CLEVELAND, Ohio — Every spring the Indians invite about 20 non-roster players to spring training. The majority of those players usually come from outside the organization, baseball roustabouts looking for one more chance before disappearing over the horizon.
The practice has yielded useful regular-season players over the last several years such as Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill, Jeff Manship, Scott Atchison, Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Jerry Sands.
It appears the Indians are doing something different this spring. With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Goodyear, Ariz. on Feb. 11, the Indians have announced the signing of just one player from outside the organization to a minor-league deal. That would be catcher Beau Taylor. Infielder Mike Freeman, who spent a good chunk of last season with the Tribe after going to spring training on a minor league deal, has also been invited to camp on a minor-league deal after being taken off the 40-man roster.
Later this week the Indians will release a list of spring-training invitees and most of them are expected to come from within the organization. Part of it is a cost-cutting move, the other part is to give the Indians prospects a chance to show what they can do. The Indians’ farm system has received high grades from several websites devoted to the topic.
The Indians projected 25-man payroll for 2020 is hovering around $90 million. That represents an estimated $44 million dip from Tribe’s franchise-record $135 million payroll in 2017.
Look for players such as outfielder Ka’ai Tom and right-hander Cam Hill to be invited to camp. Tom hit .285 (83-for-291) with 14 homers and 42 RBI at Class AA Akron. He then hit .298 (56-for-188) with nine homers and 44 RBI at Class AAA Columbus. Tom, in the postseason for Columbus, hit .433 (13-for-30) with three homers and six RBI.
Hill (4-2. 4.74) struck out 36 and walked 12 in 24 2/3 innings at Columbus. He underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in July of 2018.
Other players who could be invited to camp include right-hander Nick Sandlin and left-hander Kyle Nelson. Sandlin struck out 38 in 26 1/3 innings at Class AA Akron and Columbus last year. Nelson (4-4, 2.28, seven saves) struck out 69 in 47 1/3 innings at Class A Lynchburg, Akron and Columbus last year.
Eli Morgan is a possibility as well. The right-hander pitched at Lynchburg, Akron and Columbus. He went 6-4 with a 3.79 ERA in 19 games, including 18 starts, at Akron. He struck out 104 in 102 innings.
All players on the 40-man roster will report to big-league camp. Most teams need 60 to 70 players to get through six weeks of camp and over 30 exhibition games.
Last year 11 of the Tribe’s 20 spring training invitees came from outside the organization.