Indians kick off 'Tribe on Tour' event at mall

Indians kick off 'Tribe on Tour' event at mall

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio -- A handful of Indians players sat on a stage inside SouthPark Mall, with manager Manny Acta to their left and a large gathering of fans circled all around. It was an early glimpse at what the Tribe is offering this season.

On the far left was second-year reliever Vinnie Pestano, who emerged as one of baseball's best setup men last year. Next to the pitcher was Jason Kipnis, an up-and-coming second baseman. A few seats down was starter Josh Tomlin, who led the club in wins last year in his first full tour in the big leagues.

"We're so young," Kipnis said. "We have guys that are so excited just to prove what they've got when they get out on that field."

That is one reason that the Indians are not getting too worked up over the news that slugger Prince Fielder decided to take his talents to Detroit. Maybe the Tigers are indeed the American League Central darlings right now, but the Tribe believes that it will have something to say about that this season.

Thursday's event at the mall in Strongsville, Ohio, was the first on the four-stop "Tribe on Tour" event that will roll into nearby North Olmsted, Akron and Beachwood over the next three days. It is a chance for the Indians to get up close to their fans, offering a rare chance to interact in person.

Also taking part in the tour is third baseman Jack Hannahan, infielder Jason Donald and outfielder Shelley Duncan.

"This is awesome," Acta said. "I liked it last year. It's an opportunity for us to mingle with our fans, get close to them. Once the season starts, these guys have no chance whatsoever to get close or to let us know how they feel -- whether it's good or bad -- about our ballclub.

"We have to face them. It's good, because we have to get our community behind us."

It means being faced with positive reactions, but also dealing with some of the fatigue that fans are feeling after seeing high-priced heavyweights like Fielder and Albert Pujols (Angels) ink lucrative deals this offseason. Cleveland could not afford either hitter, and has used the offseason to date to primarily add depth through Minor League contracts.

Acta made it clear that the winter is not over -- Cleveland continues to search for a hitter to add to the mix -- but the manager was also quick to note that his team's success is mostly linked to improvements from the pieces already in place.

"The offseason isn't over," Acta said. "We continue to work, and I'm a witness that we have tried really hard to improve our offense. The majority of our offense rests on our guys being healthy ... We know what we have and we know what we have to work with.

"Even before the offseason started, we weren't targeting the guy who signed in L.A. or the guy who just signed with Detroit. We just have to deal with internal options and continue to make them better.

"They played pretty well last year for 4 1/2 months. If we can keep them on the field, we can take the next step and go from there. We can't sell dreams to people."

Last season, the Indians stormed out of the gates and held the top spot in the AL Central for the bulk of the season before injuries took a serious toll on the club. The Indians ended in second place with 80 wins -- an 11-game improvement over 2010 -- but it was a disappointing finish for the team.

Acta noted that outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and Grady Sizemore -- each of whom missed significant time last season -- are healthy and already taking part in baseball activities. Their status, combined with the promise of some of the younger players, has the team's confidence up.

"We could be adding a lot of good bats," Kipnis said. "We just don't know. It just depends on how healthy some of the guys are this year. If you look at it, what happened last year with the injury bug, a lot of [young] guys got valuable at-bats.

"So when you have, hopefully, a healthy Grady, Choo, [Travis] Hafner, all them coming back to full health, that's a pretty good lineup we have there."

The Indians have swung and missed on adding the likes of free agents Carlos Beltran and Carlos Pena this season, and the club has maintained some interest in first baseman Casey Kotchman.

As things stand right now, the Indians would project to have six left-handed hitters -- plus a pair of switch-hitters -- among the starting nine. Acta said that too much has been made of Cleveland's need to add a right-handed bat this winter.

"That's why we didn't sign Fielder," Acta quipped, "because you guys say that we have too many left-handers."

Kidding aside, Acta said that the lefty-heavy lineup is not a major concern.

"We're fine with that," Acta said. "Who was the team that won the division last year? They [the Tigers] don't even have one lefty in their rotation. We all know that the majority of the teams, their starters are right-handers anyway. You can't build a team thinking about some other club's bullpen.

"Your job is to score as many runs as possible against the starter. Ideally, you'd want to have a balanced lineup, but at the end of the day you need guys who can hit, regardless of where they hit from.

"I think our issue is with developing young hitters."

And there will be plenty of youth on display this season.

"Everyone's excited to go out and prove what we've got," Kipnis reiterated. "I think we'll surprise a lot, especially with full health. We have a lineup that we're really confident in."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.