With two weeks until Opening Day, Cleveland’s starting lineup is all but set. With that said, there are a number of spots on the bench and in the bullpen that are still up for grabs. Here is how I think the roster will shake out by the end of spring training.
Catcher: Roberto Pérez
Berto is back — .212 career batting average and all. While he may not have hit his own weight last season, Roberto Pérez’s glove is more valuable to the club than his bat. Our own Matt Schlichting even made the claim that Cleveland’s starting catcher will “continue to be the best defensive catcher in all of baseball.” He wasn’t quite the best last season, at least according to FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Pérez ranked third among all catchers in FanGraphs defense and 10th in the league in Baseball Savant’s strike rate in a season shortened by injuries and a global pandemic.
First Base: Jake Bauers
Bobby Bradley has outplayed Jake Bauers up to this point, slugging two home runs and boasting a 1.359 OPS in 20 at-bats. Not only that, Bradley dropped 35 pounds over the offseason, affording him the club’s “Best Shape of His Life” narrative this spring. But the fact of the matter is that Bauers is out of minor league options, and I don’t think Cleveland is ready to give up on him yet. The most likely scenario to me is that Bauers gets the nod to start the season. If he continues to struggle at the plate, Bradley will get his chance (or at least I hope so).
Second Base: César Hernández
Please welcome back a Gold Glove Award winner from a season ago.
Third Base: José Ramírez
No explanation needed.
Shortstop: Andrés Giménez
I was among those who assumed that the club would opt for Amed Rosario at shortstop, at least to start the season. Andrés Giménez had other plans. With two weeks left until Opening Day, Giménez has all but locked down the starting spot.
Left Field: Eddie Rosario
Cleveland’s $8 million free-agent signing will of course be the starting left fielder.
Center Field: Oscar Mercado
Oscar Mercado seems like your Opening Day center fielder by default. His chief competition would appear to be Bradley Zimmer, although Daniel Johnson maintains he can play all three outfield positions. It seems to be Mercado’s position to lose at this point, so let’s hope he can recapture some of the magic from his rookie season.
Right Field: Josh Naylor
As much as we might question the decision to keep him in right field, that is where Josh Naylor seems to be headed to start the season.
Designated Hitter: Franmil Reyes
Dingers, please. All I’m asking for is more dingers, Franmil.
Bench: Yu Chang, Austin Hedges, Jordan Luplow, and Amed Rosario
We are all aboard the Yu Chang hype train here at LGT. He was largely an afterthought entering spring training with Giménez and Amed Rosario getting all the attention at shortstop, but he has been hammering the ball in the month of March. We are less excited about Rosario, who has a $2.4 million salary but no clear path to seeing the field. He’ll end up on the Opening Day roster, but let’s hope his days in center field are few and far between.
Austin Hedges is your back-up backstop. Jordan Luplow rounds out the bench, where he’ll wait for a left-handed pitcher to take the mound.
Starting Rotation: Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber is your Opening Day starter. Zach Plesac is back. Aaron Civale and his retooled mechanics are ready for their regular-season debut. Triston McKenzie seems to have maintained his tenuous hold on the No. 4 spot, though the club is mindful of his workload. The competition for the last spot is between Cal Quantrill and Logan Allen, and I lean more towards the former. Allen has had a strong spring and tossed four scoreless innings as recently as Monday, but I think Quantrill gets the nod because of his unique blend of pitches. The club used him as an “opener” twice down the stretch last year and they seem eager for him to begin transitioning back from the bullpen to being a starter.
Bullpen: James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren, Phil Maton, Adam Plutko, Oliver Pérez, Blake Parker, Trevor Stephan
The first four listed are all no-brainers. It’s the final four spots that are up for grabs. One of them is almost certain to belong to Adam Plutko, who seems to have found his niche as the emergency starter the club keeps tucked away in the bullpen.
I’ve seen predictions from both MLB.com’s Mandy Bell and The Athletic’s Zack Meisel that the Cleveland baseball team will break camp with Bryan Shaw in the bullpen, but I’d prefer not to believe that. Of the veterans in camp, I expect Tito’s fondness for Oliver Pérez to win out, though he is a non-roster invitee. The same goes for Blake Parker, so some tinkering with the 40-man roster will be necessary. I’ll give the final spot to Trevor Stephan, a hard-throwing right-hander who was selected by Cleveland in this year’s Rule 5 Draft.
Anthony Gose and Kyle Nelson are two relievers also in the conversation.