Here’s a bit of a hard-to-swallow pill for you. A piece of content that could easily be summed up in a meme or in a tweet, if you will, but one that I think is important to get out there before baseball’s biggest annual letdown hits: Spring training sucks.
Don’t worry if it’s February 11 and you feel like you love spring training. That’s classic withdrawal. If we’re being honest, you and I both would take any kind of meaningful baseball involving your favorite team right now. If the XFL had a sudden change of heart and became the XBL in the next week, you’d watch it and love it.
For about a week.
But much like the fictional XBL and the unfortunately soon-to-be real XFL, the fact that the games do not mean anything and the fact that you can’t draw any far-reaching conclusions based on the results will start to set in quicker than you expect. The great darkness of the offseason will consume you once again, and you’ll be begging for the regular season to start.
I’m not saying you can’t be excited about the start of spring training, or even pitchers and catchers reporting — which is Tuesday for the Indians — but just brace yourself. You don’t deserve the kind of heartbreak that the false prophet of spring training brings. The hats are kind of cool, and seeing High-A prospects play against real MLB players for an at-bat or two is neat, but it’s not baseball and it won’t fill that hole inside your heart.
I’ll also admit that the first sound of a ball hitting a mitt is one of the highlights of the year. Between now and Wednesday, there will be at least one interview with an Indians coach or player with that satisfying rhythmic slap happening in the background. And we’ll all melt.
But then the games will start, and someone like Rob Refsnyder will get way too many at-bats and it’s all meaningless. At the very least — and in the most morbid way possible — Francisco Lindor’s injury will provide some intrigue to spring training. Either rookie Yu Chang, who has yet to take an at-bat in the majors, or THE Max Moroff will be the Opening Day starting shortstop for better or (mostly) worse.
A Lindor-less March
From the moment Lindor debuted in mid-2015, it seemed like we wouldn’t be talking about another Opening Day shortstop for at least half a decade, but the curse of the Indians calves struck again and he’s out at least a couple weeks into the regular season, leaving the Indians roster stuck with a new hole to deal with before the season starts on March 28.
Chang is a 23-year-old #righthandedpowerbat who has solid power for a shortstop — including a 24 home run campaign in 2017 with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks. Chang’s home run production slowed to 13 last season; still enough to lead all Triple-A shortstops. There’s not much else to his offensive game, though. Steamer doesn’t see his 109 wRC+ in 2018 or 110 wRC+ in 2017 translating to much in the majors — the projection system has him pegged for a wRC+ of 70 and .217/.280/.360 slash as a rookie in 2019. He has the athleticism to stick as a typical shortstop, with the typical shortstop bat to go along with it. Unfortunately.
Max Moroff was brought over in the Erik Gonzalez trade (sort of the throw-in along with outfielder Jordan Luplow), with only slightly better Steamer projections than Yu Chang as a 25-year-old. He’s had a rough go of it in 209 major-league plate appearances so far (.193/.293/.331), but Steamer projects him to have a .219/.321/.361 slash for an 85 wRC+. Unlike Chang, Moroff has experience at second base as well, meaning he could serve as another Erik Gonzalez type when Francisco Lindor returns completely healthy as soon as possible with zero lingering effects or repeat injuries.
Non-roster invites and this buck wild outfield
When it’s the middle of March and you don’t want to admit I’m right about your hatred of spring training, you can also try and convince yourself that what is happening at Goodyear Ballpark has an impact on the outfield. Because, oh boy is it gonna get wild.
Conservatively. the Indians outfield will consist of left fielder Matt Joyce, center fielder Leonys Martin, and some right field combination of Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, Greg Allen, Daniel Johnson, Air Bud, Brandon Barnes, Mike Papi, and/or Trayce Thompson. Some of those potential right fielders are more likely than others, one is a fictional dog in a mediocre family movie franchise, but all at least have a shot at playing one or more games for the Indians in 2019.
In total, the Indians have invited 19 non-roster invites to spring training, surprisingly only five of which are outfielders.
Here are the nine pitchers vying for a shot at reviving the Andrew Miller and Cody Allen-less bullpen:
James Hoyt sticks out as an interesting option to be next in line to ride I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland several times next season. He projects as the best reliever of the bunch after a very up-and-down climb through minors and middling results with the Astros once he reached the bigs. Hoyt battled knee issues when he came over from the Astros last July, and finished throwing just 2.2 disastrous innings for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in which he surrendered three earned runs off five hits.
While his projections aren’t great, Justin Grimm is one of those players who may defy the hard numbers of Steamer and be something for the Indians. Beyond the Box Score covered it more in-depth when the Indians signed him back in January, as he started the season with an awful 21.86 ERA in April, but turned it around with some impressive numbers in his final 11 innings of Triple-A ball: 17 strikeouts, two walks, and two solo home runs for his only earned runs allowed.
NRI position players
Matt Joyce sticks out as the only functioning thumb in the group here, and god willing, the only one to make the Opening Day roster. Even at 34 years old, he still has the ability to be an above-average outfielder as the cost of virtually nothing to the Indians. If Steamer projections hold (which they won’t, but humor me), Joyce would be the best Indians outfielder by a full 9 points over Jordan Luplow’s 96 wRC+.
The other non-roster invites on the offensive side of the ball are either interesting but still too raw to do anything — Daniel Johnson, Li-Jen Chu, and to a lesser extent Mark Mathias— or just veteran throw-ins hoping something clicks in spring training.
It’s unlikely we see any of these non-roster guys make much of an impact outside of Matt Joyce, if only because the Indians acquired a ton of 40-man fillers in the outfield already, before even digging into minor league contracts with big league invites.
How to watch
To watch this mess unfold in real time, the Indians will begin their 2019 spring training schedule against the Cincinnati Reds on February 23 at 3:05 p.m. This, along with 11 other games throughout February and March will be broadcast on SportsTime Ohio (games you’ll be interested in watch are in bold):
- February 23: at CIN (3:05 ET)
- February 27: at MIL (3:05 ET)
- March 1: vs LAD (8:05 ET)
- March 4: at SD (3:10 ET)
- March 7: at ARI (3:10 ET)
- March 13: at KC (4:05 ET)
- March 16: at LAA (4:10 ET)
- March 17: vs CIN (4:05 ET)
- March 21: at TEX (4:05 ET)
- March 22: vs CHI (9:05 ET)
- March 23: vs CIN (4:05 ET)
- March 25: at TEX (8:05 ET)
Anyway, spring training is a necessary evil, and I will accent any and all apologies when you’re bored out of your mind two weeks in after you yell at me for speaking the truth here.
Real baseball is around the corner, though. Just not this corner. The next one.