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Cooperstown is perfect spot for Thome

Slugger's power, presence in clubhouse made him all-time great
MLB.com

Here's a fun exercise to try when you plan on writing a report or story or whatever. Start by writing down 10 facts you know about your subject without looking up anything.

Here are 10 facts I know about Jim Thome in no particular order.

Here's a fun exercise to try when you plan on writing a report or story or whatever. Start by writing down 10 facts you know about your subject without looking up anything.

Here are 10 facts I know about Jim Thome in no particular order.

But before we get to that, a reminder that live coverage of the 2018 Hall of Fame announcement begins Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on MLB Network, simulcast live on MLB.com, with the electees named at 6.

Hall of Fame coverage

Now, back to the facts:

1. Thome is from Peoria, Ill. He comes from a very athletic family.

2. Thome homered in 48 different ballparks. Absurdly, he never homered at Coors Field.

3. Thome idolized Dave Kingman as a kid.

4. Thome learned to do that point-at-the-pitcher thing before every at-bat from Roy Hobbs of "The Natural."

5. At the end of his career, Thome did not keep a glove in his locker.

6. Everybody loved the guy.

7. Thome was one of the few players who would always come to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum awards banquet.

8. Thome's wife, Andrea, is a former television reporter in Cleveland and an absolute delight.

9. Thome is a member of the exclusive 600-home run club, which admittedly used to be a lot more exclusive. It used to be just Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Now, it includes -- let's see if I can get them all off the top of my head -- Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols and Thome. I think that's all of them.

10. I'm almost certain Thome's the only player to be top 10 all-time in home runs, strikeouts and walks, making him the all-time Three True Outcomes player.

And a bonus 11th fact: Thome is the all-time regular-season leader in walk-off home runs with 13.

Video: ANA@CLE: Thome hits walk-off, two-run HR in 11-10 win

That's actually a lot -- I'm not sure that, without Googling, I could give 10 fairly substantial facts on too many of the other players on this year's ballot. But following Thome's career -- as well as getting to know him -- has been one of the most joyous parts of my baseball writing life.

I first saw Thome when he was a kid in Cleveland just called up. He was a third baseman then and an unsure one. There was a lot of talk about how he was going to hit big, but he really didn't show that much home run power in the lower Minors.

Then came the Roy Hobbs moment -- Thome was in Triple-A Charlotte and began working with a hitting guru named Charlie Manuel. The thing Manuel wanted to do was get Thome thinking about hitting the ball up the middle rather than trying to pull everything. He came upon an idea: He showed Thome a clip of Hobbs pointing his bat toward the pitcher before the pitch.

"See how he does that?" Manuel said.

"Yup," Thome said.

"Let's do that, too," Manuel said.

That somehow unleashed Thome's power. It probably wasn't the move itself -- otherwise you would see everybody pointing their bat at pitchers -- but for Thome, it proved a constant reminder to hit the ball to center. And it turned out, Thome's power was to center. I would argue no one in baseball history had more power to center field than Thome. After hitting just five professional home runs in 1992 and eight in '91, Thome mashed 25 homers for Triple-A Charlotte and added seven more in the big leagues.

Thome averaged 38 homers for the next 11 seasons. I did look that up.

Video: DET@CLE: Thome hits walk-off homer against Tigers

Here is the thing about Thome's era: Just hitting a lot of home runs isn't enough to ensure a legacy of greatness. We'll talk about this later with Sosa and others, but here's a fun little Hall of Fame fact: Until the mid-1980s, every player who hit 400 home runs got elected to the Hall of Fame. Every one -- there were 20 of those guys, from Duke Snider at 407 to Henry Aaron at 755 -- and they all were elected to the Hall.

In fact, it was a little bit of a thing when Thome's childhood hero Kingman hit his 400th home run in 1985. There was some, "What are we going to do with Kingman?" hand-wringing. On the one hand, he had 400 home runs. On the other, Kingman was certainly not a Hall of Famer. What to do? What to do?

Video: Thome had prolific power for Tribe, on HOF ballot

In the end, the solution was something like the Indiana Jones solution when he ran into the guy doing the fancy sword moves. Indy just pulled out a gun and shot the guy. The voters pulled out their pens and didn't vote for Kingman. It was pretty easy.

