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The Final Spots: Infield

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Assuming that Asdrubal exited the game yesterday only on account of a knee cramp (seriously—a knee cramp?), the Indians have their 1B, 2B, and SS in LaPorta, Cabrera, and Cabrera. 3B is back to an open competition with the news of Jason Donald's hand fracture.

The Indians will likely go with a conventional roster arrangement: twelve pitchers and four bench spots. Two of those spots will go to an outfielder (Travis Buck seems the obvious choice, according to your votes) and a backup catcher, leaving the other two spots for infield defensive replacements, bench bats, or, likely, one of each. Also, before I get too far into this, it's worth noting that Buck has played six innings at 1B this spring and he could see time there this season if he makes the team. The Tribe could still make a roster pickup, but it seems increasingly likely that the following group will yield the starting 3B, a defensive infielder, and a pinch hitting option.

  • Adam Everett (31 ABs: .355/.459/.355) Jay has posited that Everett is a minor league version of Orlando Cabrera, a veteran who's going to provide stability in Columbus with a chance to reach the majors if injuries strike the major league middle infield. I think that makes some sense—because Orlando is a natural shortstop, there's no motivation to carry another guy who can spell Asdrubal regularly. Everett's played mostly at short this spring, but he's also had uneventful runs at second and third. His real issue, of course, is that he's not on the forty man.
  • Jayson Nix (24 ABs: .125/.250/.292) , Luis Valbuena (37 ABs: .216/.326/.541) Valbuena and Nix appear to be in direct competition for the utility infielder spot. Unless the Indians decide to go off the 40 to find a backup, Nix and Valbuena are the only rostered non-starters who have appeared at 2B, SS, and 3B in their major league careers. This spring, however, has been a different story—Valbuena's played all three of those spots, with 40+ innings at 3B and SS and only eleven at the keystone. In contrast, Nix has only played 2B. Neither's bat is much to dream on at this point: Luis bats lefty, Nix righty, and the most we can hope for is a little bit of pop from either.
  • Cord Phelps (19 ABs: .211/.348/.263) An unimpressive spring hasn't gotten Phelps demoted yet but, a familiar refrain, he's not on the forty man roster. Jay has pointed out that Phelps seems a prime candidate for the Marson treatment, wherein a young player with limited potential is forced to the majors before his time in order to fill a roster hole. That would be an easier argument to make if Cord didn't need to be rostered or if reports on his defense at third were good. As it stands, he's barely appeared at 3B and it looks like the Indians view him as primarily a 2B—it's going to be hard to carve out a utility career with an average glove only at second. If he can play a little outfield, he might become a Joe Inglett type.
  • Jordan Brown (23 ABs: .261/.320/.391), Shelley Duncan (32 ABs: .313/.333/..500) If the Indians want to carry a bench bat, these are the two gentlemen still in camp who fit that mold. Duncan is the righty, Brown the lefty. Too bad for Jordan, he's not on the forty. If the Indians want to keep a little thump around for pinch hitting, playing a little corner outfield, and occasionally spelling at first, Duncan seems way out in front.
  • Jack Hannahan (38 ABs: .368/.478/.474) As Paul pointed out in his excellent rundown of the Indians third base vortex, Hannahan is unlikely to hit in the majors—he's played a lot of games in both the bigs and AAA without ever showing much. However, there's no denying that he's a third baseman, which sounds stupid until you realize that you could assert some Indians third baseman of recent vintage were not. actually, third basemen. The Indians have treated him as a 3B only guy, with the majority of his innings coming at the hot corner.

As Paul made clear in the piece linked above, there's a lot of moving parts in the Indians infield competition. With Donald down, the Indians have to make someone the starting third basemen and only Valbuena and Hannahan have seen significant action there this spring. Naming Valbuena the starter at third would allow the Indians to carry Nix as the utility player, saving any roster shenanigans, however, with Nix as the utility, who becomes the plausible backup at 3B? It's either Nix, who the Indians aren't playing there, or a Cabrera (seems unlikely). More likely, in my view, is Valbuena breaking as the utility infielder and Hannahan finding his way onto the roster so he can start at 3B until Donald returns. With those two and the Cabreras, you've minimally got two guys each for 3B, 2B, and SS and you've improved the infield defense (a suppose priority). Throw in the fact that Luis is the only lefty competing for an infield job (Asdrubal hits switch), and it seems like a done deal. Hannahan's roster spot likely comes at the expense of Nix.

There's admittedly some speculation in that scenario, as it seems to me that the Indians have deprioritized Nix in comparison to Hannahan and Valbuena. Nix never seemed in the race for the 3B job and Acta explicitly said Jayson was competing for the starting job at 2B, a competition that was over before it began—Cabrera walked in like it was his job and everyone seemed to nod and agree. Nix has gotten only 60% of the ABs that Valbuena and Hannahan have and, with Orlando the starter at second, that makes sense—might as well give the ABs to the veteran preparing for his starting role.

The other bench job, the one about the bat, isn't very interesting to me. I think the Indians have rightly assessed that Shelley Duncan has a little bit of power, which is at least sort of fun. Beyond that, I think the Indians view Duncan as a good clubhouse guy and don't see the value of making a roster move to get Brown's powerless bat on the bench, even if it is from the more advantageous side. Nix is a dark horse candidate as a bench bat, as he basically matched Duncan's slugging during his 2010 Cleveland tenure, but my gut says it's Duncan.