A muddled outfield situation could play in favor of Austin Jackson when the calendar turns to April.
Depending on Michael Brantley's rehabilitation and hitting progression, there may be an opening in the outfield alongside Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and/or Abraham Almonte if manager Terry Francona feels the need to include five outfielders on his roster like he did in 2016.
Other variables like player performance and injuries come into play, but Jackson has earned an opportunity to showcase his skills with about a month of Cactus League action remaining.
- Jackson has finally reached the culmination of his recovery process after being sidelined from a medial meniscus tear in his left knee this past June. According to Francona, the veteran outfielder is "eligible" to start playing on Wednesday.
"We're looking forward to it," said Francona in regards to Jackson's 2017 debut after a long road back to the playing field. "I think he's worked so hard and the timetable is probably a little better than maybe what was thought at the beginning, which is good cause then we'll get a longer look. Let him get his feet under him too."
Since 2010, Jackson has played for the Detroit Tigers (2010-14), Seattle Mariners (2014-15), Chicago Cubs (2015) and Chicago White Sox (2016). In that span, he has been on the disabled list four different times with an abdominal strain (May, 2012), pulled right hamstring (May, 2013), right ankle sprain (May, 2015) and the aforementioned meniscus tear (June, 2016).
"It's been awhile since he's played," Francona said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it's a hard evaluation because he hasn't played at spring training. He's coming off an injury. There's a lot of things to think about."
- On the other hand, Brantley is also making significant strides in his comeback by taking on-field batting practice two days in a row without any pain or soreness afterwards.
"He's handling everything remarkably well," said Francona. "He's in great shape. He's works so damn hard - I mean he's cut he's worked so hard. Just kind of got to let it play itself out and not try to rush it and just give him the best chance to - like I say, when he gets back, to stay back. That's probably the biggest thing."
The next step is for Brantley to appear in simulated games at a date to be determined.
"The very first thing will be sim games," Francona said. "When the medical people feel like he's ready, we'll find a sim game for him, believe me."
- With two doubles and seven walks in his 14 plate appearances this spring, Yandy Diaz has made an early impression on Francona and the Tribe coaching staff.
"I don't know what his batting average is, but he's taken probably more good swings per at bat maybe than anybody in camp," Francona said. "You can see that he has a chance to be a really good hitter."
His bat might be MLB ready, but Diaz is still working his way into a defensive position that suits him best.
"Third, left, right," said Francona of where Diaz is a candidate to play in the field. "We've talked to him about this. It's not 'cause we're mad at him, it's 'cause we value his bat so much. We want him to work so hard defensively so he can be a factor for us."