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Inbox: Sorting out Indians' Opening Day roster

@MandyBell02
March 9, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians made their first cuts on Monday, sending starters Triston McKenzie, Sam Hentges and Jean Carlos Mejía down to Minor League camp, and more will follow after Tuesday’s off-day. The club has just two weeks remaining to figure out who will fill the bullpen and how

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians made their first cuts on Monday, sending starters Triston McKenzie, Sam Hentges and Jean Carlos Mejía down to Minor League camp, and more will follow after Tuesday’s off-day. The club has just two weeks remaining to figure out who will fill the bullpen and how many outfielders it will carry. What do we know now? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inbox.

It could end up being either five or six. The top five seems to be Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Franmil Reyes, Domingo Santana and Delino DeShields. From there, the Indians have a few choices to make with the 26th spot on the roster.

One option could be carrying both utility guys, Mike Freeman and Christian Arroyo, or just pick one of them and bring an extra outfielder, which could be Jake Bauers. His versatility certainly helps, but Freeman can also play all four infield positions and the outfield. The final two weeks could very well be a battle for the 26th spot.

It looks like the Indians are giving Luplow an opportunity to be more than a platoon guy in 2020. If he seems to struggle against right-handers again, then it definitely could be on the table. But if not Bauers, another possibility would be Luplow platooning with Tyler Naquin (ACL) once he’s cleared to return to big league games.

No. Because he missed nearly the entire 2019 season with shoulder and oblique injuries, Bradley Zimmer will likely need to get some more at-bats in the Minors before he gets the call back up to the big leagues.

His spring stats may not be jumping off the paper, but it seems like the Indians are leaning toward keeping him in the mix.

“If a guy’s got a couple hits in 20 at-bats, it’s easy to say he’s not done what you’re looking for,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But if you just make decisions on that, I think you could make some mistakes. You have to look at track record, do they still have their bat speed, things like that.”

We touched on it briefly in the first question. The Indians seem to be down to either Arroyo or Freeman for the utility spot. But because Freeman is so versatile, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t carry him. Arroyo could be the backup at second and third, while Freeman mixes in anywhere in the infield and outfield, should they carry both guys.

As far as Bobby Bradley, he may be on the wrong side of the numbers. Because Santana and Reyes would handle most of the DH duties and Freeman or Bauers would be there to back up at first, Bradley may not have a clear role with the Major League club to start the year.

If we are making guesses as to whether the Indians would carry two utility guys or one infielder and one extra outfielder, the former may be the most likely case at this point. Both Arroyo and Freeman have looked solid this spring and while the Indians remain confident in the changes Bauers made to his swing over the offseason, it may take a little more time until he feels comfortable with bringing those adjustments into a game setting. Because of that, Arroyo and Freeman may benefit the team more to start the year, so Freeman’s chances may be just over 50 percent right now to break camp with the club. Will he be starting at second? No. That will be César Hernández.

Neither Emmanuel Clase nor James Karinchak had a guaranteed spot in the bullpen coming into Spring Training due to their inexperience. But the bullpen depth isn’t quite as deep as the Indians’ starting pitching depth. Considering Francona would likely prefer an eight-man bullpen, the Tribe has some vacancies to fill after Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Pérez and Adam Cimber. Without Clase even being a possibility now, it seems even more clear that one of those other four spots could go to Karinchak. He will continue competing with guys like James Hoyt, Hunter Wood, Phil Maton and Cam Hill to earn one of those spots.

Anthony Gose has certainly drawn plenty of attention this spring, but just because he’s still so inexperienced as a pitcher, he’ll probably need some more time in the Minors before getting the callup. But he’s absolutely not off the table to join the Indians at some point later in the season.

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