Fan favorite Nick Swisher is looking to prove his worth as the Indians’ everyday first baseman, coming off a mediocre first season of his club-record $56 million, four-year deal. Swisher isn’t expected to split as much time between first base and the outfield like he did last year while being hampered much of year with a nagging shoulder injury.
After earning his first All-Star nod last season, Indians everyday second baseman Jason Kipnis has his sights set more on team goals this year — mainly for the Tribe to get back to the postseason. After a painfully slow start last April, Kipnis began to warm up at the plate and never cooled off. He parlayed his hot streak into a team-best 84 RBI, a .419 June batting average that sealed his All-Star bid and helped the Indians ride a 10-game winning streak over the final week and a half of the season to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Veteran Asdrubal Cabrera has been entrenched at shortstop ever since the Tribe parted ways with Jhonny Peralta by shipping him to the Detroit Tigers in a 2010 trade deadline deal. Cabrera will be the Opening Day starter, but it is all but certain it will be his last season with the Indians. Coming off his least impressive major-league performance, Cabrera is in the final year of his contract. The Indians have shown little, if any, interest in re-signing Cabrera, and could use him as trade bait midseason if the team isn’t in contention, potentially opening a spot for No. 1 prospect Francisco Lindor.
The biggest position battle for the Indians during spring training centered on third base. Struggling incumbent Lonnie Chisenhall was attempting to hold off Carlos Santana, who is making the switch from starting catcher. Manager Terry Francona announced that Santana has progressed enough to be the regular at third base. Chisenhall will need to consistently hit right-handed pitching to earn his time there.
Yan Gomes supplanted Carlos Santana as the everyday catcher last year because of his superior defensive abilities and the ease with which he works with the team’s pitchers. Manager Terry Francona told Gomes, who hit .294 with 11 home runs in 88 games last year, not to worry about his offense this season. Instead, he wants the 26-year-old Brazilian to focus on the mental and physical rigors of catching every day.
Newly signed to a four-year, $25 million contract extension in the spring, Michael Brantley should be a fixture in the Progressive Field outfield for many years. He didn’t make an error in 151 games in 2013.
Michael Bourn is coming off a subpar year after signing as a free agent before last season. He has said he wants to show his real talents this year and came to spring training focused on improving his bunting and base-running. Bourn will start the season on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring but is only expected to miss a handful of games. While Bourn is out, Nyjer Morgan is likely to fill his spot in the lineup.
Free-agent acquisition David Murphy, a left-handed hitter coming off a down year with the Texas Rangers, figures to hold down the larger chunk of a platoon with Ryan Raburn, who is likely to start against left-handers. Murphy hit a career-low .220 last year. He’ll start 2014 looking to regain the swing that produced a .304 average with 15 homers and 61 RBI two years ago.
Versatility should be a strength for the 2014 Indians and that is largely because of a bench that features players who can play multiple positions. Veteran Mike Aviles can fill in at second, third or shortstop and has even played some outfield. Ryan Raburn will play mostly in the right field but can also play left or in the infield in a pinch. Newcomer Elliot Johnson can handle the middle infield spots and Lonnie Chisenhall will get some time at third when Carlos Santana is catching or at designated hitter. Veteran Jason Giambi, who will start the season on the disabled list, can also be the designated hitter and will be used as a late-inning pinch hitter.
The fifth spot in the rotation was the only job up for grabs in spring training. It came down to the wire before right-hander Carlos Carrasco got the nod over Josh Tomlin. Carrasco joins the all right-handed staff of ace Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and young phenom Danny Salazar. The success of Carrasco and Salazar might go a long way toward determining the success of the rotation as a whole.
The relief corps is the area that experienced the most upheaval, beginning with new closer John Axford taking over for the departed Chris Perez. Right-handed set-up men Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw return along with Vinnie Pestano, who made the club again after losing his set-up job last year. Rounding out the group are right-handers Blake Wood and Scott Atchison and left-handers Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman.
— Stephanie Storm