But this is the point: 400-plus home runs used to be a Hall of Fame line until that seemed silly. Then 500 home runs became a Hall of Fame line until Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a drug test in 2005 and fell off the ballot. Six-hundred seems a ridiculously high Hall of Fame bar, but two of the 600-home run club members -- Bonds and Sosa -- will have a very hard time ever making it in, and A-Rod will face his own demons.

The point is that home runs just aren't enough. The thing that separated Thome is that he was also among the most disciplined hitters in the game's history. He struck out a crazy amount -- second all-time only to Reggie Jackson -- and yet he walked so much that he finished his career with a .402 on-base percentage. That's an almost impossible combination.

Video: Thome spent four years in Philly, on 2018 HOF ballot

Most strikeouts with a .400 on-base percentage:
1. Thome, 2,548
2. Manny Ramirez, 1,813
3. Mickey Mantle, 1,710
4. Rickey Henderson, 1,694
5. Jeff Bagwell, 1,558

Thome and Bagwell have a particularly fun statistical relationship. They had similar on-base percentages (Thome .402, Bagwell .408) and slugging percentages (Thome .554, Bagwell .540). But Thome struck out almost 1,000 more times than Bagwell. So how did he maintain a .400 on-base percentage?

Thome did it by hitting the ball absurdly hard. When Bagwell didn't walk or strike out, he hit a superb .371 and hit a home run once every 13.8 chances.

Video: Thome on HOF ballot after four White Sox years

When Thome didn't walk or strike out, he hit a supernatural .396 and hit a home run once every 9.5 chances. That's historic stuff.

Best batting average when not walking or striking out:
1. Babe Ruth, .406
2. Manny Ramirez, .400
3. Joey Votto, .399
4. Jim Thome, .496
5. Miguel Cabrera, .394
They are followed by Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb and Jimmie Foxx.

Most home runs per chance when not walking or striking out:
1. Mark McGwire, one per 7.8 balls hit
2. Jim Thome, one in 9.6
3. Adam Dunn, one in 9.7
4. Babe Ruth, one in 9.9
5. Sammy Sosa, one in 10.7

Thome and Ruth are the only ones on both lists. Thome missed a whole lot, but when he hit a baseball, it stayed hit. That was the only way he could be such a great player when he struck out as much as he did. His .276 career batting average seems on the low side. But with so many strikeouts, that's a near-miracle.

Then on top of hitting the ball that hard, Thome was a genius at drawing the walk. He led the league in walks three times and ended his career seventh on the all-time list.

In other words, Thome was an extraordinary offensive threat even beyond the home runs. He ranks 24th on the all-time list in runs created, squeezed right between Griffey and the guy he will almost certainly join in Cooperstown this July, Chipper Jones.

In addition to all of that, Thome is one of the all-time great guys in baseball. As former Twins All-Star Glen Perkins once said, "He's my favorite teammate ever, I think. But he's everybody's favorite teammate."

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.

 

Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians

Bauer eager to unveil his offseason project

Tribe righty replaces slider with more comfortable version, compares it to Kluber slurve
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The video quickly spread across social media earlier this month. It showed Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, wearing black workout shorts and a dark navy top, racing forward, then doing a few quick stutter steps before unleashing a baseball into a net with a few onlookers nearby.

On the wall, a yellow radar gun reading flashed: 116.9.

CLEVELAND -- The video quickly spread across social media earlier this month. It showed Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, wearing black workout shorts and a dark navy top, racing forward, then doing a few quick stutter steps before unleashing a baseball into a net with a few onlookers nearby.

On the wall, a yellow radar gun reading flashed: 116.9.

Yes, that is in miles per hour. Every offseason, Bauer heads to Driveline Baseball outside Seattle and works through a rigorous program, which includes this jaw-dropping pull-down drill. That throw, in particular, was a facility record for velocity with a 3-ounce training ball. The video was posted by @DrivelineBB and soon spread across the internet to news outlets and fans.

Bauer's Twitter account was soon flooded with messages.

"Mostly, just people telling me I'm going to injure myself," Bauer said with a smirk Friday, when he was in Cleveland for Tribe Fest. "[I heard from] all the guys online who know infinitely more about the subject than I do. That was fun. Always is."

