The Cleveland Indians have a bevy of prospects and spring training invitees looking to land themselves a roster spot this spring. All in all, the Indians have 16 players who are either looking to graduate from the farm system, or, grab on with the team via a minor-league deal. Josh Outman, who was acquired from the Colorado Rockes, via-trade, will also be competing this year.
Currently, the team looks to have two spots open in the bullpen, one in the starting rotation, and two on the offensive side of the ball.
The bullpen competition—outside of the left-handed spot which will go to either Nick Hagadone or Outman—is a convoluted mess. Any one of five players—including two vying for the final spot in the rotation—could claim the last spot in the Tribe's bullpen, and it's likely to be decided on the final day of spring training.
Offensively, the Indians have one spot open in the outfield—unless they chose to use Mike Aviles as their sometimes-fifth outfielder—and one in the infield. The number of open spots could expand out to three if the team doesn't elect to keep Jason Giambi, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Over the next slides, I'll familiarize you with the 17 players who will battle it out for one of the Indians' five remaining roster spots. So, let's get started.
Nyjer Morgan hasn't played big league ball since 2012, but he's making a comeback attempt with the Indians in 2014.
Over his six-year career, Morgan was a .280/.341/.364 hitter with 162-game averages of three home runs, eight triples, 20 doubles, 36 RBI, 78 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. At 33 years old, Morgan may not be capable of holding down an every day job, but in Cleveland he wouldn't be required to.
Morgan's most recent big league season came in 2012 as a 31-year-old. That year, Morgan slashed .232/.302/.308 with three home runs, three triples, five doubles, 16 RBI, 44 runs scored and 12 stolen bases over 322 plate appearances.
Morgan's 2012 campaign was significantly less productive in comparison to his career numbers, but Morgan may be in line for a rebound season after a stint with the Yokohama DeNa BayStars of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. In 108 games played with the Yokohama, Morgan posted a .294/.361/.434 slash line with 11 home runs, two triples, 15 doubles, 50 RBI and 57 runs scored.
It's unlikely that Morgan will duplicate that production back in the States—especially the 11 home runs, which match his career total in Major League Baseball—but he could be a decent reserve based on the plus-speed and defense he brings to a team's bench.
Matt Carson is essentially a 32-year-old career minor leaguer. At this point in his career, Carson has assembled a resume that includes 92 big league games, and 1,250 minor league games.
Carson's fortitude is admirable. Over 12 seasons, Carson has reached his club's big league affiliate on just four occasions, and spent the entire 2011 campaign—29 years old that season—in the minor leagues.
One of the four times Carson made a big league club came in 2013 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. As a 31-year-old, Carson appeared in 20 games with the Indians, working to a .636/.692/.909 slash line with one home run, three RBI, five runs scored and three stolen bases over 13 plate appearances.
Carson's chances of breaking camp with the squad are slim at best. The California native will be fighting for the fifth spot in the Tribe's outfield, and will have to best significantly better players like Nyjer Morgan and Jeff Francoeur.
At various points throughout his career, Jeff Francoeur has been a productive member of a team's 25-man roster. In 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011, Francoeur provided the Braves in 2005 and 2007, the Mets in 2009 and the Royals in 2011 with solid contributions.
Unfortunately for Francoeur, the past two seasons have been anything but solid. In 229 games played, the 30-year-old managed a paltry .226/.272/.354 slash line, with season averages of 10 home runs, 18 doubles, 33 RBI and 39 runs scored.
The Indians signed Francoeur to a no-risk, high-reward minor league deal this offseason in the hopes that he'll bounce back and claim a spot as the team's fifth outfielder. In order to secure that spot, Francoeur will have to beat out Nyjer Morgan and Matt Carson during spring training.
Based on recent trends in his all-around game, the former first round pick will have his work cut out for him this spring.
Despite his young age, and just three seasons worth of minor league experience under his belt, Ramirez finds himself with a legitimate chance to make the club's 25-man roster out of spring training. Ramirez signed with the organization as an international free agent back in 2009, and has spent the past three seasons refining his game with the team's Low-A, Single-A and Double-A affiliates ever since.
Over 231 minor league games, Ramirez is the owner of a .307/.354/.404 triple slash, and averages of five home runs, 10 triples, 31 doubles, 60 RBI, 115 runs scored and 47 stolen bases per 162 games played. Because of these impressive minor league numbers, Ramirez was able to make the jump to the big leagues last season at just 20 years of age.
Ramirez doesn't walk much, so his on-base percentage will rely heavily upon his ability to log hits. Luckily for him, his versatility in the field—Ramirez can play second, short and third—keeps him alive as a possibility for the 25-man roster.
In all likelihood, Ramirez will be sent to Triple-A Columbus where he'll work on refining his approach at the plate, as well as his fielding ability. If he's unable to break camp with the team, don't be surprised to see Ramirez's name again when the list of September call-ups come around again in 2014.
