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Who might make Tribe's Opening Day roster?

March 11, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first week of Indians Spring Training is in the books, and now it’s time for full-squad workouts to begin. Indians manager Terry Francona is always quick to note that he’s not evaluating his players right off the bat, so that they don’t feel the need to

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first week of Indians Spring Training is in the books, and now it’s time for full-squad workouts to begin.

Indians manager Terry Francona is always quick to note that he’s not evaluating his players right off the bat, so that they don’t feel the need to over-perform right as workouts begin. While he takes the next five weeks to put together his 26-man roster, let’s take an early look at who could fill each of those spots by Opening Day on March 26.

Forecasting all 30 teams: Lineups, rotations, closers

Catcher (2): Roberto Pérez, Sandy León

There’s no replacing Pérez behind the plate. In his first season as the starting catcher, he was the only backstop to catch over 100 games without allowing a passed ball. On top of his stellar defense, he led an inexperienced rotation to success and tripled his previous career high in home runs, with 24. The Indians acquired León from Boston on Dec. 2, and he will take over the backup duties from Kevin Plawecki, who was non-tendered in December.

First base (1): Carlos Santana

After Santana carried the Tribe through its highs and lows in 2019, there isn’t much left to analyze when it comes to his role this year. He’ll be a lock in the Tribe’s lineup, and Jake Bauers may be an option to fill in for him when Santana is given a day off.

Second base (1): César Hernández

Because the club decided to decline Jason Kipnis' $16.5 million option at the beginning of the offseason, the team was left with no replacement at second base. On Dec. 29, the Tribe signed Hernández after he was non-tendered by the Phillies. It’s almost a guarantee that the 29-year-old will get the starting job at second. What’s left to determine is who will earn the utility role to back him up when needed.

Shortstop (1): Francisco Lindor

The trade rumors swirled all offseason, but Lindor reported to Indians camp on Sunday morning with his powder blue hair. Without a doubt, the 26-year-old will be the Tribe’s Opening Day shortstop after having to miss the first 20 games of last season due to a calf strain and ankle sprain that he sustained during Spring Training.

Third base (1): José Ramírez

Ramírez offered to move to second base at the end of the ’19 season, but the Indians preferred to leave him at the hot corner. Now, the club hopes that he returns in 2020 with a clean slate, putting his offensive troubles from the second half of ’18 that lasted through '19 in the rearview mirror. From June 14 until the end of the season -- despite missing a month in that span due to a fractured hamate bone -- Ramírez hit .314 with a 1.031 OPS, 19 homers and 62 RBIs.

Utility (1): Christian Arroyo

The utility role isn’t set in stone. The Indians will need to evaluate Arroyo, who was acquired by the Tribe prior to last year’s Trade Deadline but missed the entire second half due to forearm tendinitis, over the next five weeks. The club found a great utility player last year in Mike Freeman, but he was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Columbus in December. He could get called back up to the Majors if Arroyo doesn’t pan out, but the Indians would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to do so.

Outfield (6): Oscar Mercado, Delino DeShields, Franmil Reyes, Domingo Santana, Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers

The outfield is an enormous question mark. Only Mercado has been deemed a guarantee to win one of the three starting spots. Reyes will certainly make the roster, but whether he earns time in the outfield or shifts into more of a DH role is yet to be determined. Luplow is a lock to at least take a bench spot and could easily platoon with Tyler Naquin when he eventually returns from his ACL surgery soon after Opening Day. Santana could share time with Reyes at DH, given his reputation as a below-average outfielder, while DeShields’ exceptional defense will probably help secure him a roster spot. Bauers, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson will be left to battle for the final opening.

Starting pitchers (5): Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, Aaron Civale

The closer we get to Opening Day, the better of an understanding we’ll have as to how long Carrasco will need before he makes his first start. Bieber has already been named the starter for the opener on March 26, and the Indians are off on March 27. After the off-day, Plesac, Civale and Plutko would likely get the next three starts before Bieber would get his next turn in the rotation. With that wiggle room, the team may not have to find a replacement for Carrasco, who received an anti-inflammatory injection to help combat mild inflammation in his right elbow. But if he or Mike Clevinger (partial meniscus tear in his left knee) need longer than the first five days of the regular season to be completely healthy, the team has lefties Logan Allen and Scott Moss or right-hander Jefry Rodriguez to call on for a spot-start.

Relievers (8): Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak, Oliver Pérez, Adam Cimber, Hunter Wood, Phil Maton, James Hoyt

The most intriguing arms who arrived to the Tribe’s big league camp this spring were Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase, but the team suffered a big blow when an MRI revealed that Clase will have to be out of game activity until at least the end of April due to an upper back strain. It wasn’t a guarantee that the 21-year-old would break camp with the Indians; however, he could’ve made a convincing case to solidify a spot on the 26-man roster. Now, Karinchak will have to prove he can command his fastball enough to be a big league pitcher on March 26, and Maton and Hoyt have a shot to be one of the eight relievers the club plans to carry.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.