Over the past few days, the Indians made a number of roster decisions; the trimming of the roster means that Opening Day is fast approaching. While the team that shows up in Cleveland on April 4 may look different by the time summer rolls around, we at least know who we’ll see to start the season. There were some good moves and some bad ones; I figured I’d break down what I liked and didn’t like with the moves thus far. The Indians also announced that Lonnie Chisenhall would start the season on the 15-day disabled list (wrist impingement) and won’t be eligible to come off the DL until April 12. That means not a single person from the Tribe’s outfield at the end of 2015, will open the season with the team. Michael Brantley had a slight setback in his shoulder recovery, now Chisenhall has an injury issue, and Abraham Almonte is suspended for 80 games due to his positive PED test. I’ll take a look at the outfield and the rest of the positions as well.
3B/infield utility – Geovanny Urshela will start the season in Triple-A Columbus, while Juan Uribe is the starting third baseman. After Uribe signed late in the offseason, he was expected to start there; nothing about that is surprising. But there was a question as to whether or not Urshela would still make the roster in a part-time role. Jose Ramirez will be the utility infielder though, and will back up Uribe at third base.
Urshela had a pretty good spring and at least likely made this decision difficult. I think Urshela may have more upside than Ramirez in the long run, but I’m honestly unsure how he’d perform in a part-time role. While I’m sure he was sent to Columbus to ensure more playing time, he also has to contend with Yandy Diaz at third base in the minors. I’m not sure how the Indians will handle that – if they’ll have them split time, if they’ll try one of them out at a different position, or what.
Outfield – At one point this spring, I joked that after Michael Brantley, the Indians planned to comprise an entire outfield out of fourth outfielders. They had a number of people in camp on minor league deals (Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, Will Venable, Marlon Byrd), and a couple of marginal players they picked up during the offseason and added to the 40-man roster (like Joey Butler and Collin Cowgill). They also signed Rajai Davis to a one-year, $5.25 million deal (with incentives).
In addition to the small herd of outfielders in camp this spring, the Indians also gave a lot of playing time to 2012 first-round pick Tyler Naquin. And Naquin definitely made the most of that opportunity – so far this spring, he’s hit .467 with three home runs. Plus he has some speed and a good arm in the outfield. While I know that you can’t put a ton of stock in spring training statistics, the purpose of a good spring performance is to earn yourself a spot on the team. It’s a fairly basic idea – you play better than the other people you’re competing against, that means that you make the roster. In the past few years though, concerns about service time have popped up, meaning that young prospects are often held in the minors longer to stall their service time clock. (Like what happened last season with Francisco Lindor). While I understand the Indians’ reasoning with Lindor, it’s possible that with a full season of Lindor at shortstop in 2015 could’ve translated into several more wins. I was a little afraid that they may do this to Naquin, but they seemed less protective of him than they did with Lindor. In the end, Naquin earned a spot on the team.
I should add that I’ve never been that high on Naquin – even when he was drafted. He struck me as a Trevor Crowe-type of player; a very athletic fourth outfielder that probably won’t hit enough to stay in the majors long-term. However, he’s pleasantly surprised me at every level of the minors so far, surpassing my expectations for him. He deserves this chance, he’s earned it, and I hope like crazy that he finds a way to prove me wrong this season on my assessment of him.
To round out the outfield (since Brantley and Chisenhall will both start the season on the DL) the Indians have told Cowgill and Byrd that they’re going to make the roster, barring any kind of bizarre mishap. I guess that Jose Ramirez can play the outfield in a pinch, but that still makes me a bit nervous.
Bullpen – To me, there have been a few weird decisions with the bullpen this spring. Ryan was definitely right about Joba Chamberlain – this is not the hard-throwing Joba of around 2007-2010. While he had decent enough results this spring, he made me very nervous in the games that I watched him pitch. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s because he’s such a different pitcher at this point in his career. I often held my breath waiting for people to tee off on him, but they never really did. Hopefully his new approach works, and he’s able to locate his pitches enough that it’s not a huge issue in the end. Jeff Weaver isn’t the same pitcher he used to be, yet he still finds ways to get people out; there’s no reason to believe Joba can’t do the same. I still think I’m going to end up with an uneasy feeling when I watch him run in from the bullpen.
Out of all of the left handers in camp, I preferred Joe Thatcher or Kyle Crockett. Thatcher had a great spring, and I was impressed by what I saw from him. However, the Indians ended up going with Ross Detwiler instead (and Crockett will start the season in Triple-A). I think the Indians hoped that Thatcher would accept an assignment to Triple-A, but he asked for his release. Detwiler is not the choice I would’ve made, but hopefully it will work out.
I was also fairly “meh” on Dan Otero when I saw him pitch this spring. I always had the impression that he was just a pitch or two away from everything falling apart on him. But I see the logic in going with someone like him over a young guy like Austin Adams. If you don’t add Otero to the roster, he can opt out and then you lose him. If you add him to the roster, it’s not that big of a deal to cut him later on. It’s not like he has a huge contract you’re hesitant to eat (like Nick Swisher, who was released by the Braves on Monday) or that he’s a prospect out of options. So go with guys like that for now, and then cut them loose later if you have to. The Indians still have Tom Gorzelanny – he did not make the Opening Day roster, but he accepted an assignment to Columbus.
Starting rotation – The Indians already had much of the starting rotation figured out going into camp. Remember just a few years ago, when it was Justin Masterson and (??????) heading into camp? Corey Kluber will be the Opening Day starter against the Red Sox, and then you have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. It sounds as if Trevor Bauer will make the rotation; he looked fairly solid this spring. Bauer is an enigma that they can never seem to solve – he’s so talented, but also very inconsistent. I imagine the fifth spot will likely go to Josh Tomlin (T.J. House was informed he would start at Triple-A) and I’m uncertain if Cody Anderson will work out of the bullpen, or be sent to Columbus. To be honest, the Indians don’t even need a fifth starter right away, because they have so many off days in April. I don’t think there will ever be a time where Josh Tomlin doesn’t make me nervous, but hopefully he can replicate his late 2015 performance.
Those are some of the big decisions that were made in regards to the roster. In just one short week, the Indians will return to Cleveland to open the season (with a high temperature expected to be in the low-to-mid 30s!) Other than the outfield, and a few spots in the bullpen, there weren’t a lot of competitions in camp this spring. With the signings of Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe, the Indians provided some certainty for most of the position players. I’m still worried about the offense for 2016, but hopefully the pitching remains strong and the Indians manage to squeak by with enough runs.