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Indians, Johnson edge Rangers, 6-5

Non-roster invitee Johnson leads Tribe to fourth straight victory

Indians, Johnson edge Rangers, 6-5
Jeff Francoeur (Photo: AP)
March 3, 2014
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Player of the Game: Elliot Johnson (3-for-3 with a triple and 2 RBI)

The Leadoff

Even a Super Bowl champ couldn’t get in the way of another Tribe victory.

Indians bats banged out six runs on 11 hits to edge Texas Monday afternoon, 6-5. To get things started, former Kansas City outfielder Jeff Francoeur collected a two out, two run single off Rangers starter Colby Lewis in the first inning.

Finishing just one game in back of Cleveland for the final American League wild card spot, Texas tied things up on two groundball outs by first baseman Mitch Moreland. The Rangers would cut the deficit to one run in the eighth, but it wasn't enough to overtake Elliot Johnson's perfect day at the plate. The non-roster invitee finished the ballgame 3-for-3, adding two-run triple which ended up being the difference in the ballgame.

Utility Race Heating Up Fast

The 25th player on a 25-man roster are sometimes just as important to a club as a team's superstar.

For the Indians, that guy in 2013 was no doubt Jason Giambi who made his known both on the field and in the clubhouse. With "Big G" looking like a lock to make the club this spring, there will be a new 25th player on the roster hoping to make just as big of an impact.

So far we've seen three notable names in the running: Nyjer Morgan, Francouer and Johnson. All three bring with them both a different style of play on the diamond as well as veteran leadership. Unlike Morgan and Francouer, Johnson can play all over the field, but it could be the offensive track record of the two outfielders that could set them apart as well.

It's a good problem to have, and their race for another shot at the big leagues has just begun.

Pitching hangs tough

Corey Kluber yielded an unearned run, but looked much better in his second spring appearance. He recorded groundball outs to new Texas acquisitions Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, before striking out another new Ranger in catcher J.P. Arencibia.

Cleveland also got their second look at Carlos Carrasco, who ptiched a scoreless third inning before gving up his first run of the spring in the fourth. Walking and striking out one, Carrasco still has the inside track on the final rotation spot. Southpaw Josh Outman also tossed a scoreless seventh before Taiwan native C.C. Lee closed out the ninth with two punchouts.

Other Notables:

  • Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano saw his first spring action against Texas and it was a quiet but notable one, as the right-hander pitched a scoreless 1, 2, 3 fifth inning.
  • Despite picking up the win, non roster invitee reliever David Aardsma gave up a pair of two out runs in the sixth inning. The first came on a RBI triple by Rangers outfielder Michael Choice and then a RBI single by second baseman Jurickson Profar.
  • Seattle Seahawks quarterback and Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson was on hand at Surprise Ballpark Monday sporting a full Rangers uniform. The former Rule 5 Draft pick by Texas exchanged lineup cards with Indians bench coach Brad Mills prior to the ballgame.

Closing Time

Cleveland has now started the Cactus League with a 4-1 record for the second consecutive year.

They won’t say it, but the Indians would love for Francoeur to take the final bench spot on the roster. A former Gold Glove winner, the 30 year-old outfielder would give the team the potential for right-handed power threat have lacked for awhile, not to mention his cannon arm in right field.

However, there’s no guarantee "Frenchie" will make the club, especially with Morgan and Johnson coming to play ball with the big boys this spring and benefiting with fast starts. Grab your popcorn now, as this position battle could easily go well into the final week of March.

Up next for Indians: The Tribe returns to Goodyear Ballpark to take on division rival Chicago White Sox at 3:05 p.m. Zach McAllister will toe the rubber for the Wahoo’s against ChiSox right-hander Erik Johnson.

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at

User Comments

March 5, 2014 - 1:22 PM EST

Respectfully disagree. Brantley has definitely improved his defense (hell at one time he was so bad the Brewers were using him at 1B) but he's still not that good. Takes bad routes to balls and he never seems to get great jumps. Defense also looks better in LF as there's less ground to cover.

Can he be an adequate defensive CFer? I think so yes, but he's at best average there and disagree that the only thing above average is gold glove caliber. Morgan has surely lost a step and defense isn't what it once was...but he'd have had to lost a LOT to be worse than Brantley in CF. I'm not saying this to bash Brantley (please don't take it that way), just think you're selling Morgan short defensively.

