Projecting Cleveland Indians' Final 25-Man Roster at Start of Spring Training

Tyler DumaFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

Projecting Cleveland Indians' Final 25-Man Roster at Start of Spring Training

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Spring Training is well under way, and the Cleveland Indians are already getting a glimpse of what their 25-man roster will look like for the 2014 season.

    Most of the team's positions are pretty well locked down. The only question marks facing the team this spring include who its starting third baseman will be, who the everyday DH will be, who will occupy the last spot on the team's bench and who will occupy the team's final rotational and bullpen spots?

    Candidates to fill those positions include a large crop of familiar faces, as well as some relative newcomers and non-roster invitees.

    During the next 20-plus days, the team will whittle down its' options in hopes of crafting a roster capable of returning to the playoffs for the second straight season—a feat the franchise has not accomplished since the 1998 and '99 seasons.

    So, with just under a month separating us from the start of the 2014 season, we'll turn our focus to predicting this year's 25-man roster in Cleveland.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted. Steamer and ZiPS projections for 2014 courtesy of Fangraphs.com.

Catcher: Yan Gomes

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    For the first time in his two-year-career, Yan Gomes will break camp as a team's starting catcher. 

    The 26-year-old had a breakout season in 2013, working to a .294/.345/.481 slash line with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, 38 RBI and 45 runs scored. Extrapolated over a full season's worth of at-bats, Gomes' stat line would've looked something like this; .294/.345/.481, 22 home runs, 36 doubles, 76 RBI, 90 runs scored.

    Gomes struck out significantly more than he walked last season—20.8 percent K% and 5.6 percent BB%—but given his contact and line-drive rates from 2013—77 percent con% and 19 percent LD%—suggest that he won't experience too much regression.

    Despite an impressive showing at the plate, Gomes' best trait is still his defense. Over 85 games behind the plate, Gomes threw out an impressive 41 percent of would-be base stealers and was worth a solid 11 DRS.

First Base: Nick Swisher

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Nick Swisher returns as the team's starting first baseman for the second year in a row. 

    After signing a four-year, $56 million deal prior to the start of the 2013 season, Swisher returned the favor with his worst season since 2008. Over 634 plate appearances, Swisher put up a .246/.341/.423 slash line with 22 home runs, 27 doubles, 63 RBI and 74 runs scored.

    All of the numbers listed in that stat line represent decreases from his 2012 season and, in some cases, the drop-off was substantial. Swisher's triple-slash components dropped by 26 points, 23 points and 50 points, respectively, and his RBI total dropped off by a whopping 30 RBI.

    Swisher still had a productive season, logging a 2.4 fWAR over 145 games, but he was a significantly different player than the guy the Indians signed at an AAV of $14 million.

    Early projections for Swisher's 2014 season look eerily similar to his 2013 form, which could be bad news for the Indians as they hope to log back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the 1998 and '99 seasons.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    If Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in baseball, then Jason Kipnis may very well be No. 2. The 26-year-old had a breakout campaign in 2013, logging a .284/.366/.452 slash line with 17 home runs, 36 doubles, 84 RBI, 86 runs scored and 30 stolen bases. 

    Kipnis' offensive outburst ranked highly among big league second basemen. The former Arizona Sun Devil gathered an 11th place finish in AL MVP voting and ranked in the MLB's top five in a multitude of categories including on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+, fWAR, stolen bases, RBI and runs scored. 

    Kipnis isn't the best defender, minus-1 defensive runs saved and minus-6.3 UZR/150, but his bat makes him one of the league's premiere second baseman and a player to watch for the 2014 season.

Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Despite a horrendous showing in 2013, Lonnie Chisenhall should return as the team's starting third baseman for the 2014 season.

    Over 94 games played, the 25-year-old slashed a paltry .225/.270/.398 with 11 home runs, 17 doubles, 36 RBI and 30 runs scored. In the field, Chisenhall was slightly better, and was worth one DRS over 697 innings at third base.