David Adams is likely to be the one of the odd men out when the team makes its' final cuts, but he's worth a look nonetheless.
Adams, a 26-year-old Florida native, posted solid minor league numbers en route to a big league debut with the Yankees last season. While filling in for injured veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, Adams posted a .193/.252/.286 slash line with two home runs, a triple, five doubles, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored over 152 plate appearances.
Adams is a decent defender, as evidenced by his 11 plays made out of zone, his 11 UZR/150. Adams has the ability to play both corner infield positions as well as second base.
Adams will need an outstanding showing this spring if he's to make the Indians' 25-man roster, but his versatility in the field gives him a fighting chance.
Jason Giambi is set to enter this season at age 43. At this point in his career, making a big league roster is no guarantee. Last year, it was unclear as to whether or not Giambi would continue playing, and he even went as far as to interview with the Colorado Rockies for their vacant managerial job.
Though he and the Rockies ended up going in different directions, Giambi was able to continue his playing career as a member of the Indians' bench in 2013. The recently-turned 43-year-old appeared in 71 games, and logged 216 plate appearances with a .183/.282/.371 with nine home runs, eight doubles, 31 RBI and 21 runs scored.
It's unlikely that Giambi improves upon his 2013 season, but he brings vast postseason experience, and a clutch factor with him, two things that are difficult to replace.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News put it best in an Apr. 10, article about Giambi and his role with the Indians. Feinsand wrote that, "Giambi has emerged as the Indians’ very own Yoda, the wise old sage providing advice, encouragement and words of wisdom to his younger, much more inexperienced teammates."
In the same article, Giambi spoke on his role with the team and what it's meant for him as a player.
It’s the evolution of Jason Giambi. You start off wanting to become this player and I got a chance to become that player. Eventually you realize there are other aspects of the game that you can be important for a team.
The Indians are looking to take another step forward this season after a surprise appearance in the 2013 postseason. Although Giambi won't contribute much in the way of offensive production, you get a ton of postseason experience, and that's exactly what a young, inexperienced team like the Indians need.
After a surprise season in 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays made a curious decision when they parted ways with David Cooper. Cooper is entering his age-26 season and was the 17th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft.
At just 26 years old, it's curious that the Blue Jays would cut ties with Cooper after his showing in the 2013 season. The California native appeared in 45 games with the Jays last season, and logged 145 plate appearances with a .300/.324/.464 slash line, four home runs, 11 doubles, 11 RBI and 16 runs scored.
Cooper hasn't quite lived up to the potential assigned to him during that 2008 MLB Draft—you can view his full scouting report here—but he has shown flashes of it throughout his professional career.
Cooper has a tough task ahead of him as far as making the team goes. The Indians already have Nick Swisher set as the team's every day starter at first, and they could have a convoluted first-base situation if Carlos Santana doesn't make the transition to third base.
If Santana falters in his transition, then he'll have to settle for at-bats as a DH, and occasionally as a first baseman or a catcher. That would leave Cooper to battle with David Adams and Jason Giambi for the final corner infield spot.
The chances of beating out Giambi are slim given the vital role he played with the team last season. Additionally, his lack of defensive prowess makes him a prime candidate for DH work—even more so when you consider the caliber of players ahead of him on the depth chart.
It'll be a tough, though not impossible, task for Cooper to make the Indians' big league club out of spring training.
Tyler Cloyd is another of the five starting pitchers looking to make their case for inclusion in the starting rotation this spring.
Over parts of two big league seasons, Cloyd is the owner of a 5.98 ERA, a 1.59 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 6.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 11.2 H/9 and 1.4 HR/9. Cloyd pitched both of those seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, prior to being granted free agency this offseason.
Cloyd signed on with the Indians and will be given the opportunity to earn a spot in the team's starting rotation this spring. In order to get that spot, he'll have to beat out pitchers whom, quite frankly, already have a leg up on him in the competition.
Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco have potential that, arguably, warrants a closer look than any of the five pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the rotation. After those two, veterans Shaun Marcum and Josh Tomlin bring with them a significant level of experience—something Cloyd doesn't have.
It's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Cloyd starts the season with the big league club, but it's pretty tough.
Given his extensive MLB experience—at least in comparison to the rest of the pitchers vying for the final spot in the Indians rotation—Shaun Marcum seems to have the inside track at the No. 5 spot in the team's starting rotation.
Over his eight-year career, Marcum has made 188 appearances and 161 starts. Those two numbers work out to averages of 23.5 appearances per year, and 20.1 starts per year.
Both of those numbers are a testament to Marcum's extensive injury history. Back in 2008, Marcum's elbow required Tommy John surgery. In addition to that, just last season, Marcum was shut down as a result of his suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—for reference, other recent sufferers include Matt Adams, Matt Harrison and Chris Carpenter.
