By Matt Lofgren
Ticking minutes closer to first pitch less than one week away, Indians’ manager Terry Francona has been trimming down to for his 2017 opening day roster.
With no surprises made so far this spring, the Tribe are down to 37 players and the announcement of several players already on the move in preparation for the 25-man roster on opening day.
After a tremendous showing this spring, outfielder Bradley Zimmer was informed he would start the season down in the minor leagues where he tore up AA Akron and AAA Columbus batting .250 with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and 38 stolen bases. Zimmer made his case for the opening day roster a strong one, but the Indians first pick in the 2014 draft was granted more time to develop his game in the minors after battering .358 (19-53) this spring with three home runs and 14 RBIs.
Despite wowing the Indians’ front office, the move doesn’t come as a surprise as the 24 year old will be the top prospect in waiting in an already injury-effected outfield.
Taking up one of those outfield spots after an injury to left fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, will be newly acquired speedster Austin Jackson. The 30 year old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Tribe this offseason after missing much of 2016 with the White Sox due to injury but is expected to bring the spark lost in Rajai Davis’ departure to Oakland.
Looking to trim down even further, the Indians announced over the weekend that starter Mike Clevenger, who was 3-3 with the big club last season with a 5.26 ERA, will stay with the club through the spring before being sent down to Columbus to start the season. A fan favorite for his outlandish looks and wild style, Clevenger is expected to bounce between the clubs this year in accordance with Francona’s tight pitching rotation.
In some what of a surprise move, the Indians also optioned down RHP Joe Colon and LHP Tyler Olsen, both of who were competing for a bullpen spot. Shaping up for the last round of cuts, here is your projection for the Indians’ opening day roster.
C- Yan Gomez
1B- Carlos Santana
2B- Jose Ramirez
SS- Francisco Lindor
3B- Giovanny Urshela
OF- Michael Brantley (Praise be him)
OF- Tyler Naquin
*OF- Lonnie Chisenhall* (questionable with injury)
DH- Edwin Encarnacion
Ace- Corey Kluber
UPDATE: Shawn Armstrong has made the club.
Jason Kipnis (INJ)
Circling a mix of veterans and young talent, the Indians will face some tough choices when making the final cuts both in the bullpen and just how many outfielders and infielders to carry.
Seeming to catch more and more positive news, there is still no official word on the status of Michael Brantley for opening day which begs the questions: How many outfielders do you carry?
Sitting with a lot of uncertainty around Kipnis, though he has been active swinging the lumber with an injured shoulder, there is still a question as to how the Indians will address his absence in the field.
As Ramirez has played about as well as any third basemen, it is widely expected to see him move to second in Kip’s absence while leaving third base open again. Urshela has seen time in the majors at third and carries an above average glove, but lacks MLB production at the plate as he has struggled at the plate in his time.
Talk of Erik Gonzalez meshing on the infield has been a major topic, but one that will have to be a wait-and-see approach.
Keeping the bullpen in order, moves will be limited as the season starts then open to moves as we see how the AAA talent progresses.
This may not be the opening day lineup we all expected, but Francona has made his mark here on working through the tough decisions to best help the Tribe as 2017 will be a year of unfinished business.