Bench battle: Which position players will make the final cut?
MAR 06, 2014 9:25a ET
Over the offseason the Indians signed several interesting free agent position players to minor league deals with an invite to Major League spring training. They also have a good young core of prospects ready to emerge and help out the roster at some point this season.
The way things sit right now eight of the nine spots in the lineup are known and Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Mike Aviles, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn will be a part of the opening day lineup and bench. That is a total of 10 players, so if the Indians decide to go with a 12 man pitching staff and 13 position players on the opening day lineup, there are as many as three bench spots up for grabs this spring.
On Monday, I looked at the candidates to fill the last two or three open spots in the bullpen or starting rotation. Today I take a look at the top 10 candidates to fill the final few spots on the Indians bench.
David Adams (INF): The Indians signed Adams to a Major League deal in the offseason, so some might think that implies an immediate opportunity at the big league level; however, it is a minimum deal, he has an option remaining and his signing was more for roster depth to have on hand at Triple-A Columbus. He has big league experience and could be a backup option at third base if Lonnie Chisenhall or Carlos Santana gets hurt or if Santana has to play more catcher because Yan Gomes is hurt or struggling.
Jesus Aguilar (1B): There is little doubt that Aguilar will open the season at Triple-A Columbus, but if there was a bat to keep an eye on that could come up from within and impact the roster like Yan Gomes did last year, this is your guy. After racking up 105 RBI for Double-A Akron last year and pounding out 22 homers in winter ball in the offseason, he is in camp to make an impression on manager Terry Francona and the Indians front office as a possible option later in the year.
Jeff Francoeur (OF): He is a career .268 hitter with a .725 OPS over nine Major League seasons, though last year he only hit .204 with 3 homers, 17 RBI and .536 OPS in 81 games. The Indians made out with Ryan Raburn last season after a similarly awful 2012 season only to have a big rebound with the Indians last year. Can the Indians get lucky again with Francoeur? If so, he'd add some needed right-handed pop off the bench and has a howitzer for an arm in the outfield.
Jason Giambi (DH): This appears to be a foregone conclusion where if he proves healthy this spring that he will make the team. He is 43-years old now and only hit .183 with 9 homers, 31 RBI and .653 OPS last season, but he came up with several big late inning hits and his impact in the clubhouse was immeasurable. He is an extension of the coaching staff on the field and in the clubhouse and is the unquestioned leader of the team -- even though he is the 25th man on the roster.
Elliot Johnson (INF): After a solid showing with the Rays in 2012 when he hit .242 with a .654 OPS in 123 games, he cratered last season with the Royals and Braves hitting just .209 with a .538 OPS in 111 games. While the bat is nothing special his value lies in his incredible versatility as not only does he switch hit and run well, but he can play every position on the field except catcher. He has a great chance to be the final guy (along with Giambi) on the roster.
Bryan LaHair (1B): He is coming off of offseason wrist surgery so it remains to be seen just how effective he is this spring and whether or not he even plays. He might just open the season at Triple-A Columbus as a depth left-handed hitting platoon option because of his good history of success against right-handed pitching (.289 AVG, .835 OPS). If he proves healthy and Giambi gets hurt, then he stands a chance to be on the opening day roster as the left-handed bat off the bench.
Nyjer Morgan (OF): Like LaHair, he played overseas last season in Japan so he is trying to reestablish himself as a Major League option. The odds are stacked against him because he is a left-handed hitter and the starting outfield of Brantley, Bourn and Murphy all hit left-handed, so he looks to be a poor fit. That said, if one of that trio of outfielders gets hurt or if Giambi somehow doesn't make the roster, then he could be a versatile outfield option off the bench with speed.
Jose Ramirez (INF): He is still recovering from offseason thumb surgery, and while he is just starting to get into games he is all but certain to open the season at Triple-A Columbus so he can play every day. He is immediate depth in the event either Asdrubal Cabrera or Mike Aviles are significantly injured and out for an extended period of time. He has the versatility to play any of third base, shortstop or second base, and brings a speed component that few in the organization can provide.
Justin Sellers (INF): He was just picked up a few days ago in a trade with the Dodgers and was brought in to provide an extra layer of depth to the Indians middle infield corps. He has struggled in limited time at the big league level hitting just .199 with a .578 OPS over 82 games, and should open the season at Triple-A Columbus as infield depth. While Ramirez would be a long term solution, Sellers would be more of a short term solution when an infielder is needed for just a few days.
Matt Treanor (C): He missed the entire 2013 season while he rehabbed from knee surgery. Considering he is 38-years old, did not play last season and is coming off a significant surgery, his odds are pretty long to make the roster. Right now the Indians plan to use Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana as their catching duo, even if Santana plays third base. Even if the Indians by chance go with a third catcher, they will probably look to the waiver wire or trade market at the end of spring training to fill the spot.
Prediction: With the Indians deciding to go with 12 pitchers and 13 position players to open the season, this opens the door for Jeff Francoeur, Elliot Johnson and Jason Giambi to make the roster.