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Merritt has work to do to crack talented staff

Lefty out of options, faces an uphill climb in earning a roster spot
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ryan Merritt does not need to dissect the Indians' depth chart to understand the uphill battle he is facing this spring. The lefty only needs to look around the room.

Across the clubhouse from Merritt's locker is the stall belonging to ace Corey Kluber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, and those of Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Along the adjacent wall are veteran Josh Tomlin, the hard-throwing Danny Salazar and up-and-comer Mike Clevinger. Merritt is trying to make a reservation at a table that has been booked months in advance.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ryan Merritt does not need to dissect the Indians' depth chart to understand the uphill battle he is facing this spring. The lefty only needs to look around the room.

Across the clubhouse from Merritt's locker is the stall belonging to ace Corey Kluber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, and those of Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Along the adjacent wall are veteran Josh Tomlin, the hard-throwing Danny Salazar and up-and-comer Mike Clevinger. Merritt is trying to make a reservation at a table that has been booked months in advance.

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"I'm really not going to get caught up in what's going to happen a month from now," Merritt said. "I can control today. And, when I show up tomorrow, I can control what I do that day."

The wrinkle in Merritt's situation is the fact that he is out of Minor League options. So, not only is there no room in the rotation at the moment, but Cleveland is unable to send Merritt to Triple-A Columbus without first exposing him to waivers. That would put the lefty up for grabs to other teams who might see a fit for him on their pitching staff. Losing Merritt would rob Cleveland of a valuable depth arm.

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So, the Indians will have a decision to make as Spring Training progresses.

Cleveland will keep stretching Merritt out as a starter so he can keep his next-man-up status in the event of any rotation setbacks. Already, Salazar is playing catch-up due to a right shoulder issue. At the end of camp, if the Tribe's rotation is healthy and intact, the Indians could consider stashing Merritt in their bullpen. As it stands, there is currently one vacancy in the relief corps.

The catch there is that manager Francona typically likes to have a reliever with options on the staff to help with in-season roster maneuvering.

"I don't think it's going to come down to how he's throwing the ball," Francona said. "I think it'll be more of how we're situated. Keeping the other starter, knowing that we're a little bit thin in starting after our guys is important. Do we think it's realistic that we can keep him? Things like that, we'll have to take into consideration."

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More than anyone inside Cleveland's locker room, Merritt knows how swiftly things can change.

Two years ago, Merritt appeared in four games down the stretch for the Indians, but then he retreated to Arizona while the team played on into October. Cleveland was already short Carrasco and Salazar due to injuries in those playoffs, and then Bauer sustained his famous drone-related laceration on his pitching hand. Just like that, Francona and the front office were scrambling for a solution.

Instead of mapping out his offseason, Merritt was flown to Toronto, where he was walked into a packed news conference, and was introduced as the Game 5 starter for the Indians in the AL Championship Series. The wide-eyed rookie was more nervous in front of the media than he was when he took the mound, though. Inside a raucous Rogers Centre, Merritt pitched brilliantly, helping beat the Blue Jays to punch the Tribe's ticket to the World Series.

"After you experience something like that," he said, "'you know that anything can happen at any point."

So, Merritt will continue to get in his daily work, logging bullpen sessions and quietly turning in clean innings like the one he did against the Reds in Friday's Cactus League opener. The lefty hopes to stay with Cleveland, but also knows that another team might be intrigued by the 1.71 ERA he has fashioned in 31 2/3 career innings in the big leagues.

"I just need to go out there, be myself, compete, try to get better, keep trying to impress," Merritt said. "And then, at the end of the day, if I'm in the bullpen, a starter, or with another team, whatever it is, I'm trying to help my team win. ... I've built so many great memories, so many great friends, here. To stay here with the Indians would mean so much to me."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Ryan Merritt

Yandy to focus on playing third exclusively

Young slugger has MLB-ready bat, but position changes affected him at plate last year
MLB.com @MLBastian

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Yandy Diaz bounced between third base and the outfield during Spring Training last year, and was deemed an unfinished product defensively. His performance in the batter's box is what forced the Indians' hand, leading to a spot on the Opening Day roster.

This spring, Indians manager Terry Francona wants to avoid moving Diaz around. During Saturday's 11-2 win over the D-backs, Diaz got the start at third base, and that is the position he will focus on in Cactus League play. Diaz is blocked by All-Star Jose Ramirez at the hot corner right now, but Francona wants to do what he feels is right for the player's future.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Yandy Diaz bounced between third base and the outfield during Spring Training last year, and was deemed an unfinished product defensively. His performance in the batter's box is what forced the Indians' hand, leading to a spot on the Opening Day roster.

This spring, Indians manager Terry Francona wants to avoid moving Diaz around. During Saturday's 11-2 win over the D-backs, Diaz got the start at third base, and that is the position he will focus on in Cactus League play. Diaz is blocked by All-Star Jose Ramirez at the hot corner right now, but Francona wants to do what he feels is right for the player's future.

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"When the guy shows the ability with the bat that he did," Francona said, "he was kind of the obvious candidate to kind of move around a little bit, because we thought he could help us. I do think it was hard on his development. He was trying to master one position, let alone two or three. So, I do think it'll help."

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Francona also noted that Diaz is also only recently recovered from a sports hernia that he sustained during winter ball.

"We just felt like, 'Let's simplify it a little bit,'" Francona said of the plan for Diaz.

