Summer Camp has begun in Cleveland. No, we’re not talking about any sort of a quarterback battle. We’re talking about the Indians. Yes, those Indians. The ones who nearly broke […]
Summer Camp has begun in Cleveland.
No, we’re not talking about any sort of a quarterback battle. We’re talking about the Indians.
Yes, those Indians. The ones who nearly broke a 68-year championship curse just four years ago. The ones who took the sport by storm when they compiled the longest winning streak in American League history with 22 straight victories in 2017. The ones who have combined for 380 wins over the last four seasons.
As teams report to their facilities this week for a Spring Training 2.0 of sorts, one could argue few, if not any, teams carry the amount of key upcoming questions into their season quite like the Indians.
Just how open is the team’s window to be a top contender? What’s in store for Francisco Lindor’s future? How will Terry Francona manage a 60-game season?
Those questions all have a level of unknown to them, but here are five thoughts to consider over the coming weeks before the season begins.
The foundation lies in the rotation.
There were some questions with Cleveland’s rotation had the season started in March, but with everyone healthy, pitching coach Carl Willis has a good problem to have. In fact, the Indians have a rotation that could see a starter come out of the bullpen and contribute if another is easing his way into the season. The Tribe should be able to stay fresh with two stars in Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger, a steady veteran in Carlos Carrasco, Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale as well as Logan Allen and Jefry Rodriguez. If you believe in the idea that you only go as far as starting pitching takes you, the Indians have the power arms and reinforcements to once again boast one of the top staffs in baseball. They could very well open up with a six-man rotation with the depth they possess. Last year, they finished with the fourth-lowest ERA at 3.76. Don’t expect any sort of a dropoff in that department.
The outfield competition is on at Progressive Field.
With 10 outfielders in Cleveland competing for spots, this is going to be a competition worth closely following in the preseason. It’s a definite that Oscar Mercado will have a starting spot and is thought of as a mainstay for the Indians’ future. Slugger Franmil Reyes will have a role in the lineup and has to be a favorite to play in the outfield, but he will see competition from Domingo Santana. All signs point to those two competing between who’s starting in left field and who ends up as the designated hitter. From there, you’ve got a specialist against left-handed pitching in Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson. Then, there’s the variable to the entire situation: the status of Tyler Naquin. If healthy and playing like he did last season before tearing his right ACL, he could be the starting right fielder.
The meat of the lineup has the potential to produce at a high level.
Between Carlos Santana, Franmil Reyes and Jose Ramirez, the trio combined for 94 home runs this past season. With those three presumably in the meat of Cleveland’s lineup, there’s a level of stability present for Francona if the three produce at the rate of their capabilities. It’s flat-out scary to think that Reyes is only 24 years old, and a beautiful thing for the Indians that he’s under team control through 2024. Finishing in a tie for 15th in the Majors with 37 bombs last year, he possesses the skillset to be one of the game’s best sluggers of the future.
After a down year with the Phillies in 2018, Santana felt right home in Cleveland, hitting .281 and mashing 34 long balls. Can he carry that into this shortened season? The first baseman played a vital role last year when the Indians needed a power boost during their early struggles. A big reason for those struggles was Jose Ramirez. As he went, in many respects, the Tribe went last season. The 27-year-old hit just .202 with a .610 OPS over the club’s first 60 games last year, a stretch in which the Indians sputtered to 30-30. From there, Ramirez took off hitting nearly .300 at the plate with an OPS at .921. The Indians can’t afford a slow start to the coming season. Nobody can. Ramirez is a massive part to ensure that does not happen.
There are three storylines within the bullpen.
Brad Hand is the known commodity in the Tribe’s pen. He’ll be waiting to slam the door in the ninth. That said, with a new three-batter minimum rule, it means guys like submariner Adam Cimber must find a rhythm against left-handed hitters. Francona has been one to push buttons and look at matchups in the past. That element is going to go away a bit with the new rule implemented. The other name to watch in the Cleveland pen is James Karinchak. The 24-year-old is the variable for the Indians, that, if he balances effectiveness with his power arm that can hit the high 90’s with the fastball and drop in a nasty breaking ball, could be the X-factor. The Tribe needs to find a clearer road from their deep starting rotation to Hand’s save opportunities. That’s the type of thing that could sway the season one way or another.
The Indians own arguably the hottest name in baseball.
When baseball negotiations are talked about nationally, you will likely hear Francisco Lindor’s name. Several teams are inquiring about Lindor, who is under team control through 2021 and is likely gone to another organization after that. That said, the 60-game season has thrown an unprecedented wrinkle into a player’s worth and what a team may or may not be willing to give at the August 31 trade deadline. Cleveland has been stubborn on offers for him and maintains its stance of wanting to get the maximum amount of value for the franchise shortstop if they do in fact make a move. In a shortened season, that would seem to make one believe that those bids are not going to get any better this year. Had the Indians been in a pennant race in a full season, one would think they would have not entertained anything and tried to make one last pursuit at a title with Lindor on their side. Had the Tribe not been in the playoff picture, the maximum value they could have gotten for him would have likely been in the deadline. But, those normal circumstances are out the window.
One thing is for certain: it’s just nice to be talking baseball again. With the level of storylines with this Tribe team, there will be no shortage of conversation surrounding them. In a unique season, they find themselves in an especially unique situation.