Freeman, Arroyo vie to fill utility role

March 1st, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- was designated for assignment in December as the Indians made room for outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase to join the 40-man roster in the trade that sent Corey Kluber to the Rangers. Though he lost his roster spot, Freeman could find his way back into his utility role in 2020.

Freeman has talked with manager Terry Francona about the offseason maneuvers.

“My conversations with [Terry],” Freeman said, “he kind of expressed the same things as far as being frustrated how sometimes this game can go on the business side of it and how impersonal it can be, but I think they kind of expressed they didn’t want it to affect the way they felt about me. They didn’t want me to think that it changed their perception of how I could fit in and contribute to this team.”

The Tribe acquired in a trade with the Rays last July, but the infielder was dealing with forearm tendinitis that kept him from seeing game action in the Indians’ organization. Now that he’s back to full strength at Spring Training, he, Freeman and Yu Chang are competing to be the team’s utility guy in 2020.

“I think whoever it is has to be able to go to shortstop,” Francona said. “… Other than that, just how does it complement the rest of your team. If you just looked at who had the best spring, I don’t think you’re probably making the best decision on who’s going to help your team the most.”

With a 26-man roster this year, the Indians will have some decisions to make with how they choose to fill the additional opening. The team will either be able to carry an extra outfielder, someone like , or keep both Arroyo and Freeman instead of just one. And because Arroyo has a spot on the 40-man and Freeman doesn’t, Freeman said it can be easy for him to feel extra pressure to earn his way on the team.

“I feel a lot of confidence, a lot of relief, knowing that I have shown I can do it,” Freeman said. “… It’d be easy, I guess, to put pressure on myself to prove it again, but I feel like my game has kind of been the same throughout and my mentality has only gotten stronger.”

Freeman, 32, wasn’t able to break camp with the Indians last spring because of a knee injury, but he went on to hit .277 with a .752 OPS in 75 games after he was called up on April 15. The left-handed batter provides versatility, being able to play all four infield positions and the outfield and showed how successful he can do so in sporadic playing time last season.

The Indians still have much to learn about Arroyo, a 24-year-old right-handed batter who has hit the ball well so far this spring but has plenty to prove with his glove.

“We’ve seen him hit the ball out of the ballpark to right field,” Francona said. “He hit another one kind of to the base of the wall. It got caught. So we know he’s a strong kid with power. I think our biggest thing is to see where he is defensively. Can he move from second to short to third? He’s had about three years where he’s missed time being banged up, and he says he feels good. So we want to see if he has the ability to be versatile and move around and be reliable at those positions.”

At the beginning of camp, Francona said Arroyo would play mostly second and third with a little time at short, but Arroyo has said that he’s equally comfortable at all three of those positions.

“I don’t really have a preference,” Arroyo said. “I came up through the system as a shortstop, moved around. I played a lot of second early on in my career, and I played a lot of third toward the end. … But I’ve played all three so much that it’s like riding a bike.”

In the end, it seems hard to believe the Indians will choose to not carry Freeman with his versatility, plus last year’s success. Francona said it’s too early in the spring to know whether carrying two extra infielders would be his choice over having two additional outfielders, but Freeman likely will make a convincing case for the Tribe to once again clear a roster spot for him.

“I think I’m in a good spot,” Freeman said. “I think I’m going to help the team win games again this year. I feel really good about my position with the coaching staff and players, and I’m just excited to be healthy this spring and get to play more games.”