With just a matter of days until the Cleveland Indians open up their American League pennant defense, the final roster decisions have been made as the team announced on Thursday that prospect Yandy Diaz and veteran utility man Michael Martinez will be on the club’s Opening Day roster to start the 2017 season. It follows Wednesday’s news that outfielder Abraham Almonte will open the year with the Tribe with right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall set to land on the 10-day disabled list while dealing with a sprained shoulder.
The Indians had one open spot on the 40-man roster after returning Rule 5 selection Hoby Milner to Philadelphia last weekend, but they will need to open up two spaces on the roster to accommodate the additions of Diaz and Martinez. The injury to Cody Anderson, who will be placed on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery on Monday, will create one spot. Left-handed pitcher Tim Cooney, who was acquired via waivers from St. Louis in November, could also land on the 60-day DL to create the other spot.
Diaz caught the club’s eye again in camp with a strong spring effort and put the pressure on the Indians coaching staff to dare to leave him off of the roster. In 18 games from Arizona, the 25-year-old right-handed hitter put up a .429 batting average with a .529 on-base percentage over 51 plate appearances. Six of his 18 hits in spring action went for extra bases, including four doubles and two home runs. His 13 RBI were second on the squad to his former Columbus teammate Bradley Zimmer, who also caught plenty of attention with his own positive performance. He also entered Thursday night’s game with a team-high eight walks.
He missed some time early in March with a sore groin, but he did plenty to make up for lost time. Diaz is expected to see much of his time in the first month of the season from the third base position, with Jose Ramirez filling in at second base for the injured Jason Kipnis.
He will wear the number 36 for the Tribe, last worn by former Indians first base prospect Jesus Aguilar.
The 34-year-old Martinez will suit up for the Indians for the third consecutive season. He put up one of the better springs of his career in Goodyear, hitting .357 with five doubles, a triple, one home run, and nine RBI while working in at several positions for the Tribe in the spring.
Martinez, who made two separate appearances with the Indians with a brief stay in Boston in between in 2016, has seen work at second and third base, shortstop, and both left and center field this spring for the Tribe.
Urshela may have hurt his cause some by playing for Team Columbia during the World Baseball Classic, taking him away from spring action with the club. The 25-year-old appeared in 20 games with the Indians in Arizona, hitting .268 with two doubles, two homers, and seven RBI. He showed a much improved strikeout number at the plate, whiffing just six times while drawing just two walks. He was 2-for-14 in the three games that he played in the WBC with two singles, one run batted in, and three strikeouts. He will return to Triple-A for a fourth straight season. Last season with the Clippers, he hit .274 with 24 doubles, a triple, eight homers, and 57 RBI in 117 games.
Gonzalez had hoped to stick on the roster as the team’s utility man, but will instead relocate back to Columbus for his third stint at Triple-A. The 25-year-old hit .308 in the spring in 23 games with two doubles, a triple, and two homers while driving in eleven runs, but he was second on the club in the spring with 19 strikeouts while drawing just one walk. A return to the Clippers lineup will allow him to get consistent playing time, something the veteran Martinez may not need as much of.
The news on Wednesday was far more positive for Almonte, who was staring a similar demotion down despite putting up good numbers in February and March. He was hitting .375 with a .434 on-base percentage in camp heading into Thursday night’s game against Arizona. He had three doubles, three homers, and had driven in 12 runs in 19 games while attempting to make the club as a reserve outfielder, but that spot appeared to be in jeopardy over the weekend when Austin Jackson was awarded a spot on the roster. Chisenhall’s A/C joint injury to his right shoulder occurred after crashing into an outfield wall last Friday and he has not taken the field since, opening up at least a temporary opportunity for Almonte.
“Lonnie is going to start the season on the disabled list,” said Indians manager Terry Francona this week. “We didn’t want to force Lonnie on the DL. He feels much better than he did at this time last year, but he probably was only going to get two at-bats on Friday.”
Chisenhall is expected to be ready by the time the team returns from its season opening road trip against Texas and Arizona to be activated for the Indians’ home opener.
The team’s bullpen battle was resolved earlier in the week when it was announced that right-hander Shawn Armstrong would begin the year in the Tribe bullpen. Left-hander Kyle Crockett and right-handers Carlos Frias and Nick Goody will wait for their call from Columbus.
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