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Lindor excited about landing on R.B.I. 18 cover

Indians' rising star among the faces and ambassadors of the game
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

Lindor was announced as the new cover athlete for R.B.I. Baseball's latest installment at the Indians' annual fan fest, and the selection was more than fitting. Over the past three seasons, Cleveland's dynamic shortstop has quickly established himself not only as one of the faces of Major League Baseball, but as an ambassador for the game.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

When the idea of playing baseball for a living began to take hold of Lindor's childhood dreams, he did not simply want to reach the Majors. The shortstop is not shy about saying he always envisioned himself becoming one of the best players in the game, as well as an inspiration to kids.

Being on the R.B.I. 18 cover is another way for Lindor to keep extending his reach in the game.

"It's unreal. It' a dream. It's a blessing," Lindor said on Saturday. "I'm blessed to be playing this game -- and to have things like that [cover], that's a plus. I thank the Lord for everything, and I thank the Indians organization and everybody that made this posssible."

Lindor follows in the footsteps of past R.B.I. Baseball cover selections Corey Seager (2017), Mookie Betts ('16) and Anthony Rizzo ('15). The classic video game, which was relaunched by Major League Baseball in conjunction with the MLB Players' Association in '14, will be available this March for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets.

While Lindor said he would "take on anybody" who challenged him in R.B.I. Baseball 18, the shortstop admitted to having taken some losses on the video-game front lately back home.

"My nephew beats me all the time, so I definitely have got to get better," Lindor said with a laugh. "The first game I beat him, and I beat all my friends. It was like a group of four. Then, I don't know what happened. I went on a losing streak. I haven't won a game since. It's fun. I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: R.B.I. Baseball 18 reveals Lindor on the cover

Both on and off the field, Lindor has earned a reputation for his infectious enthusiasm. During Players' Weekend last August, for example, the Indians' shortstop went as far as wearing the nickname, "Mr. Smile," on the back of his jersey. Lindor describes himself as a big kid, and that has been on full display over his three seasons with the Tribe. After dynamic defensive plays or big hits, that smile quickly surfaces.

Behind the scenes, Lindor has strived since his rookie year to get involved in as much as possible -- especially if working with aspiring ballplayers is involved. He has participated in MLB Network's Play Ball series, started a charity program called, "Lindor's Smile Squad," to host children and adult athletes with disabilities at select home games, and has donated his time on numerous occasions to Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs, not only in Cleveland, but around the country.

All of that said, Lindor's off-field achievements alone did not clinch his place on the R.B.I. cover.

Lindor has developed into one of baseball's brightest young stars and one of the top shortstops in the game. The switch-hitter was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, an All-Star in '16 and '17, picked up both Gold and Platinum Glove Awards in '16 and added a Silver Slugger to his trophy case in '17. Two years ago, Lindor also helped lead the Indians to the World Series.

Cleveland won its second straight American League Central crown last season, as it racked up 102 victories and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. Along the way, Lindor set career highs in home runs (33), doubles (44), RBIs (89), slugging percentage (.505) and OPS (.842) in 159 games. He set the single-season club records for homers by a middle infielder and extra-base hits (81) for a shortstop. For his work, Lindor finished fifth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award (two spots behind teammate Jose Ramirez).

Lindor said he is excited to see what 2018 has in store for the Tribe.

"We all know we can win it," Lindor said. "We all know we've got what it takes. We've been there. We just haven't closed it. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to being with my new teammates and my old teammates, and everybody throughout the whole season.

"It's so much fun going from Day 1 in Spring Training all the way to the last day of the season. A lot of things happen. Whether it's good things, bad things, a lot of things happen. A lot of good moments. A lot of time for me to smile, so I love it."

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, and listen to his podcast.

 

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Lindor stars at jubilant Tribe Fest in Cleveland

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- While walking through the main hall at Tribe Fest on Saturday, Francisco Lindor retrieved a handful of red and blue bean bags from the ground. The Indians shortstop then handed one to an unsuspecting fan and insisted he stop to take on Lindor in an impromptu game of cornhole.

There was one condition.

CLEVELAND -- While walking through the main hall at Tribe Fest on Saturday, Francisco Lindor retrieved a handful of red and blue bean bags from the ground. The Indians shortstop then handed one to an unsuspecting fan and insisted he stop to take on Lindor in an impromptu game of cornhole.

There was one condition.

"If you miss," Lindor told the boy, "you have to do push-ups."

The young fan stopped, peered at his target and then sent one of the red bags flying wide of the large wooden box. He then dropped to the ground and began doing push-ups, while Lindor bent over in laughter. It was a fun exchange in the middle of the packed hall, which was a hive of activity from morning until evening at the Huntington Convention Center downtown.

Tweet from @MLBastian: Lindor: ���If you miss, you have to do pushups.��� pic.twitter.com/Wk2w378Rwm

In recent winters, the annual event moved from the bowels of Progressive Field to local hotels, where fans experienced cramped interactive spaces. This year was much different. The spacious environment at the convention center allowed for more activities, and the attendance was up nearly 40 percent from last offseason's gathering.

The Indians had 26 players on hand, along with manager Terry Francona, a few of his coaches, and members of the front office. First baseman Yonder Alonso, who signed a two-year contract with Cleveland this offseason, was thrilled to have the chance to not only get to know his teammates better, but interact with Tribe fans ahead of Spring Training.

"It's very important," Alonso said. "I think I've gotten my feet wet getting to know all the guys, getting to know the staff. And then obviously with the fans, being able to be here at fan fest and they can see me, and I can see them, and just realize how excited this city is for the team and they can see how excited I am to be here."

Video: Alonso discusses playing defense and joining Tribe

The highlight of Tribe Fest's morning session -- limited to season-ticket holders -- was the announcement that Lindor is on the cover of R.B.I. Baseball 18, which will be released in March. Lindor took to the main stage for the official unveiling of the cover, which shows him finishing a swing in an Indians uniform.

Video: Lindor proud to grace R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover

In a lengthy question-and-answer session with Lindor ahead of the announcement, Indians radio voice Tom Hamilton noted that Lindor rarely seems to have a bad day.

