CLEVELAND -- After a pandemic-shortened 2020 and an offseason filled with unknowns, we've officially reached the start of Spring Training, as pitchers and catchers reported to Indians camp on Wednesday. While there are still plenty of questions to get answered over the next six weeks, let's take a look at what we know now:
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
Spring Training always takes a tremendous amount of work, preparation and organization from each club, but the pandemic has made everything a bit more challenging. Instead of having all pitchers and catchers arrive together, the Indians have players reporting for their daily workouts in waves, are serving all meals outdoors and are utilizing four different clubhouses to limit the number of people interacting with each other, among many other protocols. COVID-19 testing will be happening regularly, and the Cactus League eliminated all split-squad games and added an additional off day for each club.
What are the key roster/position battles to watch?
Oh, there are plenty.
If Naylor doesn’t factor into the outfield, he could get involved in the position battle at first base. The Indians have indicated that Naylor will probably factor more into the outfield more than he will at first, however, leaving Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley to battle to be the Opening Day starter.
We’re not done just yet. The Indians will have to decide between their two newly acquired shortstops from the Mets in Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez to take on the everyday role. The team could choose Rosario and send Giménez down to the Minors so that it can gain another year of control. But if Giménez wins the job, Rosario could give the outfield a try.
The last position battle to keep an eye on will be the last spot in the rotation. It’s safe to say that Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale will make up the top half of the rotation, and Triston McKenzie is a clear favorite to fill the fourth spot, but who will be the fifth starter? The Tribe have options in Cal Quantrill, Adam Plutko, Scott Moss, Logan Allen, Sam Hentges, Jordan Humphreys, Jean Carlos Mejía and Trevor Stephan.
When is the first Spring Training game?
What was first scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27, has now been pushed to Feb. 28 after the Cactus League restructured all of its schedules to better follow COVID-19 protocols. The Tribe will still have its annual opening spring game against the Reds, who share Goodyear Ballpark with the Indians. Cleveland will be the home team in the opener, which is slated to start at 3:05 p.m. ET.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
The Indians received approval to have just under 2,200 fans (21 percent capacity) at Goodyear Ballpark for Spring Training games. Tickets, which will be sold online only, go on sale on Friday, Feb. 19 at 12 p.m. ET. For those who aren’t in attendance, the Tribe is still working through its television and radio schedules in order to air as many games as possible. Because the game schedule underwent some last-minute changes, the team needs a little more time to adjust its broadcast slate.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
Like the past few years, prospects like Johnson and Bradley will receive plenty of attention, but three other prospects will probably have just as many eyes on them.
Let’s start with Nolan Jones. The 22-year-old received the suggestion from the Indians to get some reps in the outfield and at first base so that the third baseman is versatile enough to maybe get called up to the big leagues despite the fact that José Ramírez will be at the hot corner. Jones started playing in the outfield -- for the first time in his life -- during the fall league and was excited for the opportunity. He’ll likely see more time there this spring and could play a role on the big league roster at some point this season.
Another prospect who could make a convincing case to make the big league roster is Moss. As we’ve already discussed, there will be a battle for the fifth spot in the Tribe’s rotation. Along with Quantrill, Plutko, Allen and others, Moss will certainly be in the running. The lefty split the 2019 season between the Reds’ and Indians’ farm systems, owning a combined 2.96 ERA while holding opponents to a .211 average, with 159 strikeouts and 70 walks in 130 2/3 innings.
One other prospect to watch is Nick Sandlin. Sandlin split the 2019 season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus and owned a 1.56 ERA in 15 relief appearances for Akron with two saves and 27 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. He then pitched to a 4.00 ERA in nine appearances for Columbus before a stress fracture in his forearm ended his season in late June (and later required surgery in August). Now that he’s expected to be healthy for 2021, he could play a role in the Tribe’s bullpen at some point this season, assuming his five-pitch mix (that he utilizes from three arm slots, according to MLB Pipeline) remains as sharp as it was two years ago.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
Opening Day is set for Thursday, April 1, as the Tribe will open the season in Detroit with a 1:10 p.m. ET game against the Tigers. The Indians will return home the following Monday, April 5, to host the Royals at 4:10 p.m. ET in their home opener.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
The Indians’ plan is to allow at least some fans into Progressive Field, beginning with the home opener on April 5. The team is still finalizing plans to figure out what the capacity will be.