The big league diamonds in Goodyear, Arizona, got a little less crowded on Monday as the Cleveland Indians announced several roster moves with just over two weeks to go until their regular season kicks off in Seattle.
Five players – Abraham Almonte, Francisco Mejia, Julian Merryweather, Shawn Morimando, and Adam Plutko – were optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Four more – Bobby Bradley, Louis Head, Josh Martin, and Adam Wilk – were reassigned to minor league camp. The most notable names of the nine, however, were those of Almonte and Mejia.
Almonte was part of the big battle for a bench spot on manager Terry Francona’s roster. A switch-hitter with sneaky speed and sporadic pop, he can play all three outfield spots, but at times can look unrefined both in the outfield and at the plate. With the statuses of Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer both very much up in the air for the first days of the regular season, the Indians appear to have just two of their regular outfielders returning (Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer) for the start of the campaign.
Plenty of other candidates in camp, including veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr. and returning youngsters Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin, could factor in the remaining fights for spots on the 25-man roster at the end of the month. Utility man Erik Gonzalez, who is out of options, could also eat up a spot that might have otherwise gone to a reserve outfielder, as the Indians may not be too keen on trying to pass him through waivers with hopes that he would go unclaimed. Few in the current outfield mix have hit well in the spring, and the one who has performed the best statistically (Allen – .375/.423/.542 in 16 games) was just added to the 40-man last September and could instead be better saved optioned to Columbus to allow Gonzalez or Giovanny Urshela (also out of options) to stick with the roster at the start of the season.
The bigger news of the day revolved around Mejia, the 22-year-old backstop and top prospect who debuted briefly for the Indians last September. With Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez blocking his path to the big leagues, Mejia put in some work at third base in the Arizona Fall League after the season, but the team appears to have moved on from that avenue for the hard thrower. Instead, the Tribe will look to add the outfield to Mejia’s resume, in the hopes that he can factor in there down the road to increase his possibilities of playing time, which could make some sense for the future with both Brantley and Chisenhall free agents to be after this season.
Mejia’s demotion to Columbus will give him the chance to get in reps in the outfield while continuing his work behind the plate with the Clippers while also getting consistent at bats at the dish. The switch-hitter’s spring numbers were once again a reminder that the Indians need to find a way to get him onto the roster in some form in the near future – he hit .421 with a .450 on-base percentage in eleven games, hitting two doubles and two homers while driving in seven in his second consecutive strong showing in spring training for the Tribe. His bat, seemingly an upgrade over that of Gomes or Perez, is one that many believe would be a great asset to the Cleveland lineup long term.
As for the three pitchers optioned to Columbus on Monday, there was little surprise in those transactions.
Plutko and Morimando remain two of the team’s top starting rotation depth pieces, but had next to no chance to crack the present starting rotation. Morimando, a 25-year-old lefty, went 2-1 in the spring, giving up six runs on nine hits (including two home runs) with five walks and five strikeouts in four and two-thirds innings. Plutko, 26, is just returning to action after undergoing surgery in October on a labrum tear in his right hip. He pitched in a pair of games and allowed three runs on five hits in three and two-third innings.
Merryweather, who was added to the 40-man roster by the club in the offseason, would have been in that mix of depth pieces in Triple-A, but the 26-year-old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery last Friday and will miss the season.
Bradley, Head, Martin, and Wilk will report to the team’s minor league camp and continue their work there.
Bradley, 21, caught plenty of eyes this spring with a strong performance in Major League camp. He appeared in 13 games for the Tribe in Cactus League play and slashed .391/.440/.565 with nine hits, including two doubles and a triple, while driving in four runs. After spending last season at Double-A Akron, he could benefit from some additional seasoning while waiting for his turn in Cleveland in the years to come.
The same story of a successful spring showing could not be said for the three pitchers on the move to the minor league side of camp on Monday.
The 30-year-old left-hander Wilk, signed by the club to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to Goodyear in the offseason, appeared in two games and allowed three runs on two hits with a strikeout and three walks in two innings of work. The veteran of four different MLB seasons split last year with the New York Mets and the Minnesota Twins. Head, a 27-year-old right-hander who worked in 50 games for Columbus last season, pitched in six games and allowed seven runs on eleven hits (including three homers) with three strikeouts and a save in six and one-third innings. Martin, a 28-year-old right-handed reliever and former Rule 5 pick by the San Diego Padres in December of 2015, made four appearances and allowed a pair of runs on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts in three and one-third innings. He has spent the last two seasons at Triple-A with Columbus.
With the nine players shuffled around the desert, the Indians camp roster stands at 50 remaining participants, with a multitude of cuts and transactions to come before Francona settles on his final 25-man roster to open the year.
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