    He will have some stiff competition this season in the form of Carlos Santana, but given his offensive potential—and also the fact that Santana has just recently transitioned back to third base—it's likely that Chisenhall will retain his hold over the starting job at third base.

    Early projections have Chisenhall making substantial offensive gains in 2014. Oliver and ZiPS have Chisenhall slashing .264/.316/.449 and .258/.307/.413, respectively, and the two have him pegged for an fWAR of 3.1 and 2.0 as well.

    If Chisenhall is able to approach either of the two slash lines and fWAR totals outlined above, he'll provide the team with a significant upgrade at the hot corner.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    After earning back-to-back All-Star nominations in 2011 and 2012, Asdrubal Cabrera fell off the proverbial cliff in 2013. Over 136 games played—562 plate appearances—Cabrera slashed .242/.299/.402 with 14 home runs, 35 doubles, 64 RBI, 66 runs scored and an fWAR of 0.6. 

    Even Cabrera's defense was suspect in 2013. In 1,099.2 innings at short last season, Cabrera was worth minus-4 DRS and logged a UZR/150 of minus-16.8. The 28-year-old was a near-Gold Glove Award caliber fielder in 2012, but his play in 2013 was hardly indicative of that outstanding defensive ability.

    With top prospect Francisco Lindor hot on his heels and a disappointing 2013 in the recent memory of fans, the front office and the coaching staff, Cabrera may be in his last season as a member of the Indians.

    With free agency on the horizon, look for Cabrera to bounce back to his pre-2013 form.

Left Field: Michael Brantley

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Though not quite as good as his 2012 season, Michael Brantley put forth a solid effort during the 2013 season. 

    In 151 games, Brantley slashed .284/.332/.396 with 10 home runs, 26 doubles, 73 RBI, 66 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Brantley set career highs in home runs, RBI and stolen bases, but his wRC+, fWAR and OPS+ decreased from their 2012 marks.

    Defensively, Brantley was outstanding. The 26-year-old logged an impressive 11 outfield assists, en route to a season worth 11 DRS and a RZR of .932.

    Brantley may not have any plus tools, but he's solid in all areas of the game and should provide the Indians with a solid presence both in the lineup and the outfield.

Center Field: Michael Bourn

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Like Swisher, Michael Bourn suffered through a down season after signing a four-year deal with the Tribe.

    In 130 games, Bourn logged a .263/.316/.360 triple slash with six home runs, six triples, 21 doubles, 50 RBI, 75 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. Bourn's games played and stolen base totals were his lowest since 2007, a season in which he appeared largely as a defensive replacement and pinch runner.

    Bourn's defense also suffered last season, as he managed a UZR/150 of -0.9 and was worth just three DRS—compared to his 2013 UZR/150 and DRS of 23.4 and 24, respectively.

    An early-season hamstring injury was the likely culprit in the 31-year-old's diminished baserunning and defensive abilities. With a full offseason to get healthy and strengthen his lower half, the Indians should see a significant increase in stolen bases with Bourn atop the lineup.

     

Right Field: David Murphy

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    David Murphy joins the Indians outfield as the unquestioned starter in right field. The 32-year-old signed a discounted two-year, $12 million deal with the Indians this offseason after a highly disappointing season in 2013.

    In 142 games played last season—476 plate appearances—Murphy managed a .220/.282/.374 slash line, with 13 home runs, 26 doubles, 45 RBI, 51 runs scored and just one stolen base. Murphy's RBI, stolen base, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage marks from 2013 represented the worst of any single full season in his career.

    Murphy's 2013 season was one of the worst of his career, but the veteran outfielder is expected to bounce back in 2014. ZiPS projections have Murphy projected for a stat line including a .257/.317/.403 slash line with 11 home runs, 24 doubles, 45 RBI, 46 runs scored and seven stolen bases, while Steamer projects Murphy to slash .263/.327/.411 with 12 home runs, 23 doubles, 52 RBI, 52 runs scored and six stolen bases.