Last spring, Diaz hit .458 (22-for-48) with 34 total bases and a 1.252 OPS in 20 Cactus League games for the Tribe. In 49 games for Cleveland in '17, Diaz was inconsistent. He turned in a .263/.352/.327 slash line in 156 at-bats. He started 37 games at third, three in left field and served as the designated hitter five times. Francona felt Diaz held his own at third.

"He had a game or two in the outfield that was a little rough," Francona said. "But, I thought he played like an average Major League third baseman, which is plenty good."

Worth noting

• Francona enjoys having players whose success stories give examples for other players. One case is left-hander Tyler Olson, who went to Triple-A Columbus after a solid showing last spring, and appeared blocked by veterans Andrew Miller and Boone Logan. By the second half, an injury to Logan opened the door for Olson, who turned in a 0.00 ERA in 30 appearances for Cleveland.

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"He had a really good spring last year," Francona said. "That's what we tell them: 'Do the best you can. Embrace being a part of what we're doing. Compete. And, it might not be on your timetable, but if you can really help, you'll get your chance.' And he's the perfect example."

Tyler Naquin is a center fielder by trade, but Bradley Zimmer is primed to open this season at that spot for the Tribe. Under the circumstances, and with outfield jobs up for grabs, Francona plans on giving Naquin time at all three outfield spots this spring. Naquin started in left field in Saturday's game against the D-backs and hit a two-run home run.

"We're going to put him at all three," Francona said. "You'd just hate for a guy to come down to the end and us have to make a decision based on, 'Oh man, we didn't play him there.' That would be bad, in my opinion."

• Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was dealing with lower-back tightness in recent days, hit during live batting practice on Saturday. Francona indicated that, barring any setbacks, Kipnis will make his Spring Training debut on Sunday against the Reds.

• Francona said there is nothing new regarding right-hander Danny Salazar, who is working his way back from right shoulder inflammation. Salazar continues to work through the flat-ground portion of his throwing program, building up to long toss.

Up next
Right-hander Trevor Bauer is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Sunday, when the Indians take on the Reds in a 3:05 p.m. ET tilt at Goodyear Ballpark. Homer Bailey is slated to start for Cincinnati. Cleveland will tentatively have Francisco Lindor, Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso in the lineup. The game will be available on MLB.TV.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Yandy Diaz

Alonso homers in first at-bat for Indians

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It only took Yonder Alonso one pitch to show why the Indians added him over the offseason.

In the second inning of Friday's 6-4 loss to the Reds, during his first at-bat as a member of the Tribe, Alonso crushed the first pitch he saw from Cincinnati starter Sal Romano to deep right field. The ball carried over the fence, sailed above the right-field seats and then clanked off a tin rooftop at Goodyear Ballpark.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It only took Yonder Alonso one pitch to show why the Indians added him over the offseason.

In the second inning of Friday's 6-4 loss to the Reds, during his first at-bat as a member of the Tribe, Alonso crushed the first pitch he saw from Cincinnati starter Sal Romano to deep right field. The ball carried over the fence, sailed above the right-field seats and then clanked off a tin rooftop at Goodyear Ballpark.

"He didn't mess around," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He didn't wait around. First pitch. That was a pretty swing."

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After Carlos Santana left via free agency and signed a lucrative contract with the Phillies over the winter, Cleveland targeted Alonso and reeled him in with a two-year, $16 million pact. That deal comes in the wake of a career year for Alonso, who remade himself as a hitter and belted a career-high 28 homers in 2017 between stints with the A's and Mariners. He never had more than nine homers in a season prior to that breakout showing.

Alonso, who will turn 31 on April 8, said he has been impressed with the atmosphere around Cleveland's camp this spring.

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"I think it's great," Alonso said. "Guys are here early. They're getting their work done. Guys are having fun competing and, when it's time to go, it's time to go, and we take it in all seriousness. But, we understand that it's a long Spring Training and we want to make sure that we're out here having fun and doing all the things we need to do to be ready for Opening Day."

With that in mind, Alonso downplayed his first-pitch home run in his Indians debut.

"It felt good to go out there and just be with the guys and get on a roll," he said.

And what did Alonso's teammates think of his homer?

"[They said], 'Well, that's a good way to get things going,'" Alonso said.

Worth noting

• For Friday's opener, both Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr. were in the starting outfield. Davis got the nod in center and Upton started in right field. This spring, the veterans are in camp as non-roster invitees, but are competing for a spot on Cleveland's Opening Day roster.

"You're going to see those guys play more early than the guys who know they're going to play," Francona said of the players in competition for reserve roles. "We want them to play enough where they can [get their timing], so we can get the best read we can. Even saying that, Spring Training is hard. You look for bat speed. You look for where they fit on your ballclub, certainly track record has something to do with it. And you make the best decision you can, because if you just went exclusively on Spring Training, you'd make mistakes.

• Right-hander Mike Clevinger got the start for the Tribe on Friday and retired the only three batters he faced in the first inning. The pitcher said he wanted to throw more pitches in the bullpen after his outing, but was sent back to the team's complex to complete the remainder of his workout.

"Yeah, he's kind of huffing and puffing out there," Francona quipped. "But, I thought he stayed in his delivery really well. He's pretty amped up, as he always is, but I thought he stayed in his delivery good."

• The Indians joined the rest of MLB teams in wearing the hats of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for Friday's game. The hats will be signed and auctioned off to raise money for a victims fund in the wake of the tragic recent shooting at the Florida school.

Video: Baseball pays tribute to Stoneman Douglas victims

"The hat isn't going to do the changing," Clevinger said. "But, if it's going to bring awareness to the issue, that's what we're striving to do. At the same time, there's a lot of self-destruction going on when events happen like this, instead of coming together and trying to find a reason to prevent this or find a reasonable cause to better the situation."

