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 catchers.
When the Indians traded catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals at the end of November, all eyes quickly turned to Roberto Perez and Minor Leaguer Eric Haase.
After spending the last few seasons splitting time with Gomes, would Perez be able to to step up as the starter and provide offensively? Would Haase be ready to make the leap to the roster after recently making his debut as a September callup last season?
The lack of catching depth quickly changed in the New Year, when the Indians acquired Kevin Plawecki from the Mets on Jan. 6. Now, with the team having a few backstop options, a handful of new questions surrounds the Tribe.
Who will be the starter?
As of now, Indians' president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti expects Perez to get the bulk of the starts, but noted that Spring Training could prove otherwise. Perez has spent all five of his Major League seasons in Cleveland, so the team knows exactly what it is getting, including his "willingness and pride of running a game and keeping a pitcher going," which manager Terry Francona said will be one of the catcher's strengths.
"I think I've been waiting for this opportunity for the last couple years," Perez said. "Now that I have it, I'm going to get the most out of it. I feel like I'm ready. We've got a great team, especially our pitching staff, which is our strength. I want to try to get the most out of it and help my pitching staff."
Although the Tribe has expressed what kind of hitter it knows Perez could be, his bat could be a concern heading into 2019. In 210 plate appearances last year, the backstop hit .168 with two home runs, 19 RBIs, 21 walks and 70 strikeouts. But Perez attributes his struggles at the plate to his sporadic playing time and thinks more consistency will lead to better results.
"When you play every day, you get the opportunity to make adjustments," Perez said. "When you don't play, you try to make your at-bats one swing, especially if you play once or twice a week. You try to do too much. You try to make up for games you didn't get a hit, stuff like that. Now that I have the opportunity, it's matter of making adjustments. You get that live pitching every day. And you can get in a rhythm. Hopefully I do a good job."
To get some extra reps, Perez asked to play in the Dominican Winter League this offseason and slashed .333/418/.435 with four doubles, one home run, 11 RBIs and 10 walks in 24 games.
"I'm excited, man," Perez said. "I'm going to prove some people wrong. Like I said, I'm ready for the opportunity, for the challenge, and whatever happens, whatever it takes, I'm there. I can't wait to get going."
What does Plawecki bring to the Tribe?
Plawecki adds much-needed experience to the Indians' depth chart -- which previously was relying on Perez and the Minor Leaguer Haase -- along with quality defense. In 2018, he was one of just two catchers (including the Pirates' Elias Diaz) who worked over 500 innings (Plawecki logged 589 2/3) behind the plate without allowing a passed ball.
Plawecki has spent each of his four Major League seasons with the Mets. Last year, he played in a career-high 79 games, hitting .210 with seven homers and 30 RBIs, but had a six-week stint on the disabled list with a broken left hand.
On top of looking to earn a starting spot at Spring Training, being a newcomer to the club means Plawecki will also have to focus on learning a new pitching staff with a star-studded rotation that's likely to include Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.
"It'll just be a lot of relying on some of the other guys that have been here and have caught these guys, Perez and [Haase]. Just picking their brains about what these guys have." Plawecki said in a question-and-answer session at last weekend's Tribe Fest. "Video before, and then once we get to Spring, it's just behind the plate all day every day with these guys, trying to understand what they have and what they like to use in certain situations and stuff like that so when we get into the season, we hit the ground running."
Although Perez is the early favorite to win the starting job, nothing is official until the team gets a look at both of its catchers during its six-week stint in Arizona.
What does this mean for Haase?
There was a lot of talk about Haase when Gomes was traded, wondering if the young backstop would be ready to step up to make an impact on the big league club. But the addition of Plawecki puts less pressure on the Tribe to rush its 27th-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, to be Major-League ready.
The catcher had a slow start to his professional career, taking six seasons to advance to Double-A Akron in 2016, but quickly made his way to Triple-A after having a breakout season in '17.
In 120 games for Triple-A Columbus last year, Haase hit .236 with 20 homers, 71 RBIs, 31 walks and 143 strikeouts. In his nine games as a September callup in 2018, he went 2-for-16 (.125) and struck out six times.
It's not certain that Indians' fans won't see Haase in 2019, but the chances are definitely lower than what they were before the calendars flipped over to the New Year.
Who else is in the Pipeline?
No. 4 Noah Naylor (age: 18, highest level: Rookie-level)