Exhibition play is a little over a week old in Goodyear, Arizona and what that means mostly is we are closer to the start of the regular season, which is now just 24 days away.
We have always maintained the perfect record for spring training is around .500, because it doesn’t give the fan bases of a bad team any unrealistic expectations, nor does it worry supporters of good teams, like the Cleveland Indians.
The best news to come out of the desert is it appears Jason Kipnis is healthy and ready to go.
We were never in the trade Kipnis camp, because he is coming off a poor, injury plagued season, so the Tribe front office was never going to get value, it would have been strictly a salary dump.
The negatives have been on the injury front where Danny Salazar likely will not be able to open the season on the big league roster, and OF Brandon Guyer has had some set backs as well, although we aren’t sure his timetable was to open the year on the active list.
Salazar’s injury simply means Terry Francona and new/old pitching coach Carl Willis don’t have to make a decision on whether or not they have to move a starter to the bullpen.
As of right now, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Josh Tomlin will make up the starting staff.
With Guyer and Michael Brantley likely to be on the disabled list to start the season, it opens up two outfield spots, with holdovers Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Yandy Diaz battling with Rob Refsnyder, Rajai Davis, and Melvin Upton Jr. to make the Opening Day roster.
Quite frankly, we think each spot will go to one in each group.
The first group has two switch-hitters in Almonte and Allen, with Naquin swinging from the left side and Diaz the right. The latter has been playing most infield, so maybe versatility wins out.
The brass knows what Almonte can do and Allen could probably benefit from some time at AAA. In the latter group, Refsnyder offers the multi-position option, while Davis and Upton are trying for one last shot at a big league roster.
To date, neither of the veterans have done much in games, but this is the Indians we are talking about, and we know Tito and his staff love veterans.
We would keep Diaz, putting him in LF to start, and Refsnyder would also get a shot because he can play both infield and outfield.
In the bullpen, the loss of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith leave two openings, but the recent signings of veteran Matt Belisle, Carlos Torres, and the claiming of Ben Taylor from Boston would make them the leading candidates to win the job.
Torres is durable, pitching in 65 or more games in three of the last four years in the bigs, and Belisle ended last season as the Twins closer, pitching great in the second half, after solid years in Washington and St. Louis.
One reliever to watch is Nick Goody, who has struggled so far in Arizona. He doesn’t have the track record of some of the other arms, so he could find himself the odd man out if he doesn’t start pitching better.
Again, it’s early. But the players we talked about are the ones in battles to make the trip north to Seattle on March 29th.
Which can’t get here fast enough.