Up next

The Indians will head to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale on Saturday for a 3:10 p.m. ET Cactus League clash with the D-backs that will air on Gameday Audio. Outfielders Bradley Zimmer, Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin are slated to be in the lineup, along with catcher Roberto Perez, third baseman Yandy Diaz and first-base prospect Bobby Bradley. Lefty Shawn Morimando is scheduled to start, while Nick Goody and Tyler Olson are among the relievers penciled in to pitch.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Yonder Alonso

Ramirez a beacon for youngsters in hometown

Indians All-Star infielder happy to set example in Dominican Republic
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is usually a pack of children trailing behind Jose Ramirez when he returns to his hometown of Bani in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. While Ramirez walks the roads he grew up on, and neighbors call out his name, the kids trace his every step.

Ramirez loves giving the young Bani boys someone they can look to as a role model. He was one of those kids. He was told he was too small to play baseball, even as he held his own in games with older players. Ramirez knew the drive he had internally, and now he is walking proof that even the perceived runt of the litter can become an alpha dog.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is usually a pack of children trailing behind Jose Ramirez when he returns to his hometown of Bani in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. While Ramirez walks the roads he grew up on, and neighbors call out his name, the kids trace his every step.

Ramirez loves giving the young Bani boys someone they can look to as a role model. He was one of those kids. He was told he was too small to play baseball, even as he held his own in games with older players. Ramirez knew the drive he had internally, and now he is walking proof that even the perceived runt of the litter can become an alpha dog.

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"It's a great example for them," Ramirez said on Friday morning through a translator. "I played on that exact same field, and those kids' coaches can say, 'Look, there's Jose Ramirez. He used to play here.' So, it's a great example for those little kids."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Ramirez was asked if the kids try to mimic his signature strut.

He cracked a smile.

"Yeah, a lot of them have their flow," he said.

Ramirez enjoyed a breakout season two years ago, but the switch-hitting infielder took the league by storm last season for the Indians. He started for the American League at third base in the All-Star Game -- the first Cleveland starter via fan voting since 2001 -- and churned out 56 doubles and 91 extra-base hits when the smoke cleared on his season.

In 152 games for the AL Central-champion Tribe last summer, Ramirez hit .318 with 29 homers, 83 RBIs, 107 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Among Cleveland fans, he is known for his unrelenting motor and his mad dashes that turn singles into doubles, and leave his helmet bouncing several feet behind him.

For his work last year, Ramirez finished third in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger trophy.

"I got a Silver Slugger?" quipped Ramirez, pretending not to remember.

Ramirez said he has turned the page on 2017.

He might say it no longer matters to him, but it sure matters to the kids in his hometown.

"Whenever they see me," he said, "they go crazy."

Tweet from @corte4: Jos�� Ram��rez: Una estrella de Ban�� que brilla con luz propia en @LasMayores. Lee la historia completa en #Corte4: https://t.co/zw5cZDmVhg #NoHayDescanso #MLB 🙏🇩 @MrLapara pic.twitter.com/czSDBqGJjq

Ramirez went from playing Vitilla -- a game in which sticks are used to swing at water jug caps -- in the D.R. as a kid to starring on the biggest stages that the Majors have to offer. His doubters are long gone.

"It's pretty cool," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I'm sure for Jose, it's probably a little, 'Pinch me,' a little bit at times. He knows where he belongs, as far as players go."

Video: Doubles leader Ramirez powers potent Indians lineup

When he was not visiting his grandmother, or heading to the elegant home he helped purchase for his mom, Ramirez was working out at Luis Maria Herrera Stadium in Bani. Kids would gather the baseballs he sent flying into the trees beyond the faded green walls, or watch from the cement bleacher seats as he pounded a bat into an oversized tire. He would also head south of town to run on a beach along the D.R.'s southern coast.

He did not alter his training based on the uncertainty surrounding his place on the field with the Indians. As things currently stand, Ramirez will return to third base, even though he finished last season at second while Jason Kipnis was out with injury. Asked where he prefers to play, Ramirez joked that he will put on catching gear if that is what Francona asks of him.

"I just want to keep playing," he said, "and keep doing the hard work and giving my very best."

And giving his young fans back home an example of how that hard work can pay off.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

MLB, Cleveland Indians, Jose Ramirez

Mejia among Indians' dark-horse candidates

Merritt, Naquin, Upton Jr. also seeking OD roster spots
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every spring, there are players with lockers in the crowded clubhouses who are off the public radar. The cameras focus on the stars, core pieces and veterans, while other players quietly get in their daily work away from the Spring Training spotlight.

And then, some of those players prove critical to the season that follows.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every spring, there are players with lockers in the crowded clubhouses who are off the public radar. The cameras focus on the stars, core pieces and veterans, while other players quietly get in their daily work away from the Spring Training spotlight.

And then, some of those players prove critical to the season that follows.

Indians Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"There's always going to be that somebody," Indians reliever Dan Otero said. "Good teams need those guys to step up. And we have such a good core group that those complementary players don't need to do above and beyond. They just need to play to their capabilities."