"That's just me," Lindor said. "I'm a happy kid and I enjoy life."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Francisco Lindor, after seeing the R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover: "I love it. They make me look good in that picture. So, thank you, R.B.I. You made me look a lot better." pic.twitter.com/Cse0TXWzf8

The rest of the day included more on-stage Q&A's and interactive games with fans. There were multiple booths set up around the hall to give kids a chance to take a swing or see how hard they could throw a ball. There were video game stations, photo opportunities with the Indians' American League championship trophies, autograph sessions and a craftsman carving a bat live in front of fans.

Thanks to the larger venue, the Indians also constructed a small field, where Indians players invited kids to join them for a pick-up game. Josh Tomlin, Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis and Alonso were among the Tribe players who took the diamond and threw pitches to young fans.

Tweet from @MLBastian: Josh Tomlin inducing weak contact... against kids at Tribe Fest. pic.twitter.com/KFJqhvbtcw

"My mom signed me up for it right when we came over," said Adelayde Ruth, an 8-year-old from Avon Lake, Ohio. "I was nervous, but then I realized that it wasn't scary. They were nice."

Landon St. Clair -- a 10-year-old from Columbus, Ohio -- hit on the field and got Kipnis to sign his hat and a baseball. St. Clair also expressed optimism about the season ahead.

"I'm really excited," he said, "because I think we have a really good chance for the playoffs this year."

That is definitely the goal for the Indians, who won 102 games last season and are aiming for a third consecutive AL Central crown this year. Cleveland lost a handful of players in free agency this winter (Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce and Joe Smith), but spent the past two days expressing optimism that the team in place is still very capable of contending for a championship.

Video: Indians players talk about the upcoming 2018 season

"'It's a new team and a new year," Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. "You've got to develop chemistry and cohesiveness, but we all feel very confident that we'll end up back in a position that we'll have a chance to go out and win a World Series."

The players also enjoyed hearing from fans at Tribe Fest who shared that confidence.

"We appreciate everyone that does come out," Bauer said. "It's good to connect with fans and try to build excitement for the season on both ends -- the fans' side, the players' side -- send the message that the season's coming back around and we want to do it together."

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 Ben Weinrib contributed to this report.

 

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Indians focus on additions, not subtractions

Francona, players united in goal to 'return with a vengeance'
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Pessimism is not in Francisco Lindor's genetic makeup. On a cloudy day, the Indians shortstop would probably flash his signature smile and point out that it is not raining. If there is a positive to be found, it will not escape Lindor's attention for long.

So, it came as no surprise Friday when Lindor looked confused after a question about all the Indians have lost this offseason. Coming off an early postseason exit, Cleveland had Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce and Joe Smith depart via free agency. That has many wondering whether the reigning American League Central champions have taken a step backward for 2018.

CLEVELAND -- Pessimism is not in Francisco Lindor's genetic makeup. On a cloudy day, the Indians shortstop would probably flash his signature smile and point out that it is not raining. If there is a positive to be found, it will not escape Lindor's attention for long.

So, it came as no surprise Friday when Lindor looked confused after a question about all the Indians have lost this offseason. Coming off an early postseason exit, Cleveland had Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce and Joe Smith depart via free agency. That has many wondering whether the reigning American League Central champions have taken a step backward for 2018.

"Backwards?" Lindor repeated, making sure he heard correctly. "No, I don't think so. We have the right group of guys."

From the interview room, where Tribe manager Terry Francona held court with local reporters, to the clubhouse, where the bulk of Cleveland's active roster was on hand on the eve of Tribe Fest, that was the message. Francona has said that his team plans on returning "with a vengeance," and his players echoed that sentiment from every corner of the locker room.

The players repeatedly pointed to the fact that the team -- most of which is returning -- won an AL-high 102 games last season. Francona added that the Indians have actually led the AL in victories over the past five seasons, combined (454). Trevor Bauer mentioned that last season's pitching staff put up all-time great numbers. (The 31.7 WAR, per Fangraphs, was the highest single-season mark in baseball history.)

"You can focus on what we've lost all you want," Bauer said. "But, no one seems to be focusing on what we're bringing back, which is the best pitching staff in the big leagues last year."

The rotation will again be led by ace Corey Kluber -- the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner -- along with Carlos Carrasco and Bauer. This spring, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin will compete for the last two spots. In the bullpen, closer Cody Allen and relief ace Andrew Miller will again anchor a relief corps that led the Majors in ERA (2.89) in '17.

Lindor and Jose Ramirez -- a pair of Most Valuable Player candidates last year -- figure to be the focal point of an offense that ranked second in OPS (.788) and third in runs scored (818) in the AL last year. Ramirez smirked when asked, via translator Anna Bolton, what his message would be to worried Tribe fans.

"I'd tell the fans that they need to trust us, and trust those of us who are here," Ramirez said. "We're the ones who are important for them now, and we're going to keep on giving our very best and we're going to come out every day to win, for ourselves, but also for the fans, because they're so important."

There is no denying that last season's ending came with a painful sting that still lingers.

The Indians held a 2-0 advantage in the AL Division Series against the Yankees, who then won three straight to send the Tribe into an early winter. That came one year after the Indians had a 3-1 lead in the World Series against the Cubs, who won it all in a classic Game 7 at Progressive Field. That is six straight close-out losses over the past two years, and now some key pieces have left the building.

Santana was a fixture in the Indians' lineup for the past seven years, and netted a three-year, $60 million pact with the Phillies this offseason. Shaw, who was Francona's main setup man for the past five seasons, signed a multi-year contract with the Rockies. Bruce and Smith went to the Mets and Astros, respectively.

Cleveland's main answers for the losses to date have been to pick up the $12 million team option for left fielder Michael Brantley (limited to 101 games in the past two years, combined, due to injuries) and signing first baseman Yonder Alonso to a two-year, $16 million deal that includes a third-year option. Last year, Alonso had 28 homers and an .866 OPS in a career year that the Indians are counting on being a sign of more to come, rather than a one-year fluke.

Video: Yonder Alonso talks joining the Indians

Alonso, for his part, wants to help push the Indians over the postseason hump.

"I had a choice to make," Alonso said. "That choice was relatively simple for me -- that's just being in a winning environment, on a winning team. ... [I've] never been to a postseason, never even had a winning season. For me, the doors have opened and, obviously, I can help out."

Winning the World Series remains the goal, and no one in the Tribe's clubhouse feels like the window of opportunity has closed.

