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Carson in Deep Competition for a Bench Spot with Tribe

Carson in Deep Competition for a Bench Spot with Tribe

| On 11, Mar 2014

The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in a roster battle to earn one of the Tribe’s last spots on the Opening Day roster.

For a team with playoff aspirations having depth that can serve the big league roster is a great asset.

If you’re part of the depth that does not make the Opening Day roster, it might not appear to be such a positive.

That may very likely be the case for veteran, outfielder Matt Carson. By several definitions, Carson is a baseball journeyman. He’s 32-years old and will turn 33 on July 1. He’s in his fourth organization during his career and has just 187 big league plate appearances. Carson has never played in more than 36 big league games in a season.

Carson’s contribution to the 2013 Indians may have been small, based on plate appearances, but his impact was big in the Tribe’s September surge. After being a non-roster invitee to spring training a year ago, Carson spent the entire season at Triple-A Columbus before being added to the Tribe’s roster in late August. Down the stretch, Carson served as a defensive replacement in the outfield and occasional starter against left-handed pitching. Both of these roles helped Carson become a chapter in the story that was the Indians’ first playoff appearance since 2007.

On Sept. 15, Carson received a rare start for the Indians, playing in right field against the Chicago White Sox and their ace starter, left-hander Chris Sale. Carson had three hits, including a home run, and two runs batted in to help catapult the Tribe to a 7-1 victory. Four nights later on Sept. 19, Carson earned the game-winning base hit in an 11-inning, 2-1 win over the Houston Astros. Carson had taken over in right field in the 10th inning after Jason Giambi pinch-hit for Drew Stubbs the inning before.

Carson is again a non-roster invitee to spring training this season. He’s fighting with a plethora of players for one or two open bench spots on the Tribe’s roster. Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles are certain returnees to the Tribe’s bench squad. With the Indians having Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, David Murphy, Raburn and Nick Swisher all available to play the outfield, it seems unlikely the Indians would carry another outfielder for their bench. If they do carry another outfielder, it likely would be someone who could play center field behind Bourn, like Nyjer Morgan. Indians manager Terry Francona has already indicated how impressed he has been with Morgan this spring.

That means it’s an uphill battle for Carson to make the team. While that may be disappointing for Carson, he serves as a very serviceable depth player for the season. He’s already signed on a minor league contract and will not have to clear waivers at the end of spring training. Considering he’s played almost his entire career in the minor leagues, he will not decline a minor league assignment. Last season he played 121 games, with 14 home runs and a .252 batting average at Triple-A Columbus. In his brief time with the Indians in 2013, Carson was 7 for 11 at the plate, providing an occasional spark to the Tribe offense.

If Carson does go to Triple-A to start this season again, he’s a veteran ready to fill in a part time role when it becomes available on the Indians’ roster. Sometimes part time roles, or roles that are only available for a limited amount of time, are better served by a player like Carson instead of a rookie like Carlos Moncrief or Tyler Naquin. A veteran presence can limit mistakes when not playing a lot of time.

A mix of veteran depth to go with your young players at Triple-A is a sign of a strong organization, unless you’re the veteran depth.

Photo: Getty Images