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Indians eager to get switch-hitter Melky in lineup

Club will be patient with veteran outfielder, who signed Minors contract Wednesday
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The loss of Carlos Santana via free agency in the offseason removed a key switch-hitter from the Indians' lefty-heavy lineup. Manager Terry Francona might soon have another switch-hitter at his disposal to help improve the balance of the batting order.

On Wednesday, the Indians announced the signing of veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera to a Minor League contract that includes a $1 million base salary plus incentives. Francona noted that Cabrera would train at the Tribe's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., for 7-10 days before joining a Minor League affiliate.

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CLEVELAND -- The loss of Carlos Santana via free agency in the offseason removed a key switch-hitter from the Indians' lefty-heavy lineup. Manager Terry Francona might soon have another switch-hitter at his disposal to help improve the balance of the batting order.

On Wednesday, the Indians announced the signing of veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera to a Minor League contract that includes a $1 million base salary plus incentives. Francona noted that Cabrera would train at the Tribe's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., for 7-10 days before joining a Minor League affiliate.

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"From all accounts, he's been working pretty hard," Francona said prior to Wednesday's game against the Cubs. "Let's let him get his legs under him. You send him right to Triple-A and you're asking for a sore arm or [something]. So rather than rush, we want to do it right and give him a chance to get in really good playing shape. And I think he understands that, and then we'll see where it goes from there."

Tweet from @Indians: Roster move: - We���ve signed Melky Cabrera to a Minor League deal. He���ll report to Goodyear. pic.twitter.com/SjQGkzv0ix

The Tribe's current outfield consists of Michael Brantley in left field, Bradley Zimmer in center and a combination of Tyler Naquin and Brandon Guyer in right. Rajai Davis has served as a backup at all three spots. As a group, Indians outfielders entered Wednesday with a 72 weighted runs created plus, indicating that they have collectively performed 28 percent below league average offensively.

The 33-year-old Cabrera rated as a below-average corner outfielder in 2017 -- he had minus-20 defensive runs saved between left and right field combined -- but had a solid showing at the plate. In 156 games between the White Sox and Royals, Cabrera hit .285 with 17 home runs, 30 doubles, 85 RBIs and a 98 wRC+.

"He's amazingly consistent," Francona said of Cabrera, who has hit .285 with a 102 wRC+ over 13 seasons in the Majors. "[He's a] switch-hitter. Sometimes you see him in April [starting slow], then you look up [later in the season] and he's got 85-90 RBIs. He's been a good hitter for a long time."

Worth noting

• Double-A Akron pitching prospect Shane Bieber has put himself on the Major League radar with his strong start this season. Through four outings, the 22-year-old Bieber was 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA and 28 strikeouts against zero walks in 26 innings. Bieber, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft, ranks eighth among the Indians' Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

Video: Top Prospects: Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians

Francona said evaluators in the Indians' player development department have raved about the young right-hander.

"They really think this kid's got a chance to be special," Francona said. "For a young kid, you talk about routines and things. Those are things that, normally, come last. You see stuff or the way a guy pitches. They say he's kind of beyond his years with those types of things. So it's kind of cool to see."

• Francona noted that left-hander Ryan Merritt (10-day disabled list, left knee) will make one more appearance in extended spring training before potentially being cleared to begin a Minor League rehab assignment.

• Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall (10-day DL, right calf) is "getting pretty close" to being symptom-free, according to Francona. Once Chisenhall reaches that point, a return-to-play plan will be formulated.

• Righty Danny Salazar (10-day DL, right shoulder) continues to throw off a mound in Arizona, but there is still no timetable for his return to games, per Francona.

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.

Cleveland Indians, Melky Cabrera