Major league baseball will begin its season in less than two weeks, so we are down to the nitty gritty in terms of battles for Opening Day roster spots.
For the sake of this piece, we will assume that Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, and Danny Salazar will all open the season on the disabled list, something that is definite for the latter two, but Brantley has started to hit in minor league games.
We will also figure that Terry Francona will keep 13 pitchers, meaning eight relievers will make the team. This is the way to keep Ryan Merritt, who is out of options.
The first battle is who will be the Tribe’s utility infielder in Seattle on March 29th.
It was figured going into camp that Erik Gonzalez was the frontrunner, but Giovanny Urshela has made a very strong bid to beat him out. Urshela has been playing all four infield spots and his bat has been great, as he is 18 for 33 with 3 HR in Arizona.
He has walked just once, but has struck out only three times.
Gonzalez is 6 for 26 without a homer and has walked three times and fanned in seven at bats. Strike zone judgment has always been an issue for him as his career strikeout to walk ratio is 45:4.
Neither have options remaining, and we would think Gonzalez has more trade value because he’s a natural shortstop and his glove can play as a regular in the majors.
In the outfield, we would pencil in Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall on the team, but who is the primary leftfielder and who is the other right-handed bat considering both Zimmer and Chiz hit left-handed.
What we don’t understand is why Yandy Diaz isn’t getting reps in the outfield, because you could put him in left on an everyday basis, meaning the battle would be between veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr, and Rob Refsnyder.
Tyler Naquin could be in the mix too, but he’s another left handed bat.
Nobody has really taken charge in this battle. Davis is 7 for 27 with one extra base hit and no walks. Upton is 6 for 33 with a home run, three walks, and has fanned 11 times, while Refsnyder is 7 for 31 with two homers and six walks.
Again, why not consider Diaz, who is 10 for 28 with a dinger and four walks?
Our guess is Francona will pick Davis and Upton and give them a week or two on the big league roster as an audition.
As for the bullpen, if Merritt is kept, six of the spots have been filled with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zack McAllister, and Tyler Olson claiming them.
We think Nick Goody has pitched his way out of a solid spot by giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in seven innings of work.
Matt Belisle, signed at the beginning of camp, probably claims one spot allowing two runs in eight innings, although the 13 hits allowed are troubling.
That leaves Alexi Ogando (one run in eight innings, 12 strikeouts), and Carlos Torres (seven runs, 13 hits in 7-1/3 frames, but really one bad outing) battling with Goody.
We feel you will see Francona using these guys in high leverage situations for the next week and a half to figure out. We note that Ogando was the second pitcher used yesterday and threw two innings.
In fact, we think you will see all of these players getting a lot of time until the decision is made. The regulars will get their at bats in minor league contests.
Decision time is coming. A strong finish by each one of these players could put them in Seattle for game one.