Prior to the leaguewide shutdown, the Indians faced questions about a number of key players, including Mike Clevinger (knee surgery), Carlos Carrasco (elbow inflammation), Emmanuel Clase (teres major strain), Oscar Mercado (wrist sprain) and Tyler Naquin (2018 ACL repair surgery). At this point, nearly all of them are up to speed, manager Terry Francona told reporters Thursday (link via Mandy Bell of MLB.com).
Clase, Francona explained, is a bit harder to track than the others because he lives in a fairly remote area of the Dominican Republic. The club is likely to send someone from its Dominican academy down to get a first-hand look in the near future. Clase has been throwing off flat ground — Indians Prospective tweeted some video footage — as he works back from an injury that was initially projected to sideline him for eight to 12 weeks. It’s been exactly seven weeks since that diagnosis, so it seems there’s a good chance that whenever play is able to resume, Clase will either be recovered or close to it.
Updates on the others were more generic but widely positive. Carrasco has been throwing regular bullpen sessions, recording them and sending video footage to Indians officials. Clevinger, Naquin and Mercado are all doing “great” or “fine.” That’s particularly encouraging with regard to Naquin, whose September surgery was projected to keep him out seven to nine months (into mid-April or mid-June). It seems that his recovery is on track for the shorter end of that timeline.
Carrasco, Clevinger and Mercado, in particular, will be vital pieces for Cleveland as they look to rise back to the top of the ranks in the AL Central. With Corey Kluber traded to Texas (in the deal that netted Clase), Carrasco and Clevinger will team with Shane Bieber atop a rotation that will otherwise rely on some intriguing but generally inexperienced young arms in the final two spots (e.g. Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Logan Allen, Scott Moss, Jefry Rodriguez).
Mercado, meanwhile, is perhaps the one constant in an Indians outfield mix that looks decidedly unsettled. He should play center on a regular basis, with some combination of Domingo Santana, Jordan Luplow, Franmil Reyes, Greg Allen, Delino DeShields Jr. (also acquired in the Kluber swap), Jake Bauers, Bradley Zimmer and Naquin filling in at the corners. Luplow’s dominance of left-handed pitchers should assure him at least the short side of a platoon, and Reyes might factor in more as a DH than a prominent piece of the outfield rotation. But it’s clear that opportunities for playing time in the corners will be relatively wide open.
Clase, presumably, is being treated as a potential high-end setup piece for Brad Hand. The right-hander made his MLB debut with Texas in 2019 and compiled a 2.31 ERA with a 21-to-6 K/BB ratio and a superlative 60.6 percent ground-ball rate in 23 1/3 innings while averaging 99.3 mph on his heater. Clase skipped Triple-A entirely, but the success he found in last year’s 21 MLB games provides little to no reason to send him back down.