I agree completely that Morgan isn't an 11 HR guy here in the states. I disagree that you need power to DH though.

Want to clarify too that I'm not saying I want Morgan on the team or think there's a good chance. What I was getting at is I think Morgan is a better than LaHair and if it came down to one of them for the last bench spot I'd rather have Morgan. It most likely will not come down to that (if Chiz is on the team see no way either makes it) so this may all be a moot point.

I agree Franceour is a good fit, better than Morgan....IF he is hitting. If he hits like he has the last couple years he isn't worth a spot. Would love to see him get back to at least hitting lefties well and being able to platoon with Murphy in RF allowing Raburn to platoon with Chiz (assuming Santana plays 3B against lefties).

May only need half a year from Franceour too....would love to see Aguliar force his way onto the club even if just in a platoon situation by summer.
Joe Chengery
March 4, 2014 - 9:40 PM EST

Personally, I think Brantley has been stuck with this stigma that he's a poor CFer ever since the question came up about his defense a number of years back. Is Brantley a Gold Glover out there? No. But is he a poor defensive CFer? No either. The metrics seemed to suggest that he was average to a little above-average in CF, certainly not poor. Quite honestly, he probably would play the position at or above what Bourn showed last year, as I haven't seen anyone say that Bourn played CF at a Gold Glove level last year- most probably wouldn't even say he was above-average.

As for Morgan, he was good defensively at one time, but combine his out-of-prime age (33) and hints that he doesn't have the same speed as he once did, and I question whether he's Gold-Glove caliber now, which is really the only level that is above Brantley.

If you want to say that Choo is poor in CF, that would be accurate- Choo really looks lost out there- that's poor or below-average - passable at best. Brantley is much better than that, as he doesn't look lost out there. He's at least average to a little above-average in CF, being well above-average to excellent in LF. Most OFers don't go from very good to excellent to poor shifting from one spot to another in the OF - the dropoff isn't that steep; keep in mind that most metrics never considered Choo to be that good of a RFer- there was no question about his arm, but route-running and positioning were always weak for Choo. Brantley had a little trouble in CF when it came to route running at first, but that really wasn't an issue over time, even though I think some never got past that "label," hence the below-average OF label, which I think is inaccurate. There is a considerable difference between Brantley in CF and Choo in CF; Choo is below-average out there, Brantley is not. He's not Gold-Glove caliber in CF, but he's not poor either.

As for Morgan as a DH, he's not the offensive threat you'd want out of a DH- while he did hit 11 HRs last year, to my knowledge, most Japanese pitchers rely on breaking pitches and less on velocity, so it's quite a different game over here. It's unlikely Morgan would hit half that many HRs in a full season here, as he's only hit 4 for a season high in his career here. Combine that with the fact he's a LHH like all three starters, and I agree with Tony that Raburn and Francoeur are better fits because both are RHH and provide better overall balance for the team offensively than Morgan does.
March 4, 2014 - 2:55 PM EST
This just in. Troll alert!
March 4, 2014 - 10:06 AM EST
This just in. Hermie is completely and utterly full of shit.

There are enigmas, and then there are idiots. Hermie is both. Limit his posts or ban him altogether.
March 4, 2014 - 10:02 AM EST
Oh I agree Walter the Padres likely wait and see how the spring goes. They very likely may not even add an outfielder as they still have plenty of options even with Maybin hurt: Venerable, Quention, Smith, Denorfia, Amarista, etc.
March 4, 2014 - 9:57 AM EST
@ Hermie

If I were the Padres I would wait to see if Morgan continues to have a strong spring training showing. See if he makes the 25 man roster. If not I expect Morgan turning down to be reassigned and become FA. It would be cheaper to rent out Morgan for the year than trade for the expensive Bourn.
March 4, 2014 - 9:38 AM EST
Brantley has been a below average defensive OFer in his unless Morgan just absolutely has lost it he's better. Morgan was one of the better defensive CFers in baseball before going to Japan. It's not so much talking up Morgan here, just Brantley isn't that great in CF (not terrible though).

