Carrera Running Out of Options with Tribe
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the players on the 40-man roster that is in a roster battle to earn a spot on the 25-man roster.
By Christian Petrila
On the Indians roster this spring, Ezequiel Carrera falls under the category of, “out of options, possibly out of time.”
Carrera, the speedy outfielder acquired by the Indians in 2010 from the Seattle Mariners for Russell Branyan, enters Spring Training at a young 25-years-old. However, that may not necessarily be an advantage due to the fact that he is already out of minor league options.
“We absolutely love him, but I don’t want to start talking about the roster yet because someone else could read something into it,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said this week. “If everyone stays healthy, we’re going to have some difficult decisions. And one decision may lead to another because we have to make our roster fit.”
As Spring Training has progressed, clear favorites for the four coveted bench spots have emerged. Lou Marson and Mike Aviles were essentially locks for the first two spots. Francona continues to rave about Jason Giambi’s leadership skills and how much of a clubhouse asset he is, so it’s safe to say he has the inside track for spot number three.
So it seems Carrera is down to the fourth and final spot, but the competition is stiff for what will likely be an outfield position. Ryan Raburn has emerged as the obvious favorite after an explosive start to his spring. Other possible candidates who are playing well include Ben Francisco and Matt Carson. If the final spot comes down to Carrera or Raburn, however, having a center fielder off the bench could benefit Carrera. But, on a team full of center fielders, does it help as much as it normally would on a team’s bench?
“It helps,” Francona said. “We’re going to play him in right (this spring) because that is probably where he’s played the least.” The Indians feel Carrera’s best value to the team is if he can adequately play all three outfield positions.
Carrera made his debut in 2011. In fact, many will never forget his first at-bat, when he placed a drag bunt perfectly for a go-ahead single. It was the first time many Tribe fans witnessed the speed that made Carrera such a threat in Triple-A Columbus, as he darted down the line and eluded the tag from Reds first baseman Joey Votto, helping the Indians win 5-4.
For the duration of the 2011 season, Carrera was mainly used as a fourth outfielder and pinch runner. He played in 68 games that year, hitting .243 with 14 RBI. It wasn’t an overly impressive year for Carrera, but he got his first taste of big league action.
Carrera’s brief Major League experience came in handy in 2012. With the revolving door that was left field, the Indians were quickly running out of options after their first plans didn’t pan out. Carrera was finally called up for his second season after the trade deadline and release of Johnny Damon.
In 2012, Carrera earned more playing time and produced better numbers, but it still wasn’t enough to make the team feel comfortable with him as a long-term option. He did hit .272 with his 11 RBI and his first two career home runs, but his high strikeout numbers made the team hesitant to consider him a viable option for a starter. Hence the additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs.
Then there’s Carrera. His spring has been a struggle thus far. Through his first nine games, “Zeke” is hitting just .111 with a home run accounting for his lone RBI. However, two areas of improvement early on have been his patience and his aggressive baserunning.
Carrera has drawn just 24 career walks compared to his 70 strikeouts. However, in the early going this spring, the walks are higher than the strikeouts. Even if it’s just by a margin of three-to-two, it’s still an improvement. The other area is baserunning. Carrera has five steals on the young spring. The rest of the team combined has six.
“We have times where we put a steal on, but everyone has the green light in Spring Training,” Francona said. “There are times when the game dictates that you don’t run and they’ve all done a really good job of that.”
As Spring Training reaches the midpoint, Carrera may be running for his Indians life. If Carrera does not make the team’s 25-man roster, they’ll likely look to trade him prior to finalizing rosters. Carrera is out of minor league options and can not return to Triple-A without clearing waivers, something very unlikely for the still-young, speedy outfielder. A team would certainly claim him that was looking to shore up their bench.
In the meantime, Carrera will be battling the next three weeks to remain an Indian. If he doesn’t make the team, he’ll likely dash his way to another big league bench for Opening Day.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer