With spring training on the horizon, the Cleveland Indians will claim they have competition so several roster spots.
However, history shows that GM Chris Antonetti and skipper Manny Acta have a good idea of who will come north with the big club to start the regular season on April 6th.
Here are the supposed spots that are up for grabs, along with the likely outcome:
Third base: The competition will be between Lonnie Chisenhall, Jack Hannahan, Jason Donald, non-roster invitee Jose Lopez, and newcomer Russ Canzler, who is also in the mix at 1B.
Unless Chisenhall bats .050 in Arizona, he should be the starter. He’s 23 years old, and batted .255 with 7 HR and 22 RBI in 212 at bats last season.
In reality though, he will probably be sent back to Columbus to start the season, with Hannahan and Lopez or Donald sharing the spot to start the year.
Why? Because Acta would rather go with the better glove even though his team struggles to score runs.
Remember, Hannahan’s .250 batting average last year raised his career mark to .231 (lifetime 675 OPS).
Bullpen: Assuming five relief spots are in stone–Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, and Joe Smith, that leaves two spots open in the bullpen.
The contenders are holdover Frank Herrmann, rookies Nick Hagadone and Chen Lee, and invitees Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray, Jeremy Accardo, and Robinson Tejeda.
Wheeler is pretty much a lock to make the squad. He went 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA with the Red Sox last season, and has been a solid reliever in the AL since 2008. He’s also saved 43 games in his career.
The other spot will likely come down to Hagadone, a lefty, and Tejeda. The former would give Acta three southpaws in the bullpen, while Tejeda’s just 30 years old and offers another power arm if healthy.
He’s fanned over a hitter an inning his last two healthy years in the majors (2009-10).
If his arm is sound, look for Tejeda to get the spot.
Starting rotation: Once again, we are assuming the top four starters are Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, and newly acquired Derek Lowe.
That leaves several candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation: Lefties David Huff and Scott Barnes, and right-handers Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, and Zack McAllister.
It should come down to whoever pitches the best in spring training, but in reality, unless Slowey falls out of a tree or gives up home runs to every other hitter, he’s going to get the nod.
Cleveland will overlook the veteran’s horrible 2011 season (0-8, 6.67) and remember his time with the Twins from 2008-10 (35-20, 4.36), thinking he can recapture that performance.
Last bench player: Assuming Shelley Duncan has a roster spot locked up, the last spot on the bench is between Donald, Aaron Cunningham, Canzler, Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie, and Fred Lewis.
Since the roster is filled with left-handed hitters, it would be a big surprise if either Pie or Lewis came north.
Donald may be a platoon partner at 3B, so that leaves the spot between Cunningham, acquired from San Diego in a trade, Canzler, and Spilborghs.
This spot maybe the only one that will be based on performance in spring training. Cunningham and Spilborghs have slight edges because they can play CF and have more big league experience than Canzler.
You can refer back to this piece when the final roster is announced in early April. Based on the history of this organization, the guess here is our accuracy will be very high.