Contrary to what Mother Nature would lead you to believe — at least in the Northeast — baseball season has arrived, with pitchers and catchers having reported Monday to Spring Training.
Position players have a handful of days left of rest and relaxation before getting back to the grind, though Tunkhannock Area grad Mike Papi has remained busy in the offseason to prepare for another year on the diamond.
Papi will report to Goodyear, Arizona, with the Cleveland Indians organization this Friday and begs to see some playing time right off the bat with the Major League squad once games begin Feb. 25.
“I don’t know my particular role yet, but I’ll be ready to go,” Papi said. “The starters don’t play for the entire game in the early going, so I should be getting some time toward the end of games. It’s definitely going to be a great opportunity and a good test. They put us in certain situations to see if they could trust us, so it’s a great chance to be part of that team.”
Because the Indians will lose some of their players to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in March, more playing time should be available to Papi, who has spent the past several months staying in physical shape before getting back into baseball shape.
“I did a bit more agility work throughout the offseason and really tried to be prepared physically,” Papi said. “That’s a big thing for spring training because it’s an everyday thing to have to be ready to play. I’ve spent the offseason doing the strength building and heavy lifting — now it’s time to start focusing on baseball.”
With the game itself now as the focal point, Papi noted that the main goal while getting reason for the season is to find an all-around consistency to carry over into Opening Day and well into the summer months.
“My whole offseason has been focused around consistency as a whole,” he said. “My whole career so far has been riding the ups and downs of the season and trying to find that common ground. I plan to give a consistent effort and carry that over for the entire season. A big thing for me will be sticking with my routine. As long as I’m doing that and trust the work that I’m putting in, I know that will translate over to the practices and games in spring training. This year, it’s all about the work and a good, strong routine.”
As in previous years of Spring Training with the Indians, Papi will be afforded the opportunity to play alongside Major League players and pick up valuable insight on what he could do to better his pursuit of the dream to make the big leagues.
“We’re always encouraged to pick the minds of the older guys,” Papi said. “They might not always enjoy it, but it’s something that helps the younger players along to understand the process of everything. To see those guys in their environment and how comfortable they are, that helps put everything in the big picture.”
And though the Indians lost in heartbreaking fashion in last year’s World Series to the Chicago Cubs, Papi has a feeling that it will only serve as fuel to the fire for the organization as a whole.
“If anything, I think it will make everyone more driven,” Papi said. “The Indians made a lot of moves this offseason and are really trying to take the same route to get back to the World Series. That’s the ultimate goal for all of us. It makes you work for everything and push yourself to your highest ceiling possible.”
Papi played 40 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats, Cleveland’s Class A Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League, before getting promoted to the Double-A Akron RubberDucks for the final 78 games of the season.
He ended up batting .228 with an on-base-percentage of .340, and finished with 59 hits, 16 doubles, eight home runs, 40 RBIs, 33 runs scored and 41 walks in 78 regular season games.
Akron clinched the Eastern League West championship by a half-game over the Altoona Curve after winning 21 of its final 26 games, then beat the Curve in four games to advance to the Eastern League Championship, which the ‘Ducks won in a 3-game sweep over the Trenton Thunder.
For the playoffs, Papi ended up leading the team in batting average (.357), runs scored (5), home runs (2) and RBI (8).
That list also included a double, four walks and two outfield assists.
Throughout the 125 games Papi played in 2016, he hit .238 with 26 doubles and 17 home runs, and added 66 RBIs, 60 runs scored and 72 walks. Defensively, he finished the year with 12 outfield assists.
Papi was the 38th overall selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Virginia.
The 24-year-old ranked 25th on MLB.com’s 2016 Prospect Watch for the Cleveland Indians.