Keep your eye on these Tribe position battles

July 5th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- The Indians’ infield is locked in. Assuming everyone remains healthy for Opening Day, the Tribe will not have to think twice about putting Carlos Santana, César Hernández, Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez in the lineup. But not every aspect of the roster will be as simple.

Teams have just three weeks of Summer Camp to iron out their 30-man rosters. The Tribe was able to get four weeks of Spring Training under their belt before baseball was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. That may have helped them have an idea of who they’d carry on the original 26-man roster in March. But maybe those three months off may change some things for guys who were on the bubble.

Let’s take a look at the top three position battles to keep an eye on during Summer Camp.

The outfield

There’s no secret that the Indians have a glutton of outfielders, boasting 10 on their 40-man roster. All of them have reported to Progressive Field, looking to fight for their spots on the 30-man.

Center fielder Oscar Mercado is the only guarantee at this point. Without a doubt, assuming he’s healthy, he’ll be in the starting lineup at the end of the month. However, the corners aren’t so simple. Of the nine remaining outfielders, Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, Franmil Reyes and Domingo Santana are the most likely to land a starting job in either corner.

At the end of Spring Training, the Indians appeared to be leaning towards having Santana or Reyes start in left with the other getting penciled in as the designated hitter. Neither are known for their defense and will have to show who can play the best left field over the next three weeks to determine who will play in the field.

That leaves Naquin and Luplow to fight for right field. Both have gone through the platoon role and both would much rather win an everyday job. Luplow crushed left-handed pitching last year and will look to show more consistency against righties in 2020. Naquin was having his best and healthiest season since his rookie year in 2016 when he tore his ACL on Aug. 30. If he can pick up where he left off offensively, he’ll likely be the top candidate to start in right field on Opening Day.

Jake Bauers, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer, Delino DeShields and Daniel Johnson will have to attempt to land a bench spot. Once DeShields tests negatively for COVID-19 twice, he’ll be able to join the Indians at Summer Camp and will probably be the first to get his name penciled in on the 30-man. Depending on how many pitchers the team carries, the Indians may only have one other vacancy for an outfielder to fill.

The bullpen

If the season started today, the Indians would certainly have Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Pérez, Adam Cimber and James Karinchak in their ‘pen. Now that the year will start with 30-man rosters, there are no limits to how many pitchers a team can carry. This will leave the door open for a handful of arms looking to lock down a spot.

James Hoyt, Phil Maton and Hunter Wood all made appearances for the Tribe last season and could be top choices to have in the bullpen. However, because the season will start after just three weeks of Summer Camp, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some teams use starters in relief. The Indians could use Jefry Rodriguez, Logan Allen or whoever doesn’t make the five-man rotation between Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Adam Plutko out of the bullpen. The other hurlers with a little less experience, but who will also be in the thick of the position battle will be Cam Hill, Dominic Leone and Anthony Gose.

The utility man

Mike Freeman and Christian Arroyo were in a tight race at the end of Spring Training to land the utility job, but there was a chance the team could’ve carried both on the original 26-man roster. The expanded rosters for the first two weeks of the season make it very likely fhat both make the Opening Day roster. However, Yu Chang and newly-acquired Jake Elmore will also be thrown into the mix.

Chang wasn’t as high on the list as Freeman and Arroyo during the spring, but the next three weeks could put him in a better position. As for Elmore, it’ll be hard to ignore his defensive versatility. As a member of the Astros in 2013, he became first player in team history to play all nine positions in a single season. Last year, he spent most of the season in Triple-A Indianapolis, posting the second-best batting average in the international league (.322) and playing in 20 games for the Pirates. While the rosters are at 30, he could make a convincing case over the next three weeks to be carried as a depth piece.