Tribe acquires Canzler from Tampa Bay
Youngster offers right-handed bat, alternative at first base
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have added an intriguing bat to the Spring Training mix.
On Tuesday, Cleveland acquired first baseman Russ Canzler from Tampa Bay in exchange for cash considerations. Only a week ago, Canzler looked like a possibility to open the upcoming season at first for the Rays.
Now, Canzler is in the running for a job with the Tribe.
"He'll come and compete for a spot on the Major League team," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The specific position at which, or the spot on the team he'll be competing for, will be dependant upon a number of different things, including the other guys competing and how the roster takes shape in spring.
"One of the things that we're attracted to about Russ, in addition to his offensive ability, is his defensive versatility. He has played and is capable of playing first base, third base, left field, right field and has experience at all four of those spots."
The most likely role potentially awaiting Canzler is that of a right-handed option off Cleveland's bench. He has experience at both corner infield and outfield spots and has demonstrated some impressive offense over the past two seasons in the Minor Leagues.
Barring another addition, however, Canzler might also compete for time at first base.
"Sure," Antonetti said. "I wouldn't rule anything out."
Given the struggles of first baseman Matt LaPorta over the past two years, Cleveland has been on the hunt for a potential alternative this winter. The Indians struck out in their pursuit of free agent Carlos Pena and the club still remains linked to free agent Casey Kotchman.
Kotchman was the Rays' regular first baseman last season, but is now searching for a new job. After a year spent with the Cubs, Pena resumed his former role as Tampa Bay's first baseman by signing a one-year deal worth $7.25 million with the team on Jan. 24. Cleveland reportedly offered Pena a one-year, $8 million contract.
Canzler -- already looking like an odd-man out upon Pena's return -- was officially pushed off the depth chart after the Rays inked infielder Jeff Keppinger to a one-year pact on Friday. Tampa Bay designated Canzler for assignment, opening the door for Cleveland to add the right-handed first baseman.
"We've had interest in him for a while," Antonetti said. "When Tampa Bay designated him for assignment, we were aggressive in trying to acquire him, because we feel like, not only does he provide a quality alternative going into Spring Training to make our Major League team, but he does have options left.
"So in the event that he doesn't win a job in Spring Training, he could provide some near-term depth for us at the upper levels of our Minor Leagues."
The 25-year-old Canzler -- by comparison, LaPorta turned 27 earlier this month -- is coming off a strong Minor League campaign with Triple-A Durham. He earned International League Most Valuable Player honors after hitting .314 with 18 homers, 40 doubles and 83 RBIs across 131 games in 2011.
Along the way, Canzler posted a .401 on-base percentage and a .530 slugging percentage.
Canzler, who appeared in three September games with the Rays last season, has hit .280 with 84 homers and 405 RBIs over 738 Minor League games, spanning eight years. He hardly began his career as a top prospect, considering the Cubs took him in the 30th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
Over the past two seasons in the Minors, though, Canzler has developed into a promising slugger, launching nearly half (39) of his career home runs in that short time period.
The Rays signed Canzler as a Minor League free agent last offseason.
"He was [drafted out of] high school," Antonetti said. "Those guys, a lot of times the development path can be a little bit longer. With Russ, he was playing against -- for the most part -- older competition throughout his Minor League career. The last couple of years, he's kind of found his groove.
"He's a physical guy. ... He's well built and he's got a good swing. He impacts the baseball and has a chance to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He's got good fundamentals to his swing. It's a short, line-drive swing with quick hands.
"He's got a lot of ingredients to be what we feel will be a good Major League hitter."
Canzler could compete for playing time at first base for the Indians, but his experience at other positions makes him a possibility for the Tribe's bench. While he has spent the bulk of his Minor League career at first (401 games), Canzler also has logged time at third base and in both corner outfield spots.
As things currently stand, the Indians project to have six pure left-handed hitters, as well as two switch-hitters, in their starting lineup. The only position unaccounted for in that grouping is first base. Unless Cleveland adds a first baseman before Spring Training, LaPorta and Shelley Duncan -- both right-handed batters -- would also compete for the opening.
Switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana is also expected to get some starts at first base during the upcoming season. One scenario could be that Santana starts at first on days that a left-hander is pitching. Canzler performed well against both righties (.312) and lefties (.321) in the Minors last season.
In the outfield, the Indians project to have three left-handed starts in Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. Right-handed candidates for the fourth outfielder's role include Aaron Cunninghan and Duncan, who are both on the 40-man roster, as well as non-roster invitees Ryan Spilborghs and Chad Huffman.
As things currently stand, the Indians project to have 60 players in camp this spring. Canzler assumed the 40-man roster spot that was vacated when pitcher Fausto Carmona was placed on the restricted list last week.
Antonetti said the Indians are not necessarily done adding players to the mix.
"Our focus will be to continue to try to improve the roster," he said. "We'll certainly continue to do that in the weeks leading up to Spring Training."