GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As spring progressed, Indians manager Terry Francona noticed that Michael Brantley had increasingly been acting like himself again. That means Brantley was chirpy around the batting cage and insistent about pushing the aggressiveness in his controlled workouts.Francona calls it being froggy. Picture a little kid in the
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As spring progressed, Indians manager Terry Francona noticed that Michael Brantley had increasingly been acting like himself again. That means Brantley was chirpy around the batting cage and insistent about pushing the aggressiveness in his controlled workouts.
Francona calls it being froggy. Picture a little kid in the back seat of a car on a long road trip, upping the level of annoyance as grandma's house gets closer. Brantley is that kid, but it's the end of his right ankle rehab that is the destination. The deeper into spring Brantley gets, the more that Opening Day seems like it might be a realistic target for the two-time All-Star left fielder.
"He's doing really well," Francona said recently. "And the other thing, too, is this [spring], he's been able to hit the entire time. So when you ramp up, it's not like he's going to be playing catch-up, as far as physically with his hitting. He's been hitting a ton. He's getting antsy. He's in a good spot. When he starts to be a pain in the [rear], you know he's starting to feel good."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Last spring, when Brantley was coming back from a right shoulder injury, he did not appear in his first Cactus League game until March 20, but he still got enough at-bats to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. Brantley homered in his first spring at-bat on Wednesday, and his rehab has progressed well enough to include him on MLB.com's mid-spring prediction for Cleveland's season-opening roster.
We made our predictions before Spring Training began, but some things have changed in the weeks that followed those educated guesses. Here is a look at how the Tribe's roster might shape up now, given what we've learned over the past month in Arizona:
Catcher:Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez
Nothing has changed in Cleveland's catching alignment. The only thing that Francona will need to determine is how he will distribute the innings between Gomes and Perez. Top prospect Francisco Mejia was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, and given the presence of the Tribe's two Major League catchers, he will get some outfield experience.
First base:Yonder Alonso
No change here. Signed to a two-year contract over the offseason, Alonso has been impressed with the environment around Cleveland's camp this spring. He homered on the first pitch he saw in an Indians uniform at the start of Cactus League play, and he projects to garner the bulk of the innings at first this year.
Second base:Jason Kipnis
In our first round of Opening Day roster predictions, Jose Ramirez was listed at second base. That was due to the uncertainty surrounding Brantley's situation. Without Brantley, it still seemed possible in early February that the Indians might consider an alignment with Ramirez at second and Kipnis in left field. That is no longer part of the plans.
The only thing that has changed about this one is Lindor's look. He arrived to Spring Training with short-cropped silver hair, earning some ribbing from his teammates. Lindor has had a strong spring at the plate and has noted that working on his defense is a top priority.
Third base: Ramirez
For the pre-spring predictions, having Ramirez at second base and Kipnis in the outfield led to having Yandy Diaz listed as the projected third baseman. A year ago, Diaz was the Opening Day third baseman due to Kipnis being out with injury. While Diaz turned in a strong spring, he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus with his path blocked.
Designated hitter: Edwin Encarnacion
Encarnacion went 4-for-28 with a .450 OPS through his first 11 Cactus League games, but the veteran slugger has his spring routine down and is prepping for the regular season. Encarnacion has been playing a good amount of first base, along with Alonso, but he still projects as the main designated hitter.
Outfield:Brantley,Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer
Take this prediction with a grain of salt. If the Indians feel that Brantley's rehab schedule should go into April, the team will not hesitate to take that approach. So far, though, there have been no setbacks in his comeback.
Bench:Rajai Davis, Erik Gonzalez, Rob Refsnyder
For the earlier predictions, the three players listed here were Abraham Almonte, Erik Gonzalez and Melvin Upton Jr.. Almonte was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, taking him out of the outfield mix, and Upton was released. The utility race between Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela was too close to call, but the latter will likely start the season on the disabled list with a right hamstring injury. For the outfield, the three lefty-swinging starters could use some right-handed complements, especially if Brantley needs some days off built in early on. Davis, who was told he would make the club, and Refsnyder fit the bill.
Rotation:Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin
Danny Salazar was in the rotation for the pre-spring predictions, but that was before it was revealed that the pitcher was dealing with right shoulder inflammation. Salazar has built up to throwing long toss, but he has yet to get back on a mound. He will open on the DL. Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer remain locked in, and Francona announced earlier in camp that Clevinger would be one of the starters. Tomlin is the top candidate for the fifth spot.
Bullpen:Cody Allen, Nicholas Goody, Zach McAllister, Ryan Merritt, Andrew Miller, Tyler Olson, Dan Otero
Clevinger was listed in the earlier bullpen predictions, but that has since changed. There are still six spots (Allen, Goody, McAllister, Miller, Olson and Otero) set in stone -- barring anything unexpected -- leaving one vacancy. There could be two openings if the Indians opt for an eight-man bullpen to start the year. The main contenders for the final job(s) appear to be Matt Belisle, Evan Marshall, Merritt and Carlos Torres. We'll go with Merritt right now. The lefty is out of options and remains an important layer of depth for the rotation. That last spot, however, is too close to call.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.