    Murphy hasn't played a majority of his games in right field since the 2008 season, but the transition shouldn't be a difficult one given his range and above-average throwing arm.

Designated Hitter: Carlos Santana

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With no defined position, Carlos Santana will find himself as the team's DH for most of the 2014 season. The 27-year-old will get to play some innings at first base and third base, while also getting the occasional start behind the plate in relief of Gomes, but starting opportunities at these positions will be few and far between.

    Santana's bat keeps him in the lineup though, and his bat profiles at a plus trait no matter what position he ultimately transitions into.

    Over 154 games played last season—the second highest total of his career—Santana logged 642 plate appearances with a .268/.377/.455 slash line, 20 home runs, 39 doubles, 74 RBI and 75 runs scored. Santana's home run, RBI and runs scored totals clocked in slightly below their respective career averages, but he still managed to gather enough votes for a 15th place finish in AL MVP voting.

    Other options for the position include Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn, but Santana's bat has to stay in the lineup, so he wins this spot in a landslide.

Bench

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Players: Jason Giambi, Elliot Johnson, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles

     

    The Indians will return a bench that is largely similar to the 2013 version. Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles all made contributions to the Indians' playoff run last season, and are back for another season in 2014.

    Elliot Johnson, a soon-to-be 30-year-old super-utility infielder, will make the team out of camp over a crop of candidates including Jeff Francoeur, Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Moncrief and newcomer Justin Sellers—acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 3, 2014. Francoeur and Morgan will likely opt out of their minor league contracts, while Moncrief will return to the minor leagues as a prime candidate for a midseason call-up.

    Johnson, though not particularly skilled with the bat, provides the Indians with solid defense and the ability to lock down five different positions—second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field.

    As mentioned, Johnson isn't a very good hitter. Over 311 career games, the 29-year-old owns a .218/.273/.319 slash line with season averages of 77 games played, three home runs, six doubles, 17 RBI, 19 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.

    The Indians bench isn't particularly great, and Raburn is the only player who can be counted on for substantial offensive contributions in 2014. Giambi is good for the occasional pinch-hit homer, and Aviles represents a sufficient fall-back option for the team as a spot starter.

Starting Rotation

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Starters (in order): Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco

     

    Truthfully, I think Trevor Bauer may be the better option for the fifth spot in the rotation. However, since he is out of options, the team will likely give Carlos Carrasco every opportunity to win the final rotational spot.

    The soon-to-be 27-year-old has been radically inconsistent as a big league starter, allowing a 5.53 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in 40 career starts. Though it's a very small sample size—just 13.2 innings—Carrasco has been monumentally better as a reliever, working to a 1.32 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP in eight appearances out of the bullpen.

    Even so, with Bauer and Josh Tomlin as the only other legitimate options for the spot, the team will likely turn to Carrasco every fifth day for at least some portion of the 2014 season.

    The rest of the rotation is much more solid.

    Though he's been inconsistent over the last four seasons, Justin Masterson will return as the Indians No. 1 starter. Last year, in the same role, Masterson logged 193 innings and pitched to a 3.45 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP while averaging 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB and 7.3 H/9.

    Masterson should see a slight regression in his numbers as his BAbip trends back toward the mean, but he'll be a very effective starter nonetheless.

    Corey Kluber could be a fast riser this season, and he may very well outpitch Masterson. Last year, the 27-year-old amassed 147.1 innings pitched with an ERA of 3.85, a WHIP of 1.26 and season averages of 8.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 4.12 K/BB and 9.3 H/9.

    Danny Slazar will step in as the Indians' third-best starter this season after a breakout minor league campaign in 2013. The 24-year-old came out of nowhere last season and managed a 2.86 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over 30 starts between the Double-A, Triple-A and big league levels.

