Cleveland Indians to have Spring Competition for Outfield Spots; Sign Gamel and Hamilton
As is far too often with smaller market teams like the Cleveland Indians, they tend to ship out more experienced and expensive talent and plug holes in the roster with bargain-bin players. Cleveland’s roster is admittedly going to look a lot different this upcoming season, mainly younger and cheaper. Beyond the starting rotation, 3rd base and catcher, there is essentially going to be open competition for every other spot during spring training. With the recent additions of veteran outfielders Eddie Rosario, Ben Gamel and Billy Hamilton, it’s clear that the Tribe feels that the outfield is one of the thinner parts of the roster. Being that Gamel and Hamilton both signed minor league deals with spring training invites the same day suggests that there is definitely playtime up for grabs this spring, so the real question is who is going to seize this golden opportunity?
Along with the three new vets, Cleveland is bringing back: Oscar Mercado, Josh Naylor, Daniel Johnson, Jordan Luplow, Bradley Zimmer, Jake Bauers, Mike Freeman and Franmil Reyes. On top of that, Amed Rosario, recently acquired in the Lindor trade, also began to play a little bit of outfield last year and Cleveland has been asking their top prospect, Nolan Jones, to try out the outfield as a quicker path to the majors since his primary position of 3rd base is obviously taken by Jose Ramirez. Considering Rosario is presumably a lock for the Opening Day roster as an infielder and Freeman is primarily viewed as a utility guy, Cleveland is basically left with 10 guys fighting for most likely five or six roster spots.
Franmil Reyes is most likely the Opening Day cleanup hitter for the Tribe, so he’s definitely on the roster. He will most likely slot in as the DH most of the year, so it is probable that Cleveland could carry that extra outfielder, which would have them starting the season with six on the active roster as a result. After signing a 1-yr, $8 million deal, Eddie Rosario is almost guaranteed to start Opening Day. Rosario is the outfielder that Cleveland has been missing the past couple of years and he will bring some much-needed stability and offensive production to the position group. That leaves three or maybe four spots left.
With Naylor’s playoff heroics and capability to play first base as well, he’s the next most likely to make the roster out of camp. The Tribe needs other players to step up in a big way if they want to be a mildly competitive team this season and Oscar Mercado reemerging as the rising star we all saw in 2019, would be the shot in the arm they need. Even so, his speed, defensive abilities and potential are enough for him to make the roster without much thought.
Now, the last two are where it gets pretty murky. Bauers could very well win the starting 1st base job over Bobby Bradley and no longer be in consideration for an outfield spot. The final spot will likely go to whoever has the best Spring Training barring another signing or trade. Perhaps, they even bring back Tyler Naquin or invest in another starting-quality outfielder, though. Daniel Johnson is my pick to wow in Spring Training this year. If he can put it all together, he could be a wonderful surprise who could quickly become a fan-favorite with his rocket arm and smooth swing. The extra, optional sixth spot for the Tribe might depend on what they are looking for to fill out their roster. If they are looking for more speed, it will come down to Bradley Zimmer or Billy Hamilton. However, if they are simply looking for a platoon corner outfielder, the decision will probably come down between Luplow and Gamel because Nolan Jones most likely is not ready and Cleveland might just wait until they are a little ways into the season to call up their top prospect to get the extra contract year anyway.
My final spot would go to Billy Hamilton because even though he does not offer much with the bat anymore, he still has dynamic speed that has the ability to create runs and change games. As of right now, the outfield still looks relatively weak and the Tribe will be hoping for a big step in their development from a few players this season. There is still a lot of
offseason left, though, so it is possible that Cleveland is far from done adding to their talent pool for Spring Training.
Overall, the two new signings are both solid pickups. Gamel and Hamilton have both been able to extend their careers by being productive in part-time roles, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them up on the big league roster at some point this season. With both being minimal-risk, minor league deals, Cleveland can only gain from either player having meaningful production during the regular season.