"As long as we have good players like we do in this locker room, the window is always going to be open," Jason Kipnis said. "There may be some moving pieces or mixing and matching some lineups, but when the core of the group that's as talented as it is is here, you're going to have the window open."

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

5 keys that will be vital to Tribe's success

Francona expects 'good run of baseball' to continue in 2018
MLB.com @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- Because noise can influence narratives, the Tribe's media relations staff handed one-page printouts to all reporters attending manager Terry Francona's news conference on Friday, which preceded this weekend's Tribe Fest activities.

There in bold print were the selling points to serve as reminders -- for any observers distracted by the noise of a Giancarlo Stanton trade here or a Gerrit Cole swap there -- that the Indians, who have won more games than any American League club over the past five seasons, are still a pretty good ballclub.

CLEVELAND -- Because noise can influence narratives, the Tribe's media relations staff handed one-page printouts to all reporters attending manager Terry Francona's news conference on Friday, which preceded this weekend's Tribe Fest activities.

There in bold print were the selling points to serve as reminders -- for any observers distracted by the noise of a Giancarlo Stanton trade here or a Gerrit Cole swap there -- that the Indians, who have won more games than any American League club over the past five seasons, are still a pretty good ballclub.

"This has been a good run of baseball," Francona said, "and I don't see it going anywhere."

That's an important message to convey in a offseason where more of the local focus has been on what the Indians have lost than what they have. Gone are the formerly underrated and now well-compensated likes of Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw and 2017 in-season trade acquisitions Jay Bruce and Joe Smith. Beyond the signing of Yonder Alonso to replace Santana at first base, the Indians will count on internal depth and budget-conscious additions to replace the impact of those players, and that, understandably, makes fans anxious at a time when this team needs to maximize its window to end the game's longest active championship drought.

Though the stakes have seemingly been raised in the AL by this offseason's work, there's still a lot to like in Cleveland. Here are five keys -- beyond the obvious likes of Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Andrew Miller, etc. -- for the Indians to maintain pace with baseball's elite and win a World Series crown 70 years in the making.

1. A healthy pitching staff
Well, duh. Show me a team that doesn't need this to contend. But for the Indians, it's a particularly pertinent topic.

Who used the fewest starters in baseball last season? The Indians, with seven. Who had the highest percentage of innings pitched by their starters? Cleveland, at 66 percent. Who lost a guy in free agency who averaged 72 relief innings a season over the past five years? The Indians, with Shaw's departure to Colorado. Whose World Series contention hopes would seemingly revolve in some measure around a reigning Cy Young Award winner who battled a back issue last year? The Tribe, with Kluber.

You get the idea. It can be hard in this game to maintain the level of reliability the Indians received from a pitching staff that, per FanGraphs, had the highest total Wins Above Replacement mark (31.7) in history last season. Some regression would appear inevitable. But the Indians have to reign in that regression. They're still on the hunt for right-handed relief help to help ease the burden on Cody Allen and Miller (whose pending free agencies put all the more onus on 2018).

Video: Castrovince breaks down the Indians' rotation

2. A winnable division
The Indians are in a moment in which three division opponents (White Sox, Tigers and Royals) are in some stage of rebuild. That leaves the Twins as the team most likely to give the Indians a run for their money. And while there's no doubt in the industry that the Twins still have money to spend on pitching in the weeks leading up to Opening Day, the Tribe, as it stands, is projected by FanGraphs to win the Central by 12 games.

Lord knows the projections have been wrong before, but Cleveland appears to have the easiest road to October of any clear contender in baseball.

3. Yonder and Yandy
The Indians signed Alonso to a two-year deal on the strength of a fly-ball rate that jumped from a career mark of 34.3 percent to a sudden '17 spike to 43.2 percent. The league made some adjustment to Alonso in the second half (.254/.354/.420) last season, but Cleveland is hoping the swing changes he made in Oakland can stick and stabilize.

They're hoping for similar changes for Yandy Diaz, who is, as one Tribe fan tweeted me, "the strongest man to never hit an MLB homer."

Video: Alonso discusses strength of Tribe's lineup

Diaz's biceps are so large that they ought to each count toward a roster spot, and his average exit velocity of 91.5 mph last season was, according to Statcast™, the seventh-highest in the game among those with at least 100 batted balls, just behind Stanton's 91.9 mark. The problem is that Diaz's average launch angle was nonexistent, which is why he was the master of the scorching ground ball to second base. If Diaz can take a page from the Alonso book, he's a breakout candidate.

Tweet from @castrovince: It's taken me this long to realize/appreciate that the @Indians are going to have 2018 lineups featuring a Yan, a Yonder and a Yandy.

4. Jason Kipnis ... one way or another
Kipnis would have been a free agent this offseason had he not signed an extension with the Indians prior to 2014. What once looked to be good value for the club deteriorated with Kipnis' injury-plagued season a year ago, in which he (temporarily, at least) lost his position at second base.

The Indians have tried to trade Kipnis, to no avail. If they are able to move Kipnis and the entirety of his contract, that's $13.67 million off the 2018 books that the team can use to upgrade the outfield and bullpen in what is still a crowded free-agent market, and employ their preferred defensive alignment with Ramirez at second. But if they can't move Kip, he at least rates as a bounceback candidate amid all the talk about his statistical regression.

"The best responses," Kipnis said Friday, "are between the lines."

Video: NYY@CLE Gm1: Statcast™ measures Kipnis' diving catch

5. Pleasant surprises
The Indians' outfield is dominated by left-handed bats coming off injury-plagued seasons (Michael Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, Lonnie Chisenhall), with the only right-handedness exception being Brandon Guyer, who -- yep, you guessed it -- is coming off an injury. As much as Lorenzo Cain would be the perfect free-agent fit here, that's just not expected to happen on Cleveland's budget. And so attention turns to non-roster invitee (and right-handed hitter) Melvin Upton Jr. (remember him?), who the Indians think could be a surprise contributor in the vein of what Austin Jackson brought to the ballclub last year.

"It wouldn't shock me if he comes in and hits the ground running," Francona said.

Be it Upton or Diaz or top prospect Francisco Mejia (a catcher who could wind up helping at third base) or somebody or something I've failed to mention here, a title run would likely require impact from unexpected sources. But ain't that always the case?