    Though he's a prime candidate for regression in 2014, Zach McAllister should be a very effective No. 4 starter. In 24 starts at the big league level—he made two in the minors—McAllister worked to a 3.75 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP with averages of 6.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.06 K/BB and 9.0 H/9.

    Overall, the rotation should be decent. The team will lean heavily on their top three starters, and could use a surprise contribution from Carrasco if they hope to return to the playoffs in 2014.

Bullpen

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Relievers: Josh Tomlin (long/middle reliever), Josh Outman (left-handed specialist/middle reliever), Marc Rzepczynski (left-handed specialist), Vinnie Pestano (middle reliever), Cody Allen (setup reliever), Bryan Shaw (setup reliever), John Axford (closer)

     

    Though slightly better than the team's bench, the Indians' bullpen leaves a bit to be desired. The unit is very similar to the unit that finished the 2013 season, with John Axford and Josh Outman being the only outside additions for the 2014 season.

    Axford steps in to replace former closer Chris Perez. Axford's fall from grace has been well chronicled to this point—4.35 ERA, 1.48 WHIP over 150 appearances between 2012 and 2013—but his time with the St. Louis Cardinals may very well indicate that he's a bounce-back candidate in 2014.

    Over 13 appearances with the team, Axford allowed a 1.74 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP with averages of 9.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.67 K/BB and 9.6 H/9. Per John Lott of the National Post, Axford also learned that he was tipping his pitches, and the advice he received from the Cardinals pitching coaches should serve him well in the coming season.

    Outman comes to the bullpen from Colorado as the return package for former Indians outfielder Drew Stubbs, and the 29-year-old should thrive as a left-handed specialist in Cleveland. Over 121 career appearances, Outman has been downright stingy against lefties allowing a .189/.251/.272 slash line while averaging a whopping 4.36 K/BB.

    Tomlin will join the bullpen as a long/middle relief option after losing out on the team's fifth rotational spot. The 29-year-old has functioned primarily as a starter for much of his MLB career—only six relief appearances in four seasons—but he could provide the Indians with quality innings.

    The move to keep Tomlin in a long-relief role would also serve him well, keeping him fresh in case the team goes looking for a fifth starter to replace Carrasco or an injured starter.

    The rest of the bullpen represents a large portion of the team's bullpen from the 2013 season. Last year, the team's bullpen ranked solidly in the middle of the AL in a multitude of categories including ERA, BAA and OBPa, while the unit's SLGa and SV% landed them in the league's bottom-half.

    This year's unit looks to be slightly better, but a lot will hinge on the performances of shaky contributors like Axford and Vinnie Pestano.

Projected 25-Man Roster

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup:

    1. CF Michael Bourn (L)
    2. 1B Nick Swisher (S)
    3. 2B Jason Kipnis (L)
    4. DH Carlos Santana (S)
    5. LF Michael Brantley (L)
    6. SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
    7. RF David Murphy (L)
    8. C Yan Gomes (R)
    9. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)

     

    Projected Bench:

    • INF Mike Aviles (R)
    • DH/1B Jason Giambi (L)
    • UTIL Elliot Johnson (S)
    • OF Ryan Raburn (R)

     

    Projected Starting Rotation:

    1. RHP Justin Masterson
    2. RHP Corey Kluber
    3. RHP Danny Salazar
    4. RHP Zach McAllister
    5. RHP Carlos Carrasco

     

    Projected Bullpen:

    • RHP John Axford (Closer)
    • RHP Cody Allen (Setup Reliever)
    • RHP Bryan Shaw (Setup Reliever)
    • RHP Vinnie Pestano (Middle/Setup Reliever)
    • LHP Marc Rzepczynski (Left-Handed Specialist)
    • LHP Josh Outman (Middle Relief/Left-Handed Specialist)
    • RHP Josh Tomlin (Long/Middle Reliever)

     

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