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Indians preview capsules: The non-roster invite hitters

Giambi, Francoeur intriguing NRI hitters for Cleveland

Indians preview capsules: The non-roster invite hitters
Jason Giambi (Photo:
March 2, 2014
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As a part of IBI's beginning of season festivities, we have preview capsules on all 54 players currently in major league camp with at least some chance of helping the big league team. The next batch of these running today are the non-roster invite hitters.

There is just not much more to it; spring training is here and real baseball is just around the corner. Enjoy!

Jason Giambi, DHJason  Giambi (Photo: ESPN)

Even though each baseball player is a member of a team, the sport of baseball is largely an individual sport: one hitter goes up to the plate while his teammates watch. Because of this, team chemistry has less effect than a true team sport like basketball, limiting the effect the so-called "veteran presence" can have. But having team chemistry certainly does not hurt and this is where Jason Giambi excelled in 2013.

Giambi's stats in 2013 are fairly unsightly (.183/.282/.371 line, -0.5 fWAR), but he stuck around all season despite them and not having any value on defense because of how he fit into the team's chemistry. The flexibility of Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles off of the bench also contributed, but without being good in the clubhouse (and coming through in the clutch, as we all remember), Giambi never would have made it through the entire 2013 season.

At 43 years old, Giambi is clearly watching his major league career wind down. The end could come at any time, especially if Giambi's .202 BABIP was more the byproduct of no longer making consistent hard contact as opposed to a random blip. Giambi's xBABIP -- a measure of expected BABIP -- was .257, higher than the actual results but still quite low. It would not be shocking to see a 42-year-old player just not be able to hit well anymore, so Giambi's 2013 BABIP decline could easily be more than a blip.

But for now Giambi still has some pop in his bat, posting an ISO of .188 in 2013 (the league average was .143). He may not be able to do it as much as in his prime, but Giambi is still capable of turning on a pitch and punishing it. Six of Giambi's nine home runs in 2013 came during high leverage situations -- something that makes his struggles overall easy to forget about. If Giambi makes the team again in 2014 he will fill a similar role, that of the pinch hitter who occasionally starts at designated hitter and serves as a wonderful clubhouse presence and player-coach.

Jeff Francoeur, OFJeff  Francoeur (Photo: ESPN)

Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference rank Jeff Francoeur as the worst position player in baseball over the past two years, grading out around three wins below replacement. Of course, Francoeur was pretty good in 2011 (20 home runs, 22 steals, 2.5 fWAR) and is only 30 years old; there is at least some hope for the outfielder.

The big issue for Francoeur in the past two seasons -- other than his offense falling apart -- is that while his arm is still a cannon, his defensive range has diminished. Instead of struggling at the plate or struggling in the field, Francoeur had the misfortune of having both happen. Players can survive one or the other, but clearly everything has gone wrong for Francoeur recently.

There is a decent chance that the ghost of what Francoeur used to be could get him a look off of the bench in 2014, especially considering Ryan Raburn is the only other right-handed hitting outfielder Cleveland has on the big league roster. Francoeur might have been the worst position player in baseball over the past two years, but that is the beauty of minor league signings. It costs Cleveland next to nothing to see if he can regain any part of what made Francoeur one of the hottest names in baseball not all that long ago.

Nyjer Morgan, OFNyjer  Morgan (Photo: ESPN)

After spending a year in Japan, Nyjer Morgan is back in the United States to make another run at the major leagues. The man also known as Tony Plush's last stint in the majors was pretty rough (.239/.302/.308 line, 0.2 fWAR in 2012), though Cleveland will hope he regains his 2011 form (.304/.357/.421 line, 3.6 fWAR).

Morgan's best years have come during BABIP spikes -- which is not unusual -- but when his BABIP is a more average figure, he has years like 2012. Given that Morgan is a very good defender in center field he does not need to hit all that much to add something to a team. The issue is that he really was that bad in 2012 to the point that his plus defense could not make up for it.  

Cleveland is already filled with left-handed hitting outfielders and Morgan could be redundant given that Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley can both handle center field. Morgan is best served hitting in a platoon role (.560 career OPS against left-handers, .738 career OPS against right-handers) and his lefty mashing-great defense combination can work for some team. He faces an uphill battle to fit on the roster, but Morgan could help Cleveland off of the bench in 2014.