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

 

Cleveland Indians

Kipnis itching to return to second base

Tribe will likely allow veteran to return to infield in '18
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis has not been explicitly informed that he will open the season as the second baseman for the Indians. Manager Terry Francona described that as the probable scenario on Friday, but still stopped short of committing to that plan with Opening Day still more than two months away.

"More than likely, he plays second," Francona said. "The winter isn't over yet. The way we're aligned, it certainly looks like that's the right thing to do. He's preparing for that."

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis has not been explicitly informed that he will open the season as the second baseman for the Indians. Manager Terry Francona described that as the probable scenario on Friday, but still stopped short of committing to that plan with Opening Day still more than two months away.

"More than likely, he plays second," Francona said. "The winter isn't over yet. The way we're aligned, it certainly looks like that's the right thing to do. He's preparing for that."

Earlier this offseason, Kipnis' name found its way into trade rumors, and one report went as far to say he was nearly dealt to the Mets. Those rumblings petered out in the weeks following the Winter Meetings in early December, making it more and more likely that Kipnis -- a veteran of seven seasons with Cleveland -- will be with the Tribe come Spring Training.

Kipnis, who ended last season in the outfield, is scheduled to earn $13.7 million this year and is owed $14.7 million in '19, with a $16.5 million team option (or $2.5 million buyout) for '20. For an Indians club with little financial wiggle room, he understands that moving his contract could potentially help the team address some roster issues.

Kipnis reiterated on Friday, though, that he does not want to go anywhere else.

"They know I love playing here and want to stay here," said Kipnis, who was limited to 90 games last season due to health issues. "But I understand the business side of it. Stuff like that is usually out of the player's control, and our job is only to take care of what we can take care of. So I just worry about getting ready for the season."

If left fielder Michael Brantley (recovering from right ankle surgery) is ready for Opening Day, the logical alignment would be to have Kipnis at second and Jose Ramirez slide back to third base. If Brantley's comeback lingers into the regular season, there is still a chance that Kipnis could fill in as a left fielder temporarily.

"I'm excited to play wherever they need me," Kipnis said. "I'm still waiting for the green light to say that it's second base. I know it came out [in reports] a little bit, but I still have to talk to them. I'll wait for them to tell me more."

Bauer not worried about contract

Right-hander Trevor Bauer is the lone arbitration-eligible player who remains unsigned by the Indians. Bauer's representatives reportedly submitted a salary of $6.525 million, while Cleveland has offered $5.3 million. Bauer noted that his arbitration hearing, if necessary, is scheduled for Feb. 8. The Indians can still reach an agreement with the pitcher at any point leading up to the hearing.

"That doesn't change anything," Bauer said of his contract situation. "Ultimately, I'm a professional. I come here to do my job and be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I can be, and contribute to winning a World Series. So regardless of the outcome of the contract negotiations, it's not going to change how I do my job."

Worth noting

• Francona said that Indians prospect Francisco Mejia, who was ranked this week as the No. 1 catching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, will likely stay behind the plate for most of the spring. The manager said he and the front office will be discussing that in more detail soon. During the Arizona Fall League, Cleveland had Mejia try his hand at third base.

• Francona noted that Brantley is "doing terrific" in his rehab from October ankle surgery. Said Francona: "He'll be dying to start the season on time, as he always does. That will be our biggest challenge -- to make sure we get him back and keep him back and not let Opening Day be an arbitrary deadline."

Yandy Diaz is currently in Arizona rehabbing from a groin injury sustained during winter ball. Francona said that Diaz -- once fully healthy -- will likely focus solely on third base during Spring Training.

• Francona said the team's front office may still have some transactions coming. Said the manager: "I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with somebody else. If we don't, go play. I like our team a lot."

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, Trevor Bauer, Jason Kipnis

Power puts Bradley among top 1B prospects

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The old adage in baseball is that power is something that develops over time. Bobby Bradley has had it since he broke into the professional ranks with the Indians.

Bradley's power displays have made him one of Cleveland's most intriguing prospects since he was drafted by the organization four years ago. Evaluators also see the potential in Bradley, who was ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's updated rankings of the top 10 first-base prospects.

CLEVELAND -- The old adage in baseball is that power is something that develops over time. Bobby Bradley has had it since he broke into the professional ranks with the Indians.

Bradley's power displays have made him one of Cleveland's most intriguing prospects since he was drafted by the organization four years ago. Evaluators also see the potential in Bradley, who was ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's updated rankings of the top 10 first-base prospects.

This spring, Bradley will get to showcase his skills for Indians manager Terry Francona and his coaching staff as a non-roster invitee to big league camp in Goodyear, Ariz. That will mark Bradley's first extended taste of the Major League environment -- aside from a dozen Cactus League games over the past three years. It will give Bradley a chance to be around veteran first basemen like Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion before returning to the Minors.

Bradley is the third Indians prospect to make the cut for MLB Pipeline's Top 10 positional lists, which are being updated ahead of the Jan. 27 unveiling of the preseason Top 100 prospects rankings. On Thursday, Francisco Mejia was named the No. 1 catching prospect in baseball. Earlier in the week, Triston McKenzie was named the No. 9 right-handed pitching prospect.

That trio represents a part of the future for an Indians club that will be looking for ways to extend its current window of success. The big league club has a solid young foundation with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Bradley Zimmer, among others, and a crop of prospects who will be knocking on the door soon.

Video: Bobby Bradley on changing his approach at the plate

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Last season, Bradley, 21, turned in a .251/.331/.465 slash line in 131 games for Double-A Akron, hitting 23 home runs and 25 doubles with 89 RBIs. That came after the left-handed-swinging first baseman belted 29 homers with 102 RBIs in the previous season with Class A Advanced Lynchburg.

Bradley -- selected in the third round of the 2014 Draft -- has posted a .261/.352/.499 slash line (.851 OPS) over four seasons in the Indians' system. He has averaged one home run per 20.2 plate appearances, and has shown improvement with his plate discipline. Bradley's strikeout rate dropped to 22.9 percent in 2017 from 29.7 percent in '16 and 31.6 percent in '15.

This winter, the Indians lost Carlos Santana in free agency and brought in Alonso to take over at first base with a two-year contract that includes a team (or vesting) option for 2020. In all likelihood, Bradley will advance to Triple-A Columbus this season, with an eye on breaking into the Majors within the next two years. If he continues on his current trajectory, there is a chance that Bradley might find his home at first in Cleveland when Alonso's contract expires.

