Lee Making Most of Right Place, is it His Right Time?

There is an advantage to being in the right place at the right time. For Indians right-handed reliever, C.C. Lee, he seems to be in the right place. Now, he has to make the most of his time and take advantage of an open role in the Tribe’s bullpen.

With less than two weeks remaining in spring training, it appears Lee has the inside track on securing an Opening Day roster spot in the Tribe’s bullpen. So far, Lee has had a successful spring while many of his other contenders for a roster spot seemed to have struggled.

Lee, signed as an amateur free agent in 2008 by the Indians, had quick success in the Indians minor league system. Already 22-years old in 2009, he started at High-A Kinston before moving to Double-A Akron in 2010. After a trip to the Arizona Fall League, Lee split his 2011 season between Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He appeared near big league ready when he suffered an arm injury and was forced to miss all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery. Lee spent most of 2013 slowly re-finding his command in the minor leagues, and also a small appearance at the big league level.

In 2014, Lee bounced between Triple-A Columbus and the Indians bullpen with limited success. Lee had a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings and 25 appearances with the Clippers, however, he could not bring the same level of success to the big leagues. In 37 games with the Indians, Lee pitched 28 innings, allowing 12 walks and 26 strikeouts on his way to a 4.50 ERA. Furthermore, he was not very successful in a match up role, either. Right-handed hitters batted .284 against Lee at the big league level, including three home runs.

But the Indians bullpen is a little weak from the right side as the Tribe enters 2015. Cody Allen is solidified as the Tribe’s closer, with Bryan Shaw settled in as a team’s late-inning, high-leverage right-hander. Other than Allen and Shaw, only Scott Atchison seems to have a bullpen spot solidified from the right side. With Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett and Nick Hagadone all locked in from the left side, it seems one or two bullpen spots remain available for a right-hander.

Depending upon how the fifth starter battle plays out, Zach McAllister could become a bullpen option. McAllister is out of minor league options and will be on the roster, his role is the only question. With a fifth starter only needed twice in the first 18 games, McAllister could pitch from the bullpen and rotation very early in the season. Still, Indians manager Terry Francona likes to carry a big bullpen. With that in mind, it seems there will be at least one more bullpen spot available, presumably for a right-handed reliever.

Lee’s spring training success this March puts him in the lead for the roster spot. Contenders Austin Adams and Shawn Armstrong have already been optioned to the minor leagues after poor spring showings. Non-roster invitees Jeff Manship and Dustin Molleken are still in camp and competing for a bullpen spot, but are most likely destined for Triple-A Columbus. If either were to win an Opening Day roster spot, they would have to be added to the 40-man roster and someone else would have to be dropped. It seems unlikely the Indians would want to risk losing a current member of their 40-man roster for a minor league journeyman like Manship or Molleken.

So, for lack of depth and short term performance, Lee looks to be the most likely option to be one of the last right-handed relievers to make the Indians roster. However, Lee’s time on the roster—even if he makes it—will have much to do with how he performs once the season begins. With minor league options still available, Lee can easily be sent back to Columbus if he does not perform well or a roster spot is necessary for another player. Like most seasons, it’s fair to believe the Indians final few roster spots will be a fluid situation.

While Lee has the inside track on an Opening Day roster spot, the competition may just be beginning. He’ll have to compete into the season to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot and place in the bullpen.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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