CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Bradley Zimmer and Yandy Diaz are among the eight non-roster players the Cleveland Indians will invite to big-league camp this spring, giving each a chance to prove why they deserve a place on the Major League roster.
Of course, rarely does a rookie earn a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster with no previous MLB experience, but outfielder Tyler Naquin proved it can be done last spring, taking advantage of an opening by hitting extremely well in camp.
Zimmer and Diaz highlight a list of internal non-roster players that also includes Greg Allen, Eric Stamets, Ronny Rodriguez, Nellie Rodriguez, Josh Martin and Tyler Olson.
Zimmer, the Indians’ first-round pick in 2014, slashed .253/.371/.471 with 14 homers at Double-A Akron before getting the second-half promotion to Triple-A. The 24-year-old outfielder hit just .242 with one home run in 37 games with the Columbus Clippers, but still managed to post a .349 on-base percentage in his Class-AAA debut.
The promising left-handed hitter struck out 37.3 percent of the time after his promotion, a number he will need to reduce in 2017. His combination of speed, developing power and ability to play center field has many excited for his eventual debut in the Majors.
Diaz, a 25-year-old prospect with an ability to play multiple positions, was considered for a promotion to the big-league roster last season prior to the club’s acquisition of veteran outfielder Coco Crisp, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti recently revealed.
A right-handed hitter with a good understanding of the strike zone, Diaz slashed .325/.399/.461 in 95 games at Triple-A following his promotion from Akron in 2016. His versatility paired with his bat could make him a fit on the Major-League roster at some point this upcoming season.
Diaz, who was named IL Rookie of the Year in 2016, spent the offseason in Venezuela playing Winter Ball for the Leones del Caracas, hitting .371 over 40 games.
“He played a lot of positions in Winter Ball, including center field,” Antonetti said. “The reports were good about his work and how he went about things. He had a really good winter.”
Could Zimmer or Diaz actually earn a spot on the Opening Day roster this spring? In short: It’s complicated.
“There needs to be an opportunity,” Antonetti recently said. “And there needs to be a player prepared to succeed with the opportunity that he’s given. I think we saw a great example of that last year. No one was writing Tyler Naquin’s name to be a regular outfielder for us, but there was an opportunity and he took advantage of it.”
And of course, while it wasn’t mentioned by Antonetti, there is always the service time issue. Teams have always been mindful of ways to generate an extra year of big-league control by the timing of promotions.
For example, by elevating Francisco Lindor when Cleveland did in 2015, the All-Star shortstop will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, one year later than if the club had carried Lindor on the Opening Day roster in his rookie campaign.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Allen ended last season at Double-A Akron, hitting .290 with a .399 on-base percentage in 37 games. His 45 total stolen bases between Single-A Lynchburg and Class-AA Akron were the most among all Indians Minor Leaguers.
Stamets will be making his second appearance in MLB camp with the Indians. The 25-year-old shortstop hit just .237 with 17 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 37 RBI between Akron and Columbus this past year, but Stamets’ most obvious tool is his outstanding defense.
The middle infielder was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels at the 2015 MLB Trade Deadline for outfielder David Murphy.
Ronny Rodriguez hit 10 homers and drove in 59 runs this past season at Triple-A. The 24-year-old infielder, who has been in the Tribe’s system for six seasons, hit .306 for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League with 10 doubles, three triples and three round-trippers in 44 games.
Nellie Rodriguez led his Akron squad in homers (26) and slashed .250/.352/.474 in 126 games with the RubberDucks. A 22-year-old first baseman, Rodriguez was a 15th round pick of the Indians in 2012 and was the Carolina League MVP in 2015.
Martin, a 27-year-old pitcher, spent the entire 2016 campaign with the Clippers, registering three saves and posting a 3.41 ERA in 47 relief appearances. Olson, a 27-year-old lefty claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals in July, posted a 5.91 ERA in nine outings for the Clippers in 2016.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Goodyear, Arizona on Feb. 12. The full squad report date is Feb. 16.