Some years, the Indians enter spring training with an abundance of questions. What will the starting rotation and the bullpen look like? What position players are likely to win a spot on the roster? In 2011, I attended an Indians-Padres spring training game with a fellow Indians fan. We spent the game worrying about the starting rotation and trying to figure out who was going to make the rotation beyond Justin Masterson (just remember, Mitch Talbot broke camp as a member of the rotation). After the game, Padres manager Bud Black wandered along the edge of the stands, signing autographs for people gathered along the railing. Unable to resist the opportunity, my friend yelled “Hey Bud…would you be willing to come back to Cleveland and pitch in the starting rotation?” I fully expected Black to ignore the comment, but he looked up, laughed, and said “Oh come on now…the Tribe is going to be fine.” And 2011 did end up surpassing expectations, but at that moment, things seemed frighteningly bleak.
Heading into 2015 there are obviously some question marks (there always are) but I don’t think we’re in a place where we should feel the need to attempt to convince a 53-year-old Bud Black that he should leave his nice managerial job and return to Cleveland as a starting pitcher. Obviously there are always injuries and other incidentals that pop up during spring training, but barring any of that (fingers crossed!) let’s look at whose job is safe, and who is hoping to earn a spot on the 25-man roster come April 6.
It’s probably safe to say that Corey Kluber’s guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation. For once, we have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the rotation should look like. Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are likely to be in the starting five, and Gavin Floyd should be as well (unless his arm falls off this spring). That last spot will likely be filled by either Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister, or Josh Tomlin.
If you remember, the Indians decided to start Salazar slowly last spring (they’ve watched his innings since his 2010 Tommy John surgery); he didn’t see his first live game action until the week of March 10. Despite the fact he was guaranteed a spot in the rotation going into camp, he just never settled in until later in the season after his banishment to Columbus. We’ve all seen that Salazar has had some legal issues this offseason, and as of February 17, it seems like the prosecutors office still may be considering charges against him. I wasn’t there with Salazar in the flats on January 23, so I don’t really feel comfortable saying he’s guilty or innocent. I’m just concerned that these legal issues may keep him out of the rotation for an indeterminate amount of time. (And if he happened to be guilty, I wouldn’t want him there anyway).
By the end of last season, I’d become a fairly big fan of T.J. House. Will he have a bit of a sophomore slump this season? Will teams have figured him out? It’s tough to say, but as of right now, I’d like to see him break camp with the team later this spring.
As for McAllister and Tomlin – I know that McAllister dealt with a lot of bad luck, and bad defense as a starter last season. And his experience out of the bullpen came from a relatively small sample size. However, I think I’d rather see him in the bullpen at this point. I have even less confidence in Tomlin.
I think one of the biggest questions for the starting lineup is who is fully recovered, and who is still injured? Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Ryan Raburn, Brandon Moss, and David Murphy all dealt with injuries last year. Brandon Moss was missing cartilage from his hip toward the end of the 2014 season and had surgery in the offseason; is he fully recovered? Will Michael Bourn’s hamstrings continue to land him on the DL every couple of weeks? And finally, will the defense be less atrocious than it was last offseason? Because even the best pitching performance can be quickly undone by sloppy play in the field – we saw that on several occasions last season.
Speaking of bad defense, one of the players who concern me is Lonnie Chisenhall. His defense has always been average to below average, but it was quite bad in 2014. And while he appeared to have a breakout year last season, hitting .280/.343/.427, the wheels fell off during the second half. During the first half of the season, Chisenhall hit .332/.396/.519; during the second half he hit just .218/.277/.315. I’ve really wanted to believe in Chisenhall, primarily because I don’t want to see yet another first round bust. But the season that seemed to make a lot of fans believe in me, has actually made me start to question whether or not Chisenhall is cut out for everyday play. I hope that maybe he figured something out last season, but I’m worried that the first few months may have been an anomaly.
I really think the front office has excelled in developing a good bullpen over the past few seasons. Even when I’ve been worried about the depth of the bullpen, they always seem to figure something out. Drafting bullpen arms also seems to be the one part of the draft where the front office has success. For the 2015 season, Cody Allen will be back as closer. Bryan Shaw and Scott Atchison will be back as late-inning relievers; while Atchison was a pleasant surprise last year, I’m hoping that he can repeat the performance in 2015. The Indians have a good selection of lefties in Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett. There are several names that could compete for roles to complete the bullpen – CC Lee, Bryan Price, Bruce Chen, Anthony Swarzak, and Scott Downs. Plus McAllister and Tomlin could figure into bullpen roles as well.
There may not be a need for any dramatic competitions this spring, but there still are a few things that could change. There’s also the slight possibility that top prospect Francisco Lindor, who has been invited to the big league camp, could earn a spot on the 25-man roster. I think it’s more likely that we would see him later in the season though.