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

Mejia earns top ranking among C prospects

Tribe's highly touted backstop all about 'focus' in MLB development
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Mejia is not only widely considered the top prospect in the Indians' organization, but he is also one of baseball's best young catchers. According to MLB Pipeline, in fact, there is no catching prospect who merits a higher ranking than the up-and-coming Tribe backstop.

On Thursday, MLB Pipeline unveiled the top 10 catching prospects in baseball and Mejia -- who got a brief taste of the big leagues last season -- led the way in the No. 1 spot. This comes after Indians pitcher Triston McKenzie was rated as the No. 9 right-handed pitching prospect in the game earlier this week.

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Mejia is not only widely considered the top prospect in the Indians' organization, but he is also one of baseball's best young catchers. According to MLB Pipeline, in fact, there is no catching prospect who merits a higher ranking than the up-and-coming Tribe backstop.

On Thursday, MLB Pipeline unveiled the top 10 catching prospects in baseball and Mejia -- who got a brief taste of the big leagues last season -- led the way in the No. 1 spot. This comes after Indians pitcher Triston McKenzie was rated as the No. 9 right-handed pitching prospect in the game earlier this week.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

MLB Pipeline will continue to roll out its preseason top 10 lists over the next several days, culminating in the Top 100 prospects list on Jan. 27.

"He did an extraordinary job at continuing his development," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said of Mejia at the end of last season. "Offensively, and specifically defensively, the way he led the staff, some of the nuances of catching. He's in a much better spot now than he was a couple years ago as a defender."

Mejia, 22, was promoted to the Majors from Double-A Akron in the final month last season, but he only appeared in 11 games for the Indians. Tribe manager Terry Francona quipped that Mejia was always standing near the bat rack or close to the skipper with a bat in his hand, staying ready. That was noticed by Cleveland's big league staff, which will be looking closely at Mejia this spring, too.

Video: Indians prospect Francisco Mejia discusses his goals

When Mejia was called up to the big leagues, though, the Indians were in the midst of their American League-record 22-game winning streak, and they had a good thing going with veteran catchers Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes. Under the circumstances, there were not many innings available for Mejia to be worked into Major League games.

"There just wasn't the opportunity to catch him as much as I would have liked," Francona said. "You could tell, it's a young kid who's used to playing every day. He's making the jump from Double-A to the Major Leagues, and he's playing so sporadically. You could even see in his at-bats, he was getting a little out of control. That's not the type of hitter he is. He's a really advanced hitter. He was put into some situations that were extremely challenging."

Mejia enjoyed a standout showing with Akron before being called up to The Show. In 92 games in the Minors, the catcher turned in a .297/.346/.490 slash line with 14 home runs, 21 doubles, 52 RBIs, 52 runs scored and seven stolen bases. Mejia also threw out 30 percent of would-be basestealers.

The .835 OPS that Mejia posted in 2017 followed a breakout showing in '16, when he had an .896 OPS between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg and made national headlines with a 50-game hitting streak. That performance, which vaulted Mejia up the prospect rankings, came after he had a .670 OPS in '15 for Lake County.

Video: Mejia discusses his memorable 50-game hitting streak

"It's been about the focus and focusing on the game," Mejia said earlier this month at MLB's Rookie Career Development Program. "When I finished the season in 2015, I went to the Dominican [Republic] for a short time and came back to do a program that the [Indians] set up for me. I stayed with the team more than in the Dominican. The focus and the help of the coaches and new manager helped me a lot. I talked about a lot of things with the pitching coach.

"Also, I practiced a lot in the Dominican, seeing a lot of games there, too. I learned a lot in the winter league. I didn't play, but I was on the bench. That helped me a lot to see that, in this game, it's not just you. There are a lot of people behind you waiting to take your job."

Following the regular season, Mejia went to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .365 in 15 games and tried his hand at third base. The idea was to introduce some versatility into Mejia's game, given that he is close to being ready for the Majors and Cleveland has two veteran catchers locked in at the moment.

"One thing we know," Antonetti said recently, "is [Mejia] is a really good catcher right now and he made a lot of great progress defensively. Over the course of the last six months, he took a step toward increasing his versatility, so that's a big positive. Francisco deserves a lot of credit."

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 Mejia

Kluber, Tribe feted at Cleveland Sports Awards

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Indians did not achieve the moment they really wanted last year, but the team did make history on multiple fronts and was appropriately honored on Wednesday night.

During the 18th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at the Renaissance Hotel, Indians ace Corey Kluber was named the 2017 Professional Athlete of the Year, and the Tribe's American League-record 22-game winning streak was recognized as the Best Moment in Cleveland Sports. Everyone in the room, including manager Terry Francona, would have preferred to be celebrating a World Series triumph.

CLEVELAND -- The Indians did not achieve the moment they really wanted last year, but the team did make history on multiple fronts and was appropriately honored on Wednesday night.

During the 18th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at the Renaissance Hotel, Indians ace Corey Kluber was named the 2017 Professional Athlete of the Year, and the Tribe's American League-record 22-game winning streak was recognized as the Best Moment in Cleveland Sports. Everyone in the room, including manager Terry Francona, would have preferred to be celebrating a World Series triumph.

"After the sting of losing to the Yankees," Francona told the audience, "in 28 days, I guarantee you we're coming back with a vengeance."

Francona was alluding to the fact that the Indians -- who were ousted from the postseason by New York in the AL Division Series -- will have their pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona on Feb. 14, marking the official start of Spring Training. This week, the manager and many of the team's players are in Cleveland for Tribe Fest, which takes place on Saturday at the Huntington Convention Center downtown.

At the awards banquet, Francona was joined by Tribe catcher Roberto Perez, who accepted Kluber's award on his behalf. Kluber -- the only pitcher in Indians history to win multiple AL Cy Young Awards -- shared some words of gratitude in a brief video.

"This is a huge honor for me, personally," Kluber said. "I'd like to thank Roberto for accepting this award on my behalf tonight. Without the leadership and guidance of our catchers -- both Roberto and Yan [Gomes] -- I wouldn't be in the position to receive this award. Also, I'd like to thank the rest of my teammates who supported me throughout the entire season. 2017 was a great year for us. It was very exciting.