On Friday, the Tribe will begin its Cactus League slate at 3:05 p.m. ET against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on MLB.TV. When starter Mike Clevinger takes the mound, the right-hander will set the 2018 season in motion, renewing the Indians' quest for another American League Central title with hopes of capturing a World Series championship.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That journey begins with the construction of the Opening Day roster. In camp, the Indians will need to sort out the back of the rotation, the final spot in the bullpen, the makeup of the bench and how the outfield will be aligned. With that in mind, here is a look at four dark-horse candidates for roster spots this spring:

LHP Ryan Merritt: Merritt is a cult hero among Indians fans, who remember him coming out of nowhere to help pitch the club into the 2016 World Series during the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays. In nine Major League games over the past two seasons, all Merritt has done is spin a 1.71 ERA, too.

The problem is the rotation is talented and deep, and it looks like there is no room in the inn for Merritt. The Indians will still stretch him out accordingly this spring as an insurance plan for the starting staff, but he is out of Minor League options. That could put Merritt in the mix for the lone bullpen vacancy.

C Francisco Mejia: He is ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect and the best catching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. So, why was Mejia playing third base during the Arizona Fall League? Well, the Indians have two veteran catchers in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, who are plus defenders, pitch framers and have established a great rapport with one of the game's elite pitching staffs.

Mejia tried his hand at third to see if his path to the Majors might be quickened via versatility. The organization believes he has a future behind the plate, but it doesn't want him unnecessarily blocked if his bat appears primed for The Show. If there is a setback for the club's catchers, Mejia looks like the next man up. The prospect looks more like an in-season addition, but there's a lot of spring left.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Indians

OF Tyler Naquin: Naquin seized an Opening Day roster spot prior to the 2016 season and he played his way into a third-place finish for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Last year, injuries and other complications led to what amounted to a lost season for the outfielder. Now, in light of Bradley Zimmer's emergence, Naquin faces an uphill battle for a roster spot in an outfield filled with lefty bats. If a window of opportunity comes up this spring, though, Naquin is in position to again push for a job.

OF Melvin Upton Jr.: Last spring, the Indians brought outfield Austin Jackson into camp on a Minor League pact following an injury-riddled campaign. Jackson proved he was healthy, won a job and played a key role in 2017. This time around, Upton is in a similar situation. If Upton shows that his '17 health woes are behind him, he can make a strong play for a role as a right-handed complement in the outfield. Rajai Davis is also in camp to compete for the same type of job.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Melvin Upton Jr., Francisco Mejia, Ryan Merritt, Tyler Naquin

Lindor on WS ring: 'We're going after it'

All-Star shortstop looks to get Tribe over postseason hump
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Lindor had not stopped thinking about the Indians' early exit from the October stage last season. The star shortstop still has a pit in his stomach at the thought of how close they came to winning the World Series two years ago.

This spring, one word is on Lindor's mind.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Lindor had not stopped thinking about the Indians' early exit from the October stage last season. The star shortstop still has a pit in his stomach at the thought of how close they came to winning the World Series two years ago.

This spring, one word is on Lindor's mind.

"Finish," Lindor said. "I want to finish."

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That is what is driving Lindor this spring and what will continue to run his internal motor throughout the 2018 season. The Indians had a 3-1 lead against the Cubs in the 2016 Fall Classic, and lost. They had a 2-0 advantage over the Yankees in the American League Division Series last year, and lost. Lindor, and the teammates who were a part of those teams, do not want those defeats to define this group.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Lindor was asked about all that the Indians did accomplish last year. They won a second straight AL Central crown and ended with 102 victories, representing only the third time in the franchise's long, storied history that a team hit the century mark. The Tribe rattled off an AL-record 22 consecutive victories across August and September.

Lindor shook his head.

"When you don't win, that's what you remember the most," he said. "To me, last year was fun. We had a great year. But to me, it wasn't a successful season. I want to win. That's not a successful season, because we didn't finish. We were healthy and we learned a lot from what we went through in the season, and we're blessed. But, we didn't win. At the end of the day, it's a season you don't remember."

After the Indians were eliminated by the Yankees in October, Lindor took about a month off from his training. He said he did not watch any of the subsequent postseason games in full -- just an inning here or there. Lindor allowed himself to turn on the World Series a few times, if only to toss a few more logs on his internal fire.

"It's tough for you to live without baseball," Lindor said. "You definitely don't want to finish your season like that. I'm still hurt about it."

How hurt?

"It's like the girlfriend that you break up with. You never get over it," he said. "You turn the page, but you can't get over it. You always remember that she was there."

One of the highlights of last season came in Game 2 of the ALDS, when Lindor belted a grand slam that electrified Progressive Field and helped put the Indians in position to win that classic game, 9-8, in 13 innings. Lindor is quick to point out that it was just one of two hits he had in the entire series.

"We were nine innings from moving on," Lindor said. "I didn't perform and I didn't help my team."

So, when November came around, Lindor focused on his training.

He worked out with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and a handful of current big leaguers, as he has in offseasons past. Lindor did some boxing each week. He lifted. He took batting practice and gloved grounders at his old high school, Montverde Academy in Florida. With every drill, he kept his mind on his ultimate goal of helping lead Cleveland to its first World Series title since 1948.

Lindor was the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015. He won both Gold and Platinum Glove Awards for his defense prowess at shortstop in '16. Last year, Lindor belted 33 home runs, piled up 81 extra-base hits and walked away with an AL Silver Slugger Award, and he was fifth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award. He has been an All-Star in each of his two full seasons.

What Lindor really wants is to get fitted for a World Series ring.