Marcum will have his own difficulties when it comes to making the roster. The 32-year-old is coming back from a significant injury, which saps off a pitcher's velocity. Marcum, who has never been a hard-thrower, has precious little velocity to lose.
According to Brooksbaseball.net, Marcum's cutter, four-seamer, changeup and curveball—his four most used pitches last season—clocked in at an average of 82.97, 85.28, 79.41 and 71.89 miles per hour.
Marcum is going to have to nibble, a lot. If he's leaving pitches out over the plate, he's going to get hit, and it's going to happen often. Luckily, Marcum has exhibited solid control over his career though, averaging just 2.7 BB/9 over those 161 starts.
The veteran righty will certainly have his work cut out for him, but his chances are quite good.
Josh Tomlin appeared in just one game with the Tribe last season, but his track record with the team, and also his experience, have earned him another shot at cracking the team's starting rotation.
Tomlin isn't the best option by any means, but he does a few things well.
First and foremost, Tomlin has impeccable command, and because of that, he's aggressive in the way he attacks opposing batters. Over his four-year career, Tomlin has thrown 66.4 percent of his pitches for strikes—significantly higher than the 63.3 percent league average for his career.
Because of this, Tomlin does an incredible job of limiting his walk totals. Over the course of his career, Tomlin has allowed just 1.7 BB/9, including the 2011 season, in which he allowed a league-low 1.1 BB/9.
As is true of most players with Tomlin's approach to pitching, strikeout and hit totals are a concern. Because of Tomlin's aggressive pitching tendencies, he tends to get hit hard, and often. Hitters put the ball in play at an above-average rate of 34.1 percent against Tomlin, and he's allowed a career line-drive rate of 22 percent—the league average for his career is 20 percent.
Tomlin will have to continue to limit his walk totals, and hope to keep hitters off balance with his four-pitch mix if he's going to beat out the other four pitchers looking to take the team's final rotational spot.
Entering his age-27 season, Carlos Carrasco may be experiencing his final opportunity to win a spot in the Indians' starting rotation.
Over a three-year stretch from 2007-2009, Carrasco—then a Philadelphia Phillies prospect—was ranked within Baseball-America's Top-100 Prospects list—41 pre-2007, 52 pre-2008 and 51 pre-2009. Since then however, Carrasco has failed to gain traction as a starter.
In 48 big league appearances—40 starts—since breaking in back in 2009, Carrasco owns a 5.29 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 6.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 10.6 H/9 and 1.2 HR/9.
Carrasco's stat line as a whole, is telling of a pitcher who may not be very well suited in a contending team's starting rotation. However, Carrasco could still make his mark as a reliever.
In eight relief appearances with the Indians last season, Carrasco worked to a 1.32 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 7.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 4.6 H/9 and 0.0 HR/9. Carrasco's impressive numbers as a reliever aren't limited to just the minor league level either. Over 10 relief appearances—19.1 innings—Carrasco allowed a 0.93 ERA and a 0.72 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 7.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.7 H/9 and 2.8 HR/9.
In short, Carrasco is going to audition for the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation. If Carrasco wows team scouts Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway, then he'll win the fifth spot. If not, he may find himself in the bullpen sooner rather than later.
Trevor Bauer is easily the most interesting player on this list. Amazingly, at 23 years old, Bauer has already fallen out of favor with one organization—formerly a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system—and is quickly losing stock within another.
Bauer was acquired prior to the 2013 season in a three-team deal with the Reds and Diamondbacks—the deal also brought outfielder Drew Stubbs (now with the Rockies) and reliever Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. Since then, Bauer has made 26 starts—four with the big league team—and the results have been uninspiring.
In those 26 starts, Bauer managed a 4.20 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP with per-nine averages of 7.5 K/9, 5.7 BB/9, 8.5 H/9 and 1.1 HR/9.
Bauer's incredible potential netted him the opportunity to make four starts with the Indians last season, and, overall, the California native was incredibly disappointing. In said four starts, Bauer allowed a 5.29 ERA, a 1.82 WHIP and per-nine averages of 5.8 K/9, 8.5 BB/9, 7.9 H/9 and 1.6 HR/9.
Despite an incredibly high walk total, and disappointing strikeout numbers given the swing-and-miss potential of his pitching arsenal, Bauer still has a good chance to make the rotation out of spring training.
The Indians need another starter—as it stands, they have four set in stone—and according to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, Bauer has impressed both Mickey Callaway and Terry Francona with his progress this offseason. If Bauer is able to translate that offseason progress into spring training success, then he could make some significant strides toward actualizing the potential that once had him ranked as Baseball America's No. 9 prospect.
Josh Outman, like nearly every other player on this list, signed a minor league deal with the Indians this offseason.
