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 corner infielders and designated hitters.
Projected starters: Jose Ramirez (3B), Jake Bauers (1B) and Carlos Santana (DH)
Throughout the final month of the 2018 season, Ramirez made the move from third base to second, and it looked like he would remain there for '19, giving Yandy Diaz a chance to take over the hot corner. But after a trade that sent Diaz to Tampa Bay and brought Bauers to Cleveland, the best option remaining may be to move Ramirez back to third.
• Around the Horn: Lindor a lock at SS; 2B still TBD for Tribe
No matter where he plays, the Indians need Ramirez's bat in the lineup. In his second consecutive All-Star season, the Dominican Republic native placed third in the American League MVP Award voting after hitting .270/.387/.552 with career highs in home runs (39), RBIs (105), walks (106) and stolen bases (34). Ramirez also recorded the third-best WAR among qualified hitters (8.0), trailing just Mookie Betts (10.4) and Michael Trout (9.8), according to Fangraphs' calculation.
Bauers likely will be the Opening Day first baseman, though he could be an outfield option at times. Entering the 2018 season, Bauers was listed at MLB Pipeline's No. 5 prospect in the Rays' organization. The 23-year-old made his Major League debut with Tampa Bay on June 7, and he played 76 games at first, 16 in left field and four in right.
Bauers got off to a solid start in his Major League career, hitting .252/.368/.496 in the first half of the season before hitting just .167/.281/.307 in the second half. Overall, the rookie demonstrated some unexpected power, launching 11 home runs and knocking in 48 RBIs in 96 games. The left-handed hitter also drew 54 walks in 388 plate appearances and posted a .700 OPS with a wRC+ of 95.
• Inbox: Who's on first? Santana or Bauers?
Santana will definitely see a solid amount time at first base this year, but he will spend the majority of his time as the DH. First base and DH will be fluid for the Indians this year, with Bauers and Santana backing each other up at both positions. Santana spent the first eight years of his Major League career in Cleveland before signing with the Phillies as a free agent on Dec. 20, 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Mariners on Dec. 3, 2018, before Seattle dealt him back to the Tribe 10 days later.
Last year, the 32-year-old hit .229 with 24 home runs and 86 RBIs, drawing the second-most walks in his career with 110.
Other options at first: Santana
The Indians had five players see at least one game at first base last season: Yonder Alonso, Edwin Encarnacion, Diaz, Erik Gonzalez and Adam Rosales. None of them is returning to the Tribe's roster for 2019. Alonso was traded to the White Sox after both Bauers and Santana were acquired by Cleveland. Encarnacion was part of the three-team deal that landed Bauers and Santana, sending the designated hitter to Seattle. Gonzalez was traded to the Pirates in exchange for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff and Rosales became a free agent at the end of last season.
The Indians may be a little thinner at first than what they were in 2018, but they have two solid options in Bauers and Santana. Cleveland's president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has said that it wouldn't necessarily be a platoon situation, but there will most likely be a "blend" of the two at first this year. Santana, who said his favorite position was first base in a question-and-answer session with fans at Tribe Fest, played in 149 games at first for the Phillies in '18.
Other than Santana, the Indians' roster doesn't have many first-base options, so the team may need to dip into its farm system if an injury occurs. Could this mean Bobby Bradley is next in line? We'll get to more about him shortly.
Other options at third: Moroff and Yu Chang
Moroff's versatility allows him to serve as a backup at second, third and shortstop, although he has the least amount of big-league experience at the hot corner. Since 2016, the 25-year-old infielder has played 45 games at second, 22 at shortstop and six at third for Pittsburgh. In 2018, he hit .186 with three homers and nine RBIs in 67 plate appearances with the Pirates.
Chang has been a shortstop exclusively since the start of 2014, but he has begun seeing reps at third in an attempt to increase his chances at seeing time at the Major League level. In 457 at-bats with Triple-A Columbus in 2018, the Tribe's No. 6 prospect slashed .256/.339/.411 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs. The Indians have options in bringing the 23-year-old up in order to move Ramirez back to second and Jason Kipnis to the outfield.
Prospect to watch: 1B Bradley
The Indians' No. 7 prospect received a promotion to Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 2, 2018. With the Tribe in need of another big bat in their lineup, Bradley is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on. The 22-year-old first baseman hit 27 homers with 83 RBIs over 97 contests in Double-A and 32 in Triple-A last season. In 2016, he launched 29 long balls and knocked in an impressive 102 runs at Class A Advanced Lynchburg. His power numbers have spoken for themselves, but the young prospect will likely need more time at Triple-A before getting the call to the big leagues. In 2018, he struck out 148 times and averaged .224 at the plate in 483 Minor League at-bats.
Who else is in the Pipeline?
No. 2 Nolan Jones, 3B (age: 20, highest level: Class A Advanced)