In the final weeks prior to Spring Training, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Indians' 2019 roster. This installment focuses on Cleveland's middle-infield options.Projected starters:Francisco Lindor (SS) and Jason Kipnis (2B)
After finishing out the final month of the 2018 season in center
In the final weeks prior to Spring Training, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Indians' 2019 roster. This installment focuses on Cleveland's middle-infield options.
Projected starters:Francisco Lindor (SS) and Jason Kipnis (2B)
After finishing out the final month of the 2018 season in center field, it appeared as though Kipnis could make a permanent move to the outfield and Jose Ramirez would take over at second base for the upcoming season. But that idea was quickly erased when third baseman Yandy Diaz was traded to the Rays, leaving Ramirez as the team's best option at the hot corner and opening up second for Kipnis.
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While so much regarding the Indians has been up in the air throughout the offseason, the one guarantee for 2019 is that Lindor will be the Opening Day shortstop, assuming the 25-year-old has a healthy spring. The shortstop is coming off his third consecutive All-Star season, and he led the Majors in runs scored (129) and plate appearances (745) while tying Alex Bregman and Christian Yelich for the fourth-best WAR (7.6) among qualified batters in '18. It's also safe to assume that Lindor will once again secure the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Other options up the middle:Max Moroff, Yu Chang, Eric Stamets
The Indians acquired Moroff from the Pirates on Nov. 14. The 25-year-old infielder can serve as a backup to both Lindor and Kipnis. Since 2016, Moroff has appeared in 84 games for Pittsburgh, playing 45 of those at second, 22 at shortstop and six at third. Last season, he hit .186 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 67 plate appearances for the Bucs and recorded a .223 average with 14 doubles, eight homers and 38 RBIs in 74 games at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Although Chang may not envision getting too much playing time at his primary position in the near future with Lindor at shortstop, he could be a great backup option. In 457 at-bats with Columbus in 2018, the 23-year-old Chang slashed .256/.339/.411 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs. With Lindor at short and a possible need for some depth at third, Chang could likely get more reps at the hot corner.
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Stamets has been in Cleveland's farm system since he was traded by the Angels in 2015. The 27-year-old, who has yet to make his Major League debut, hit .202 with 10 doubles and 16 RBIs in 78 games with Columbus last season. Stamets has experience at both middle-infield spots, but he will need to boost his offensive numbers to carve out his path to the big leagues.
Could Kipnis still end up in the outfield?
There is still plenty of time for more transactions to be made before the start of the season. Acquiring an outfielder, second baseman or third baseman could easily shake up the Tribe's projected lineup. Cleveland's outfield is in need of a solid everyday starter. Although Kipnis may not be the club's top outfield option, he could be another contender if the Indians were to add a second baseman to take his position or a third baseman to replace Ramirez, who would then move to the other side of the infield.
The Indians obviously have options in Moroff and Stamets to play second as well, but their collective inexperience makes it a little less likely for either to win the starting job in order to move Kipnis to the outfield.
Needless to say, nothing is set in stone.
Who else is in the Pipeline?
No. 11 Brayan Rocchio, SS (age 18, highest level: Rookie)
No. 13 Gabriel Rodriguez, SS (age 16, signed July 2, 2018)
No. 14 Aaron Bracho, SS (age 17, highest level: Rookie)
No. 15 Raynel Delgado, SS/2B (age 18, highest level: Rookie)
No. 20 Richard Palacios, SS (age 21, highest level: Class A)
No. 22 Tyler Freeman, SS (age 19, highest level: Class A Short-Season)
No. 29 Ernie Clement, SS (age 22, highest level: Double-A)
No. 30 Marcos Gonzalez, SS (age 19, highest level: Rookie)
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.