Francona sets goals for glut of outfielders

February 16th, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona gave the same general message to all 10 outfielders on his 40-man roster in their one-on-one meetings on Sunday: “Look at the board. It’s a crowded board.”

Francona met with each player ahead of Monday’s first full-squad workout to discuss what Cleveland's plan is over the next five weeks. Here’s a look at his messages to his outfielders and what role they could play if they make the 26-man roster.

The natural first baseman played the majority of last season in the outfield for the Indians, and Francona made sure to check that he’s not putting him in an unfair position. Bauers asked for more reps in the outfield this spring than time at first, which Francona said he appreciated.

The two met at the end of the regular season, expressing what they thought Bauers needed to do to bounce back from a shaky year in which he hit .226 with a .683 OPS. Bauers' outfield/infield versatility could play to his benefit by allowing him to take a bench spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’ll certainly have to show more consistency at the plate to earn it.

“I give the kid credit,” Francona said. “He took it to heart, what we said. … Sometimes when guys struggle a little bit, I think people forget that this guy actually might be a pretty good player. We don’t forget that.”

Francona told Allen to be ready to play all three positions to make sure Cleveland tests everything before making any decisions. Though Allen has served as the team’s fourth outfielder before, the acquisition of Delino DeShields might make it more difficult for him to break his way onto the roster.

Injuries have caused Zimmer to miss the majority of the 2018 and ’19 seasons. Because of that, the team may need to see him get a few more at-bats in the Minors before calling him up to the big leagues.

“We said, ‘Hey, we’ll be honest with you where we think you fit in or what we think you need to do,’” Francona said. “And he understands that. We’re not trying to get in his way of being a good player, but we also want to be honest about things we see.”

Francona said Zimmer will spend most of Spring Training in center field and see a little time in right.

Reyes lost 18 pounds over the winter to make sure he was more agile in the outfield in '20, considering that the Indians want him to be more than just a designated hitter. But the guy who has played all 161 games in the field in right is about to have to expand his horizons. Francona informed Reyes that the Indians would also like to see him in left field this spring.

This signing could mean that the Indians are expecting Reyes to play in the outfield quite often. Santana’s lack of defense may make him a better candidate to be the DH, but if Reyes doesn’t work out in the field, Santana will have to prove he can play defense to stay in the lineup. As with Reyes, Francona informed Santana that he’ll also play left field even though he’s more comfortable in right.

At the beginning of the offseason, Johnson was in a good spot to break camp with the Indians in '20. Now that the outfield has become more crowded, it might be harder for him to do so right away. The 24-year-old has played all three outfield spots in his Minor League career and is expected to showcase himself at each one during camp. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, Johnson could be an early callup for the Tribe, especially if his bat stays as hot as it did at Triple-A Columbus last season.

Along with Oscar Mercado, Luplow appears to be a shoo-in to make the 26-man roster and can play either corner spot, but Luplow will have more to prove offensively than defensively this spring to earn an everyday job. Luplow crushed left-handed pitching for the Tribe last year, but to break out of that platoon role, he’ll need to show improvement against right-handers.

Naquin will certainly be thrown into the mix as soon as he’s cleared to get back into Major League game activity after suffering an ACL tear last August. He’s not expected to be given the green light for Opening Day, but because he has been flying through his rehab process, it wouldn’t be surprising if he takes his spot on the 26-man roster shortly after the season gets underway.

DeShields, who played 385 games in center field and 121 in left for the Rangers, said he’d prefer to remain in center but is willing to play any position. He and Mercado will both get reps in all three spots to see who is the best fit in center, but DeShields will have to prove more with his bat during Spring Training to prove why he needs to be more than a depth piece on the bench.

The team knows that Mercado will be in one of the three spots, but it will shift him around to see which combination of three outfielders is the best recipe for success. His versatility will likely mean he could be seen anywhere on the grass during camp.