CLEVELAND -- After a long 3 1/2 months without baseball, the Indians have just two weeks before their 2020 season gets underway.
Three weeks of Summer Camp is a limited window for the coaching staff to piece together a 30-man roster. They certainly remember the impressions players made during Spring Training in February and March, but they can’t allow those performances to determine a roster four months later.
“The brutally honest answer is,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “I don’t know that you can get a great assessment or make a great evaluation or a fair evaluation in two weeks under the circumstances we’re playing. So when it comes time to select our team, we’re going to most likely have to tell a handful of guys that exact statement. Because it’s about impossible to be fair to everybody.
“So we will do it as respectfully as possible. One of my questions will be how do we do it and when? … Every time you think you answer something, there’s another question that appears.”
The Indians still have two weeks to figure out who they’ll carry, but what are some guarantees after the first week of camp?
Opening Day starter
Although Francona can be superstitious about discussing his Opening Day starter too early, just in case there’s an injury, all signs are leading toward Shane Bieber taking the mound on July 24. Before the COVID-19 pandemic put baseball on hold, Bieber was slated to be the original Opening Day starter on March 26, and the Indians have his pitching schedule lined up for him to be ready to face the Royals in two weeks.
The catching crew
With Roberto Pérez, the reigning American League Gold Glove Award winner, behind the plate, the Indians didn’t have to think too hard about their starting catcher. Sandy León will handle the backup duties and Beau Taylor likely will be the backstop who travels on the Tribe’s three-man taxi squad on road trips.
What still needs to be ironed out over the next two weeks?
The Indians have 10 outfielders on their 40-man roster, and all of them are competing for a spot on the 30-man for the start of the season. Oscar Mercado will earn one of the three starting spots, but the other two vacancies are far from filled. It’s likely that Domingo Santana and Franmil Reyes will compete for a corner, with whoever loses that battle getting penciled in as the designated hitter. Jordan Luplow has experienced soreness in his back during camp but is still in the running with Tyler Naquin for the other opening. However, the team still has Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, Greg Allen, Delino DeShields and Jake Bauers as options.
“There’s some wild cards that make it a little more difficult,” Francona said. “Like Bradley Zimmer, a guy that we absolutely love. We love his skill set. The kid hasn’t really basically played much in two years. Are you setting him up to fail if he swings the bat good for a week here or does it make our team better? Those are all the kind of questions that we’re going to have to kind of wrestle with as we make our decisions.”
We know Brad Hand will be the Indians’ closer and Nick Wittgren, Oliver Pérez and Adam Cimber will join him in the bullpen. That leaves James Karinchak, James Hoyt, Phil Maton, Hunter Wood, Anthony Gose, Cam Hill and Dominic Leone competing for the remaining spots. Starters Jefry Rodriguez and Logan Allen could also be used in relief.
With 30 roster spots for the first two weeks of the season and a shortened camp, the Indians could try to utilize a six-man rotation as starters are still building up their arms. We know Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco will be the top three hurlers in the rotation, leaving Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale to battle for the last two spots. Those three arms could make it easy to want to start with a six-man rotation, with one of them moving to the bullpen once the Tribe reduces to a regular five-man rotation.