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Inbox: Where will Tribe play Reyes, Ramírez?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell fields Indians fans' questions
@MandyBell02
October 14, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Entering the 2019 season, so much was up in the air regarding who would play in the outfield. Now, the Indians have a group of young outfield talent that they are excited about, but that doesn’t mean the questions have gone away. Let’s take a look at some

CLEVELAND -- Entering the 2019 season, so much was up in the air regarding who would play in the outfield. Now, the Indians have a group of young outfield talent that they are excited about, but that doesn’t mean the questions have gone away.

Let’s take a look at some possible situations for the Tribe’s outfield and more in the latest Inbox:

This offseason and Spring Training will determine a lot about Franmil Reyes’ position. Right now, the Indians are determined to at least give the 24-year-old a look in right field. The team understands that he has a lot of room to grow defensively and that is why they primarily used him as a designated hitter after acquiring him at the Trade Deadline. Now that they will have some time to work with him, the club hopes that he could play in the outfield next year. If all else fails, he’s definitely a DH option.

Let’s start with the outfield.

First, Bradley Zimmer informed the Indians’ front office and coaching staff that he wanted to have a regular offseason even though they encouraged him to play winter ball. Because of that, he may have to start the year back in Triple-A Columbus to get more at-bats under his belt after missing nearly the entire year this past season.

That leaves Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers, Reyes and Oscar Mercado as Opening Day outfield options (with Tyler Naquin working his way back from his right knee ACL tear). A lot of how Reyes’ situation will play out will determine if or when Daniel Johnson, 24, will get the call. At this point, it seems like the team would at least try Reyes in the outfield, meaning Johnson would likely begin the year with Columbus.

If Reyes doesn’t give his team the defensive support it needs, then there would be a bigger need for Johnson. In that case, the Indians could do the same thing they did this year and plug Bauers in at left and shift Allen or Luplow over in right, but if Johnson looks as impressive early next year as he did this past season, it may be time to give him his first shot.

As far as José Ramírez, the Indians seem willing to play him at either position as long as he’s sticking to that one spot rather than floating back and forth between two.

And yet another piece that could be affected the Reyes puzzle. If Reyes makes the move to the outfield, that will free up the DH spot. In that scenario, Bauers and Bobby Bradley could be competing at Spring Training to earn that backup first base/designated hitter job. But Carlos Santana will handle the starting first-base honors.

Brad Hand went through his battles with arm fatigue in the second half of the season, but the Tribe still appears confident that the left-hander will be able to bounce right back into form. However, if he’d run into some of the same late season struggles early next year, the Indians have at least learned that they have some options.

The first would be Nick Wittgren, who Indians manager Terry Francona raved about all season long. But with some more experience, James Karinchak could be another option. After a brief glimpse of the 24-year-old at the big league level, the Indians were able to see the potential of a bright future.

Having Karinchak as a closing option isn’t something that will happen on Opening Day. The righty will need some time to get acclimated at the big league level. But an early look at his stuff has shown he could certainly break camp with the Tribe and eventually work his way to earning that role.

The Indians are expecting Triston McKenzie to have a normal offseason and come into Spring Training unrestricted. The 22-year-old was ranked Cleveland’s top prospect by MLB Pipeline entering the 2019 season but fell to No. 2 behind third baseman Nolan Jones after being sidelined for the year. Last spring, he suffered an upper back strain and later had a minor pectoral strain.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander is currently finishing up his rehab in Arizona, but even with missing the entire year, the Indians remain optimistic about his future.

“Not having pitched, it was obviously a setback,” general manager Mike Chernoff said. “I think we still feel really good about his future. … This is a big offseason for him and then a big Spring Training next year to see the steps that he can take without having pitched a whole lot this year.”

The Indians’ top four starters (in no specific order): Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber .

The Tribe’s fifth-starter options: Jefry Rodriguez, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko.

Because of the success Civale and Plesac had (along with Rodriguez’s shoulder injury), the rookie pair are the early favorites to earn the job. But just because the two thrived in 2019 doesn’t guarantee they will have the same success next season. The team will have to take Spring Training and maybe the early week of the season to figure out who exactly fits in the rotation and that’s why no one can be assumed to be the fifth starter this early.

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