Some things have changed since the Indians gathered in Goodyear, Arizona last spring, besides the pandemic.
The Tribe will have a new shortstop, two of the pitchers who opened the season in the starting rotation are gone, and there is no slated in right now to be the closer.
However, for three players this spring is much like a year ago, except they are a year older, and in their current situations that is not good.
It is kind of make it or break it for Bobby Bradley, Yu Chang, and Bradley Zimmer, and it didn’t help any of them that last year was reduced to producing in the satellite camp in Eastlake.
Now, they need to have big springs to make an impression on the front office and Terry Francona.
Bradley, who will turn 25 in May, didn’t get a chance with the big club last season despite the Tribe’s offensive woes.
That’s because he was blocked at DH by Franmil Reyes and at first base by Carlos Santana. He had a 912 OPS in his last minor league season with Columbus in 2019, but did get 49 plate appearances with the Indians, but only hit one homer and struck out 20 times.
That’s the issue for the left-handed swinger, contact. He fanned 153 times at AAA (453 plate appearances), but did belt 33 round trippers.
He will get an opportunity to win the job at first this spring, but will have to battle Jake Bauers with Josh Naylor also in the mix.
If an outfielder hits well, that will push Naylor to first and probably knock Bradley off the roster.
It is difficult to judge Bradley in spring training because he won’t likely see the quality breaking pitches he needs to demonstrate he can hit to make the team. Our guess is he has an uphill fight to open the season with the Indians.
Chang will turn 26 during the 2021 campaign, and was the sensation of the summer camp, hitting home runs seemingly in every intersquad game.
He did get 11 at bats in the regular season, getting two singles. He has 97 big league plate appearances, recording a .179 batting average (551 OPS).
His problem in the minor leagues has been getting on base (.326 on base). He has some pop, but has a low batting average and doesn’t draw a lot of walks, although he has 13 in the majors.
He is in the mix at shortstop with the two newcomers from the Mets, Andres Gimenez and Amad Rosario, and could also make the squad as a reserve because he has played second and third base.
For Zimmer, time is really getting against him as the former first round pick in 2014 is now 28 years old.
He’s had the most extensive look at the big league level, registering 510 plate appearances with a 649 OPS. He’s battled injuries, but he’s another player with contact issues, fanning 164 times versus just 41 walks.
Since the second half of his rookie year, Zimmer has hit .194 with 6 HR and 26 RBI in 304 at bats, striking out 121 times against 29 walks.
Zimmer is an athletic freak, his speed is off the charts, but as the saying goes, you can’t steal first.
He’s competing for the CF job with Oscar Mercado, the newest Indian Harold Ramirez, non-roster invitee Billy Hamilton and perhaps Ben Gamel. He needs to hit and get on base.
He’s probably the best defender of the group, but it doesn’t matter how good you are with the glove, you have to be able to contribute offensively.
It’s really a crossroads for these three players. If that don’t make an impact in spring training, it’s doubtful any of the trio will be back in Goodyear a year from now trying to make the 2022 Cleveland Baseball Team.