Davis to Break Camp with Tribe, Napoli Will Not Make Team

The Opening Day roster for the Cleveland Indians continues to take shape. Another puzzle piece fell into place on Thursday when manager Terry Francona announced that Rajai Davis would break camp with the club as a reserve outfielder.

It was one of several moves made on the day by the Indians, who also optioned young speedster Greg Allen and pitcher Ben Taylor to Triple-A Columbus and released first baseman Mike Napoli.

Davis became an intriguing name to watch in camp after he signed with the Indians in February. With more questions than answers in the outfield, he found a legitimate opportunity to return to the Cleveland organization, with only Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer looking like locks to start the season on the roster. Both Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer have been slowed while working their way back from offseason surgeries and have only recently begun more full scale work in camp. There remains a possibility that one or both could start the year on the 10-day disabled list.

Davis’ chances of making the roster increased when the Indians released Melvin Upton Jr. on Monday. The 33-year-old hit .189 with a .250 on-base percentage during Cactus League play with a homer and three RBI.

The 37-year-old Davis has slashed .242/.265/.273 through his first 13 spring games with three stolen bases in four attempts. After spending one season with the Indians in 2016, Davis returned to Oakland (where he played from 2008 to 2010) as a free agent in the offseason. After appearing in 100 games and hitting .233 with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers, and 18 RBI while stealing 26 bases, he was dealt to the Red Sox in late August. He played in 17 games for Boston over the final five weeks of the season, hitting .250 with three stolen bases.

As for Napoli, Davis’ teammate with the Indians in 2016, his chances of breaking camp with the Indians were slim from the moment that he signed his minor league deal. The move was understood to be more of a gracious gesture to a veteran ball player, bringing in Napoli’s attitude and clubhouse presence while giving him an opportunity to be in a big league camp (as opposed to the emergency free agent camp set up due to the large number of unsigned players this winter) to audition more realistically for a job with another organization.

Napoli, a big part of the Indians’ success during their run to the World Series, spent last season with the Texas Rangers after Cleveland came to terms on a multi-year deal with Edwin Encarnacion. The 36-year-old Napoli slashed .193/.285/.428 in his third stint with the Rangers (2011-12; 2015), hitting 29 homers and driving in 66 runs in 124 games over the course of the season.

Despite being productive from the power standpoint, he did not garner much interest in a free agent market that was unfavorable to first basemen in general. The Indians, of course, had Encarnacion in his way as well as offseason addition Yonder Alonso, with the pair expected to replace Carlos Santana at first base this year.

There remains interest between the two sides, but due to a pending $100K retention bonus owed Napoli if not yet on the 25-man roster by Saturday [Article XX(B) of the collective bargaining agreement], he will be released. If he has not lined up an employment option with one of the remaining 29 teams around the game, he could come back to the Indians and head to Columbus, awaiting an opportunity to come his way, either with the Tribe or elsewhere.

Allen’s option may have been a bit of a surprise, but the move to Columbus will allow the recently-turned 25-year-old an opportunity to play every day, something that he was not guaranteed to do in Cleveland. He hit .250 in the spring in 23 games with six runs batted in and a pair of stolen bases. Taylor, also 25, made just five appearances for the Indians this spring, allowing a run on four hits with three strikeouts in four innings of work. The right-hander, who was claimed off of waivers from Boston on February 25, is entering just his fourth season in professional baseball after the Red Sox selected him in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. He made 14 appearances in relief for Boston last season after winning a job in spring training, posting a 5.19 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in those outings.

Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

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