Also, Morgan didn't play for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year; he played for the Yokohama Baystars :P
March 4, 2014 - 9:22 AM EST

Maybe you spent more time scouting the Rakuten Golden Eagles than the rest of us last year, but while you can definitely say that Morgan has been a better defensive CF in his career than Brantley, I'm not sure you can be so confident he will be this year. For one thing, Brantley is 6 years younger.
March 4, 2014 - 9:13 AM EST

I was actually thinking something similar with the Padres. They seem to be in a win-mode and think they can make some noise this year (why else would you hang on to Headley?)....I'd suggest dealing Bourn first though before Morgan and I'd suggest dealing him for Carlos Quentin. Bourn can man CF, Venerable in RF, and Smith/Denorfia in RF.

Not happening as the Padres can use the power though think the deal would make some sense for both clubs. Gives them a solid CFer to man that large OF, gets Quentin to a smaller park and in a league with a DH (he can't stay healthy and probably should DH more at this point). Tribe can move Brantley to CF and could use a middle of the order bat more than a leadoff guy (IMO at least).

As said though, don't see the deal happening. Padres can just use Venerable in CF like they did some last year and go with Smith/Denorfia in RF and Quentin in LF. Chance Maybin was going to be on the bench this year anyways.
March 4, 2014 - 9:07 AM EST

You can definitely say Morgan is better than Brantley defensively in CF...
March 4, 2014 - 8:57 AM EST
Padres CF Maybin out 2 - 3 months with injury. Possible for Morgan to end up going to the Padres since they will need CF.
March 4, 2014 - 8:54 AM EST
Morgan plays all 3 OF spots though and can easily DH if needed (or play the OF and let one of the other guys DH). He fits just as well as a guy like LaHair would IMO. Only fits if Chisenhall is in AAA and Santana is the everyday 3B though. Still a long-shot but wouldn't mind his speed, defense, and OBP skills vs righties on the team. That is assuming his attitude isn't an issue...

If Chiz is in in AAA could go with this bench (with one starting at DH):

Aviles, Raburn, Giambi, Francouer, Morgan

Agree Johnson is probably more likely (another infielder with Santana at 3B is likely) but a lefty like Morgan could be a better fit to DH against RHP. Know a lot like LaHair here but personally not a big fan of his (if that was apparent yet).
Joe Chengery
March 3, 2014 - 11:40 PM EST
Whoops! I forgot about Raburn. I guess it would be a five-man bench (lost count of the roster) but he too is a lock, so again, Morgan would seem the least likely to fit, especially at this point.
Joe Chengery
March 3, 2014 - 11:38 PM EST
Unless you go with a five-man bench, it's virtually a certainty that Gomes and Santana WILL split the catching duties in 2014 if both Francoeur and Johnson make the club. Unless Giambi totally tanks, he's virtually a lock to make the club, and unless he's injured or traded (probably unlikely), Aviles is also a lock to make the club.

Thus, your likely bench right now, and what the Indians may be hoping for is,


There's no room for another catcher, so Santana WOULD BE Gomes' backup. Therefore, it would seem Santana will be splitting time between 3B and C, unless something drastic happens in the next few weeks.

I do agree that Francoeur and Johnson fit this team's roster better than Morgan does. It's questionable whether Morgan still has impactful speed, and the Indians still have some speed even with Stubbs' departure (plus Johnson has some speed; even Francoeur can steal a base here and there). Defensively Morgan might have some value, but can't say he's better than Bourn or Brantley in CF, especially since he is the oldest of the three, and don't know if a possible dropoff in speed could affect his defensive abilities either.

March 3, 2014 - 11:30 PM EST
I'm fairly certain the only reason they signed Morgan is for insurance if Michael Bourn gets hurt, that's the only sense I can make of it.
March 3, 2014 - 10:39 PM EST
I still don't see how Morgan fits on this team. He plays only in the outfield, and the Indians already have 4 outfielders and he is left-handed when their 3 starters are all left-handed. Francoeur just fits this team better. If Morgan were versatile like Johnson, he'd have a chance.....and I think Johnson is all but certain to make the team because of his ability to play almost anywhere on the diamond except catcher, he switch hits and is a late inning pinch running option.
March 3, 2014 - 10:32 PM EST
I believe that the Indians will end up keeping 1out 3 between Francouer/Morgan/Johnson. The others are playing for MLB job elsewhere. Injuries or trade could change that.

Glad to see Pestano pitch well today. If he returns to his old dominant form that would be huge. Good to see CC Lee rebound from bad outing. Bullpen could be a strength
again this year.

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