Cleveland Indians: Utility Position Up For Grabs At Spring Training

Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World infielder Alex Bregman (2) slides into third base with a triple past World infielder Yandy Diaz (left) in the first inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World infielder Alex Bregman (2) slides into third base with a triple past World infielder Yandy Diaz (left) in the first inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Who is going to win the utility-man role for the Cleveland Indians this season?

The defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians took the league by storm this offseason, when the team signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a hefty contract.

However, that move meant the team could not afford to spend significantly elsewhere to upgrade other positions. World Series hero Rajai Davis was one of those salary casualties. He took a more lucrative deal with the Oakland Athletics.

EE’s signing, and its ultimate fallout, has come in a good year, though. With the World Baseball Classic starting Monday, teams are getting a slightly extended spring training.

One of the teams the WBC favors is the Indians. The team will have a little extra time to sort out a few of the final spots on the roster. One of those roster spots comes as a utility player.

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The importance of a utility player is invaluable, as position versatility comes as a premium in today’s MLB.

The starting infield is set for the Tribe this year. Encarnacion and Carlos Santana will split time at first base. Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor make up the middle infield, while last year’s breakout star, Jose Ramirez, will man third base.

However, at least one, and possibly two, utility positions are up for grabs in spring training.

Last season, it was Michael Martinez who occupied the role for much of the season. But this time around, there are a few youngsters that will perhaps be given the opportunity.

Erik Gonzalez – INF, OF

Gonzalez got a taste of the majors last season, appearing in 21 games for the major league club. According to, he had just 16 at bats, but he converted five of those into hits for a .313 batting clip.

At the AAA level, Gonzalez slashed .296/.329/.450, while hitting 11 home runs and driving in 53 runs.

He also has position versatility, as he played both middle infield positions, third base and all three outfield positions with Columbus last year. Gonzalez has had early success in spring training, as well. He has six hits in his first 14 plate appearances, as well as one home run and six RBIs.

His major league experience will help his case for a spot on the 25-man roster. Also, his ability to play all outfield positions will help as Michael Brantley insurance.

Yandy Diaz – INF, OF

Diaz finished last season at AAA after beginning the campaign at AA Akron. According to, he raked AA pitching to a .325/.399/.461 clip, hitting seven home runs and driving in 44 runs.

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Diaz fared well at Columbus as well, hitting .286 with two long balls and 14 RBIs in just 26 games. His walk-to-strikeout ratio at AAA is extremely impressive – 3:2 – which shows his great plate discipline.

Like Gonzalez, Diaz has great position versatility. He played everywhere but first base, shortstop and catcher at AAA last year. Diaz offers Brantley insurance, just as Gonzalez does.

Diaz got off to a slow start this spring, with just two hits in his first nine at-bats. However, his walk-to-strikeout ratio is still very good – 5:3 – while he has plenty of time to get more acclimated to major-league-level pitching.

Giovanny Urshela – 3B

If Urshela’s name sounds familiar, that is because it is. The 25-year-old got a taste of the majors in 2015. According to, he played in 81 games then with the Tribe.

However, Urshela struggled to a .225 average with just six home runs and 21 RBI. He also struck out a whopping 58 times in 267 at-bats.

Urshela performed better last season at AAA Columbus but not as well as Diaz or Gonzalez. Also, he does not have the position versatility of the aforementioned two, as he has played exclusively third base in the organization.

That said, Urshela has hit well thus far in spring training. He is four of his first 10 at-bats, with one home run, four RBIs and just one strikeout. Still, his lack of position versatility likely limits his chances to start the year with the Tribe.

Michael Martinez – INF, OF

The veteran of the group, Martinez, re-signed with the club this offseason on a minor-league deal. Martinez will forever be known as the player who made the last out of the 2016 World Series, but he is also a solid utility player.

His stats are certainly not eye-popping. According to, he had a .238 average in 63 games last season between the Indians and Boston Red Sox. However, Martinez can play nearly anywhere on the diamond, and his experience is certainly valuable to manager Terry Francona.

Ultimately, Martinez is probably unlikely to earn a roster spot, as the younger guys previously mentioned can do what he does and even better. However, it would not be a huge surprise if he was on the Opening Day roster.

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Prediction: Gonzalez is the only one of these four who will make the opening day roster.