For the past 3 years, we have had to consistently listen to trite commentary from Indians manager Eric Wedge regarding the “progress” and rehabilitation of Indians DH Travis Hafner. Expectations, both from the fan base and front office, have been significantly lowered each and every season since his monster year of 2006 when led the league in OPS and hit 42 homers. Pronk homered in Arizona yesterday for the second day in a row. He has 6 hits in 22 at bats with two homers and 7 RBIs. He has also drawn 8 walks and struck out only twice. It’s a small sample size but the Indians are encouraged.
Both Hafner and the organization are saying that he is completely healthy and the shoulder problems that have made him an afterthought the past two seasons should not hamper him this year or become a problem. Hafner has fallen so far off radar and expectations are so low that any sort of improvement and health would be a bonus at this point (even at $11.5 million this year). But his ability to draw walks early in spring training, and his two homers on consecutive days have impressed Manager Manny Acta.
Acta spoke about Hafner after yesterday’s encouraging performance at the plate:
“We all felt that during the off-season when he was able to start working out earlier than he had the last year or so,” said manager Manny Acta, “that this was going to happen.”
“When you’re not healthy, you probably don’t trust your hands as much as when you’re 100 percent,” said Acta. “It takes away your ability to take pitches that are close to the zone.
“I think he started [taking pitches] early in camp. He just didn’t show the power. But he was taking pitches close to the strike zone.
“Now the power has showed up. One thing leads to the other.”
I understand these are the sort of optimistic platitudes that we have heard many times before. Two homers in two days are encouraging, but it is definitely premature to say that the “power has showed up.” Every year fans can read too much into spring training statistics and every year several writers continually remind us that stats in spring training are rarely predictive of future regular season productivity.
But there has also been little written or said about the shoulder this spring which is a little bit of a change in tone when it comes to Hafner’s health. The past couple years we would constantly hear about different percentages of shoulder strength and how Pronk was working out away from the team on different fields trying to get his mysterious loss of shoulder strength back in shape. There were always different schedules such as 1 day in the lineup, 2 days out of the lineup. We have not heard that similar concern coming from Goodyear this season.
Hafner had 338 ABs last season and showed flashes here and there. But the shoulder was still a constant issue and Hafner, who does not play the field at all, was unable to consistently hit in the lineup. Pronk’s contract is obviously ugly as he is owed $11.5 million in 2010, $13 million in 2011 and $13 million in 2012. One has to regard Acta’s comments with skepticism because we have heard it before. But money and expectations aside, his spring training is at least an improvement over last year in Arizona and the shoulder does appear to be in better shape.