It’s no question that the Cleveland Indians, fresh off of a surprising run to the World Series, can be penciled in as the American League favorites in the 2017 season.
Returning for the Tribe this year will be their desirable rotation (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin) that features perhaps the best righty in the majors, and perennially stellar middle infield of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor.
Also, Cleveland acquired the top free agent in the game during the offseason, Toronto Blue Jays slugger and American League runs batted in (127) leader Edwin Encarnacion, which solidifies their already monstrous lineup.
However, the club that now holds the longest World Series drought in MLB (68 years) has just one question mark: their outfield. Not necessarily in a bad way, but something they must work out.
They have six outfielders vying for three opening day spots. Former AL MVP finalist Michael Brantley and 2016 Rookie of the Year finalist Tyler Naquin will almost certainly be starting in left and center, respectively. But journeyman Abraham Almonte, World Series starters Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, and veteran Austin Jackson will likely duke it out for the final spot in right field.
The 30-year-old Jackson, a native of Denton, Texas, is currently batting a killer .357 with an OPS of over 1.000 in spring training, which skyrockets him from a fringe fifth option or minor leaguer to an potentially impactful player for the AL Central champs.
For the Indians, Guyer was deployed as a high-quality utility player in the outfield after being picked up from the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2016 campaign. His average jumped from .255 to .333 when the move to Cleveland occurred, and his consistency in spring training (.266 AVG, one home run, four RBIs) gives him a chance at a starting spot.
Chisenhall is arguably the odds-on favorite for the right-field position come opening day, after a successful 126-game season with the Indians in 2016 (.256 AVG, eight home runs, 57 RBIs, 25 doubles). Lonnie, a Morehead City, N.C., native, returns to Cleveland, the only team he has ever suited up for.
Almonte, who played 67 games for the Tribe last season but was not on the postseason roster, was overlooked on the team’s depth chart going into the year, but a massive showcase in spring training gives him a hell of a shot here. A .383 batting average (three homers and 12 RBIs in 47 plate appearances) could very well be enough for Almonte to make the opening day roster, and perhaps even start.
A lot remains for Cleveland to decide, but this is a good problem to have. Everything will be set and the Indians will sail smoothly regardless, but it’s some food for thought.