September 17, 2014

Elyria
Mostly cloudy
69°F
test

Indians: Predicting the winners of the roster races

PEORIA, Ariz. — A little more than a week’s worth of exhibition games isn’t nearly enough to make any decisions regarding roster openings and starting spots.

Still, I’m going to try to read manager Terry Francona’s mind and predict the winners in the key competitions for big league jobs in Cleveland this spring:

FIFTH STARTER

There are plenty of pitchers in the field, but just one spot available between right-handers Josh Tomlin, Aaron Harang, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco.

All four have pitched well out of the gate, but this one’s going to come down to minor league options. Tomlin and Bauer have them, Carrasco and the veteran Harang, don’t. In reality, it’s a two-horse race between Carrasco and Harang.

Harang, 35, struggled for much of last season with the Mariners before getting traded to the Mets and proving he still had something left in the tank at the end of the year.

There is the possibility that Carrasco doesn’t win the rotation spot, yet still makes the team in the bullpen. He pitched well for the Indians in that role last year and his mental makeup, at least to this point in his career, seems better suited for relieving.

The Winner: Carrasco

THIRD BASE

There really isn’t much of a battle between Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall. Unless Santana completely fails defensively in his conversion from catcher, he will get the starting nod because the Indians need his bat in the lineup and he doesn’t want to DH on a regular basis — actually not at all. Plus, Chisenhall, who has already fumbled a number of big league chances, has a minor league option left.

The early reviews on Santana at his new position haven’t been great. He’s made two errors in five exhibition games — both on high throws to first base.

If Santana has defensive shortcomings when the regular season opens, it’s likely that he sees time at a number of spots — catcher, first base and DH — with third base his primary position.

The Winner: Santana

BULLPEN

The Indians could carry seven or eight relievers, depending on how other races and decisions shake out.

I’m going to proceed as if there will be seven relievers, with closer John Axford, right-handers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw and left-hander Marc Rzepczysnki already locks. That leaves three spots available among a host of relievers in camp, including right-handers Vinnie Pestano, David Aardsma, Blake Wood and C.C. Lee, and lefties Josh Outman, Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes.

Francona favors keeping two lefties in the pen, so one of the jobs almost assuredly will go to Outman, Hagadone or Barnes. Hagadone is big and throws hard but has yet to harness his ability on the major league level. And he has a minor league option available, as does Barnes. Outman is a proven veteran without a minor league option.

Pestano, a former elite setup man who lost his big league job last year, has looked good early in the exhibition season. But like everyone in the field outside of Aardsma, he has minor league options.

The Winners: Outman, Pestano and Wood

BENCH

If the Indians go with seven in the bullpen, there will be two openings to join the rest of the bench brigade — Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn. The primary candidates to fill those roles are outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Jeff Francouer, and infielders Elliot Johnson and David Adams. Chisenhall isn’t on the list because the Indians want him to play every day if he’s not their starter at third.

It makes sense for Cleveland to carry an extra infielder and an extra outfielder from that group. Johnson has experience and seems to fit the utility infield role well. A defensive-minded player who is out of minor league options, Johnson has also been impressing with his bat this spring.

Morgan and Francouer have big league track records, but are much different players. Morgan is more versatile than Francouer, but Francouer has much more pop and could hit you a home run in a pinch.

Though there has been talk of carrying an extra catcher, that doesn’t appear likely. The Indians already have a backup for Yan Gomes in Santana, who can be spelled at third on occasion by Aviles and others.

The Winners: Morgan and Johnson

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.