"But, I think we're all looking forward to bigger and better things in 2018, and we can't wait to get started in a few weeks."

Tweet from @CLESports: Terry Francona poses with the #TwitterMirror prior to accepting the 2017 Best Moment in @CLESports Award! #RallyTogether #CLESportsAwards pic.twitter.com/u2mtom2JPI

Last season, Kluber went 18-4 with a Major League-low 2.25 ERA. In 203 2/3 innings, the right-hander piled up 265 strikeouts against 36 walks, and made his second straight All-Star team. Kluber then garnered 28 first-place among the 30 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America for the AL Cy Young Award.

"Kluber is a special guy," Perez said. "As a catcher, I expect a lot of big things from Kluber. The way he prepares, he's so professional, and his work ethic. He deserves it."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Corey Kluber takes home the 2017 Professional Athlete of the Year award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. Roberto Perez accepted on Kluber���s behalf. pic.twitter.com/qDjf4xgtf6

This offseason, the Indians lost Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce and Joe Smith in free agency, but the team is taking some comfort in the fact that the bulk of the pitching staff, including the entire Kluber-led rotation, remains intact. That is a main reason behind the team's confidence that it can not only contend for a third straight AL Central title, but position itself for another postseason run.

"It's a lot easier to appear smarter when you have good pitching," Francona said. "We've got to keep our guys strong and healthy, because they're the backbone of what we're trying to do. We don't take it or granted, but we appreciate it and enjoy it, and it's one of the reasons we think we can be good."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Indians manager Terry Francona, on the 22-game winning streak, the team���s offseason and more... pic.twitter.com/aSWzxRTjVJ

As for the Indians' historic winning streak, which eclipsed the 2002 A's previously AL record of 20 victories in a row, Francona said the magnitude of the accomplishment sunk in this offseason.

"I honestly didn't realize at the time what it meant to people," Francona said. "When I got back [home] this winter, more people were like, 'Wow, it was amazing. I stopped what I was doing when you guys got to like 15.' It was pretty cool to hear that, because when you're living it, you heard me every day, it was like, 'We're going to turn the page and move on.' And we'd do that pretty good. So, I don't know that I took the time to maybe enjoy it as much as I should have. When you look back on it, it's pretty special."

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

McKenzie No. 9 on list of Top 10 RHP prospects

Former first-rounder is No. 9 on MLB Pipeline's Top 10 RHPs
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Indians currently boast one of the best rotations in baseball, and built the staff through multiple avenues. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger were acquired via trade. Josh Tomlin was a late-round Draft pick who defied the odds through development. Danny Salazar came aboard as an international signing.

Triston McKenzie might very well represent the future -- an arm that can help sustain the success and reputation of Cleveland's pitching staff. According to MLB Pipeline, which is unveiling its Top 10 lists at each position over the next two weeks, McKenzie ranks ninth among all of baseball's right-handed pitching prospects for this coming season and finished last season second overall within the organization. McKenzie does what he can not to worry about rankings.

CLEVELAND -- The Indians currently boast one of the best rotations in baseball, and built the staff through multiple avenues. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger were acquired via trade. Josh Tomlin was a late-round Draft pick who defied the odds through development. Danny Salazar came aboard as an international signing.

Triston McKenzie might very well represent the future -- an arm that can help sustain the success and reputation of Cleveland's pitching staff. According to MLB Pipeline, which is unveiling its Top 10 lists at each position over the next two weeks, McKenzie ranks ninth among all of baseball's right-handed pitching prospects for this coming season and finished last season second overall within the organization. McKenzie does what he can not to worry about rankings.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

"I don't actually focus on it," McKenzie told reporters at the Indians' fall development program in September. "I focus on the game. I focus on me going out there and helping my team."

McKenzie played in the Futures Game this past summer, and is a safe bet to be included in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect list, which will be revealed on Jan. 27. Last season, the lanky right-hander baffled plenty of bats with a fastball-curveball mix and a developing changeup. McKenzie piled up strikeouts, pitched with precision and lasted deep into games.

McKenzie spent the entire 2017 season with Class A Advanced Lynchburg in the Carolina League. In 25 starts, McKenzie went 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA, amassing 186 strikeouts against 45 walks in 143 innings. The righty averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

McKenzie, who was selected in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2015 Draft, has a 2.68 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in parts of three professional seasons in Cleveland's system.

Since being drafted, McKenzie has worked hard with the Indians on cleaning up his mechanics, especially with his lower half. The idea was to help alleviate some issues with the right-hander's across-the-body throwing motion. Once McKenzie grew accustomed to some of those alterations, he began to expand his pitch repertoire.

"In the beginning, there was a little bit of adjusting," McKenzie said. "But, I feel like every day I go out there and pitch, I learn something. Whether it be from my experiences facing the team, whether it be from me talking to my teammates who have been there before, talking to my coaches who have experience, talking to guys [from the Major League team], guys that are high prospects in our organization, I feel like I learn something every day."

McKenzie will likely advance to Double-A Akron this year, bringing him one step closer to the Majors.

"I'm not even looking that far [ahead] right now," McKenzie said. "All I'm focused on is coming into Spring Training 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.

 

Cleveland Indians

Tribe unveils Spring Training broadcast slate

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- One month from now, the Indians' pitchers and catchers will hold their first official spring workout at the team's complex in Goodyear, Ariz. Spring Training games will be right around the corner, giving fans their first look at a team aiming for a third straight American League Central title.

That quest will begin on Feb. 23, when the Indians take on the Reds in their first Cactus League clash of 2018. That game will be televised on SportsTime Ohio, along with nine others during the spring, as part of the Spring Training broadcast slate that was announced by the Indians on Tuesday.

CLEVELAND -- One month from now, the Indians' pitchers and catchers will hold their first official spring workout at the team's complex in Goodyear, Ariz. Spring Training games will be right around the corner, giving fans their first look at a team aiming for a third straight American League Central title.

That quest will begin on Feb. 23, when the Indians take on the Reds in their first Cactus League clash of 2018. That game will be televised on SportsTime Ohio, along with nine others during the spring, as part of the Spring Training broadcast slate that was announced by the Indians on Tuesday.