"We ain't curling up, I guarantee you that," Lindor said. "We're going after it, man. We want to win. I want to win. There's no one here saying we don't want to win. Everybody wants to win and finish the thing."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Top 30 Prospects list is 100% homegrown

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

After a heartbreaking loss to the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the Cleveland Indians returned with vengeance in '17 as they overcame a mediocre first half to post a .733 winning percentage (55-20) after the All-Star break -- thanks in part to an American League-record 22-game winning streak that spanned parts of two months -- en route to a 102-win season and a second consecutive AL Central title.

Indians Top 30 Prospects list

After a heartbreaking loss to the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the Cleveland Indians returned with vengeance in '17 as they overcame a mediocre first half to post a .733 winning percentage (55-20) after the All-Star break -- thanks in part to an American League-record 22-game winning streak that spanned parts of two months -- en route to a 102-win season and a second consecutive AL Central title.

Indians Top 30 Prospects list

And while the Indians failed to advance beyond the AL Division Series, losing to the Yankees in six games after taking what appeared to be a commanding 2-0 series lead, it was yet another breakthrough season for a franchise in search of ending a 70-year World Series drought.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

Much of that success was tied to a historically good Indians starting rotation that arguably was the best in the Major Leagues. Led by AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Indians starters recorded 81 wins and 1,066 strikeouts to lead the Majors in both categories. Their collective 3.52 ERA, meanwhile, ranked first in the AL and second among all 30 teams.

That dominance on the mound extended to the club's dynamic bullpen, too, as Cleveland relievers paced both circuits in ERA (2.89) and WHIP (1.14), while converting all but 10 save opportunities.

At the plate, the Tribe received enormous contributions from a pair of homegrown phenoms in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Lindor, the Indians' first-round pick in 2011, further established himself as one of the sport's premier players by setting career highs in a host of offensive categories, while Ramirez turned in the top breakout performance across the game to finish third in AL MVP voting.

The Indians also received help from their farm system along the way, most notably from Bradley Zimmer. The team's top prospect at this time last year, Zimmer made his Major League debut in May and proceeded to impress in all facets of the game before suffering a season-ending injury. Cleveland also received contributions from versatile prospects Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez.

Zimmer and Co. were eventually joined in the Majors by No. 11 overall prospect Francisco Mejia and speedy outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom contributed down the stretch after receiving a September callup and are expected to take on larger roles with the club in 2018.

Down on the farm, right-hander Triston McKenzie, MLB Pipeline's No. 24 prospect for 2018, solidified his status as an elite pitching prospect with a dominant campaign that earned him Class A Advanced Carolina League pitcher of the year honors. Right-hander Shane Bieber, a 2016 fourth-rounder, breezed through three full-season levels, including Double-A, while issuing just 10 walks in 173 1/3 innings.

Even more Indians prospects appear poised to make strides in 2018, as Will Benson, George Valera, Conner Capel and Aaron Bracho will all be names to follow closely as the season unfolds.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Conner Capel, OF (2017: NR | 2018: 12)
Fall: Brady Aiken, LHP (2017: 5 | 2018: 29)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.

Hit: 60 -- Francisco Mejia
Power: 60 -- Bobby Bradley
Run: 80 -- Quentin Holmes
Arm: 70 -- Francisco Mejia (Oscar Gonzalez)
Defense: 60 -- Greg Allen
Fastball: 60 -- Julian Merryweather (Triston McKenzie)
Curveball: 60 -- Triston McKenzie
Slider: 60 -- Aaron Civale (Shawn Morimando)
Changeup: 65 -- Eli Morgan
Control: 70 -- Shane Bieber

How they were built
Draft: 23
International: 7

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 9
2019: 7
2020: 8
2021: 5
2022: 1

Breakdown by position
C: 3
1B: 1
2B: 2
3B: 1
SS: 5
OF: 9
RHP: 5
LHP: 4

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Cleveland Indians

Indians add Torres to their spring bullpen mix

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is an opening in the Indians' bullpen and the club is introducing another arm into the spring competition.

On Wednesday, MLB.com confirmed that the Tribe has agreed to terms with reliever Carlos Torres on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, pending the completion of a physical. Torres will give the club 13 pitchers in camp as non-roster invitees. The club has not confirmed the deal.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is an opening in the Indians' bullpen and the club is introducing another arm into the spring competition.

On Wednesday, MLB.com confirmed that the Tribe has agreed to terms with reliever Carlos Torres on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, pending the completion of a physical. Torres will give the club 13 pitchers in camp as non-roster invitees. The club has not confirmed the deal.

Indians Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Last season, the 35-year-old Torres posted a 4.21 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 33 walks in 67 appearances (72 2/3 innings) with the Brewers. The right-hander has a 3.43 ERA and 4.29 Fielding Independent Pitching over the past two years combined with Milwaukee, logging 155 innings within 139 outings.

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For his career, Torres has a 4.00 ERA in 348 games between stints with the White Sox, Rockies, Mets and Brewers.

As things stand, the Indians' bullpen projects to include Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody and Tyler Olson. Lefty Ryan Merritt (out of Minor League options) is a candidate for a job, along with a long list of other pitchers in camp this spring.

Guyer sustains setback
Outfielder Brandon Guyer has a scheduled appointment on Thursday with the doctor who performed his left wrist surgery (extensor tendon repair) in October. Guyer had hoped to get the go-ahead to resume hitting. Now, the conversation will take on a different tone.

Indians manager Terry Francona said that Guyer felt discomfort in his wrist during Tuesday's workout. The outfielder underwent an MRI exam and will go over the results and come up with a plan with the help of his surgeon, Dr. Don Sheridan.

