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: Spring Training is here.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even after all these years as a manager, Terry Francona stresses over his first speech of Spring Training. When he gets his team together at the outset of camp this year, the Indians' manager plans on touching on last season but focusing more on the task ahead.
After falling just short of a World Series championship last fall, Francona said the key is to keep looking forward.
"When the new season starts, the only thing from last year we will have [gained] is experience," Francona said. "We try to draw from everything -- good or bad. But, once you draw from that, it's time to move on. Even though you have a lot of the same names back and faces, it's a different team. It'll be another personality, their own, the 2017 team.
"That's something we'll talk about in the first meeting. We don't want to be that team that, come July, is still talking about last year."
This year, Cleveland returns as a heavy favorite to repeat as American League Central champion and to contend for a second straight pennant. The Indians invested heavily in slugger Edwin Encarnacion to strengthen their lineup, and they signed veteran reliever Boone Logan to help the bullpen. Those moves addressed the main needs for a roster that will otherwise return a very similar group that reached the Fall Classic in 2016.
That Indians team took the baseball world by surprise, though. In the face of adversity and injuries, Cleveland defied the odds to capture its first AL title since 1997. In 2017, the Tribe will not be catching anyone by surprise. The team will have a target on its back as it enters Spring Training as the preseason darling.
"We're going to be one of those teams that are picked," said Indians owner Paul Dolan, who increased the payroll to over $120 million this offseason. "It's great. That's what you want. You want to be one of those teams that's picked to win. That's the kind of pressure you want."
What follows is a glance at the Spring Training picture for the Tribe as camp opens.
Pitchers and catchers report: Today
Position players report: Thursday
First Cactus League game: Home vs. Reds at 3:05 p.m. ET on Feb. 25
Encarnacion (three years, $60 million guaranteed) and Logan (one year, $6.5 million guaranteed) represented the Indians' major offseason acquisitions. Encarnacion will play first base, spend some time at designated hitter and give Cleveland one of the game's premier sluggers in the heart of the order. Logan offers Francona a veteran lefty specialist to help lengthen out the Tribe's formidable bullpen. This offseason, the Indians also selected lefty Hoby Milner in the Rule 5 Draft (from the Phillies), claimed lefty Tim Cooney off waivers (from the Cardinals) and acquired pitchers Carlos Frias (via the Dodgers) and Nick Goody (via the Yankees) in trades. Those six players represent the new faces to the Tribe's 40-man roster heading into Spring Training.
Interesting non-roster invitees
Among the external additions through non-roster invitations, veteran outfielder Austin Jackson stands out as a strong contender for a big league job. Right now, Cleveland projects to have Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte splitting the duties in center field, but that hardly seems set in stone. Considering that the status of left fielder Michael Brantley (right biceps surgery in August) for Opening Day is also cloudy at the moment, Jackson's presence offers the Tribe some insurance in the outfield. Among the internal invitees, prospect Yandy Diaz stands out as a player to watch. Diaz is coming off a solid 2016 showing in the Minors and can play multiple positions. With a utility role up for grabs this spring, Diaz could be in the running for a bench job.
Prospects to watch
This spring will be the first in Major League camp for outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who is Cleveland's top-ranked prospect, per MLBPipeline.com. The Indians selected Zimmer in the first round of the 2014 Draft, and he could be knocking on the big league's door at some point this summer. Catcher Francisco Mejia (No. 4 on the Tribe's Top 30 list), who had a 50-game hitting streak in the Minors last season, will also be in camp. Center fielder Greg Allen (No. 19), who stole 45 bases and scored 119 runs last year between Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Akron, will get his first taste of Major League camp, too.
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.