Baseball’s exhibition games have been played for just a little over a week, and the Cleveland Indians are right where they should be record wise.
We have long maintained a .500 record is what every team strives for, so as to not overly encourage or discourage a fan base.
Of course, after your team goes to the seventh game of the World Series the previous year, it should be difficult to temper expectations.
Because of the World Baseball Classic and the number of Indians playing in it, several young players will get a longer look than normal, not only because of the tournament, but also due to a longer spring training.
As we have said previously, there aren’t a lot of open spots on the 25 man roster, barring injuries. There is one spot open in the bullpen, and the utility man position is also up for grabs.
We also have serious doubts that Michael Brantley will open the season on the active roster, so there is an extra spot open for manager Terry Francona.
The frontrunner for the last spot in the bullpen would seem to be Shawn Armstrong, who has put together three straight scoreless outings to open exhibition play.
The real reason Armstrong should be the leader is his 1.84 ERA at Columbus last year and his 72 strikeouts in 49 innings.
The other contenders are Joe Colon (15.75 ERA in four innings), Perci Garner (3-2/3 innings, allowed 5 hits and 5 walks), Nick Goody ( 3 scoreless innings), and rule 5 draftee Hoby Milner (one horrific outing, but 7 strikeouts in four innings). Milner has to be offered back to Philadelphia if he doesn’t make the big league roster.
The utility man spot is complicated. Erik Gonzalez should be the front runner because he is out of options and the organization could lose him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.
Gonzalez is primarily a shortstop and is very good defensively at that spot. Good enough that he could definitely help another team if they have a chance to get him.
The other primary contender is Michael Martinez, a Tito favorite, and also a guy respected by the clubhouse.
Martinez is solid defensively at several positions, but is also has been one of the worst hitters in the major leagues over his career.
He is also not currently on the 40 man roster, which means someone would have to be removed if he were to make the team.
Our guess is that Gonzalez gets the job with Martinez being the good soldier, starting the season in Columbus where he is just two hours away.
That is, unless both make the team as outfielders replacing Brantley on the roster to open the year.
With Brantley healthy, we would expect the outfielders to be him, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Guyer.
Assuming Austin Jackson is healthy, he would be the favorite to take Brantley’s spot to start the season. If he can’t go, you could see both Martinez and Gonzalez open the year on the big league roster, or perhaps Chris Colabello makes the team.
On the other hand, a lot could happen between now and April 3rd, when the Tribe opens up in Texas.
But keep on eye on these players to see how they handle being the frontrunners.