Indians roster battles update: Part I (the hitters)

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a couple weeks of games under our belts, let's take another look at those last 5 roster spots. We'll start with the last bench spot today and turn our eyes to the pen and rotation tomorrow.

It has been about a month since we previewed the camp battles shaping up in Goodyear and so now seems as good a time as any to re-address the question: what 25 players will be breaking camp with the Indians?

In that last piece, I laid out the 20 players I saw as locks, and I see no reason to make any changes to that group, as of now. But there have been some interesting developments that are changing the way some of the other battles shape up. As we did last time, we'll break this up into three parts - The Pen, Fifth Starter, and 25th Man - but we are going to switch around the order, and start with the 25th man today, following up with the pitchers tomorrow.

25th Man

There have been four major changes here, at least related to my thinking on the subject. The first was the Indians acquiring Justin Sellers and designating David Cooper for assignment. Cooper was a personal favorite, so seeing him more or less removed from the competition was disappointing, but the acquisition of Sellers suggested something else - namely that the Indians wanted more utility/IF depth. This was a boost for the roster candidacy of Elliot Johnson, as well as forcing us to add Sellers to the mix.

The second major change happened more slowly. Over the past few weeks, the more Terry Francona talks about Jason Giambi, the more it appears that team's elder statesman will be back on the roster for another season. I will continue to rant against Giambi's inclusion, preferring instead to see him in a coaching role, but Tito makes the calls, not me.

The third major change just happened on Thursday, with the announcement that Giambi has a broken rib and won't be available for Opening Day. Long term, it is hard to say if this will have much impact - Giambi may be back in his PH role by Tax Day - but for now, he is out of the competition.

The last change is less change and more development. Lonnie Chisenhall has looked quite solid with the bat this spring. The .308/.400/.462 line is good, in an admittedly small sample, and the 1 HR is fine, but the number that excites me is the 3 walks. In his career, Chisenhall has 32 walks and 132 strike outs, which is a pretty terrible ratio. Over 600 PA at his spring rates, he'd be looking at about 60 walks and 100 strike outs, which is quite good. Even if he split the difference (say 45 and 115?) the improvement would be meaningful. The key here is that regardless of what Carlos Santana shows with the glove, Chisenhall is basically locking up the 3B job, at least for the 70% of the games where a RHP is scheduled to face the Tribe. This means that Santana will mostly be free to serve as the backup catcher.

Some other notable performances this March: Elliot Johnson has been hitting very well, while Justin Sellers has made the most of limited opportunities, as well. The main players in the 5th OF challenge (Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan) have not hit well. Francona has been pretty non-committal in talking about all of the non-roster invitees (Giambi as the notable exception), and so there is little else to gauge these guys on.

My hunch is that we see either Johnson or Sellers make the roster. I tend to think of Johnson as a 2B, but the defensive metrics for his work at SS in Tampa look pretty solid. If Francona and company are confident he can handle time behind Asdrubal Cabrera, I expect he has a leg up on Seller, based on his Arizona performance.

If Giambi is healthy, I would now guess he makes it too, with Francona forgoing the 8th man in the pen in order to make room for the big left-handed bat. If a third catcher is needed, it seems Matt Treanor is the most likely candidate, although I would by no means count out Luke Carlin.

Today's Best Guess: Elliot Johnson is the 25th man. With Mike Aviles spending more time in the OF, expect to see him as the 5th OF/reserve 3B, with Santana backing up Swisher at 1B and playing some 3B, while serving as the #2 catcher, while Johnson is the primary backup for Cabrera and Jason Kipnis.

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