Notes: Bauers wins 1B battle; roster updates

Gamel earns Opening Day spot over Zimmer; five-man rotation still in question

March 26th, 2021

It was a tight battle between Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley at first base all spring, but it was Bauers who prevailed.

Prior to Friday’s 5-4 win over the Rockies, Indians manager Terry Francona met with nine players to inform them whether they made the Opening Day roster, and Bauers was one of the few who received good news. But with that came a difficult conversation with Bradley, letting him know that he’ll start the year with Triple-A Columbus.

Because Bauers was out of Minor League options, it seemed as though he held a steady lead in the race throughout camp. The Tribe acquired Bauers from the Rays prior to the 2019 season, but after he struggled at the plate all year long, Bauers spent the entirety of '20 at the alternate training site. Because he’s only 25 years old, the Indians aren’t ready to give up on him just yet.

“I think the biggest thing is if Jake doesn't make the club, it's irreversible,” Francona said. “Bobby came in and did a really good job, and we wanted to be careful that we didn't just say, 'Hey Bobby, go work on this, go work on that,' because he did his share. We just felt like the reversible and irreversible decisions, Jake's done enough, we need to see him play.”

Bradley did everything he could this spring, hitting .303 with a .951 OPS, two homers, five doubles and a team-leading 11 RBIs in 13 Cactus League games. He transformed his body over the offseason, dropping 35 pounds, to help him be more versatile in the field, while also maintaining his power at the plate. But he’ll have to wait a little longer for his shot at becoming the Tribe’s everyday first baseman.

“He took it like a pro,” Francona said. “We've talked about the maturation process with his body and in his baseball play, but we saw it also when he got some news he didn't want to hear. And we appreciate that. … This isn't the last we've seen of Bobby.”

Indians take Gamel over Zimmer
Another position battle ended on Friday, when the Indians told Bradley Zimmer that he wasn’t making the Opening Day roster, making room for Ben Gamel to earn a spot.

“We wanted Zim to have a chance to be more consistent,” Francona said, “and we think April can be a pretty cruel month in Ohio, and we want to give him the best chance to succeed. And for that, we think we need to send him to the alternate site.”

Zimmer’s big league journey hasn’t been the easiest. He showed a lot of potential in his rookie season in 2017, but he’s been plagued with injuries ever since. As he’s been trying to prove over the past year that those injuries haven’t taken away from his abilities, he’s shown some inconsistencies both with his bat and on the bases that were still a little concerning.

“You want to be honest, but you don’t want to beat guys over the head, because that doesn’t help,” Francona said. “But I think we all know that if Zim can reach his potential, there’s a really good center fielder in there.”

Gamel has had a solid camp, both offensively and defensively. The Indians liked the fact that he’s capable of playing all three outfield positions, and he’ll certainly get plenty of time in center field now that Oscar Mercado and Zimmer will start the year in the Minors.

“You can put [Gamel] anywhere in the outfield and he’s going to be really reliable,” Francona said. “He controls the strike zone. He’s had really good at-bats this spring. He was put through a lot of tests. He played B games. We put him in left. We put him in right. And he sort of seemed to lean into everything. … He’ll compete like crazy. He won’t back down from anything.”

Eventually, the Tribe will start to mix in Amed Rosario in center field, but the natural shortstop will need some time to get adjusted to his new position.

“The plan is to put him out there,” Francona said. “Whether it’s Opening Day -- I don’t know, I have to work through that a little bit. I want to try to put him in the best position to succeed.”

Rest of the roster moves
Infielder Yu Chang and lefty reliever Oliver Pérez were also informed they made the Opening Day roster. Francona said he isn’t sure how many at-bats Chang will get this year, considering he’ll be backing up an infield that consists of players who rarely take a day off. But because he’s started to get some more work at first base (and the Tribe is pleased with the transition thus far), Chang may be able to get some more opportunities.

The Indians have become quite familiar with Pérez’s work and have loved having him in their bullpen. After he proved that the three-batter minimum rule didn’t impact him too much in 2020, the team was confident to carry the 39-year-old on the roster again in '21. Plus, his leadership will be an added bonus to a young pitching staff.

Cleveland's only remaining decisions come down to naming its five-man rotation. The rest of the roster has been determined after Francona told relievers Blake Parker, Kyle Nelson and Anthony Gose that they did not make the team. Francona was pleased with what he saw from his hurlers and is optimistic that they could make an impact at the big league level at some point this season, including Gose.

“When guys get down to this point of camp, you can believe that there was a lot of talk about them making the club out of Spring Training,” Francona said. “So that would be a big yes to Anthony [helping us down the road]. We think his future is very bright.”