Luke Carlin, CLuke  Carlin (Photo: ESPN)

Luke Carlin served as Cleveland's Triple-A emergency catcher from 2010 to 2012, appearing in 10 major league games. He spent 2013 with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, posting a .230/.339/.311 line while never getting a big league call. Carlin is what he is at this point: a light-hitting veteran catcher who is great to have filling out a Triple-A roster. He is not really a candidate for the backup catcher spot should Carlos Santana move off the position for good -- that bat just is not good enough -- but the 33-year-old should help out in Columbus by serving as a player-coach in the Jason Giambi mold.

Matt Carson, OFMatt  Carson (Photo: ESPN)

After posting a .252/.322/.394 line in 121 Triple-A games, who could have seen Matt Carson exploding onto the Cleveland scene in September? Carson posted a BABIP-inflated .636/.692/.909 line in 13 plate appearances, showing the world once again that anything can happen in small sample sizes. The outfielder certainly helped play a role in getting Cleveland into the playoffs with his red-hot performance, but at 32 years old, Carson is not about to take some big step forward. September 2013 will always be a huge moment for Carson, but in all likelihood, 2014 will be another year spent as a depth option in Triple-A.

Elliot Johnson, INF

Elliot  Johnson (Photo: ESPN)

If Elliot Johnson could do anything at the plate, he would not have been signing a minor league contract this offseason. With the ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base at a quality level (and also dabble in the outfield), Johnson's versatility makes him a great option to have on the bench. That is, Johnson would be a great option to have on the bench if he had ever hit in his career (.218/.273/.319 line, 65 wRC+ in 806 plate appearances). Given his batting profile, the 30-year-old has likely been unlucky with his BABIP (only a .288 mark in his career), but BABIP luck will only fix that line so much.

Bryan LaHair, 1B/OFBryan  LaHair (Photo: ESPN)

Bryan LaHair earned an All-Star bid in 2012 based on his breakout .286/.364/.519 line in 261 pre-All-Star Break plate appearances. LaHair then earned a trip to Japan in 2013 based on his .202/.269/.303 collapse in 119 post-All-Star Break plate appearances. As a minor league signing, LaHair's ability to hit right-handed pitching makes him intriguing (.289/.356/.479 line in 503 plate appearances), though everyone knows he cannot handle left-handers (.098/.221/.159 line in 96 plate appearances). LaHair does not add much defensively, but if he makes the team, he would be a decent backup at first base and would bring some left-handed pop off of the bench.

Matt Treanor, CMatt  Treanor (Photo: ESPN)

Matt Treanor may be more famous for his wife -- Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor -- but the longtime backup catcher has carved out a strong niche for himself throughout a nine-year career. Though Treanor has only appeared in 468 games in those nine years, just hanging around with a .221/.313/.305 career line does count for something. He would have hung around for his 10th season in 2013, but surgery on his left knee knocked him out for the year. Treanor is someone who helps out on defense, and while he is likely in camp just to help backup the catching position in spring training and Triple-A, there is no harm in having him hang around.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

March 3, 2014 - 8:29 PM EST
As I look at today's game with Texas, I see that Elliott Johnson went 3 for 3 and Jeff Francoeur was 2 for 3. I think that if these two continue to hit and drive in runs that Terry's job will be easy. Terry has always said that competition will show who is
going to help this season. What happens if Elliott beats out Mike for utility infielder? Remember Mike struggled last year getting runner home that were in scoring position. I feel that you cannot count previous performance but it is about today. I love Giambi and hope that batting average gets better, now .000. It would be great to have Gambi as a coach since he
is so clubhouse. No position should be guaranteed without performance. I really like Jesse making the team as DH and IB but have to see the competition works out with LaHair. I don't see Morgan making the team not with our young players showing what they can do. Go Tribe!!!
March 3, 2014 - 11:56 AM EST
Also....I know Carson has really no shot and last September was probably a major fluke...but put me in his corner for making this club. Definitely rooting for him!
March 3, 2014 - 11:55 AM EST
Francouer is a guy I really don't like...but do think he could potentially bring some value. Pretty bad the last two years in KC but does have a history of being good when joining a new club.

