Eleven Sent Out from Tribe Camp as Diaz Optioned, Upton Cut
Bob Toth | On 19, Mar 2018
With ten days until the start of the regular season, the Cleveland Indians made their biggest camp cuts of the spring on Monday as eleven players were optioned, reassigned, or released by the club. The moves lowered the team’s spring training population at the Goodyear complex from 50 residents to 39.
Most of the moves were expected, but a pair were much more significant to the makeup of things come March 29 when the season kicks off. Yandy Diaz and prospects Eric Haase and Eric Stamets were optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Offseason additions Brandon Barnes, Preston Claiborne, Stephen Fife, and Neil Ramirez, in addition to returning minor leaguers Cameron Hill and Richie Shaffer, were reassigned to minor league camp. Veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. were given their releases from their previously agreed upon minor league deals to search for jobs elsewhere.
Diaz and Upton were the most significant moves of the day.
Diaz was in play for a bench spot on the club, but with Jose Ramirez slotted back in at third base and both Giovanny Urshela and Erik Gonzalez out of options, the likelihood that the 26-year-old Cuban import made the roster was slim from the start. Diaz, a superior hitter to other bench options in camp, does not have the defensive flexibility to help the Indians at present, which could be addressed some as he returns for a fourth season in Columbus.
Diaz has hit .412 in the spring with a .474 on-base percentage, with two doubles, a homer, and ten RBI to his credit in Cactus League play.
Upton’s release comes ahead of an opt-out that he had in his minor league agreement with the Tribe. While he will not factor into the club’s Opening Day roster, they did not rule out the possibility of keeping him on board in the minors if another team does not seek out his services.
“He had an out, as a number of guys do,” shared Tribe manager Terry Francona Monday afternoon of Upton’s release. “Rather than just wait, because some of them have them on different days, so once we made our decision, I think we felt like it was in fairness to them to communicate with them, rather than to hold them to the hour before they’re out. That’s part of why I enjoy working here so much, because of the way Chris [Antonetti] and [Mike Chirnoff] do those things. We talked to B.J. and told him he’s not making the club and that he has the right to go talk to his agent, talk and see if there’s an opportunity out there. If after that, we will revisit, if he doesn’t have an opportunity somewhere, we will revisit how he would fit here.”
Upton was a lottery ticket purchased by the Indians, something that the club has done well at in recent seasons, as they sought a reserve outfielder on a minor league deal. Such was the case last season with the signing of Austin Jackson, who performed well after making the club out of spring training on his own minor league pact. Unfortunately for Upton, he failed to hit well for the second straight spring and the end results this year were the same as last season when the Toronto Blue Jays released him prior to the end of their camp. Upton hit .189 for the Indians with a double, a homer, and three RBI and stole one base in three opportunities while trying to show that he could still be a speed threat on the bases.
The 33-year-old and former second overall pick in 2002 has spent parts of 12 seasons in the Majors, dating back to his debut at the age of 19 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004. He last played in the Majors in 2016, when he split the season between San Diego and Toronto, and he appeared in a handful of games in the minors for the San Francisco Giants last season.
Hanigan’s release is likely tied to the emergence of Haase and the lack of opportunities available at Triple-A, as the latter’s strong spring will have him vying for playing time with top prospect Francisco Mejia, who will also add in some outfield work to his time with the Clippers this season. The 37-year-old Hanigan spent last season in the Colorado Rockies organization, including 33 games with the parent club. A veteran of eleven big league seasons, he will hope to latch on somewhere else to keep his playing days alive.
Haase and Stamets were both added to the Indians’ 40-man roster after the season and head back to Columbus. Haase, 25, ended his season with the Clippers last year, playing in the first two Triple-A games of his career. He appeared in 97 games in the minors last season (primarily at Double-A Akron) and had a breakout campaign, hitting .260 with a .352 OBP with 17 doubles, five triples, 27 homers, and 61 RBI. He hit .250 with a .348 OBP in 13 games this spring with a double, three homers, and ten runs batted in. Stamets, 26, who was in camp with an outside shot at a utility role with the club, will get his third taste of the Triple-A level this season. He spent time at Akron and Columbus last year, hitting a combined .259 with 26 doubles, 16 homers, and 52 RBI. A former sixth round pick by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 2012 draft, the Ohio native was the return in the David Murphy trade with the Angels in 2015. Stamets hit .286 with a .355 OBP in the spring with a double and a pair of solo homers.
Barnes, Claiborne, Fife, and Ramirez were among six reassigned to minor league camp and all were with the Indians on minor league deals with non-roster invitations to spring training.
Barnes struggled at the plate, hitting .143 with a team-leading 20 strikeouts in 18 games. Claiborne (1-0, 5.00 ERA in eight games) allowed five runs and nine hits with four walks in nine innings. Fife (1-0, 2.70 in four games) made a pair of starts and gave up three runs with seven strikeouts in ten innings. Ramirez (0-0, 6.75 in nine games) gave up a team-high five homers in just eight innings.
Right-handed reliever Hill and infielder Shaffer were also reassigned by the club to minor league camp.
Hill appeared in seven games this spring, giving up three runs on six hits (including a pair of homers) in eight and two-third innings. His 0.81 WHIP was one of the best on the staff so far this spring. The 23-year-old is beginning his fifth season in the Indians organization and spent last season between Akron and Columbus.
Shaffer, 27, hit .240, but nine walks helped him post a .441 OBP in his 16 games in Cactus League play. He had a triple, two homers, and nine runs driven in this spring with 13 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances. The corner infielder and corner outfielder would appear to be headed back to Columbus for the regular season, where he spent all of 2017 and was an International League midseason All-Star and Home Run Derby participant on the way to a 30-homer season. He was a first round draft pick by the Rays in 2012.
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