Stubbs embracing fresh start with Indians
New team, new position and new spot in batting order for outfielder
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Drew Stubbs needed some time to figure out how he felt after receiving that phone call in December. The Reds were the only team he knew. They drafted him, developed him, gave him his first shot in the big leagues. Seven seasons in one organization is a long time in baseball years.
On Dec. 11, Cincinnati traded Stubbs to Cleveland.
He needed time to process this new chapter in his career.
"There were definitely some mixed emotions," Stubbs said. "The toughest part for me was, when you're comfortable in a place, having to leave a bunch of great people behind."
The mixed element to Stubbs' emotions came in the realization that this was a fresh start. The Indians were offering the outfielder a clean slate after one of the most trying seasons of his career. He could put 2012 behind him, show up to camp in the spring and push the reset button in front of a new set of evaluators.
That has been Stubbs' plan since arriving to Cleveland's spring home in Goodyear, Ariz., which happens to also be where Cincinnati trains. The Estrella Mountains still provide the backdrop to his preseason practice fields, only now Stubbs is about a quarter-mile north on S. Wood Blvd. Both the Indians and Reds share Goodyear Ballpark for their respective Cactus League slate.
So far, Stubbs' change of scenery has included much of the same scenery.
"The first couple days were a little strange," he said.
The real change will come soon enough. Rather than hitting near the top of the lineup, where he spent most of his time with the Reds, Stubbs projects to slot his speed into the nine-hole with Cleveland. After a career spent in center field, Stubbs is also spending this spring getting accustomed to right field -- a move necessitated by the Indians' signing of center fielder Michael Bourn.
Even before Cleveland signed Bourn to a four-year contract, it was not a given that Stubbs was going to play center. Indians manager Terry Francona was weighing whether to hand the keys to center to Stubbs or keep Michael Brantley up the middle, considering his growth as an outfielder in recent years. Once Bourn was added to the fold, however, Stubbs accepted his fate.
"You saw the writing on the wall," Stubbs said. "I still feel like center field is my position. This year, obviously I won't be there, but who knows whether I'll be [in right] for a year or five years or whatever. It's a thing that I think is going to make this team the best, and what I'm happy to do."
Stubbs has also been working on adjusting to re-tooled swing mechanics.
During the offseason, Stubbs teamed with Reds assistant hitting coach Ronnie Ortegon to concentrate on eliminating the outfielder's leg kick. Stubbs is now using a toe tap as his timing mechanism, which is an approach aimed at keeping things simple and cutting down excess body movement.
"It was good for me that I had somebody who knew me and knew my swing," Stubbs said. "I really got to work on a lot of details."
In seven Cactus League games this spring, Stubbs has hit just .222 (4-for-18), but Francona said he has seen progress with the right fielder's swing. Stubbs has routinely put on show in early-morning batting practice sessions, and he enjoyed his best game in a Tribe uniform on Monday. In Cleveland's 13-5 rout of the Cubs, Stubbs went 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs.
"The biggest thing right now," Francona said, "he's really simplified his swing, which is great. I think the fight for him will be to stay there. When he goes through a period where he's not swinging the bat well, fight to stay where he is, not to change. That's not an easy thing to do."
Stubbs tweaked and toyed too often last season, digging himself into a hole that became increasingly deeper as the summer wore on.
Overall, Stubbs hit .213 with a .277 on-base percentage in 136 games for the Reds. He still exhibited some power with 14 home runs and he still showed off his speed with 30 stolen bases, but Stubbs was an offensive mess. Across August and September, Stubbs hit just .178 (32-for-180) as Cincinnati was working on clinching the Natonal League Central crown.
Against right-handers, Stubbs hit just .186 with a .541 on-base plus slugging percentage last season.
"I think sometimes those things tend to snowball a little bit," Francona said. "He said he listened to too many people. I can see that happening. You get a kid that's conscientious and wants to do well, and is scuffling. He tried a lot of different things."
It was a year that took a heavy toll on Stubbs.
"I made it a point to myself that I'm never going to go through anything like this again," Stubbs said. "It was just a year that completely beat me up physically and mentally. I really kind of rededicated myself this offseason.
"I was very excited to get this spring and the season going just to clean the slate and go back out and show what I can really do."
What Stubbs can do is provide the Indians with some power and speed -- he averaged 18 homers, 35 stolen bases and 92 runs per season in 2010 and '11 in the lower-third of the Reds' lineup -- as long as he cuts down his strikeouts some and improves his on-base ability. In the field, Stubbs has the tools to be a dynamic outfielder, whether he is in right field on a regular basis or back to center on occasion.
Those are all reasons Cleveland acquired Stubbs in the complicated three-team, nine-player trade with Cincinnati and Arizona back in December. As part of the deal, the Indians sent right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds and landed Stubbs, along with pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the D-backs.
Stubbs has had plenty of time to process the trade.
He is excited about this new opportunity.
"When you have a change of scenery," Stubbs said, "it's often the best thing that can happen for you. I was excited about that aspect of it -- to come over and start anew."