Prior to the start of spring training, I wrote a piece covering everything you need to know about the Cleveland Indians, including the following: prospects to watch, breakout candidates, the projected lineup, bullpen/rotation and position battles.

Spring position battles are a fun and fickle thing to watch. With the pace at which things change, new battles crop up and others fade away. For instance, in that piece, I looked at two position battles that I felt were the most important/tightly contested, and as we’ve progressed through spring training, one of those battles has essentially ceased to exist, and a new one has cropped up to take its place.

The left-handed relief situation I wrote about? That’s been taken care of. To take its place, a tightly contested battle for the fifth rotational spot has formed.

So, with less than three weeks between us and the start of the regular season, it became apparent that an update was needed. 

Let’s get to it.


Starting Shortstop

This one was really never in question. 

22-year-old Jose Ramirez entered spring training as the favorite to win the team’s starting shortstop job, and so far, he hasn’t relented in his quest to attain that status.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challengers to the throne, though, as both Mike Aviles and Francisco Lindor have put forth outstanding efforts of their own. The chart below illustrates the wonderful spring training performances given by all three players: 

Though there’s an argument to be made for Lindor strictly based on production, the front office is in no rush to start his free-agency time clock, and that forecasts a stint in Triple-A to start the 2015 season. Don’t worry; he’ll be back up with the big league club soon enough.

That leaves Aviles and Ramirez to duke it out for the job.

The pre-spring favorite for the job, Ramirez, has performed about as well as one could hope, though he still shows zero willingness to take a walk (zero drawn over 30 plate appearances). Part of this could just be him looking to get his swing in check for the upcoming regular season, but it does play into the larger trend displayed over the course of his career (5.4 percent walk rate in the majors and 7.1 percent in the minors).

Aviles is going to end up back in his super-utility role when the team breaks camp this spring, but not for a lack of trying. The fact of the matter here is that you have a near-career-long utility option up against a former top prospect for a starting job that neither is likely to retain beyond the 2015 season (see top prospects/Lindor).

Advantage, Ramirez.

Prediction: Starter: Jose Ramirez, Bench: Mike Aviles, Triple-A: Francisco Lindor


No. 5 Starter

In my spring training preview for the Tribe, I didn’t even consider the No. 5 spot in the rotation as a debatable “position battle.”

Gavin Floyd was signed to a one-year, $4 million deal, and it was assumed that he would help round out the rotation as the No. 5 starter. Beyond that, the first four spots in the rotation looked to be pretty well locked down between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar.

However, a recent injury to the 32-year-old has Floyd’s season in jeopardy, and it’s clear that he will not be ready to start the 2015 season.

Beyond starting the season on the disabled list, Floyd may miss the entirety of the 2015 season, as the team’s official Twitter account confirmed last week that the 32-year-old was “out indefinitely.”

Then, earlier this week, Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer confirmed that the veteran righty both needed and underwent surgery, leaving the status of his 2015 season completely up in the air.

I guess this means it’s time for me to rethink my initial prediction, eh?

So, what options do the Indians have for this final rotation spot? The table below should help to set that up for us:

T.J. House is the best long-term option for this spot in the rotation. The 25-year-old offers what is easily the largest upside of the group, and his performance in 2014, as well as this spring, signifies a readiness for additional responsibility in 2015.

Over 12.2 innings of work, House has allowed seven earned runs, while striking out 12 and walking just one. House leads the team in strikeouts this spring, and his 12-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is absolutely bonkers considering the fact that we’re only now entering the latter stages of March.

House would also provide the Indians with a left-handed arm in the rotation, something that they lack right now based on the roster projections provided by Roster Resource.

Whether this comes to fruition or not is dependent upon the managerial staff and front office, though. 

Josh Tomlin has some past starting experience, but the 30-year-old has struggled in his most recent attempt at starting, allowing a 4.53 ERA over 16 starts in 2014. Tomlin is likely to serve as the final option in the bullpen or as Triple-A depth should the rotation suffer another injury.

Shaun Marcum is also available to serve in a starting capacity, something he hasn’t done at the big league level since 2013. Injuries have plagued Marcum‘s career, but this spring, the 33-year-old has been nothing if not consistent, allowing just one earned run over seven innings pitched.

Finally, we arrive at Zach McAllister, who seemingly has to figure into the Indians’ plans for 2015. Given the fact that he has no options left, it’s a strong possibility that he’s the one to round out the team’s starting rotation.

McAllister was solid over 134.1 innings as a starter in 2013, but he was plagued by bad luck in 2014.

During his age-26 season, the veteran righty allowed a ghastly 5.23 ERA, fueled largely by a .333 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)McAllister saw that BABIP jump by 38 points between 2013 and 2014, despite showing improvement in his strikeout and walk rates during that time.

This spring, McAllister has struggled at times, allowing five earned runs over 10 innings pitched. However, over that same stretch, the Illinois prep product has also managed 11 strikeouts, the second most on the roster this spring.

McAllister is an intriguing bounce-back candidate, but House (aside from his last outing against the Mariners) has really earned a spot on the team.

Given his performance last season, his renewed commitment to conditioning and hard work, as well as his performance this spring, House is my pick to win the final spot in the rotation.

Prediction: No. 5 Starter: T.J. House, Bullpen: Zach McAllister, Triple-A: Josh Tomlin and Shaun Marcum


All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

Tyler Duma is a Featured Columnist covering the Cleveland Indians for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TylerDuma. 

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