The Indians will head east on I-10 on Thursday morning for an afternoon road game against the Cubs at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz. For me, the drive to the ballpark will be a trip down memory lane.
A long time ago, at a newspaper far, far away, I was a starving college kid (actually, I was a lot heavier back then) trying to get his foot in the door. I convinced my editor at the time to get me credentials to head to Arizona for a taste of Spring Training in camp with the Cubbies.
I'd drive across the country for my spring break -- joined by my (now) wife and two close friends in a small, blue Cavalier that I would hardly describe as a reliable vehicle -- and then I'd write a few features on a handful of Minor Leaguers with local ties. I'd probably lose money, but it would be worth it.
After the initial shock of walking into a clubhouse occupied by the team my family cheered for when I was a kid, I got to work and started on my path to becoming a baseball writer. There are moments I'll never forget, like the time Greg Maddux missed the laundry basket and his sweaty undershirt landed on my feet.
Enough reminiscing. On to this week's Inbox...
I'm a die-hard Tribe fan from the Dominican Republic, waiting for so many years for the championship title. I think the Indians are on the right track to do that in the future. My question is -- how soon might we see Drew Pomeranz in the big leagues? What type of pitcher is he?
-- Carlos S., Santiago, D.R.
Pomeranz is only 22 years old, but he could be on the fast track to the big leagues. So far this spring, the 6-foot-5 lefty has displayed a smooth delivery and he has looked completely comfortable on the mound and in the clubhouse, even though this is his first taste of the big leagues.
Pomeranz has the characteristics of a power pitcher. In his latest Cactus League appearances, he was hitting between 93-96 mph consistently with his fastball. Add in his devastating spike curve, and the result has been some awful swings from some solid hitters this spring.
The most likely scenario is that Pomeranz heads to one of Cleveland's Class A affiliates this season, with a chance at advancing as high as Double-A by the end of the year. If all goes well for the big lefty, he could be in Triple-A -- and potentially see the Major Leagues -- as early as 2012.
The main goal this year -- Pomeranz's first as a professional -- will be for him to fine-tune a changeup that he used sparingly throughout his college career. Pomeranz's fastball and curve have looked incredible early in camp, but the Indians want him to develop a reliable third pitch.
Who seems to have the leg up for the extra outfield position, Travis Buck or Chad Huffman?
-- Michael M., Atlanta
They have both looked good early in camp, but I'd give the edge to Buck right now. My reason is his ability to man all three outfield spots. That is something outfielder Trevor Crowe could do, but his right-shoulder woes this spring have taken him out of the discussion for the Opening Day roster.
With both Crowe and Grady Sizemore doubtful for the start of the season, though, there could be two spots up for grabs on the bench. So I would not completely rule out a scenario where both Buck and Huffman break camp with the club. Consider that Buck bats left-handed and Huffman right-handed.
Both Buck and Huffman have taken reps at first base, adding to their potential value as role players off the bench. Besides a versatile fourth outfielder, Cleveland might also want to carry a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can double as a first baseman or designated hitter. Huffman and Shelley Duncan fit that description.
Indians manager Manny Acta recently said that players like Travis Hafner -- full-time designated hitters -- appear to be a dying breed, adding that American League clubs are looking for versatile players in a DH role. What does this mean for "Pronk" once his contract is up?
-- Jim M., Dallas, Texas
If a player can provide a powerful bat in the heart of a lineup, there will always be a market for him, even if it means he'd serve as a full-time DH. That said, it has been a few years since Hafner was one of the game's prolific sluggers. If he can bounce back strong over the next two years, a job probably won't be hard to find.
If Hafner continues to struggle with right-shoulder woes and can't find some of his old form, however, it could be difficult for him to locate full-time work. Right now, he is owed $13 million in each of the next two years, and the Tribe owns a club option (or a $2.75 million buyout) for the 2013 season.
I have a quick question about right-hander Anthony Reyes. He has been resting his arm for most of Spring Training due to elbow soreness. I was wondering if there is a chance he could find himself in the bullpen this season rather than in the rotation?
-- Zach W., Shelby, Ohio
Right now, Acta has made it known that the plan is to have Reyes prepare as a starter. Know that the Indians have considered transitioning him to a relief role, though. Reyes has experience as a reliever and, if the club feels he would bring more value as a long reliever, he could wind up in that type of role again.
Have a question about the Indians?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
What is your feeling about Luis Valbuena? Personally, I see no future for him with the Indians with all the people in front of him at second base and shortstop, and with prospect Lonnie Chisenhall coming soon at third base.
-- Roland R., Leytron, Switzerland
As things currently stand, it does not look like Valbuena will have a spot on Cleveland's roster as a member of the starting lineup. If he makes the club out of Spring Training, it'd likely be as a utility infielder who can provide depth at second, short and third base. There is also a chance he winds up manning short at Triple-A Columbus to open the season.
What are the Tribe's plans for right-hander Zach McAllister? Originally he was mentioned as being in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation.
-- Michael S., Peoria, Ill.
One thing is clear -- McAllister has a lot of fans back home in Illinois. He is not a realistic candidate for a rotation job this spring, but the Indians brought him to big league camp for a reason. He will likely be at Columbus and could be one of the first pitchers considered if the Major League rotation hits any snags.
Are the Indians ever going to start signing some significant players and compete again? As a Tribe fan, I'm sick of feeling like Pittsburgh Pirates fans have felt for the past several decades.
-- Johnny K., Wooster, Ohio
You feel like a Pirates fan? Really?
Pittsburgh has suffered through 18 losing seasons in a row with no playoff appearances since 1992. Over that same span, Cleveland has pieced together 10 winning seasons, made the playoffs seven times and enjoyed two trips to the World Series. Over the past decade, during which the Tribe has just the two playoff berths, the club has not gone more than three seasons with a losing record.
I'm not sure Pirates fans would agree with your take on things.