs of Michael getting back to that type of player. It’s just hard to see on the offensive side if you’re not on base consistently and not hitting the ball with more authority.
Q: Do you think the Tigers have intimidated this club?
I don’t think so. I think they’ve out-played us so far. I don’t think there’s an intimidation. I think maybe we haven’t executed as well as we’re capable of executing, but I don’t see us afraid or intimidated when we’re playing with them, either in the way we play or the way we pitch. We just haven’t executed.