"He was out in the outfield just playing catch and he actually felt it," Francona said. "We want the doctor to look at him, just to see the best course of action. Do you kind of plow through? Do you take a step back? And until he gets examined, we just don't want him to do something if he can potentially make it worse."

Worth noting
Miller was back in camp on Wednesday after missing the previous two workouts due to the flu. Miller said he was feeling much improved, but the reliever took things slow and is slated to return to the mound on Thursday. Said Francona: "There's no reason to go from zero to 100 and set him back for a week."

Francona once again plans on having Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes split the catching duties this season. "We're fortunate we have two catchers," Francona said. "They both kind of want to be considered the No. 1. I get it. My guess is that it'll kind of work itself out."

Center fielder Bradley Zimmer, who was sent home on Tuesday due to illness, was also back with the team on Wednesday morning.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Carlos Torres

Otero finds happy place in Tribe's bullpen

Right-hander proving reliable for any relief role this season
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It didn't take long for the Indians to wrap up contract negotiations with Dan Otero in the offseason. The club reached out to the reliever and asked him if he would be open to signing a two-year deal. That was all he needed to hear.

"It was like, 'Yeah,'" Otero said with a laugh on Tuesday morning. "They were like, 'Wait, let's talk about money.'"

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It didn't take long for the Indians to wrap up contract negotiations with Dan Otero in the offseason. The club reached out to the reliever and asked him if he would be open to signing a two-year deal. That was all he needed to hear.

"It was like, 'Yeah,'" Otero said with a laugh on Tuesday morning. "They were like, 'Wait, let's talk about money.'"

That was all just details for Otero.

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Otero has a growing family -- the youngest of his three daughters was born last August -- and is still adjusting to a move to Seattle. Stability can be tough to find in baseball, and that is especially the case when it comes to pitchers who work in the volatile bullpen environment. Otero, specifically, remembers how the game nearly chewed him up and spit him out only three offseasons ago.

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The Indians were offering him a two-year commitment with the chance to stay on for a third through a team option. The club is also trusting Otero with more responsibility, given that Bryan Shaw left via free agency this offseason and there are plenty more questions coming for the bullpen beyond the 2018 season. This organization helped Otero regain his footing and it is where he wanted to stay.

"There's no place I'd really rather be in terms of baseball," Otero said. "They take care of you. They take care of the families. It's a great group of guys, great coaches, front office. I can't say enough good things about this organization."

Otero was brilliant across the 2013-14 seasons for the A's, but then he struggled mightily the following year. His 6.75 ERA during the '15 season was the highest among the 161 relievers who logged at least 40 innings. His typically-strong ground-ball rate dropped to 48.5 percent. After that season, Oakland designated Otero for assignment and the Phillies claimed him off waivers.

Otero was mentally preparing himself to join a rebuilding team in Philadelphia, but then the Indians acquired him in exchange for cash on Dec. 18, 2015. The way Otero saw it, that was as good of a Christmas present as he could have hoped to receive. He was joining a team set on contending, and one that featured a strong relief corps.

Indians manager Terry Francona refers to Otero as his "wild card" in the bullpen. Otero can come in for any situation in any inning. If a starter comes out early, Otero might get the call. If it's a day off for the closer, Otero might get the call. If there is a dicey jam that could be solved with a grounder, Otero might get the call.

Across the '16-17 seasons, Otero answered the call with a 3.5 percent walk rate (first among American League relievers) and a 62.9 percent ground-ball rate (fifth in the Majors).

"I do like that role for him," Francona said. "When he's good, he's efficient, he's quick, he's pounding the zone down. My guess is regardless of where he pitches, when you look up in September or October, he's going to have 70-75 [innings], just like he always does. He's really valuable. He may not light up the radar gun, but again, when he gets on a role, and we've seen it, he can be so efficient."

That 2015 season looks like an aberration now. Otero posted a 2.01 ERA with a 2.92 Fielding Independent Pitching in 125 2/3 innings over the '13-14 seasons, and then he turned in a 2.14 ERA with a 2.93 FIP in 130 2/3 innings across '16-17. Last year, Otero worked recorded at least four outs in 18 of his 52 appearances and finished with a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings.

The Indians are trusting that Otero can keep that up. Otero hopes to do so for the next three years.

"Bringing that stability to our life is huge," said Otero, whose deal is worth a guaranteed $2.5 million. "Any time you can get some glimmer of it, it's very nice. Now, we can plan actually ahead, which is unheard of in this game. It was an emotional time for me, because I never thought I'd be able to sign an extension like that."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Dan Otero

Indians honor late staffer with spring cap patch

Minor Leaguers paying tribute to influential clubhouse manager Pruzinsky
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the past decade, the late Matt Pruzinsky was a part of Cleveland's spring environment, and the team is now honoring his memory. There's a patch on the right side of all the hats belonging to Indians Minor League staffers and players, and will remain a part of their Spring Training uniform. The white rectangle with red trim has "MATTI P 26" written on it.

For the many players who crossed paths with Pruzinsky, a beloved clubhouse manager for Triple-A Columbus, he was very much the 26th man on the roster. The patch was the idea of Fletcher Wilkes, the home clubhouse manager at the club's Arizona facility.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the past decade, the late Matt Pruzinsky was a part of Cleveland's spring environment, and the team is now honoring his memory. There's a patch on the right side of all the hats belonging to Indians Minor League staffers and players, and will remain a part of their Spring Training uniform. The white rectangle with red trim has "MATTI P 26" written on it.

For the many players who crossed paths with Pruzinsky, a beloved clubhouse manager for Triple-A Columbus, he was very much the 26th man on the roster. The patch was the idea of Fletcher Wilkes, the home clubhouse manager at the club's Arizona facility.

