Conversations between managers and players in the final days of Spring Training are often very difficult and uncomfortable, but Tribe skipper Terry Francona was able to have an enjoyable one with Trevor Stephan on Sunday.
Prior to the Indians’ matchup against the Rangers, Francona informed Stephan that he would be making the Opening Day roster.
“He's not a real vocal kid to begin with,” Francona said with a grin. “But he smiled. I asked if there was anybody he needed to call. He said, 'Yeah, my family,' so I said 'Well, go.' Because that's a pretty special moment for somebody.”
The Indians selected Stephan in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. Stephan said that he knew there was a chance he’d be taken in the Draft since the Yankees left him unprotected, and he was excited to hear that Cleveland gave him an opportunity to make it to the big leagues.
Between Class A Advanced and Double-A in New York’s organization in 2019, Stephan pitched to a 4.73 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) with 91 strikeouts and 29 walks in 80 innings. But when he came to camp with the Indians this spring, he was put in the bullpen and has a 2.45 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks in his first 7 1/3 frames.
“This kid came in and we told him, we said, 'We Rule 5'd you because we like your arm,’” Francona said. “We kept him on our ballclub because we think he has poise. … There's a lot to like about this kid. He was good. He goes, 'I know this is just the beginning, I know I have a lot to prove.' It was just a fun message.”
Stephan was selected by the Yankees in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft. During his Minor League career, he was used as a starter, but Stephan said he’s enjoyed making the transition to the bullpen.
“Honestly, I like it more,” Stephan said. “It’s something I did in junior college a little bit and then got stretched out as a starter my junior year and through the first few years of pro ball. I’ve been enjoying going back to the 'pen. I feel like that’s where my strength is. It’s been a good fit.”
Stephan’s arsenal consists of a heater, slider and a splitter. He said that he also will occasionally throw in a curveball to “keep [the hitters] honest.” But one of the biggest perks of his move to the bullpen has been seeing an uptick in his fastball velocity.
“That’s just some stuff I worked on this offseason and I’m going to continue to keep staying on top of,” Stephan said. “I had a bunch of downtime in 2020 and just attacked different areas of my game and tried to just complete the picture and come out here and try to make a roster.”
Bieber at his best
Shane Bieber said that he’ll have one more start before he toes the rubber on Opening Day at Comerica Park on April 1, but he showed on Sunday that he’s ready for the regular season to get underway. Bieber gave up two hits with two walks while striking out six in four frames in the Indians’ 7-2 victory over the Rangers at Goodyear Ballpark.
“I thought it was his best stuff of the spring,” Francona said. “He had good velocity on his fastball, used his breaking pitches. … There was some deep counts, a little bit of tight strike zone. I thought that was good, too, because it made him work. But I thought his stuff was really, really good.”
Through his first couple of outings, Bieber stayed away from his curveball to get more work with his other pitches, especially his slider. Now he’s turned the page to focus on getting back into a competitive mindset with the goal of working deeper into games each time he takes the field.
“I'd say it's more about pitch execution, sequencing, location and putting yourself in a good spot to go deep into ballgames,” Bieber said. “Although there were a lot of long, extended at-bats, a lot of foul balls today, I felt good. Felt like I challenged hitters, peppered the strike zone and just put us in a good spot. That's where the focus is transitioning to, pitch execution.”
Naylor sits with wrist soreness
Indians right fielder Josh Naylor was kept out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday after experiencing some soreness in his right wrist following Friday’s game against the Rockies. But Francona said he expects Naylor to be back in the lineup on Monday.
“He’s OK,” Francona said. “He came in on a ball the other day when we were over at the Rockies and slid into catch the ball and he kind of twisted his hand back. If it was the regular season, he would play, no problem. In fact, he wanted to play today. I told him, ‘Josh, this doesn’t make any sense to me.’ So he’s gonna out and take BP and do everything. I’m holding him out. The trainers didn’t even hold him out. I just thought it made sense to do that.”
Other roster moves
The Tribe also told infielders Owen Miller and Tyler Freeman and backstop Beau Taylor that they will not be making the Opening Day roster, but the trio will remain in big league camp. With COVID-19 protocols allowing teams to carry a taxi squad on road trips again in 2021, Taylor will likely travel frequently with the Tribe.
Freeman and Miller, both of whom had great showings this spring, will likely spend some time at multiple positions this season to make them as versatile as possible.
“We're not trying to turn them into utility players, we're just trying to have more doors open than just one,” Francona said. “I would put Tyler and Owen kind of in the same boat. They're a little different players, but they do a lot of similar things. Tyler plays shortstop and Owen doesn't. But we really like both of them.”