Bauer is able to laugh off such criticism, because the right-hander knows there is a fine-tuned method behind what looks on the surface to be madness. That aggressive pull-down drill is actually a part of Bauer's warmup routine for live at-bat sessions. This winter, the pitcher estimates that he has already logged 30 innings of work to hitters with his primary objective being to hone a revamped slider.

Tweet from @DrivelineBB: In other news, here's @baueroutage pulling down a new facility record of 116.9mph with a 3oz 😳😳 pic.twitter.com/a21va55HyN

During his winter workouts against batters, Bauer has limited his repertoire to his fastball and the new slurve. Once he begins pitching in a Spring Training setting -- Cleveland's pitchers and catchers report to Arizona on Feb. 14 -- he will begin mixing in his curveball, cutter and changeup. This winter, Bauer restructured his lifting routine, brought more tech devices to Driveline to better analyze his pitches and continued to focus on velocity training and mechanics.

"I'm always trying to find an incremental way to get better," Bauer said.

Last season, Bauer pieced together his best overall campaign in the Majors, going 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA and 196 strikeouts against 60 walks in 176 1/3 innings. The right-hander was particularly impressive down the stretch, posting a 10-1 record with a 2.60 ERA and 91 strikeouts vs. 23 walks in 83 innings across his final 14 appearances. That sample begins with his July 21 start against the Blue Jays, and there is a reason for drawing a line at that point in his game log.

It was during that outing against Toronto that Bauer ditched his splitter -- an offering he worked on last winter -- and began throwing a modified slider. Using his cutter grip, the pitcher repositioned his thumb higher on the ball "to counteract inertial forces." Translation: Bauer wanted a breaking ball that had more depth and run than the cutter, but was more reliable for targeting the lower-third of the strike zone. That was the original plan for the splitter, but it did not work how Bauer hoped.

Tweet from @DrivelineBB: Relative height is important when attacking hitters as demonstrated here by @BauerOutage with this slurve/fastball combination pic.twitter.com/wix62XezW0

Consider that adjustment a bit of in-season survival on Bauer's part. The slider grip was not comfortable, making it hard to command, but the pitch helped balance the movement off his fastballs, curve and changeup. The pitch mix was close to what Bauer had spent the previous few years trying to find, and the results down the stretch were impressive.

"I needed something besides fastball-curveball that I could throw down in the zone," Bauer said. "That's what [the slider] was: An on-the-fly adjustment to patch a hole, and use the offseason to high-grade what I actually want that pitch to be."

So, Bauer spent this winter trying to improve upon that success by finding a more comfortable version of the pitch.

"The modified slider has been nixed," Bauer said. "I've replaced it with what hopefully will have a similar movement profile to a Marcus Stroman curveball or a Corey Kluber slurve. All the info that I have on it so far says that it profiles very similar to those two. Obviously, we'll see once I get up against a hitter in a game."

Until then, Bauer will continue facing batters in simulated settings, and warming up with those high-octane pull-down pitches.

"It's one of the more fun parts of training," Bauer 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, Trevor Bauer

Tribe adds Wilk, Murphy on Minor League deals

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The Indians added two more players to the preseason mix Monday, signing left-hander Adam Wilk and switch-hitting catcher Jack Murphy to Minor League contracts that include an invitation to attend Major League Spring Training.

Cleveland's pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 14, with the first official workout for that group scheduled for Feb. 16. The remainder of the Tribe's position players are slated to report to Arizona on Feb. 18, leading up to the first full-squad workout on Feb. 20.

CLEVELAND -- The Indians added two more players to the preseason mix Monday, signing left-hander Adam Wilk and switch-hitting catcher Jack Murphy to Minor League contracts that include an invitation to attend Major League Spring Training.

Cleveland's pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 14, with the first official workout for that group scheduled for Feb. 16. The remainder of the Tribe's position players are slated to report to Arizona on Feb. 18, leading up to the first full-squad workout on Feb. 20.

With Wilk and Murphy joining the fold, the Indians have 19 non-roster invitees, bringing the camp total to 59.

Wilk, 30, split the 2017 season between the Mets and Twins, appearing in four games (two starts), in which he allowed 14 earned runs in 14 innings. In 44 1/3 innings at Triple-A last year, the left-hander posted a 5.48 ERA with 35 strikeouts against eight walks. Wilk has a 7.36 ERA in 40 1/3 career innings in the Majors between stops with the Tigers, Angels, Mets and Twins, dating back to 2011.

