Continuing my preview for the upcoming 2018 season for the Cleveland Indians, today I’m focusing on the infield positions for the club.
It’s an infield that’s seeing one major change as a longtime Indian departed and the team brought in a suitable replacement at first base. It also features two of the youngest and brightest stars in all of baseball.
Starting at the catcher position, Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes will start the season out as splitting time at the position by a top prospect is coming and could steal the role at any time.
Francisco Mejia is the 11th ranked prospect in baseball according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. He received a small taste of the major leagues at the end of last season and will be in major league camp. It’s unknown as of now if he’ll make the opening day roster but there’s no doubt he has a bright future with the organization.
As for Gomes and Perez, both have been stout on defense for years but both are average at the plate in terms of hitting. Gomes had a comeback season with 14 home runs and a .232 average after hitting 9 home runs and a .167 in an injury plagued 2016 campaign.
Perez hit a career high 8 home runs but with an average of .207, it makes it hard for him to get more starts over Gomes due to his weaknesses at the plate.
Carlos Santana left the organization after eight seasons when he signed a three year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies during the offseason so many wondered what the Indians would do to replace his production at the plate and with his glove.
The Indians went and signed former Padres, As, Mariners and Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso who is coming his career season of 28 home runs and 67 runs batted in. He’s also got a quality glove at first base so in terms of production, he’s equal to Santana but in terms of salary, Cleveland got him for a third of the price.
He’ll split time with Edwin Encarnacion at first as Encarnacion will primarly be the designated hitter. Encarnacion hit 38 home runs and drove in 107 runs in his first season in Cleveland. He’s been the subject of some trade rumors this offseason but I think he’ll be in Cleveland for at least the 2018 season as the Indians need that right handed power bat in the heart of the lineup.
Francisco Lindor will hold down the shortstop and will have no competition at that spot. The two time All-Star hit a career high 33 home runs and 89 runs batted in which resulted in a top five MVP vote. Lindor came into camp with what looking bigger in terms of muscle mass and could result in him hitting with more power and may be targeting 40 home runs. The kid is the face of the franchise and at 24 years old, we still haven’t seen the best he has to offer.
The other Cleveland Indian who finished in the top 5 of MVP voting was Jose Ramirez who split time at second and third base and will likely do the same this season. Ramirez hit a career high .318 with 29 home runs along with an American League leading 56 doubles in route to a third place finish in MVP voting.
What position Ramirez will play the most will depend on the health of Jason Kipnis.
Kipnis played in just 90 games last season while dealing with shoulder and hamstring injuries which effected him during the season. He hit a career low .232 during the regular season and just .182 during the postseason series against New York.
He did make an appearance in the outfield during the postseason and could return to that spot during the regular season although Bradley Zimmer is now 100% and will likely be the starter in that spot. Kipnis is already dealing with a sore lower back early on in spring training so that’ll be something to watch closely.
As for the rest of the guys in the infield. If Jose Ramirez ends up full-time at second base, Yandy Diaz and Giovany Urshela will likely split time at third but don’t rule out Mejia who played some at that spot during the Arizona Fall League and could likely see some time there during spring training. Erik Gonzalez might also slide in and take that spot and he’s got the ability to play shortstop and second base which mananger Terry Francona loves that versatility.
Urshela and Gonzalez will be fighting for a roster spot as they’re also are out of options so one will likely be out of Cleveland at the end of spring training