The 29-year-old has never been a particularly great reliever, but last season, as a member of the Rockies bullpen, Outman took some significant steps forward. Despite pitching in an incredibly pitcher-friendly ballpark, Outman was able to post a 4.33 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 8.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 9.3 H/9 and 0.5 HR/9.
While those numbers don't seem all that great, Outman did a great job of generating strikeouts while also putting forth a masterful effort, as far as limiting home runs is concerned. Even so, on the surface, it looks as though Outman had a mildly successful season.
However, over those 61 appearances outlined above, Outman managed a 3.25 FIP, a 3.62 xFIP and a 3.42 SIERA, while allowing an incredibly high .340 BAbip. Those metrics tell us that, although his numbers don't necessarily indicate it, Outman pitched very well, and was likely the victim of incredibly bad luck.
Moving to Progressive Field should be a welcome change for Outman after pitching in the cozy confines of Coors Field for the last two seasons.
Also working in Outman's favor is the fact that he's left-handed. In its' current form, the Indians bullpen contains just one left-hander—Marc Rzepczynski.
Barring a total meltdown in spring training, Outman has a solid chance to make the Indians bullpen.
Though he pitched poorly with the Indians last season, the team is in need of a second left-handed pitcher to help complete their bullpen.
Hagadone, an Idaho native, possesses a massive 6'5", 230-pound frame as well as a solid fastball-slider combo, capable of generating high strikeout totals. The only caveat is that Hagadone doesn't pitch well against right-handed batters.
For his career, Hagadone has allowed a .260/.374/.409 slash line against right-handed hitters, compared to a .183/.291/.296 slash line against left-handed hitters. That trend held true in 2013, when the 28-year-old allowed a .231/.359/.385 slash line against righties, and a .211/.328/.351 slash line against lefties.
Hagadone owns solid minor league numbers over 173 appearances with the team's various affiliates. However, those minor league numbers have yet to translate to the big league level.
Hagadone's only real competition comes in the form of Josh Outman, whom the Indians acquired in return for Drew Stubbs earlier this offseason. Hagadone spent the past three seasons as a member of the Indians bullpen, giving him the inside track at the job.
However, the likelihood is that he'll have to beat Outman for the job in spring training.
37-year-old Scott Atchison made his big league debut back in 2004, but has just seven big league seasons on his resume. Atchison spent the entire 2006 season with the Seattle Mariners Triple-A affiliate, and also played in the Nippon Professional Baseball League during the 2008 and 2009 seasons as a member of the Hanshin Tigers.
Most recently, Atchison served as a member of the Mets bullpen during the 2013 season. The Texas native made 50 appearances with the Mets, allowing a 4.37 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, with per-nine ratios of 5.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 8.9 H/9 and 0.8 HR/9.
Atchison suffered through a disappointing season with the Mets, and it appears as though his best days are behind him. On top of that though, Atchison is right-handed, and if the Indians have a surplus of anything, it's right-handed relief pitching.
As noted in the introduction, the Indians have two, or possibly three spots open for relievers in the upcoming season. Although Lee made eight appearances with the club last season, he will have to compete with Scott Atchison, Josh Outman, Nick Hagadone, David Aardsma and possibly even Josh Tomlin and/or Carlos Carrasco in order to get one of the final bullpen spots.
Most of Lee's 2013 season was spent with the Indians Triple-A affiliate, but he did appear in 10 games with the team's Single-A and Double-A affiliates as well. Over 29 minor league appearances, Lee put together a solid stat line including a 2.48 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 11.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.6 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9.
At the big league level, Lee had a mediocre showing in his debut season. Over his eight appearances, Lee logged 4.1 innings, allowing a 4.15 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 8.3 K/9, 6.2 BB/9 and 8.3 H/9.
Lee showed tremendous strikeout potential in the minors, averaging 11.0 K/9 over 263.1 innings pitched. If he's able to showcase that same swing-and-miss potential during spring training, Lee will have a good chance at breaking camp with the big league club.
David Aardsma is the most recent signing of the bunch, and, like most, comes in on a minor league deal.
Aardsma, a seven-year vet, has spent seasons with Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox, Mariners, Yankees and, most recently, the Mets. Aardsma was an above-average reliever in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but multiple injuries sidelined him for the entirety of the 2011 season.
Aardsma grabbed on with the Yankees during the 2012 season, but made just one appearance with the big league club. Last season, the 32-year-old worked through 43 appearances with the Mets, allowing a 4.31 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP, and per-nine ratios of 8.2 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 8.8 H/9 and 1.6 HR/9.
Aardsma has always dealt with high walk totals—career BB/9 of 5.0—but he's done a decent job of limiting the number of runners who actually come around to score. He'll have to continue that trend if he's going to beat out Scott Atchison, Chen-Chang Lee and possibly Shaun Marcum, Josh Tomlin or Carlos Carrasco for the final right-handed relief spot in the Indians bullpen.