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Quality arms to vie for rotation roles at Tribe ST

Race for final starting spots likely to be highlight of Indians camp
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- There has been little movement with the Indians' roster this offseason, but there is hardly a shortage of storylines this spring.

Yonder Alonso will come into camp as the new guy, taking over at first base for long-time cornerstone Carlos Santana (now with the Phillies). Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez will look to continue making this their team. Top prospect Francisco Mejia will be awaiting his chance. There will be competition for bullpen spots and bench jobs, and new coaches getting to know the team.

CLEVELAND -- There has been little movement with the Indians' roster this offseason, but there is hardly a shortage of storylines this spring.

Yonder Alonso will come into camp as the new guy, taking over at first base for long-time cornerstone Carlos Santana (now with the Phillies). Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez will look to continue making this their team. Top prospect Francisco Mejia will be awaiting his chance. There will be competition for bullpen spots and bench jobs, and new coaches getting to know the team.

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When the Tribe's pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout on Feb. 16, though, arguably the most exciting storyline will be the rotation race. In other camps around Arizona and Florida, arms like Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin would be locks for jobs. With the Indians, they will be competing for two vacancies at the back end of one of baseball's elite starting staffs.

"It might take care of itself. It might not," Indians manager Terry Francona said in January. "If it doesn't, we'll make a decision."

Race for Indians' rotation: Clevinger | Salazar | Tomlin | Merritt

The intrigue surrounding the rotation is not limited to the last two spots, either.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Off the field, Cleveland is facing a major change: Former pitching coach Mickey Callaway is now the manager of the Mets. Callaway served on Francona's staff for the past five years, helping shape organizational philosophies from the Minor Leagues on up and leading a Major League pitching staff that developed into one of the game's best groups. Under Callaway's watch, Corey Kluber developed into a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner.

• Indians enter spring with Series-or-bust mentality

Video: Outlook: Kluber remains an elite pitcher in the AL

The Indians replaced Callaway with a familiar face, hiring Carl Willis as pitching coach. The word "new" does not apply, considering Willis previously served as Cleveland's pitching coach from 2003-09. He also worked in the Tribe's farm system in 2014-15 before being hired away by the Red Sox to lead their big league staff from May '15 through last season.

The idea for Cleveland is that the transition to Willis should be a smooth one, given that the Indians now have a veteran staff, which learned and thrived under Callaway.

"I don't think there's a huge change, and Carl's got a great track record," Tomlin said. "We all know that. He's just going to come in and be another voice for us, and it's a good voice to have. We'll be talking to him, leaning on him, and trying to figure out little tips and tricks that he's learned along the way. They'll be very useful and we'll try to pick them up and use them as much as we can."

Video: Bastian on Indians rehiring Willis as pitching coach

The rotation will be headed by Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, who went a combined 53-19 with a 3.20 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 580 frames. Kluber and Carrasco finished first and fourth, respectively, in voting for the AL Cy Young Award, and the Indians' ace paced all of baseball with a 2.25 ERA.

In the postseason, though, Kluber had a pair of tough outings against the Yankees, and questions arose as to whether the right-hander was dealing with an injury. That will undoubtedly be a topic again this spring, though Francona has done his part in trying to halt that conversation.

"He had to deal with his back all year. He's OK," Francona said. "I checked in with him like two or three weeks after we were done, just to check in on him, take a deep breath. I just wanted to make sure he was OK, and he was fine. That kind of made the winter a little less stressful."

The rotation competition is where the true intrigue lies.

"It's going to be fun," Salazar said.

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, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, Ryan Merritt, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin