Inbox: Who is Karinchak's competition?

February 12th, 2021

CLEVELAND – We’ve finally made it. It’s time for the final Indians Inbox of the offseason, as pitchers and catchers are set to have their first workout in Goodyear, Ariz., on Thursday. What final questions remain before camp gets underway? Let’s take a look:

Besides James Karinchak, who are closer candidates? Could they trade for one?
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We all know at this point that Karinchak is the clear favorite to take over for Brad Hand at the back end of the Tribe’s bullpen. The 25-year-old played in his first full big league season last year (although it was shortened by the pandemic) and recorded 53 strikeouts in 27 innings, which equates to a whopping 17.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio. When his command is on, his curveball is nearly untouchable, which makes it easy to envision him seamlessly sliding into the closing role.

However, Karinchak still runs into some issues with his command, especially with his fastball. He owned a 1.111 WHIP in 2020 with a 5.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio. So, what happens if he’d struggle during the season? The Indians would likely turn to Nick Wittgren, who’s been a reliable arm for them over the last two years. And depending on how the hard-throwing Emmanuel Clase performs after missing last season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, he could be a candidate at some point as well.

Will they trade for someone to be their closer? No. When they have someone like Karinchak, there’s no need to go searching for anyone else.

Do you think the trade for Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez has changed the Indians’ plans for Tyler Freeman at all? Also, what do you think about the bullpen arms? Any chance of Anthony Gose making the Opening Day roster since he’s a lefty? Chances of Bryan Shaw and Heath Hembree making the team?
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Alright, Pete, there’s a lot to unpack here.

Since we’re already talking about the bullpen, let’s start there. Gose is extremely intriguing. A lefty who can hit 100 mph on the radar gun is certainly something every team would love to have. However, the Indians need to see extreme improvement in his command before he gets the call to the big league level. Before the pandemic shut down Spring Training last year, the Indians noted that Gose was on the right path in showing progress in his control, but after missing a full season, he’ll probably need some more time to tune himself up in the Minors.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis is very familiar with Hembree from his time in Boston, and clearly, the Tribe is more than familiar with Shaw. The Indians usually have at least one non-roster invitee break camp with the team and both of these right-handers have a decent chance of being one of those players. But as we know, Spring Training will tell us more.

Finally, the plans for Freeman may have changed, though his path to the big leagues may have been altered before that trade actually happened. Because he missed a year of development without Minor League games in 2020, Freeman wasn’t able to continue his climb through the Tribe’s farm system.

Freeman has yet to make it to Double-A, but if he could’ve played in a normal season in 2020, he may have been able to set himself up nicely to be ready for the big leagues in 2021 after the Indians traded Francisco Lindor. Instead, the team had to acquire a Major League-ready shortstop (and ended up getting two) and will have to make some decisions moving forward, considering Giménez is only 22 years old.

Do you expect a trade of Amed Rosario before April 1 if Giménez is slotted to win the SS job?
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The best way to answer this is that the expectation would be not to trade Rosario, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it ended up happening now that the team has an abundance of middle infielders. But Rosario will probably be moved to the outfield if Giménez would win the job.

Which player between Bobby Bradley, Jake Bauers and Daniel Johnson has the inside track at either 1B or an OF spot (whichever position Josh Naylor isn’t occupying)? And who has the edge at the starting CF job between Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer going into Spring Training?
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The indication is that Naylor will factor more into the outfield than he will at first base, at least at the start of the season. That means the first base job will come down to Bradley and Bauers. Because the Indians want to see what they have in their prospects, I’d be inclined to lean toward Bradley for this answer, but it honestly could go either way.

For center field, Mercado would probably get the first chance to reclaim his starting role. But after his struggles during the 2020 season, the Indians will have to strongly consider trying Zimmer out there if Mercado doesn’t show much improvement.

Where will Nolan Jones open the 2021 season?
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Triple-A. This is obviously far from being official, but with the influx of outfield options the Tribe now has, plus José Ramírez is still manning the hot corner (and let’s not forget about service time), all signs seem to be pointing toward Jones opening the year in the Minors. But it’d be shocking if we didn’t see him in the Majors at some point in 2021.

Besides the beautiful views of Goodyear Ballpark, where is an area you look forward to using your camera for some stunning photos?
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I saved the hard-hitting question for last. Anywhere that I can get a great backdrop for a colorful sunset are always my favorite places to go. I’d say Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain and Estrella Mountain are two of my favorite scenic areas.