It is often difficult to see how a manager massages egos and keeps a clubhouse humming. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona is often lauded as one of the masters of this art, but rarely are his methods as blatantly obvious as they were in the Thursday day game win to complete the sweep against the Los Angeles Angels, 4-1.
After winning the first two of the three-game set, Francona put together a getaway day lineup, which included sitting Yandy Diaz, Jose Ramirez, Austin Jackson, and Jason Kipnis for Erik Gonzalez, Giovanny Urshela, Greg Allen, and Abraham Almonte. Allen hit in the No. 2 spot, which is probably all that needed to be said.
The perfect day to run a bullpen game. Even though Danny Salazar was the stated starter, pulling him after 2.2 innings pitched and 54 pitches despite only giving up one run demonstrates Francona wanted him to get long relief work. He did so while also allowing Salazar to show up on the starter line of the scorecard. Well played.
All fans of the Indians know the Tribe is led by 23 year old superstar Francisco Lindor and 24 year old AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. However, many of the young faces expected to only be September call ups and other young position players are doing their best to force their names onto the postseason roster with some nice play.
24 year old Greg Allen
Allen is not at the MLB for his bat quite yet. He is still developing there, so it is not a long-term worry, but his .200/.273/.333 in 33 plate appearances are what you would expect when watching him at the plate. There is still plenty of value in Allen on the team though- whether or not he makes it onto the postseason roster. His speed is a weapon. On the basepaths and in center field, Allen has a tool that is needed with Bradley Zimmer on the DL. He also is an advanced fielder who has combined good routes with his speed to make a four-star and five-star catch in the series against the Angels. The craziest part is he made his four-star catch look easy.
25 year old Giovanny Urshela
Someone forgot to tell Urshela he is a defense-only player without much regard for his abilities with a bat in his hands. Through Wednesday, Urshela is hitting .313/.353/.438 in September (34 plate appearances). He has achieved this by having 19-for-29 batted ball events above 90 miles per hour this month with only four of those being ground balls. The lack of plate discipline (only two walks) is still an issue, and it will be difficult for him to sustain his success against better pitchers. Still, any added utility with his bat will be welcome because his defense is amazing.
25 year old Erik Gonzalez
Gonzalez has been a bit lost in the shuffle of the Tribe’s September youth movement. He has been on the team all summer, yet since his role has not expanded, gets ignored. His .316/.333/.632 batting line in September in just 21 plate appearances looks pretty on the surface though he- like Allen and Urshela- is not patient enough at the plate (only three walks in 110 plate appearances on the year). His defense is good- especially at second base- but not to the awe-inspiring level of Urshela or Allen. His bat is OK, which is better than those two, but not good enough to be a regular. He is just an all-around developing player who has good utility. Whether the front office values his overall portfolio more than the elite-or-bust profiles of Allen and Urshela for the postseason roster is intriguing.
26 year old Yandy Diaz
Unlike the others above, Diaz has a postseason roster spot all but assured. His bat has the potential to be special with 51% of his batted balls traveling at an exit velocity of over 95 miles per hour- that is fourth best in all of MLB. His barrels per batted ball event still lag though because he has struggled to elevate on contact. Since returning to the team in late August though, Diaz has been able to increase his launch angle on more pitches- especially when taking the pitch the opposite way. The result has been a .316/.432/.405. That line does not have nearly the power one would hope with a player such as Diaz, but it does show an incredible amount of patience (15 walks in just 95 plate appearances!) and continued maturation at the plate. Paired with an average defense at third base means that he still has the chance to develop into the next Indians-developed star. For the 2017 postseason, Diaz offers great utility especially when facing left-hand dominant pitching staffs like the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.