(GOODYEAR, Ariz.) – The 2014 season is getting closer for the Cleveland Indians and while many of their questions have been answered when it comes to the 25-man roster, manager Terry Francona and his staff still have some difficult decisions to make before March 31.

Along with taking a look at some of the roster spots and competitions, we’ll also break down some of the latest news and notes surrounding the Tribe.

Here are seven thoughts from Indians spring training:

1. Fifth starter competition: When pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Feb. 11, there were five guys competing for the final spot in the Indians rotation. With four spots already locked up by Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar, only one spot remained for the taking between Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Shaun Marcum, Aaron Harang and Josh Tomlin. While Francona has not made an official announcement, it is safe to assume that the fifth starter competition is only down to three of the original five pitchers; Tomlin, Carrasco and Harang. Bauer is certainly still in the Indians future plans, however he is still getting comfortable with a new delivery, while Marcum has only recently started throwing again as most of the spring he’s been recovering from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Carrasco will most certainly be on the Tribe’s Opening Day 25-man roster, the only question is whether he will be a part of the starting rotation or the bullpen. All three (Harang, Tomlin and Carrasco) have pitched well in spring camp and Francona has admitted it will be a difficult decision during the final few days of camp.

2. Santana at 3B: Carlos Santana is attempting to make one of the more rare transitions that the Indians have ever seen. Players have gone from shortstop to third base (Jhonny Peralta), or even infield to outfield and then back to infield (Russell Branyan). However, the transition from catcher to third base is not something team’s normally attempt with a player. The Indians are serious about putting Santana at the hot corner in 2014. Throughout spring training Santana has played third base and after a few early hiccups, he’s actually looked comfortable there. It should be noted, Santana came up as a third baseman originally while with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The bottom line is, the Indians desperately need Santana’s bat in the lineup (he’ll hit cleanup), but they also want Yan Gomes to be their everyday catcher. At the same time, Santana did not was to solely DH for the club. This will certainly affect Lonnie Chisenhall, but if Santana can handle third base while also being the Tribe’s backup catcher, his value to the club will certainly increase.


Terry Francona (right) says he "loves" his team and excited to find out if they can play even better than they did in 2013. (Photo courtesy Nick Camino)

3. Bench spots: There are many factors that will go into who fills out the final few spots on the Indians bench. Yes, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles already locked down jobs and are both under contract with Cleveland. However, recent injuries to Jason Giambi (non-displaced rib fracture) and Michael Bourn (hamstring tightness) could open the door for other utility players in camp, specifically some of the non-roster invitees. How often Santana plays third base will also affect some of the Indians roster decisions. Due to the uncertainty with some injuries and Santana’s future play-time at the hot corner, it’s silly to estimate how many spots are open on the Tribe’s roster. What can be done however, is look at some of the candidates for those final bench jobs. Among the players who have had solid camps and may be putting themselves into the best position to win jobs on the Indians big league club includes OF Jeff Francoeur, OF Nyjer Morgan, INF/OF Elliot Johnson, C Matt Treanor, INF Justin Sellers and INF Bryan LaHair.

4. Giambi & Bourn injuries: The injury bug stopped by Indians camp this past week and while they were not major injuries, the temporary losses of Jason Giambi and Michael Bourn may open up other roster spots for the time being. Giambi, who was drilled by an Edwin Jackson cut-fastball, suffered a non-displaced rib fracture that will keep him out 3-4 weeks, while Bourn suffered a tightness in his left hamstring. While a rib fracture is painful and takes time to heal, Giambi should be back by the middle of April. Bourn, however; will miss the next seven days and the question that arises is, “Will this hamstring injury linger all season?” Bourn says, no, citing that while it is the same hamstring that he had surgically repaired at the end of last season it is in a different spot. But a hamstring is a hamstring, and if the nagging injury is not monitored properly, the Tribe’s speedy leadoff man will not be nearly as effective as in his previous seasons. Bourn’s injury will be worth keeping an eye on over the next several weeks.


Nick Swisher chats with Michael Bourn during a recent BP session. Bourn is dealing with a tight left hamstring. (Photo courtesy Nick Camino)

5. Lofton vs. Swisher: It’s not often that something that occurred three months ago comes back into the spotlight, but apparently the feud between former Indians All-Star center fielder Kenny Lofton and current Tribe first baseman Nick Swisher is being talked about once again. Lofton and Swisher exchanged words back in January at the club’s annual “TribeFest” event, after Lofton contested that Cleveland did not make the playoffs at the end of the 2013 season. Lofton claimed that a one-game wildcard playoff is not the same as a playoff series. Swisher was unhappy with Lofton’s comments and made that clear to Lofton himself. MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince gives a more in-depth look at the situation here: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/mlb/anthony-castrovince-indians-bond-unquestioned?ymd=20140317&content_id=69498922&vkey=news_mlb . While the feud is unfortunate, it tells something about each guy. Lofton is still an outspoken person never afraid to speak his mind, while Swisher is a leader of a club hoping to go even deeper into the postseason in 2014.

6. Grady Sizemore comeback: He’s probably already the frontrunner to take home the “Comeback Player of the Year Award”, well…if he can continue what he’s started in Fort Myers, Fla. Former Indians All-Star center fielder and Gold Glove Award Winner Grady Sizemore is attempting a monumental comeback with the Boston Red Sox that is already putting him in the conversation to be their starting center fielder. Yes, it’s safe to say that Sizemore is in a full-blown competition with Jackie Bradley Jr. Sizemore is hitting well, running well and three of his catches in center field this spring have already made ESPN’s “Sportscenter”. This is truly an amazing comeback for Sizemore who battled numerous knee injuries, as well as a sports hernia and lower back micro discectomy. Red Sox manager John Farrell is familiar with Sizemore considering he was the Indians Minor League farm director while Grady played with Cleveland. When asked what he remembers most about Sizemore, Terry Francona said, “Word gets around pretty quick when guy’s are like Grady [Sizemore], the All-American kid. He’s such a good player,” Francona said. “He looked like he was going to be one of the faces of baseball, unfortunately his knees didn’t cooperate.”

7. Expectations: Earlier in March I released my American League Central Division predictions, they look like this:

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Detroit Tigers

3. Chicago White Sox

4. Kansas City Royals

5. Minnesota Twins

Along with picking the Tribe to win the AL-Central, I pegged them for 91 wins. This is the first time in five years that I’ve picked the Indians to win their division and while it feels like expectations have been raised for the upcoming 2014 season due to the success the club had a year ago, that is not the case internally. Francona, his staff, the front office and the players all had high expectations last season…the only difference now is that fans and the media are also high on the Tribe and what they may be able to accomplish this year. The Bovada Sports Book in Las Vegas, Nevada has the Indians UNDER/OVER on wins set at 80 ½…that feels low. But in order for the Tribe to reach my projection of winning the division and 91 wins, a lot is going to have to go right for them.

- Nick Camino