Started out his career doing well in Atlanta...struggled, then sent to the Mets...where in his first half season stint (2009) hit .311/.338/.498/.836 with 10 HRs in 309 PAs.

Struggled though the next year with the Mets...then ended up in Texas where he hit .340/.357/.491/.848 albeit in just 56 PAs.

Then in 2011 started out in KC and hit .285/.329/.476/.805 with 20 HRs...then proceeded to stink the next two....before ending up in SF where....well, didn't work out there either.

Obviously this is aboslutely meaningless...but 4 out of the 5 times he started out with a club he's put up some of his best hey there's that! lol

In seriousness though, maybe we have ourselves Austin Kearns 2.0? (the 2010 version not 2011 version) Could be a nice bridge to Auguilar this summer and nice platoon with Chiz (if he makes the club)?
March 3, 2014 - 11:46 AM EST
"That said, I don't see how carrying a DH-only in Giambi and a 3-man bench lacks versatility since that is the setup that had for a great majority of last season."

I don't think we did though as shown in that other thread, but won't argue this anymore.

Agree that the Chiz/Santana 3B question looms large as it determines how the bench is made up.
March 3, 2014 - 11:44 AM EST
Alos, I think Nyjer Morgan has a better shot at making this club than some are saying.

LaHair is getting a lot of love for his ability to hit righties, and sure he does have some nice career numbers against them (though most of that was from the first half of 2012)....but Morgan has been solid against righties in his own right. Doesn't have the power of LaHair but a solid .297 BA and .352 OBP against them. Has speed too, something we may not have much of on the bench (Aviles is ok I guess).

I feel like Morgan is getting punished because he plays the OF....yet LaHair is being called a fit cause he can play 1B/DH. Morgan could DH against righties. Don't have to have power to DH. Giambi could still be that power lefty (maybe) and can DH against righties as well. Other option would be to play Morgan in RF and DH Murphy. Also could DH Bourn at times or Brantley, allowing Morgan to fill in as needed against righties. Good defensive OFer.

Plus unlike LaHair....Morgan was at least good in Japan when he went over: .294 BA, .434 OBP, .795 OPS.

LaHair does bring power and has hit righties well.

Morgan has speed, defense, and hits righties well.

Still say if Giambi is on the bench that LaHair is kind of redundant (1B/DH only type with power platoon lefty).

ha, course if Chiz makes the team as the starting 3B it's a moot point probably but still.
March 3, 2014 - 11:30 AM EST
Hermie, I agree that I prefer going with 13 position players. I think we could see the 9 regulars as:

LF: Brantley
CF: Bourn
RF: Murphy/Raburn
3B: Santana
SS: Cabrera
2B: Kipnis
1B: Swisher
C: Gomes

The last 4 spots on the bench/DH come down to whether Chisenhall is on the team as the starting 3B or they actually do keep him around as a backup 3B and DH option. Obviously Aviles is in there, but assuming Santana is the 3B and Chisenhall goes to Columbus, the other three guys would appear to be a right-handed bat (Francoeur), a versatile infielder/outfielder with speed (Johnson) and a left-handed bat (Giambi). If LaHair is healthy perhaps he could fit in there somehow.

That said, I don't see how carrying a DH-only in Giambi and a 3-man bench lacks versatility since that is the setup that had for a great majority of last season.
March 3, 2014 - 11:05 AM EST
Giambi's numbers the last 3 or so years have been pretty odd IMO.

2011 at the age of 40 he puts up an insane .344 ISO. Sure it was Colorado and sure small sample, but that's some power. then in 2012 he hits just 1 HR, ISO drops below .100....looks like the power is gone. No shame as at 41 that was bound to happen. Yet last year he comes to Cleveland (from Colorado again) and puts up a .188 ISO (2nd best mark since 2008 in NY) at the age of 42.

2011 would seem like the down year but an insane 17.7% walk rate got his OBP over .370.

Honestly no clue what to expect from him this year...could put up a .350+ OBP and hit no HRs...could have a sub .300 OBP with 9-10 HRs again....could hit no HRs and have a sub .300 OBP.