Tweet from @Indians: 29 days until pitchers and catchers, and our Spring TV/radio schedule is out!10 games on @SportsTimeOhio 10 on @wtam1100 2 on @wmms 3 on @ALT991Cleveland https://t.co/7t1oKjQfEv pic.twitter.com/0R1LjqcvT4

This spring, STO will carry 10 games: Feb. 23 (Reds), Feb. 25 (Reds), Feb. 26 (Brewers), March 6 (Reds), March 10 (Padres), March 11 (Brewers), March 17-18 (Cubs), March 21 (Royals) and March 27 (D-backs). The March 17-18 games against Chicago -- a pairing of 2016 World Series opponents -- will take place in Las Vegas, while the March 27 tilt against Arizona will be at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Indians Spring Training: Info | Schedule | Tickets

On the radio, WTAM 1100 AM will carry 10 games: Feb 23-24, March 3-4, March 6, March 10-11, March 17-18 and March 24. The March 17-18 games aired by WTAM will be the split-squad tilts in Arizona against the Cubs and Mariners, respectively. ALT 99.1 FM will air games on Feb. 25, March 23 and March 25, while WMMS 100.7 FM will broadcast two games (March 8 and March 15).

Indians.com will also have gamecasts and radio broadcasts throughout Spring Training.

The Tribe's pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Arizona on Feb. 14, with the first workout scheduled for Feb. 16. Position players will report on Feb. 18, with the first full-squad workout following on Feb. 20. Following Spring Training, which will conclude with two exhibition games at Chase Field (March 26-27), the Indians will open the regular season on March 29 in Seattle. Cleveland's home opener is slated for 4:10 p.m. ET on April 6 against the Royals.

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

Inbox: Strategy behind Brantley over Bruce?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields questions from Indians fans
MLB.com @MLBastian

The first thing to consider here is the timeline of the transactions. The Indians had to make a decision on Michael Brantley's team option on Nov. 3, and chose to keep him in the fold for $12 million. When the Indians made that call, they knew Jay Bruce was intent on testing the free-agent waters and hoping for a big payday.

Tweet from @dex_ou: What was the thought process on keeping injury prone Brantley for 1 year $12mil and not getting Bruce for 3 year $13 mil year average? #IndiansInbox

The first thing to consider here is the timeline of the transactions. The Indians had to make a decision on Michael Brantley's team option on Nov. 3, and chose to keep him in the fold for $12 million. When the Indians made that call, they knew Jay Bruce was intent on testing the free-agent waters and hoping for a big payday.

Now, we have the benefit of hindsight. In what has been an extremely slow-developing market for free agents, and especially free-agent outfielders, Bruce reportedly agreed to a three-year, $39-million contract with the Mets last week. All the second-guessers can now weigh Brantley vs. Bruce and wonder if Cleveland made the wrong choice so early in the process.

Submit a question to the Indians Inbox

Brantley and Bruce are two different styles of hitters -- Bruce brings more power and Brantley offers more consistency and a higher contact rate -- but they potentially offer roughly the same value. Consider this: Bruce averaged 0.184 WAR per game in 2017 and Brantley averaged 0.178. Overall, Bruce had a 118 weighted Runs Created Plus (indicating he was 18 percent better than MLB's average) in 146 games, while Brantley posted a 111 wRC+ in 90 games.

Video: NYY@CLE Gm2: Bruce clubs game-tying solo homer in 8th

Sample-size alert, but Bruce had an .808 OPS with a 108 OPS+ in 169 plate appearances after being traded to Cleveland. Brantley had an .801 OPS and a 108 OPS+ in 375 plate appearances in 2017. So, yes, Bruce hit 36 homers and had a higher slugging percentage, but they rated as relatively similar hitters. They just got there in different fashions.

It's also worth noting that the Indians avoided a long-term commitment in this decision. Bruce is a slugger whose new contract covers his age 31-33 seasons. There's risk there. Brantley's last two-plus years of injury woes make him a risk, too. But, Cleveland is only obligated to roll the dice for one more season before Brantley becomes a free agent.

Next year, the Indians might have Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin hit the free-agent market. The shorter-term decision (Brantley) may mean Cleveland is trying to keep its 2019 finances a bit more open in order to plan for the coming roster holes.

Tweet from @BennyTheJet2017: Salazar slated to return to starting rotation? If he doesn���t, who steps in to 5th spot? #IndiansInbox

Duriing the Winter Meetings, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if Danny Salazar was being viewed as a starter or reliever for this year. Without hesitation, Francona said Salazar was a starter. So, based on that, you can pencil Salazar's name into the projected Opening Day rotation. That said, if Salazar is being dangled as trade bait, it's in the Tribe's interest to continue to refer to him as a starter.

Video: MIN@CLE: Salazar strikes out nine over 4 2/3 innings

If there is no trade, the Indians will have an interesting rotation situation to follow this spring. You never know what setbacks or injuries might happen during Spring Training, so going in with Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Tomlin as options for the fourth and fifth spots gives the Indians a solid foundation. But, if all are healthy at the end of camp, how will Cleveland make the pieces fit?

Clevinger has one Minor League option left, so there's a chance he could open with Triple-A Columbus and stay there until a need arises in the big league rotation. Or, one spot could open for Salazar, Clevinger or Tomlin to start in the bullpen, where each has experience, to keep them all in the Major Leagues. The Indians also have to keep in mind that there is a lack of Major League rotation experience behind the top six arms.

Video: CLE@LAA: Clevinger tosses six innings of one-run ball

As the other teams have gone out and made moves to significantly upgrade their squads, the Indians have been eerily quiet. I understand not giving Carlos Santana the type of money he got from the Phillies, but I have an issue with not matching or exceeding the offer that Bruce got from the Mets. It feels like the Indians have regressed. What are your thoughts?
--Dan B., Uniontown, Ohio

Given the landscape of the American League Central, the Indians arguably have the best path back to the postseason in 2018. They are also returning with a historically great pitching staff nearly entirely intact. I don't think the roster as it stands today is as strong as it was when the '17 season ended. That kind of goes without saying, but I don't see a team that needs to be in panic mode when it comes to spending in the free-agent market. Cleveland remains in a good position and based on recent years (acquiring Miller and Brandon Guyer in '16 and trading for Bruce and Joe Smith in '17), I think it's likely that Cleveland tries to address some of its needs midseason.

