GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The annual march to the starting line has begun. If a baseball season is a marathon, Spring Training is the crowded corral before the race starts. And in the American League Central, all of the teams believe they have a shot at finishing first.At the Indians' spring
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The annual march to the starting line has begun. If a baseball season is a marathon, Spring Training is the crowded corral before the race starts. And in the American League Central, all of the teams believe they have a shot at finishing first.
At the Indians' spring headquarters in Goodyear, pitchers and catchers reported for duty on Wednesday, initiating the gradual buildup to Opening Day. That portion of Cleveland's roster is considered the team's strength, beginning with a highly-touted starting rotation that is expected to lead the way in the Tribe's quest to play in the postseason.
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That pitching staff is one of the reasons outfielder Rajai Davis signed with the Indians this winter.
"Playing the Indians all year long, you see that pitching staff," Davis said recently. "We've got guys throwing mid-90s, some starters with good offspeed pitches. That's a no-brainer. We have some good talented arms, young arms. We have a lot of good talent here."
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The pitching staff will also be a focal point for some of the competition in camp this spring for Cleveland.
Behind starters Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, starters Josh Tomlin, Cody Anderson and TJ House will represent the top candidates for the fifth spot. In the bullpen, there could be three or four openings, with nearly a dozen arms in the mix. That includes some intriguing non-roster invitees such as Joba Chamberlain, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny and Joe Thatcher.
Pitchers and catchers will undergo physicals on Thursday, with the first official workout scheduled for Friday. Cleveland's position players will then be required to report to Goodyear on Sunday, following the same three-day program leading up to the Tribe's first full-squad workout on Tuesday. The Indians open their Cactus League slate with a tilt against the Reds on March 1 at Goodyear Ballpark.
As far as the offense goes, the Indians signed Davis and first baseman Mike Napoli to one-year contracts to help complement the core group. Davis will have a home on the roster, but the rest of the outfield is a bit muddled at the moment. Left fielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder surgery in November) could miss the start of the season, putting a long list of players in the running for Opening Day jobs.
Some other new faces in camp this spring will include outfielder Collin Cowgill (acquired via trade from the Angels), righty Dan Otero (acquired from the Phillies), outfielder Joey Butler (claimed from the Rays), reliever Craig Stammen (non-roster invitee) and reliever Tommy Hunter (non-roster invitee), among others.
Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason was the one the Indians did not make.
Following a wave of rumors that Cleveland was listening to trade offers for its starting pitchers, the team stood pat and kept the talented group intact. While that decision did not help the Tribe's search for an impact bat, it allowed the Indians to move forward with one of baseball's top starting staffs.
"You don't want to break up something that's really good," All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "If the right deal came, I'm sure they would've done it, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm upset the right deal didn't come. I love having the starting staff that we have. When you have confidence, and you have a good chance to win a ballgame every day, that's what you want in a team. I don't think every team can say that."
The AL Central should provide one of baseball's most interesting division races, though.
The Tigers spent big on pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder Justin Upton. The World Series-champion Royals paid big to keep outfielder Alex Gordon and to add pitcher Ian Kennedy to their rotation. The White Sox traded for infielders Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. The Twins, one of the Majors' surprise teams last summer, won the bidding on and signed Korean slugger Byung Ho Park.
"There's not a lot of places to take a deep breath. That's OK," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I remember this time last year, everybody kept saying the division was good except for Minnesota, and they were really good. So a lot of times, whoever wins the winter doesn't necessarily win in the season. It looks to me like the American League is good, not just our division. That's OK."
Cleveland, which fell short of expectations last year, heads into this season with its confidence high.
"I know we can make a run with any team," Kipnis said. "Kansas City stayed pretty much the same. They lost some guys. I know Detroit signed Upton, but we've seen this before with them. We know Minnesota is good and Chicago is going to get better. We think it's the toughest division in the league. It's a grind to go through this kind of season."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.