Indians Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"He affected just about everyone's life who's come up through the Minor Leagues," Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. "He actually turned into a really good friend, getting to know him, spending a lot of time in Columbus. ... I wish we could wear it on our hats, but we'll keep him in our hearts."

Pruzinsky, who worked for the Lake County Captains prior to Columbus, also spent the past 10 years assisting with the Minor League clubhouses at the Indians' complex in Goodyear. Pruzinsky died unexpectedly on Dec. 10 at the age of 32, leaving behind his wife, who is expecting twin boys this spring. After his death, players, staff members, umpires and others swiftly contributed more than $100,000 in a fund for Pruzinksy's family.

"It goes to show you the impact he had on a lot of people," Indians pitcher Ryan Merritt said. "As a clubbie, he respected all the players, and all the players respected him. He did a great job. But he did an even better job at just being a good guy and a good friend. It was amazing to see how many people stepped up and were honoring his family, and how much they cared about him. It's a sad deal, but I think it maybe brought a lot of people together."

Gonzalez, Urshela battling for spot
Giovanny Urshela was at second base during infield drills on Tuesday morning, while Erik Gonzalez gloved grounders at shortstop. One day earlier, they were in the opposite positions. Expect the pair of infielders to get work all around the infield this spring, as they compete for a utility role on Cleveland's bench.

"He and Gonzy are going to move all around," Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Barring something unexpected, though, there will probably be only one spot on the Opening Day roster for Gonzalez or Urshela. Complicating matters for the Indians is the fact that both players are out of Minor League options -- meaning they would be exposed to waivers if they are not added to the 25-man roster.

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"We're very aware that one of them can probably make the team," Francona said. "Now, again, things change. With a hamstring pull or something, things change. But, if we're healthy, we're going to have to make a decision and we know that. And we're also aware that we'll probably lose the other guy. They're pretty good players and we know that, and we have some anxiety about that."

Worth noting
• Relief ace Andrew Miller missed the workouts on Monday and Tuesday due to the flu, according to Francona. The manager noted that outfielder Bradley Zimmer was also sent home on Tuesday due to illness. Quipped Francona: "We talk so much about teamwork, but this is the one thing we'd like not to pass around and share."

• The Indians began live batting practice sessions on Tuesday morning. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Dan Otero, Merritt and Zach McAllister were among the pitchers who threw to batters for the first time this spring.

• Clevinger is the scheduled starter for Friday's 3:05 p.m. ET Cactus League opener against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Merritt will follow Clevinger out of the bullpen. Francona said the rest of the pitching schedule is still being sorted out.

• Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer, visited the Indians' camp on Tuesday to discuss the recent pace-of-play changes and other issues.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians

Allen, Tribe ready to fill Shaw's shoes in 'pen

Veteran reliever spent 5 years with Cleveland before joining Rockies after free agency in offseason
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Bryan Shaw is searching for someone to toss his football with over at the Rockies' camp. Indians manager Terry Francona is in need of a new daily cribbage partner. Every spring, teams adjust to having players in new uniforms, but Cleveland is dealing with a major change.

For the past five years, Shaw was a constant part of the Tribe's environment. The right-hander earned a reputation as one of the most durable setup men in the game, and more than earned the trust of Francona. That, in turn, earned Shaw a lucrative free-agent contract this past offseason, leaving an empty locker that could be challenging for Cleveland to fill.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Bryan Shaw is searching for someone to toss his football with over at the Rockies' camp. Indians manager Terry Francona is in need of a new daily cribbage partner. Every spring, teams adjust to having players in new uniforms, but Cleveland is dealing with a major change.

For the past five years, Shaw was a constant part of the Tribe's environment. The right-hander earned a reputation as one of the most durable setup men in the game, and more than earned the trust of Francona. That, in turn, earned Shaw a lucrative free-agent contract this past offseason, leaving an empty locker that could be challenging for Cleveland to fill.

"He will be missed," Francona said on Monday afternoon. "I hate to use the word, but he's a sweetheart, man. I told [Rockies manager] Bud Black when they signed him, I said, 'You got a good one.'"

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It will take time for Shaw to be out of mind. So far this spring, he has not even been entirely out of sight.

Shaw recently swung by Cleveland's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., to deal with some remaining fantasy football business with his former teammates. Shortly before camp was in full swing for the Indians, he also met up with Tribe closer Cody Allen for dinner. Shaw has a new club and new teammates, but the relationships he built during his time with Cleveland did not disappear when he penned his name on his new contract.

"I was with the Indians for five years," Shaw said. "I was with that group of guys through a lot of good, a lot of bad. I'm definitely going to miss that group, the families, the kids over there, the players, the coaches. You're going to miss those guys and you talk to those guys still. But, now I'm about this team, the group of guys we've got here."

Shaw, who signed a three-year pact worth $27 million with Colorado, logged at least 70 appearances in each of the past five seasons with the Indians. His 378 games, 358 2/3 innings and 5,892 pitches thrown across the 2013-17 seasons rank first among Major League relievers in that span.

Allen is right behind Shaw in each of those categories. Over the past five years, the closer ranks third among big league relievers in appearances (359) and innings (344 2/3), and second in pitches thrown (5,780). In Cleveland history, Allen (386) and Shaw (378) rank first and second, respectively, in relief outings.

Video: KC@CLE: Allen ends game with record-setting strikeout

Needless to say, it was strange for Allen to walk into Cleveland's clubhouse this spring and not see his long-time teammate.

