With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Indians squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?
CLEVELAND -- One of the results of fielding a strong roster is a lack of wide-open competition during Spring Training. When camp opens for the Indians, the team will have a handful of players in the mix for a bullpen job and some contenders for the final spots on the bench.
There is not much wiggle room on the projected Opening Day roster, making it improbable for a prospect to seize a job in the manner that center fielder Tyler Naquin did last spring for the Tribe. Among the players already in the big league plans, catcher Roberto Perez might be best positioned to use a strong Spring Training to convince Cleveland to continue increasing his playing time.
"[Perez] led a pitching staff all the way through Game 7 of the World Series," Indians president Chris Antonetti said at the end of the playoffs. "[That] says a lot about him as a catcher and his leadership. So it's a position of strength for us moving forward."
The way Cleveland's roster is constituted, Yan Gomes and Perez will head into the season as the club's tandem behind the plate. Both catchers are coming back from injury-marred seasons, but each will arrive to Spring Training healthy and ready for the season ahead. As things stand right now, Gomes is in the plans as the No. 1 catcher for the Indians, who have him contractually locked in through 2019, with a pair of team options for '20 and '21.
Over the past two seasons, Gomes' offensive decline paired with an assortment of health setbacks has opened the door for Perez at times. Last year, while Gomes missed the bulk of the second half, Perez settled into the starter's role and remained there throughout Cleveland's postseason run. During the playoffs, Perez was able to put his defensive prowess on display on a national stage, earning high praise for his ability to control the running game and present pitches.
The Indians will head into this spring with Gomes as the starter, but the team also knows Perez is capable of handling a heavier workload than a typical backup. If anything, Perez's play this spring -- and certainly in the first half -- might persuade manager Terry Francona to work him into the mix on a regular basis.
"He'll be back and he'll be catching," Francona said of Gomes last month. "Because of Perez, you're not leery of giving Gomes an early day off, because we know what Roberto can do. Or [we could] even DH one of them one day, because they both are pretty outstanding."
Before a right shoulder injury (and later a fractured right wrist) derailed Gomes' regular season last year, the catcher was struggling mightily in the batter's box. Overall, he hit .167 with nine home runs, 34 RBIs and a .527 OPS in 74 games in 2016 for the Tribe. That production was down from the .659 OPS Gomes posted in 95 games in '15, when a right knee injury cost him time. In '14, Gomes won a Silver Slugger Award by hitting 21 homers with 74 RBIs and a .785 OPS in 135 games.
Perez, who missed a little more than two months between May and July last year due to a broken right thumb, has also dealt with offensive issues. Last season, he hit .183 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 61 games for the Indians, who admittedly activated him earlier than planned due to Gomes' shoulder injury in July. In the playoffs, Perez did enjoy a two-homer outburst in Game 1 of the World Series, but he hit .186 overall in his 15 games.
The Indians know what they have defensively with both of their catchers. Gomes and Perez have each built a strong rapport with the team's talented pitching staff, and both catchers have a good reputation for throwing out runners and framing pitches. The biggest question resides within the offensive production, and Cleveland will surely be monitoring both catchers closely this spring.
In all likelihood, Gomes will open the 2017 season as planned as Cleveland's No. 1 catcher, but an impressive spring from Perez could put him on a path to more innings. Four seasons ago, Gomes' strong play helped him win the starter's role by the second half of the '13 season. Perhaps Perez will fight for the same kind of opportunity this year.
"We feel similarly this year as we did last year," Antonetti said, "which is, that's a position of strength for us where we have two really good, high-quality, capable Major League catchers. And Yan had some adversity this year, with a couple of injuries he really couldn't control, but we still feel very confident with him and his ability to lead the pitching staff."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.