I think he's on this team barring an injury this spring. Not sure what he can/can't show in spring to really hurt his value. Maybe his bat will just look so slow that Francona and company can't justify him but think we'll see him til at least Memorial Day.

Personally only like him on the club if there is a 4 man bench (so 13 position players total, 12 pitchers). Carrying a DH only and a 3-man bench just leaves too little flexibility.
March 3, 2014 - 10:42 AM EST
Hell, I wouldn't mind seeing JRam start out in AA again (once healthy). Was decent for his age in that league but not like he set the world on fire down there. No way should he be starting in Cleveland yet. Only way he should be on the bench is if the Indians really don't like him as a prospect or think he'll amount to much (and don't think that's the case).
March 2, 2014 - 10:18 PM EST
Should be noted that JRam is probably going to miss the start of the season. He was never in consideration to open the season with the Indians....but this pretty much just nailed it home. Remember, the Indians prefer their young prospects play everyday than fill a 24th or 25th spot on the roster.....hence why they would rather an Elliot Johnson make the team than they can play him everyday in Columbus (whenever he is cleared to play). Ramirez is more a guy you call up if Cabrera or Aviles goes down so he fills the first utility role.

Also, with all due respect, I am just not big on Ramirez as an everyday shortstop. I believe he can handle the spot, but it is starting to get out of control with these defensive expectations of him as a shortstop. The guy has played 53 games in his career at shortstop....50 of those last year at Akron. No doubt he can handle it, but he is a clear step down defensively from the elite shortstops. Definitely an above average defender at many infield positions.....though only really elite at second base. Just want to make sure we are not going overboard on him because I think it is a little farfetched to believe he is Major League ready to handle shortstop over Cabrera right now.
March 2, 2014 - 9:07 PM EST
Glad were on the same page Chip.

Don't get me wrong I am a huge Jram fan. The kid can hit, run and play defense. He could be the future 3B in my mind. Or play some 3B, 2B, SS and maybe even the outfield.
March 2, 2014 - 8:50 PM EST
Jwahoo, I agree with you also, and should have stated that in my previous post. At this point he shouldn't be relegated to bench duties. He needs to play everyday.
March 2, 2014 - 8:10 PM EST
Guys...... JRam is a baby.

He needs to be playing everyday in AAA. He should only come up later in the season or if he is going to get legit playing time.
March 2, 2014 - 7:05 PM EST
I'm with you Mike. I'll take it farther by saying I think this team would be better if Ramirez was the everyday SS. More defense, speed, and OBP in my opinion.
March 2, 2014 - 2:21 PM EST
I'd much rather see Ramirez make the team over any of the players mentioned.
March 2, 2014 - 1:36 PM EST
I am a little surprised that giambi wants to play another year. Last year would have been a great way to go out. If he can still swing a bat, there's no way IMO that Francona cuts him. Francoeur has a chance to make the team, all the others are very much long-shots.
March 2, 2014 - 11:13 AM EST
I like Morgan....but don't see a fit since he is left-handed and all three starting outfielders are left-handed. I think he goes to Columbus if he accepts, and if not he becomes a FA and signs with another team if they like him enough this spring to put him on their ML roster.

Walter, I fixed the roster on the depth chart....took off LaHair for now as I think Giambi makes the team over him.
March 2, 2014 - 10:52 AM EST

I just checked your depth chart for the Cleveland roster. It shows 13 position players and 13 pitchers for total of 26. I thought MLB rosters are set at 25.

If Nyjer Morgan was a right handed hitter, and way he has gotten of to hot start he would probably make the team. I wonder if he would go to Columbus or opt out of his contract. Remember last year Bourn did get hurt twice during the year. A good back for CF in Morgan.
Jim Piascik
March 2, 2014 - 10:42 AM EST
And me, loving Nyjer Morgan, gets nothing. :)
March 2, 2014 - 10:31 AM EST
Giambi, Francoeur, Johnson and LaHair look to me like the only true NRI position players in the mix for an opening day spot. If they only bring 12 pitchers east, then I can see Johnson definitely making this team. I still believe Francoeur might make this team if Santana is the 3B as it gives them a DH/RF option to platoon with Raburn when a lefty is on the mound. And I think one of Giambi/LaHair make the team as a lefty bat off the bench who plays some DH against righties.

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