There is not a lot of drama in the Cleveland Indians' training camp this spring. Most of the positions are set. Four of the five spots in the starting rotation are set. The bench figures to have virtually the same cast of characters as last season.
By far the biggest issue to be settled in camp is how much, if any, third base Carlos Santana can play once the regular season starts. Santana is trying to make the conversion to third base after losing the starting catching job to Yan Gomes last year.
At the end of last season Santana went to general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona and told them he'd like to make the switch to third base because he wanted to be more than just a designated hitter. Indians officials were willing to give Santana that opportunity, but they were also very frank with him.
"We told him he would have to earn playing time at third because our goal is to play the best third baseman on our roster, not the best converted third baseman," Francona said.
In the early weeks of camp Santana has played third base exclusively. No catching. He's had good days and bad ones at third, as would anyone trying to make a position switch.
"You have to remember that he was a catcher and he hasn't played third base much," Francona said. "But once the season starts, that's out the window."
Santana has gotten off to a slow start offensively. He was just 2-for-11 in his first four games, through March 6. But nobody is worried about his bat. He's been a proven run producer at the major league level.
The issue in spring training is whether he will be a hitter exclusively this season -- getting the bulk of his at bats as the designated hitter -- or whether he can show adequate enough defensive skills at third base to get some playing time at that position.
It's a decision that probably won't be finalized until the last few days of training camp, and until then it will remain the biggest drama in camp.
--DH Jason Giambi will miss three to four weeks due to a fractured rib, the Indians announced March 13. Giambi was injured when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Chicago Cubs RHP Edwin Jackson on March 7. Giambi had an MRI on March 12, and the fracture was revealed.
The 43-year-old is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He hit .183 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs in 186 at-bats last year.
--RHP Danny Salazar, who is basically replacing the departed RHP Ubaldo Jimenez in the starting rotation, did not pitch a single inning in the Indians' first nine spring training games. That was by design. "We want to try to get his tank to its fullest," manager Terry Francona said. "He's going to start the year and we want him to finish the year. He hasn't done that in a while so we want to get him as strong as we can."
--1B Nick Swisher has been wearing baseball spikes unique to his city of employment. Swisher's spikes have the number 216 (Cleveland's area code) on the side, plus a silhouette of the Cleveland skyline.
--1B Jesus Aguilar is one of the few true power hitting prospects in the Indians' minor league system. At Double-A Akron last summer, and in the Venezuela League this winter, Aguilar, in a combined 725 at-bats, hit .291 with 32 home runs and 155 RBIs. In his first seven games of spring training, however, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Aguilar was 0-for-12 with five strikeouts. "Just because we haven't seen him hit the ball a mile doesn't mean he can't do it," manager Terry Francona said.
--OF Michael Brantley was 4-for-9 in his first four spring training at-bats, a fact that didn't surprise manager Terry Francona. "His mechanics are so simple I think it helps him get ready quicker than a lot of other guys," Francona said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's either going to be really rich or really, really rich." -- Cleveland manager Terry Francona, on RHP Justin Masterson, who is engaged in negotiations with the Indians on a contract extension.
RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Danny Salazar
RHP Corey Kluber
RHP Zach McAllister
RHP Carlos Carrasco or RHP Josh Tomlin
Barring injury, or the unexpected re-signing of free agent RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, the only thing up for grabs here is the No. 5 spot. Carrasco and Tomlin are the two favorites, with RHP Trevor Bauer a half-step behind. In his limited opportunities at the major league level, Carrasco looked better out of the bullpen than as a starter, but Indians officials like his big arm and are hoping he can have a breakout season as a starter. If not, he would be a likely choice for the bullpen. Tomlin missed virtually all of last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Former phenom Bauer needs to have a good year to restore some of the luster to his flickering star.
Salazar, who had some electric moments in his 10 major league starts last year, slots into Jimenez's spot. Kluber and McAllister both emerged as solid major league starters last year, but neither has yet spent a full season in a major league rotation. One other candidate to keep an eye on is RHP Shaun Marcum, signed to a minor league contract after missing half of last season with the Mets following shoulder surgery. When healthy, he has won at the big-league level, and the Indians hope he is another successful reclamation project in the mold of LHP Scott Kazmir last year.
RHP John Axford (closer)
RHP Cody Allen
RHP Bryan Shaw
LHP Marc Rzepczynski
LHP Josh Outman
RHP C.C. Lee
RHP Vinnie Pestano
If Axford, who lost the closer's job in Milwaukee last year before being traded to St. Louis, struggles as the closer, Allen would be Plan B. Barring injury, the first five names appear to be pretty solid bets to be on the Opening Day roster. After that, it gets a little iffy.
Pestano was one of the best setup men in the American League in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013 he spent time on the disabled list with a sore elbow, and he was demoted to Triple-A Columbus for most of the second half of the season. If he can get back to where he was two years ago, he would be a candidate to serve as a setup man or even as a potential closer. Rzepczynski was a midseason pickup from St. Louis last year and was sensational in the second half, posting a 0.89 ERA in 27 appearances. Three veteran right-handers in camp as invitees on minor league contracts could pitch their way onto the roster: David Aardsma, Scott Atchison and Matt Capps.
1. CF Michael Bourn
2. 1B Nick Swisher
3. 2B Jason Kipnis
4. DH Carlos Santana
5. LF Michael Brantley
6. SS Asdrubal Cabrera
7. RF David Murphy
8. C Yan Gomes
9. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
This is a lineup with tremendous flexibility in that almost anyone could hit anywhere in the lineup. For example, Brantley last year hit in every spot in the lineup except ninth. The list includes only one right-handed hitter, Gomes, though there are three switch hitters, Swisher, Santana and Cabrera.
Murphy will be in a semi-platoon in right field with the right-handed-hitting Ryan Raburn. If Santana shows in spring training that he can handle third base, he likely would start there vs. left-handed pitchers, against whom Chisenhall really struggled last year. Veteran DH Jason Giambi will see most of his playing time vs. right-handed pitchers.
TOP ROOKIES: SS Francisco Lindor likely will start the season at Double-A Akron, but he could make his major league debut at some point during the season. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Lindor is clearly the team's shortstop of the future, and could make the ascent in 2014 if free-agent-to-be Asdrubal Cabrera is traded. Lindor, 20, hit a combined .303/.380/.407 with two homers, 34 RBIs and 25 steals in 104 games in Class A and Double-A last year. RHP C.C. Lee had a combined 2.48 ERA and averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 29 minor league appearances last year. He is expected to win a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.
--DH Jason Giambi (fractured rib) was hurt March 7, and the crack was found during an MRI exam March 12. He is out until late March or early April.
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