GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Grady Sizemore might not miss more than the first two or three weeks of the schedule, but the task of replacing him is taking on the feel of building the Great Pyramids or finding a quarterback to lead the Browns.
No stone will be unturned in the effort to pick the most capable replacement for the Indians’ oft-injured outfielder. That is, as long as the man is already in training camp. General Manager Chris Antonetti has said he does not intend to make a trade or sign a free agent to fill in for a player who probably will miss only a small chunk of the season.
Nevertheless, the search could touch as many as 13 candidates, ranging from favorites to long shots. And who is the favorite? Manager Manny Acta admits to keeping a list of prioritized players.
“We do have that kind of list. We just don’t tell you [the media],” he said. “Everybody has to have a depth chart. But we also allow every one of those guys to change our mind.”
It’s no surprise that the list is fluid and will depend on how well each player responds to the challenges of spring training.
Assuming that Michael Brantley moves from left to take Sizemore’s place in center (not an absolute certainty but the probable outcome), the Tribe is looking for a left fielder.
One player not originally thought to be in the mix is Matt LaPorta. At one time, the organization seemed to be leaning toward making him into a full-time outfielder, more or less. Instead, the first-base side of LaPorta won out, and for the past two seasons, he has played the corner infield position more than any of his lodge brothers.
But that does not exclude him from the long list of contenders to play left field. For one thing, he’s available, having lost the first-base job to Casey Kotchman.
“He’s going to get reps in left field, too,” Acta said. “Who knows? We’ve got the whole of spring training to find out. Everybody who plays the outfield has a chance to be the starting left fielder.”
LaPorta’s edge would be his major-league experience and the possibility that he will figure things out at last and turn into the right-handed power hitter the Indians have been waiting for him to become. Consistency has been LaPorta’s problem, but maybe things will click in his third full big-league season.
His problem: It’s difficult to get a legitimate read on hitters during exhibition season, when even veteran scouts, coaches and managers can be fooled. More weight will be given to a player’s approach at the plate than the numbers he puts up.
LaPorta will never be mistaken for Roberto Clemente as a defender, but few competitors for the job are Gold Glove candidates. Moreover, in 36 major-league starts in left, LaPorta has made one error.
With exhibition season a week away, it’s easier to figure out the long shots than the favorites.
Nick Weglarz, 24, is big, powerful and slow-footed. He also has played only 50 games at the Triple-A level, and because of injuries that slowed his progress, he needs more time in the minors.
Thomas Neal also lacks major-league experience, though the 24-year-old hits the ball hard.
“The reports we get on him project him to be a home run, power guy,” Acta said. “He hit 20 home runs before having shoulder surgery.”
An injury limited Trevor Crowe to 15 major-league games last year. He has been the Tribe’s No. 4 outfielder in the past, but that does not seem to carry much weight these days.
Russ Canzler is listed as an infielder. But in eight minor-league seasons, he has played third, first and right plus 76 games in left. The Indians signed him because of his potential at the plate — .314, 18 homers, 83 RBI at Triple-A Durham — but he has just three big-league at-bats, and his defense is said to be marginal.
Jason Donald is not an outfielder, but Acta said he might get a few reps in left and right during the course of exhibition season. What Donald can do for sure is play third, short and second. That’s why he will make the team regardless of the outcome of the left-field sweepstakes, which probably will exclude him.
That leaves Ezequiel Carrera, Aaron Cunningham, Shelley Duncan, Chad Huffman, Fred Lewis, Felix Pie, Ryan Spilborghs and LaPorta to fight it out.
Any of these players conceivably could win the left field job, though Spilborghs, Duncan and LaPorta seem to be the early favorites.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/tribematters. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.