As the Tribe approaches spring training, it’s interesting to examine the roster and how the depth chart may end up panning out. Unless the Indians are hit with the injury bug, much of the starting lineup and opening day roster appears set. The main question is what jobs are up for grabs?
With the signing of outfielder Eddie Rosario, the Tribe has its corner outfield jobs set. I believe he will pair nicely with outfielder Josh Naylor, who the team acquired in the SP Mike Clevinger trade last year. He had a scorching hot postseason last season and I hope he builds on it in 2021. The outfield job that’s up for grabs is center field. Oscar Mercado is probably the early favorite. He had a very nice and surprising rookie year in 2019 but was dreadful in 2020. Bradley Zimmer is another name to watch for. Although he struggles to stay healthy and hasn’t yet figured things out at the plate in the big leagues. I actually had the chance to watch Zimmer play double-A ball in Akron a lot and I was convinced he was a five-tool player and potential Allstar, I still think there’s hope he could prove me right. A dark horse candidate could be Daniel Johnson. I think he has a lot of potential, although he struggled with his first experience in the big leagues last year. With a nice spring training, he could earn himself playing time.
The infield will have a couple of holes to fill due to the loss of 1B Carlos Santana and the absolute robbery we suffered in the SS Francisco Lindor trade. First base will come down to Bobby Bradley and Jake Bauers. Bradley is mostly unproven at the major league level. Jake Bauers, however, has not been good. It would be an amazing improvement if he turns into an average big leaguer this season. The other infield job that’s open is shortstop and they’re a few contenders here. Yu Chang who has worked his way through the organization for years will have a chance to earn this spot, but he’ll face competition from both of the infielders we received in the Lindor trade from the Mets. Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez will each have a real shot to win the job. The two competed for playing time in New York last year. Rosario hit .252 with a dreadful .272 on-base percentage. Gimenez hit a better .263 but not a great OBP of .333. Shortstop truly is a toss-up, but it seems to be a lot of average.
I think the most interesting open spot on this roster is for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie will enter camp holding the first four spots, but the last spot is seemingly up for grabs. I predict three guys enter camp with a chance at landing this spot. Right-hander Adam Plutko has been a spot starter for a few years now. Cal Quantrill, who was acquired in the Mike Clevinger trade and is a largely unproven left-hander. Logan Allen, acquired in the Trevor Baur trade, has yet to pitch for the tribe.
Allen and Quantrill have a lot of potential but need to prove that they’re ready for the big leagues. Plutko is more experienced, but he has to prove that he can go deeper than four innings into his starts consistently.
The final question mark in filling out this team is more of a hole than a battle or competition. This bullpen has no lefties. The bullpen runs deep with quality right-handers such as James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Cam Hill and Nick Wittgren. The only lefties on the 40-man roster are Logan Allen, Sam Hentges, Scott Moss and Kyle Nelson. Logan Allen will be competing for a spot in the rotation and I’d doubt that if he loses out that a move to the bullpen is likely. Hentges and Moss are also both starting pitchers who haven’t appeared in a big-league game and Nelson has thrown two-thirds of an inning in which he gave up three hits and four earned runs. None of these guys could be counted on in any bullpen appearances that aren’t merely damage control or eating innings.
This roster is bleak in some places, but deep and chalked full of talent in others. The overall camp will be an entertaining watch with these positional battles and this season will certainly be an interesting one.