In many respects, it seems like Game 7 of the World Series was just yesterday, and in others, it feels like an eon ago.
But today is the first exhibition game in Goodyear, Arizona for the Cleveland Indians, as they take on the team they share their complex with, the Cincinnati Reds.
It is our first opportunity to see Edwin Encarnacion in a Tribe uniform, and we also get to see the heroes of a year ago: Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller, and the Tribe’s resident superstar, Francisco Lindor.
For the most part, the opening day is pretty much set, with Terry Francona looking for one more reliever to fill out the bullpen, and he’s also looking for who will be the utility man, and Tito has mentioned that spot is up for grabs between Michael Martinez, Erik Gonzales, and Ronnie Rodriguez.
We would also assume that Michael Brantley will not open the year on the active roster, so there is probably an extra outfield spot open too.
With the Indians being the defending American League champions, the main thing to focus on this spring is the organizational depth.
To win a division, you know you will need more than 25 men contributing to the cause, so the main players to keep an eye on are the guys who will open the season in Columbus, but will probably be called upon by Francona at some point to contribute during the regular season.
So, the players we want to watch are Yandy Diaz, the 25 year old who hit .318 with a 854 OPS between Akron and Columbus a year ago, and who can play 3B and the corner outfield spots.
Watch Gonzalez, also 25 and who has a sterling reputation as a defender, but who is blocked in Cleveland by the presence of Lindor. Gonzalez hit .296 with a 779 OPS at AAA last season, and could be the bait at the trading deadline to bring a piece that Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff need for the stretch run.
We are also interested in seeing the depth in the starting rotation this spring. You know the Indians will need more than five starters throughout the regular season, so we want to watch Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson, Carlos Frias, and Tim Conroy perform throughout the spring.
Those guys will be counted on to make starts for the big club this summer, and they will be needed to win games.
Same with the pitchers making up the bullpen depth. Francona and Mickey Callaway will need Shawn Armstrong (if he doesn’t make the team), Perci Garner, Joe Colon, and Nick Goody during the long regular season.
Luckily, the Indians have this depth, another example of the great job done by Antonetti and Chernoff.
One player we haven’t mentioned is C Francisco Mejia, who is widely regarding as the organization’s best prospect, and whom Francona has already said can be an impact hitter.
We also will be watching two outfielders who could be in Cleveland before the end of the season in CF Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer. Both of these guys could be playing big roles in Progressive Field if they have good starts in AAA.
Enjoy the fact that baseball is back, but look at the future for this organization. The present looks very solid already.