Cleveland Indians Roster Battles: 4 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles
With the beginning of the baseball season rapidly moving toward us, it makes sense to look at four spring-training battles currently raging with the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians were in contention for most of the 2011 season before fading at the end of the year. Though they did not make many big splashes in the offseason, the Tribe did improve their roster and should be in contention for the AL Central in 2012.
As spring training winds down, the Indians still have four roster spots up for grabs.
Let's take a look at each of these battles:
The battle for the starting third-base role comes down to a battle between potential and certainty.
On one hand, Lonnie Chisenhall was a first-round pick, was Baseball America's 25th best prospect before last season and has all of the tools to be a very good player for a long time. On the other hand, Chisenhall struggled in his first stint in the major leagues last year, and Jack Hannahan offers one of the best gloves in the game at third base.
In the end, I think that Hannahan will be the starter on Opening Day, and Chisenhall will start the year in Triple-A. While I'd like to see Chisenhall get the job, there's nothing necessarily wrong with him working on his plate discipline (which cratered once he got to Cleveland) in Columbus.
If Hannahan can supply the league-average offense he did last year (not an outrageous proposition), he'll be a solid piece who can help the Tribe catch up to the Tigers.
This was supposed to be Michael Brantley's job heading into the season, but Grady Sizemore's injury has created a hole the Indians need to fill.
Luckily for the Tribe, they have plenty of options for the job between Shelley Duncan, Felix Pie, Aaron Cunningham, Fred Lewis, Russ Canzler, Matt LaPorta and Ryan Spilborghs. These players may not be anything special, but maybe one will work out.
I think that Duncan has the best chance at the job right now because of his right-handed power, but he could split time with Cunningham and/or Spilborghs. The Indians have mostly ground-ball pitchers, which would minimize Duncan's defensive deficiencies, allowing his 30 home run potential into the lineup every day.
For a team still searching for offense, that could be very appealing.
Before the Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez name-game saga erupted, the Indians had a strong if unspectacular rotation lined up for 2012. With Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe already guaranteed spots, there wasn't supposed to be any spring-training battles.
With Carmona/Hernandez unlikely to join the Indians any time soon, the Tribe now need to choose between Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister. It would seem that Slowey has an inside track on the job since the Indians traded for him almost immediately after the Carmona/Hernandez news broke, but Gomez is doing his best to screw those plans up.
While spring- training stats mean nothing at all, it is important to note that Gomez has not given up an earned run in seven innings pitched while Slowey has given up five earned runs in eight innings.
Gomez has clearly come ready to play in 2012 and might be rewarded for that right out of the gate.
Final Two Bullpen Spots
The Indians have five of the spots in the Bullpen Mafia (Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith) locked up pretty tightly.
There are questions as to whether the two Perezes will be ready for the start of the season (though ESPN's Jim Bowden reports they'll be fine), but the Indians are still looking for at least two relievers to fill out their bullpen.
There is talk that the Indians are looking into free-agent reliever Mike Gonzalez, but even without signing him, they have good options already in camp. Manny Acta has said that Frank Herrmann (a decent long reliever) has the inside track at one of the jobs, leaving one spot still up for grabs.
Non-roster invitee Dan Wheeler and top prospect Nick Hagadone are the most likely to take the job, but Chris Ray, Robinson Tejada and Jeremy Accardo will continue to push for jobs.
The Indians may not be the flashiest team out there, but they should be solid at the very least. Between these four spring-training position battles, the Indians should come out stronger and be set to make a run at the Tigers.
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