Candidates for final pitching spots on Indians roster

Breaking down the Indians' options in filling the two or three open spots in the bullpen or starting rotation.

Reliever Vinnie Pestano is a good bet to lock up one of the Indians' last spots in the bullpen.

Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports

Much has been written this spring about the head-to-head battle between Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana for the starting third base job. A lot has also been written about Carlos Carrasco and several others candidates that are duking it out this spring for the final spot in the starting rotation.

But while those two roster battles probably have the biggest impact on the success of the season, there are several other roster spots up for grabs.

Barring injury, we know that Cody Allen, John Axford, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Josh Outman, Marc Rzepczynski, Danny Salazar and Bryan Shaw will be a part of the opening day pitching staff. We also know that 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 10 pitchers and 10 position players for a total of 20 players.  If you are doing the math at home that means there are as many as five spots on the roster up for grabs to comprise the full opening day 25-man roster. That means at least two more pitchers and two more position players will make the roster, and then that last spot will come down to a decision on whether manager Terry Francona wants his 25th guy on the roster to be an eighth bullpen arm or an extra option off the bench.

Today, I will look at the candidates to fill the two or three open spots in the bullpen or starting rotation. Later this week I will look at the position players.

Here are the top 10 candidates to fill the final few spots in the bullpen or starting rotation:

David Aardsma (RHP): He brings eight years of experience including lots of strikeouts (career 9.0 K/9) and lots of walks (career 5.0 K/9), but he has a good chance to make the team as a long man if the Indians carry eight relievers. He could fill the Matt Albers role of last season as a versatile and experienced long reliever who can sneak some time into some late-inning, high-leverage situations.

Scott Atchison (RHP):
He might be the anti-Aardsma as he doesn’t get many strikeouts but commands the ball much better and limits walks. He will be 38 years old before the season starts and he might be Aardsma’s stiffest competition to make the roster as a non-roster invite. It just depends if Francona wants the ability to get a strikeout in Aardsma over the command of Atchison.

Trevor Bauer (RHP): He is in camp looking to prove himself to Francona and the Indians brass that his delivery is improved and he can be a reliable option for them at some point this season. Unless a rash of injuries occur, his odds are extremely long to make the rotation as the Indians probably prefer him to continue to work on those delivery adjustments at Triple-A Columbus.

Nick Hagadone (LHP): With Outman and Rzepczynski all but certain to open the season as the lefty duo in the Indians bullpen, it appears that Hagadone is a long shot. He needs a good camp to instill some confidence in him again as an option later in the season and will probably open the season in Columbus. However, he is an intriguing option as a third lefty in the pen if he has an outstanding camp.

Aaron Harang (RHP): When he first signed it seemed he was a long shot in the fifth starter derby, but then Shaun Marcum came up lame and all but removed himself from consideration. Harang is a proven durable innings eater who had a poor 2013 campaign but may still have a little gas left in the tank to provide the Indians innings early in the season if they pass on Carrasco for the final rotation spot.

Colt Hynes (LHP): He is a career minor leaguer who, in his seventh season in the minors last season and at age 28, finally got a shot in the big leagues. He is a depth bullpen arm for the Indians and is all but certain to open the season at Columbus as a depth left-handed option for the Indians to call upon for short stints in Cleveland when a fresh arm is needed or to fill in for an injury.

C.C. Lee (RHP): He looks to have the inside track to the seventh spot in the bullpen. He has impact stuff with a nice fastball-slider combination that comes from a sidearm slot and is the best relief pitching prospect in the Indians minor league system. He has the potential to really impact the bullpen along the lines of what Vinnie Pestano did in 2011 as a near zero service time rookie.

Vinnie Pestano (RHP): He is about as close to a lock as one can get on this list as if he proves to be healthy and effective this spring he will slot in as the sixth man in the Indians opening day bullpen. The Indians have been careful with him this spring in order to ensure he is completely over the problems that plagued him last year, and if he returns to form he would be a significant boost to the strength of the pen.

Josh Tomlin (RHP): He along with Carrasco and Harang make up the trio that is in strong consideration for the final spot in the rotation. Unless someone gets hurt, he looks all but certain to open the season in Columbus as a depth starting arm. The Indians probably want to see Carrasco for at least six to eight regular season starts before pulling the plug on him, and Tomlin fits in well as a fallback option.

Blake Wood (RHP): He is probably Lee’s strongest competition for the seventh spot in the bullpen. In fact, a strong case could be made that he is the favorite for that spot with his upper 90s blazing fastball and past success in the Royals bullpen prior to his arm injury. His command woes will probably do him in and send him to Columbus as one of the first pen arms the Indians call upon to fill a need.

Prediction: Carrasco wins the fifth spot in the rotation, Pestano and Lee are named to the bullpen and the Indians only go with 12 pitchers to start the season.