GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first week of full-squad workouts consists of a lot of batting practice, plenty of bullpens, some infield work and, for the Indians, many introductions.
The Tribe’s roster is full of new faces heading into the 2019 season and Indians manager Terry Francona and his staff are ready to evaluate their new talent over the next four weeks in Arizona.
What’s the goal?
The Indians lost a handful of names to free agency and traded players like Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes and Yonder Alonso to cut down their payroll. But it’s clear the team is not in a rebuilding phase, considering it held on to star pitchers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, who both piqued the interest of other teams. With one of the best projected starting rotations in the game and All-Stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez returning for 2019, the Indians’ goal is to return to the postseason by winning the American League Central.
What’s the plan?
The Tribe will, once again, be relying on its starting pitchers for success this season. Behind Kluber, Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, the Tribe appears to be in a great position for the first six or seven innings of the game. Who bridges the gap between the starter and Brad Hand at the end of the game is yet to be determined, but non-roster invitees Alex Wilson and Tyler Clippard bring the Indians some experienced options with very little risk.
The Indians will need some of their position players to step up in order to fill the holes that were left in the roster after the 2018 season. The team brought Carlos Santana back to Cleveland and acquired Jake Bauers from the Rays, both of whom could provide some power in the middle of the lineup. Roberto Perez will be called upon to replace Gomes and Leonys Martin will need to lead his young outfield crew, but the club believes it’s in a good position to find success again in 2019.
What could go wrong?
It’s been the Indians’ plan all along to cut their 2019 budget and obtain younger talent for their roster. But the problem that comes with younger talent is inexperience. Two of the top contenders for the corner-outfield positions are Jordan Luplow (64 Major League games) and Greg Allen (116 games). If Martin and Tyler Naquin start in center and right, respectively, left field will likely go to either of the two. Bauers is also an option for left, but he’s only played 20 of his 96 big league games in the outfield. That same inexperience -- for Luplow, Allen, Bauers and the rest of the young squad – carries over to the offensive side of the game as well.
Another big question mark is the Tribe’s bullpen. After landing Wilson and Clippard on Minor League deals, the bullpen has much more depth than it had just a few weeks ago. However, losing guys like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen is not simple to bounce back from. There is so much that is unknown regarding the team’s relievers, which makes it hard to predict whether it will be reliable enough to carry the club to its fourth-consecutive postseason.
Who might surprise?
Although it’s less a surprise when many are expecting it to happen, Bieber is one who could have a breakout season this upcoming season. After getting some experience under his belt in 2018 and working on his changeup all offseason, Bieber could take an already strong rotation and make it dominant.
Jason Kipnis and Bauers will be two others to keep an eye on. Francona has said multiple times this spring that Kipnis has something to prove for this upcoming year after experiencing one of his worst seasons as the plate in 2018. And Bauers showed enough power potential last year with the Rays that he could become one of the big bats in the Tribe’s lineup this season.