Video: MIN@CLE: Wilk strikes out Encarnacion swinging

The Indians already have a sound MLB catching duo in Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes -- not to mention MLB Pipeline's No. 1 catching prospect in Francisco Mejia knocking on the big league door -- but Murphy will give the team another catcher to serve as depth and help divvy up the Spring Training workload.

Murphy has spent the past nine seasons in the Blue Jays' and Dodgers' farm systems, hitting .222 (.649 OPS) with a career 29 percent caught-stealing rate. Last year, Murphy hit .141 in 187 plate appearances between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Beyond Wild and Murphy, the Indians' list of non-roster invitees includes: Pitchers Jeff Beliveau, Lisalverto Bonilla, Louis Head, Cameron Hill, Evan Marshall, Josh Martin, Alexi Ogando, Neil Ramirez, Cole Sulser and Robert Zarate; infielders Bobby Bradley, Drew Maggi, Michael Martinez and Nellie Rodriguez; and outfielders Brandon Barnes, Richie Shaffer and Melvin Upton Jr.

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, Jack Murphy, Adam Wilk

Lindor on R.B.I. 18 cover: 'It's a huge honor'

Iconic game's latest update includes franchise mode, Home Run Derby and historic players
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- After setting down an oversized rendering of the new R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover at Tribe Fest this weekend, Francisco Lindor was asked if he is as good at video games as he is at playing shortstop for the Indians. Lindor did not hesitate at all with his answer.

"I'll take on anybody," said Lindor, who then laughed. "No, my nephew beats me all the time."

CLEVELAND -- After setting down an oversized rendering of the new R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover at Tribe Fest this weekend, Francisco Lindor was asked if he is as good at video games as he is at playing shortstop for the Indians. Lindor did not hesitate at all with his answer.

"I'll take on anybody," said Lindor, who then laughed. "No, my nephew beats me all the time."

Lindor will have a chance to reignite that family rivalry this March, when R.B.I. 18 is released worldwide, not only with the Tribe's energetic shortstop on the cover, but with an array of new features. The iconic video game, which was relaunched in 2014 by Major League Baseball, will introduce a franchise mode, Home Run Derby and historic players to the latest update.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

R.B.I. 18 will be available for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets. While the game is continuing to introduce more realistic elements into the presentation, it is also staying true to what has made R.B.I. Baseball so popular among fans: Fast-paced play and easy-to-use controls.

Tweet from @Indians: Your RBI Baseball 18 cover athlete:@Lindor12BC! pic.twitter.com/A8H6XnhaiV

Prior to the selection of Lindor, R.B.I. Baseball chose Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (2017), Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts ('16) and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo ('15) as its cover athletes. Lindor, who was shown the newest cover at Tribe Fest on Saturday in Cleveland, was thrilled to have the Indians represented on the newest edition.

"It means a lot," Lindor said. "I love this organization. I love the city of Cleveland, and being on the cover of R.B.I. Baseball 18 and representing them, it's a huge honor."

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

Here are some of the updates R.B.I. fans can look forward to in the new version:

Franchise mode
Fans will have the ability to take total control over their favorite MLB team. That means making trades, signing free agents or calling up rookies, among other options, over a span of multiple seasons. There will be a new player progression system that allows players in the game to develop, improve over time and eventually retire.

Home Run Derby
Gamers will now have the option to take on a friend or go head-to-head with the CPU in Derby environment. Included will be a leaderboard to see how a fan's skills stack up against their friends or other gamers around the globe.

MLB legends
More than 100 retired MLB stars will be available for a gamer's team in franchise mode and other game features. Some of the names available include Jeff Bagwell, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Bob Feller, Reggie Jackson, Chipper Jones, Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith and Ted Williams.

Those are the three main areas of change, but the R.B.I. 18 will be enhanced in other ways, too.

The pool of authentic MLB players will come with completely redesigned player models, including more than 300 digitally modeled likenesses. Also included will be hundreds of new animations and player-specific animations for a new in-game experience. The ballparks will have enhanced lighting, textures, 3-D crowd elements and new dynamic camera angles, along with specifically-crafted cinematic sequences for all 30 MLB stadiums.