"We kind of cut our teeth in the big leagues together," Allen said. "And he's a good friend. But, I'm super happy for him."

The task now is to not dwell on losing Shaw, but find a way to replace his innings.

As things currently stand, the Indians still boast one of baseball's top late-inning duos in Allen and Andrew Miller. Behind them, right-handers Dan Otero, Zach McAllister and Nick Goody are virtual locks for jobs, along with lefty Tyler Olson. It remains to be seen how the final spot or two will shape up, but that is the bulk of the bullpen cast that led the Majors in ERA (2.89) in 2017.

Without Shaw's presence, Francona said there could be some mixing and matching based on situations and matchups this year.

Video: Miller optimistic for Indians chances in 2018

"In my opinion, we're going to have a really good bullpen," Francona said. "We may not quite know how it's configured yet or like who's throwing in what inning, but kind of like we were telling McAllister, Goody, Olson, Otero, pitching in the sixth inning could be the game on the line. We try to match up our guys where we think they can be successful."

Indians bullpen coach Scott Atchison agreed.

"Obviously, Shaw's a big loss," jhe said. "I think everybody [knows] that. But, we have a lot of variety in styles and I think that's going to allow us too kind of attack those situations and through [those innings] with multiple guys. And I think they're all up for the challenge. They're all ready to go."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. MLB.com reporter Thomas Harding contributed to this report.

Cleveland Indians, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw

Lindor strong-arms first full-squad workout

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every February, Francisco Lindor cuts the sleeves off a team-issued hoodie and wears that during workouts around the Indians' Arizona complex. This year, the spring ritual revealed what appeared to be bulkier biceps on the high-energy shortstop.

Lindor flashed his famous smile on Monday when asked about his build after Cleveland's first full-squad workout of the preseason. The shortstop said he did not alter his routine much in comparison to previous winters. He stuck with the same once-a-week lifting program that he has used in the past.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every February, Francisco Lindor cuts the sleeves off a team-issued hoodie and wears that during workouts around the Indians' Arizona complex. This year, the spring ritual revealed what appeared to be bulkier biceps on the high-energy shortstop.

Lindor flashed his famous smile on Monday when asked about his build after Cleveland's first full-squad workout of the preseason. The shortstop said he did not alter his routine much in comparison to previous winters. He stuck with the same once-a-week lifting program that he has used in the past.

"It has to do with age," said Lindor, who turned 24 in November. "I did the exact same thing I do every offseason. I work as hard as I can to get bigger, get stronger and become the best player I can be."

Video: Francisco Lindor is excited for the 2018 season

Lindor noted that he showed up to camp weighing 190 pounds, which is roughly in the same range as last season. Last spring, though, the shortstop came to Arizona around 180 pounds after battling illness. The weight came back as the year progressed and Lindor enjoyed another standout season for the Tribe.

In 159 games last season, Lindor hit .273 with 33 home runs, 44 doubles, 89 RBIs and 99 runs scored for the Indians. He was an All-Star, finished fifth in balloting for the American League MVP Award and set a single-season club record for homers by a middle infielder.

What Lindor really wants to accomplish is winning a World Series.

"We're going after it, man. We want to win. I want to win," he said. "Everybody wants to win and finish the thing. We understand that winning makes everything a lot easier and smoother and keeps everybody happy. We want to do that. We want to accomplish our dreams. My dream is to win."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Francisco Lindor said he didn't change his winter routine much. Came into camp at 190 pounds. On looking bigger: "It has to do with age. I did the exact same thing I do every offseason. I work as hard as I can to get bigger, get stronger and become the best player I can be." pic.twitter.com/dRy7LqJRQk

Worth noting
• Left-hander Ryan Merritt is on the outside looking in when it comes to the Indians' rotation and his experience as a reliever is limited. The lefty is out of Minor League options this spring, though, so Cleveland is being open-minded about how Merritt can fit into the roster puzzle. The bullpen is one possibility.

"There's a lot of Spring Training left," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But one, he's most likely next up in line if something happened to somebody [in the rotation]. And two, we don't want to lose him. So, those are all things that are going to have to be considered when we get down toward the end of Spring Training."

Video: KC@CLE: Merritt blanks the Royals over 6 2/3 innings

Francisco Mejia is baseball's No. 1-ranked catching prospect per MLB Pipeline, but he tried his hand at third base during the Arizona Fall League. Francona said he was not sure if Mejia would play any third this spring, but the manager added the Indians do want to find a way to get him to the Majors if it seems like he could make an impact.

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"The positional change stuff isn't because we don't think he can catch. We know he can catch," Francona said. "It's just, you look up right now and there's [Roberto] Perez and [Yan] Gomes and you've got a kid that's, by some accounts, you hear some of the things they say about him as a hitter, that you'd like to, if something happens, have a way of maybe getting him to the big leagues if need be."

• The first full-squad workout of the spring marks the day Francona holds his first major meeting with the players. It is Francona's chance to go over expectations for the spring and the season ahead, and the manager places a high level of importance on the speech.

Video: Terry Francona excited for the 2018 campaign

"The message never changes," Francona said. "You're not going to talk to one manager today that's not going to be half-full, the glass. I think we have reason to be optimistic. Now, we need to prepare and the idea is to prepare better than every team out there. That's hard to do."

• Indians outfielder Brandon Guyer, who had left wrist surgery in October, is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Thursday with the hope of being cleared to resume a hitting program. Guyer said on Monday that his goal since the operation is to be ready for Opening Day.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor