GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) – As Terry Francona walked out of his office and onto the practice field prior to Cleveland’s first full-squad workout on Tuesday, he couldn’t help but to be excited.
In front of him was the entire Indians team and an opportunity to do something special this season.
“It’s fun to get together as a whole team because that’s the day that marks the beginning of all of us together, trying to see if we can do something that’s really difficult,” Francona said. “That’s a pretty big challenge.”
That challenge, which is winning a World Series in Cleveland, will begin with a starting staff that should be among the best in baseball.
Boasting arms such as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, the Indians felt it best to keep their rotation intact heading into the season, rather than to deal a pitcher away for a big bat.
“The more you saw what pitching was getting, I didn’t think we would end up losing any of our pitching,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “They’ve got a chance to be special.”
Though the first four spots in the rotation are essentially set, the fifth spot is up for grabs with Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson the top contenders.
Each pitcher put together a solid 2015 season, setting up a potentially difficult decision for the Indians coaching staff.
“It’s usually different guys battling for that spot every year and it’s exciting to see,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “It’s really nice for us to have to make a tough decision at the end of spring training.”
With Cleveland’s best all-around player, Michael Brantley, likely out for the first portion of the 2016 season following shoulder surgery, the competition between those looking to replace him in the outfield will likely be fierce.
Veteran outfielder Rajai Davis signed a one-year deal with the Indians this offseason and should take an immediate spot alongside right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, but several others will battle it out for the last opening.
Offseason additions Joey Butler, Robbie Grossman and Shane Robinson are three of the outfielders that the Indians brought in to compete for the job, but Abraham Almonte, Zach Walters and Tyler Naquin will have a shot at the spot as well.
As for the rest of the Indians offense, the team will no doubt need contributions from power-hitting right-hander Mike Napoli, who will spend the large majority of his time at first base, as well as solid seasons from 2015 All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis and second-year shortstop, Francisco Lindor.
Lindor, who finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform up the high standards he set a year ago.
“I’m looking forward to next year and having my teammates back,” Lindor said. “It’s going to be fun.”
With the offense in question and the staff in place, the Cleveland bullpen features both proven commodities and uncertainty.
Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will bolster the back end but an assortment of non-roster veterans are also trying to find a spot, including Chamberlain, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny and Joe Thatcher.
Francona said he hopes the 2106 journey is special.
“All 30 teams are doing the same thing. You might do it something differently, but they’re all trying to do the same thing,” Francona said. “You get to start today doing it and it’s exciting.”
NOTES: Francona mentioned that he’s thought about Carlos Santana as a leadoff hitter this season. Santana, who has spent most of his career as a middle of the order hitter, gets on base often and has boasted one of the better walk rates in Major League Baseball. … After Cody Anderson won the Indians’ endurance test when the pitchers and catchers ran last week, Minor League catcher Jeremy Lucas won the position players endurance test on Tuesday. Lucas was supposed to run with the catchers last week, but was added to Cleveland’s 40-man roster late, after Tony Wolters was claimed off of waivers by the Colorado Rockies. Francisco Lindor, who won last year’s competition, finished in second place. … Anderson was also named Cleveland’s starter for the team’s first Cactus League game of the season on March 1. He will be followed by Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco, as the Indians take on the Reds in the first three games of the Spring Training schedule. … Former Indians designated hitter Jason Giambi is with the team as a guest instructor this week. Following his retirement, Giambi took a year away from the game and is now contemplating whether or not he wants to start his post-playing career as a coach.