Tweet from @Domi_Rella: Does the front office plan on signing another outfielder for depth? Why not re-sign Austin Jackson? #IndiansInbox

The Indians have maintained all offseason that they have interest in a reunion with Jackson, but that might be unlikely after the team signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite to Spring Training. The Indians like Upton's potential against left-handed pitching and the fact that he can play all three outfield spots. He'd earn $1.5 million if he made the Major League roster. Essentially, it's the same type of role and deal that Jackson had with Cleveland one year ago. At the moment, adding relief depth looks like a bigger priority for the Tribe.

Video: Bastian discusses Upton Jr. signing with Indians

Tweet from @slheinemann: I'm hoping to see @Cody_Anderson40 make a come back from TJ surgery this season. What is the time frame? When is he projected to begin pitching in games?

Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said during the Winter Meetings that the team will not rush Anderson back to the mound. The typical timeline for return for a starting pitcher who undergoes Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months, and Anderson will be coming up on one year on March 27. A midseason comeback is probably most realistic.

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, Michael Brantley, Jay Bruce

Unsung zero: Perfect year for Indians' Olson

Lefty posted perfect ERA in 2017 after journeyman path to Tribe
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

The most dominant 2017 season you didn't notice came from a 27-year-old rookie pitcher with a modest professional track record. The year before, he was designated for assignment more times (three) than he pitched in a big league game (one).

Yet from that unlikely place, Indians left-hander Tyler Olson emerged in unprecedented fashion.

The most dominant 2017 season you didn't notice came from a 27-year-old rookie pitcher with a modest professional track record. The year before, he was designated for assignment more times (three) than he pitched in a big league game (one).

Yet from that unlikely place, Indians left-hander Tyler Olson emerged in unprecedented fashion.

Called up from Triple-A Columbus in the second half, Olson helped Cleveland win an American League-record 22 consecutive games on its way to a 102-60 record and an AL Central championship. He did it by being something almost nobody ever is in the failure-filled game of baseball -- perfect.

In 20 innings over 30 regular-season relief appearances, Olson did not allow an earned or unearned run (he added three scoreless appearances and two innings in the AL Division Series). Since at least 1901, no other pitcher has produced a scoreless season of more than 14 games (the Mets' Eric Gunderson in 1994) or 18 innings (the Dodgers' Karl Spooner in '54).

Video: NYY@CLE Gm2: Olson reacts quickly, snags a comebacker

By making the most of his limited opportunity, Olson generated 1.2 wins above replacement (WAR), according to Baseball-Reference.com, while facing 77 batters. No other pitcher or position player in 2017 managed at least 1 WAR with fewer than 98 batters faced or plate appearances. And no pitcher since Boston's Luis Aponte in 1981 had reached the 1-WAR plateau while facing fewer batters than Olson.

Here are five things to know about Olson's out-of-nowhere arrival:

1. A circuitous path to Cleveland
Drafted by the Mariners out of Gonzaga in the seventh round in 2013, Olson spent three seasons in the Seattle organization, debuting in the Majors for 11 games in '15. But between that December and the end of this past July, the southpaw went for a wild ride, as follows:

• Designated for assignment by the Mariners (December 2015)
• Traded to the Dodgers (December 2015)
• Traded to the Yankees (January 2016)
• Designated for assignment by the Yankees (June 2016)
• Claimed by the Royals (June 2016)
• Designated for assignment by the Royals (July 2016)
• Claimed by the Indians (July 2016)
• Designated for assignment by the Indians; sent outright to Triple-A (August 2016)
• Contract selected by the Indians (July 2017)

That's five organizations -- three of them 2017 postseason qualifiers -- in the span of less than two years. Through it all, Olson made one MLB appearance with the Yankees in April 2016, then didn't see a big league mound again until last July 21. He pitched twice for the Tribe, was briefly optioned back to Columbus, then came back up for good on July 31.

2. Pick your spots
The Indians and manager Terry Francona got to 102 wins in part by putting players in a position to succeed. Olson's usage is a perfect example.

In 18 of his 30 appearances, Olson went less than one inning. Ten times, he faced exactly one batter, and his average of 2.6 batters faced per game was the fourth lowest in MLB (minimum 10 appearances).

Although he stifled right-handed batters (.504 OPS) nearly as well as lefties (.460) for the Tribe in 2017, Olson had displayed a significant platoon split throughout his pro career. Therefore, it makes sense that 54.5 percent of the southpaw's matchups came against same-side hitters. Only four lefties who faced at least 75 batters had the platoon advantage more often, led by fellow Tribe reliever Boone Logan (61.5 percent).

Video: TOR@CLE: Olson induces double play to finish the game

3. Drop that hook
No team in 2017 threw curveballs more often than the Indians (17.6 percent), who were followed by fellow division winners the Red Sox, Dodgers, Astros and Cubs. Loading up on breaking balls is in style, and Olson fit right in with that trend.

With a four-seam fastball that averaged only 89 mph, Olson went to his curve more than 41 percent of the time. That ranked sixth highest among those who threw at least 200 total pitches, and opponents had no answer for the hook, going 5-for-30 (.167) against it with one double and nine strikeouts.

Video: CLE@CWS: Olson whiffs Brantly, strands runner

4. No barrel peril
Olson's 18 strikeouts in 20 innings didn't stand out for a reliever in 2017, but what the lefty did do exceptionally well in his limited body of work was induce favorable contact.

Among all pitchers who generated at least 50 batted balls, according to Statcast™, Olson ranked in the top 20 in average exit velocity allowed (83.1 mph), average exit velocity allowed on fly balls and line drives (87.4 mph) and opponent hard-hit rate (23.1 percent).

None of the 52 balls put in play against Olson were barrels -- the most dangerous type of batted ball, based on exit velocity and launch angle -- with only fellow Tribe lefty Ryan Merritt (78 balls in play) topping that feat.

Video: CLE@CWS: Olson induces a groundout to end the 7th

5. Great expectations
Statcast™'s expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) metric takes into account the quality of contact made, plus actual strikeouts and walks. Boosted by his opponents' weak contact, Olson allowed a .251 xwOBA that tied him for 30th in the Majors (minimum 50 batters faced), compared with the MLB average of .304 for relievers. That put Olson just behind teammate and AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (.248).

So while Olson clearly won't be counted on to replicate his 0.00 ERA in 2018, his spectacular '17 performance qualifies as more than just luck.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

Cleveland Indians, Tyler Olson