Pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona, today to kick off the start of spring training for the Indians. As Ohio is covered in snow, the Indians are in the desert and will spend the next month and a half whittling the 70 plus players in camp down to a 26-man roster for Opening Day. This Indians team is sure to look much different than the past iterations without SS Francisco Lindor, SP Carlos Carrasco and RP Brad Hand among others; today marks the first chapter in the next phase of Indians baseball. To start it all off let’s look at three big questions for the Indians pitching and catching units to watch during spring training.
- Who wins the fifth spot in the rotation?
This is a big question as the loss of Carrasco opens a hole in the Indians’ vaunted rotation. Assuming no injuries, the Indians have their top-four starters penciled in. The ace will once again be reining AL Cy Young award winner Shane Bieber followed by Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and young stud Triston McKenzie. The rotation will be key for the Indians again this year as the offense will be inconsistent at best. When you can’t consistently score it puts a lot of pressure on the staff and the fifth spot will be integral this season.
The three big names to watch will be Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Scott Moss who, among several others, will battle for the coveted fifth spot. Moss is the least experienced of the three only pitching as high as AA Akron in 2019. He does have the intangibles standing six foot six inches and a left-hander. Throughout his minor league career, he has 456 strikeouts in 436.2 innings pitched and only walked 173. He is the prototypical power pitcher but the lack of experience above AA could hurt his chances of making the opening day roster. The pandemic really hurt a player such as Moss who would most likely have pitched in AAA Columbus last year. Logan Allen is only 24 and an intriguing pitcher who came over with designated hitter Franmil Reyes in the 2019 trade with San Diego and Cincinnati. He has limited MLB experience thus far having only made five career starts with a few innings out of the bullpen between Cleveland and San Diego. He is not an overpowering pitcher and has struggled with walks but is the type of pitcher that the Indians have seemed to develop into quality high-end starters. Finally, Cal Quantrill who also came from San Diego but was part of the Mike Clevinger trade last season. He has made 21 big league starts carrying an 8-8 record with a 4.47 ERA overall. The upside is over the 2020 campaign between two starts and time in the bullpen Quantrill went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA. He isn’t an overpowering pitcher but does only have 36 walks in 135 career big leagues innings.
- Can the bullpen repeat last year’s success?
The Indians finished the 2020 season with one of the top bullpen groups and as with the starting rotation, the Indians will lean on the pen once again. Unlike the starting rotation, the bullpen has many questions and intrigue surrounding it. The pen loses the consistent Brad Hand as closer and Oliver Perez who proved that he wasn’t a one-trick pony and could be effective against both right and left-handed hitters last year. With the loss of Brad Hand, the Indians are banking on the electric James Karinchak to move into the closer role. Last year as the setup man “Wild Thing” as he was affectionately known was anything but wild. With his high 90’s heater and 12-6 curveball, he overpowered hitters through the sixty-game slate before hitting a brick wall in the playoffs with the rest of the Indians pitching. Relievers are known to be finicky year to year and younger relievers are especially susceptible. The Indians need Karinchack to get back his regular-season mojo and shut down the ninth for the tribe. Emmanuel Clase, who was suspended for last season due to PEDs is back and going to compete with the ever-consistent Nick Wittgren for the setup man role. Clase has a live arm and a lot of upside but is also very inexperienced at the MLB level with only 23 career innings. He has a big-time heater that flirts with triple digits and relies on overpowering opposing hitters, but it will be interesting to see how missing all last year has affected him. These two along Wittgren have the potential to create a three-headed monster for the Indians from the seventh inning on, or it could be a complete disaster.
The rest of the bullpen will most likely be filled out with Phil Maton, Cam Hill, Adam Plutko, Kyle Nelson and Cal Quantrill if he doesn’t win the fifth starter job. As always, this is the expectation going into spring training, but the bullpen is one that is always fluctuating and any number of young pitchers or spring training invitees could win their way in to start the season.
- Can we get some offense out of the catchers?
This seems petty to ask, after all both Austin Hedges and Roberto Perez are gold glove caliber catchers. They will team up to give the Indians the best defensive catching duo in all of baseball and the Indians with their great pitching have shown that they are willing to give up offensive output at the catching position for defensive prowess. There should be no argument with that, but the offensive output isn’t just bad, it’s unbelievably atrocious at times. It’s not too much to ask a big-league player no matter the position to hit at least above the Mendoza line. In 2020, both players hit well below that with Hedges hitting a meager .145 and Perez just slightly less awful at .165. This could be chalked up to the shortened pandemic-ridden season and there is some optimism for that. It was just in 2019 when Perez, in 119 games, hit .239 with 24 homers and 63 RBI. Hedges hit .231 with 14 homers in 91 games for San Diego back in 2018. Not monster numbers by any means, but if both can get closer to those numbers that will greatly help an offense that will most likely be very up and down.
*All stats retrieved from mlb.com