Barfield back in big leagues
Utility man claims Tribe's 25th spot; Gimenez, Crowe optioned
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's certainly not the kind of role he envisioned for himself a year or even a few months ago, but Josh Barfield has worked his way back into the big leagues.
The Indians, as expected, will carry Barfield as the 25th man on their roster this season. Outfielder Trevor Crowe, Barfield's primary competition for the job, was optioned down to Triple-A Columbus on Saturday, along with catcher Chris Gimenez. Veteran Tony Graffanino, who was also competing for the job, will remain on the big league roster in case of injury, but is expected to accept an assignment to Columbus.Barfield will be used primarily as a late-inning pinch-runner, though he'll also be available to start at second base and, perhaps, in the outfield and third base. Those latter two areas were new territories for Barfield this spring, and he showed enough versatility to latch on. "I like his versatility, speed and how good he is on the bases," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Barfield. "I trust him late in the ballgame to do those things." Barfield's bat, which was unproductive enough for him to lose his starting job at second base to Asdrubal Cabrera in August 2007, is still a work in progress. That's evidenced by his .184 (9-for-49) average and .216 on-base percentage in 19 spring games, entering Saturday. "I still feel the bat's coming," Wedge said. "The work he's done has yet to translate into the games, but I think it will." Between his extra work in the cages and his acclimation to third base and the three outfield spots, Barfield, who obviously still has his sights set on reclaiming an everyday job at some point, has put in some long days here in camp. "It will be nice to get into a regular-season routine," Barfield said. "Sleep in, get your meal in, then come to the park with a regular routine." What won't be so regular for the Indians once again this season is the lineup. Barfield is now officially in a complicated mix of backup situations and scenarios. David Dellucci, who was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup because of left calf tightness, is expected to be on hand as the fourth outfielder, backing up Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo in the corner spots. But infielders Mark DeRosa, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Garko and Barfield could all see some time in the outfield. The Indians will also work off Travis Hafner, who is not expected to play seven days a week out of the gate. Wedge said Pronk, working his way back from right shoulder surgery, will probably only start five or six games a week in the season's first five or six weeks. So the designated-hitter spot will occasionally be available to the likes of Dellucci and Garko, among others. "That's going to be part of the puzzle, too," Wedge said. And don't forget about those reserve options down at Columbus. Crowe will be in an everyday outfield mix with Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, and any of those three players can be considered options, should Francisco or Choo falter or Grady Sizemore suffer an injury. Wedge liked what he saw from Crowe this spring, as the 25-year-old former first-round Draft pick batted .289 (13-for-45) with a homer, a triple, a double and three RBIs and went 6-for-6 in stolen-base attempts. "He has every tool you like to see in a young player," Wedge said. "There's no downside to sending him down. This will give Trevor a little more experience. He will be up here at some point." Gimenez also impressed -- not just behind the plate, but also in the outfield corners and at first base. He could have a big league future because of that versatility. He was also strong on offense, batting .357 (10-for-28) with two homers, seven RBIs, a .679 slugging percentage and .486 on-base percentage in 20 Cactus League games. Should the Indians have a need for a third catcher this season, Gimenez, who will start behind the plate three or four days a week at Columbus, or Wyatt Toregas would get the call from Triple-A.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.