As spring training is getting underway most rosters in the MLB are unsettled. The Cleveland Indians are no exception. In fact, this year moreso than any other recent season, the Indians have a number of spots up for grabs. That includes both starting and bench positions. The bullpen has a number of questions as well.
Because of the wide spread roster turnover there is a great deal of opportunity for all the players currently in training camp. Cleveland traditionally, under manager Terry Francona, has been a place where non-roster invitees have had an excellent chance at breaking camp with the big club. This year that is more true than ever.
In this article we are going to focus on the non-roster position players only. As of right now there are 12 players that are currently in camp. That number is always subject to change due to the massive amount of unsigned free agents that are still out there. I am going to rank the players from 12 to 1. Twelve being least likely to make or impact the big league club and number 1 being most likely to make and impact the team. I must warn you that this list doesn’t contain too many guys that really have a legitimate chance to help the team, however there are a few that could not only make the team but also have a huge impact as well.
Freeman is a 31 year old middle infielder. His career slash line is .134/.211/.207. Hardly numbers that inspire much confidence. For his entire major league career he is 11/82 with 4 extra base hits. A number of things have to go dramatically wrong for Freeman to make the team. Stashing him in Triple-A would just push other legitimate prospects further down in the system for know reason. The Indians have a plethora of better options.
Federowicz is a 31 year old catcher. His career WAR is -0.7. In 134 major league games his slash line is .179/.247/.323. Catching is first and foremost about defense and handling the pitching staff. However the Indians will need more offense than Federowicz can provide even as a backup. Yes Roberto Perez has put up similar numbers in the past. Those numbers were unacceptable then just as they will be now.
Chu is a catcher. He is only 24 years old. He has had some decent minor league numbers but has minimal experience in the upper minors. He was 8/37 in the Arizona Fall League. He is an camp more for depth and so he can get his feet wet a little. He will settle in as the starting catcher in AA or AAA depending on what happens with Eric Hasse on major league team.
Thompson is a 27 year old outfielder. He bats and throws right-handed. In 4 seasons his career slash line is .206/.276/.389. His career major league WAR is 1.0. In 2011-12 he hit a combined 49 home runs. That’s was all mostly done in the low minors however. The Indians have so many outfielders Thompson’s only chance is a scalding hot spring training, followed up by unbelievable numbers in Columbus early in the season. With those results he might play his way into an opportunity.
Papi seems like he has been around forever. He is a former first round draft pick back in 2014. He plays in the outfield and can play some first base as well. He is 26 at this point. This is his first major league camp. His career minor league number are .237/.357/.380. The numbers aren’t terrible but they are somewhat underwhelming. He does draw a lot of walks and he led the ACC with a .381 average in college in 2013. There are many players ahead of Papi at this point. Because of that his chance of joining the Tribe at any point this season seem very remote.
Mathias was a 3rd round draft pick in 2015. He has almost exclusively a second baseman for the Tribe in the minor leagues. In 2016 he had 46 extra base hit for the season including 40 doubles. He has spent the last 2 seasons in Akron. His 2017 season was cut short by injuries. Last season he somewhat rebounded with a .232/.338/.370 season. He impressed Francona 2 seasons ago in spring training but he has to regain the momentum he had back in 2016 if he wants to make it on to the major league roster.
Navarro is a 35 year old catcher that has quite an accomplished resume. He was an All Star in 2009. He has caught over 100 games in five separate seasons in the majors. In 13 seasons he has a very respectable slash line of .250/.307/.370. The problem with Navarro is he is 35 and hasn’t played in the majors since 2016. If he could some how rediscover his form from the past he could greatly impact the catcher position for the Tribe. At this stage of his career that is not likely to happen.
Ryan Flaherty is a 32 year old utlity player. He has played every position including pitcher except for center field and catcher. Over 7 seasons he has only accumulated .8 WAR. His slash line over that period is a meager .217/.298/.292. Why is he rated so highly? Flaherty seems like the exact type of veteran that could catch Francona’s eye with a solid spring training and somehow leave training camp with the utility job. By May or June could easily be replaced by a minor league that starts the year we’ll. Flaherty could greatly outplay his previous numbers to secure a roster spot. Hopefully he is beaten out by a younger, more talented player.
Clement is a 22 year old middle infielder. He was a fourth round draft pick in 2017. Last year he rocketed through the system, starting at Lake County and ending in Akron with a stop in Lynchburg on the way. Clement will more than likely start the year in Akron. With a hot start in Akron, and a couple of injuries in Cleveland, Clement could end up on the big league club. It would be a very aggressive move for the front office but Clement could be the best option around May or June if Jason Kipnis or Francisco Lindor we’re going to miss some significant amount of playing time due to injury.
Johnson is a very interesting player. He was aquired in the off season as part of the Yan Gomes trade. Johnson is only 23 and still somewhat raw. He has not played above double A and he missed six weeks last summer due to a broken hamate bone. However, he has a lot of untapped talent. He has lots of speed and can play all 3 outfield position. In 2017 he had 55 extra base hits in the minor leagues. It seems as if he at least has gap to gap power. His career on base percentage in the minors is .337. He really just needs to keep improving this season and get ready mentally and physically for the call from Cleveland. It may come this summer or possibly next season but it is coming at some point.
Number 2 on this list is probably too high for Barnes. He probably only makes the team if Matt Joyce flops completely during spring training and Barnes plays lights out. However Barnes had a great season with Columbus last season and impressed Francona during September with Cleveland. With his experience, and a great spring training, he is someone that Francona could get behind.
Not only is Matt Joyce number 1 on this list, he is number 1 by a large margin. He is a left handed power hitter, with eleven years of major league experience. He is 34 and he is coming off an injury plagued season in 2018. However just two seasons ago he slashed .243/.335/.473 with 25 home runs and 68 RBI. He also had 33 doubles and did this while playing in Oakland which is more of a pitcher’s ballpark. His home run numbers could go up playing in Progressive Field which is much more hitter friendly, especially for left handed hitters. If Joyce is healthy all season he will not only make the team, but also start over 100 games and be a key contributor for the Indians. Let’s not forget that Mike Napoli had his best season as a pro during his age 34 season after joining the Tribe during the previous off season.