Tweet from @Indians: Hang on to that jersey, kid. #TribeFest pic.twitter.com/ivHoEQgfJQ

The user experience will include an online multiplayer option, allowing players to jump into ranked and friendly exhibitions with friends and others around the world. The game's soundtrack will be updated with new music from more than a dozen popular recording artists, and the team rosters can be kept up-to-date throughout the 2018 season, even in franchise mode.

Visit rbigame.com and follow @RBIGame on Twitter for more information.

Count Lindor among those who are looking forward to the launch of R.B.I. Baseball 18.

"It's fun," said the Indians shortstop. "I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: Lindor thrilled to be on R.B.I. 18 cover art

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 Lindor

Tender trio: Correa, Lindor, Seager paving way

MLB.com

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

Surely, this was what it was like in New York to watch three future Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Duke Snider of the Dodgers -- play center field in the 1950s.

This is as good as it gets. If you watch just one of these shortstops for a stretch of games, you'll be convinced he's the best in the business. You're blown away by -- not just the things that can be weighed and measured, but by the energy and competitive fire.

Perhaps most of all, there's the sheer joy all of them bring to the park every single day.

"Why not?" Lindor asked one day last season. "We are doing the thing we love. This is a dream come true."

MLB Network's coverage of this offseason has included a Top 10 Right Now series ranking the best players at each position. Last week, they had the top three shortstops lined up in this order: Correa, Seager and Lindor. Programming note: This week, it'll be the left fielders and catching getting this treatment.

Video: Corey Seager is the No. 2 shortstop right now

Here's one of the cool things about the shortstops: These three are just getting started with their careers. Lindor is 24, Seager and Correa are 23. They were highly touted prospects, and so far, they have lived up to every expectation.

Correa and Lindor arrived six days apart in June 2015. Seager joined the Dodgers on Sept. 3. All have been fixtures ever since, and what's especially impressive -- what will fuel the debate -- is how similar their numbers are:

Games: Correa (361); Seager (329); Lindor (416)
Homers: Correa (66); Seager (52) Lindor (60)
OPS: Correa (.863); Seager (.876); Lindor (.823)
OPS+: Correa (138); Seager (133); Lindor (114)

Seager has made the playoffs three times, Correa and Lindor twice apiece. Between the three of them, they've made five All-Star appearances and won two Rookie of the Year Awards.

Correa won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, with Lindor finishing second. Seager won the National League Rookie of the Year Award the following season.

Seager and Lindor's defensive metrics are slightly better than Correa's. But Correa's offensive numbers are better across the board, despite missing six weeks with a thumb injury in 2017. These are fine lines. Fans in Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles are convinced their guy will define the position for the foreseeable future.

Video: Francisco Lindor is excited for the 2018 season

Here's another cool thing: these three pay attention to one another. They are engaged with -- and motivated by -- one another.

One of the things veteran players advised Cal Ripken to do when he was moved from third base to shortstop by the Orioles in 1981 was to watch baseball's top shortstops. In his case, that was Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, etc.

"You can pick up things they do that you might be able to incorporate in your own game," Ripken said. "But back then, the highlights weren't as available as they are now."

Now, when Seager makes a jaw-dropping play -- say, a sliding stop and a laser throw across the diamond -- Correa and Lindor will have it on their phones almost instantly.

"Absolutely, I'm paying attention," Correa said. "You can pick up a lot by watching great players like those guys."

Correa says it's not just these three. All appreciate that Andrelton Simmons of the Angels might be the best defensive shortstop of this generation. They admire how Zack Cozart played the position in Cincinnati before signing with the Halos this offseason and preparing to move to third base.

But in terms of youth and talent and bursting upon the scene with an immediate impact, Lindor, Correa and Seager are unique.

Oh, and they're keeping an eye on one other guy.

Manny Machado, who has won two Gold Gloves playing third for the Orioles in the past six seasons, would like to move back to his natural position. Yeah, you guessed it -- shortstop.

Machado has played third base at such a high level that it's tough to imagine him being any better at short. But the Orioles might accommodate him this season, and one of his priorities in free agency next offseason will be the opportunity to play shortstop full-time.

Machado is only 25. He'll have some competition.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

Lindor stars at jubilant Tribe Fest in Cleveland

MLB.com

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

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

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."

Video: Francona talks about Indians' offseason changes

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

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

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

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's 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."

 

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Kipnis itching to return to second base

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

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

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

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