In case you forgot, the Indians outfield in 2020 was putrid.
As a collective unit, the outfield hit 194/270/310 with 11 HR. They were league average in defensive WAR, according to Fangraphs, but were dead last in offensive WAR and ended up with -.9 WAR as a unit.
You would think after your outfield could not hit water if they fell out of a boat, you would address the serious gaping need. Well, the Indians kind of addressed it. They signed Eddie Rosario to a one year deal to lock down left field.
Rosario, 29, hit 277/310/478 in your career and hit 32 home runs in 2019. He is so much better than anything this team has thrown in the outfield since Michael Brantley. To put in perspective how much better Rosario is than anything the Indians put in the outfield last season, Rosario hit 13 HR in 2020. The entire Indians outfield hit 11 HR last season.
One guy out slugged your whole freaking outfield.
So they already upgraded your outfield for 2021! Bully for them!
Now here comes the real issue, filling center field and right field.
Here is the list of non-Rosario outfielders in Spring Training for the Indians: Jordan Luplow, Josh Naylor, Oscar Mercado, Ben Gamel, Billy Hamilton, Daniel Johnson, Jake Bauers and Bradley Zimmer.
So, if my math is correct, they have eight outfielders for two positions on a team with playoff aspirations.
Now I know what you are going to say, Dude, they have been using duct tape, chewing gum and twine to hold the outfield together since 2012, and you are right for saying it. The problem is, this group of outfield lotto tickets has the lowest upside since buying Gamestop stock within the last week. It gets even uglier if I remove the most promising name.
Naylor has a promising future with this team. He needs to work on his plate discipline as a career 249/309/383 hitter, but he hits baseballs hard with an average exit velocity of 88.7 MPH and has a max exit velocity of 115.1 MPH in his two years in the majors. The only bummer with Naylor is that he hits those balls square into the ground with a Yandy Diaz-esque 5.5 degree launch angle (here is a quick tutorial on launch angle, less than 10 degrees is a grounder, 10-25 degree is a line drive, 25-50 is a fly ball and higher than 50 is a pop up.) Hitting worm burners can be fixed and has been fixed by multiple players, including Francisco Lindor who started his career crushing the ball into the dirt and then started getting the ball in the air more and more as his career has gone on.
The only bummer with Naylor is he will probably be playing first base this season due to his body type and the lack of better options. If anyone is going to argue Jake Bauers should be starting at first, they need to stand in the corner for 10 minutes and think about their actions.
If Naylor is going to play first base, it puts Cleveland at seven outfielders for two spots, so let’s break down those two spots.
The Indians usually choose defense over offense in center as a way to get away with poor defenders in left and right. It’s the little league philosophy of putting the fast kid in center to cover for the kid in left, who is yelling his post game McDonald’s order to his mom and the kid in right who is sitting on the ground picking dandelions.
If this idea holds true, centerfield will be patrolled by either Oscar Mercado or Billy Hamilton.
Mercado had a nice showing in his rookie year in 2019. He hit 269/318/443 with 15 HR in 482 plate appearances (PA). Then in 2020, he was banished to The Phantom Zone (aka minor league camp in Eastlake) last season after hitting 128/174/174 in 93 PA. This season us going to be all about figuring out which Mercado is the real Mercado and is that someone this team can rely on for more than above average defense.
Two rumors have spread around Cleveland for what feels like a decade, Bill Cowher is buying a house in Strongsville and the Indians are interested in Billy Hamilton. Hamilton is finally in Cleveland at the age of 30, and he still is one of the fastest players in baseball. He still can’t hit and he has not improved on his plate discipline over the years. He is still one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball and can cover tons of ground
The sleeper in this group is Daniel Johnson, who was acquired from the Nationals in the Yan Gomes trade. He is 25 and has hit well at every minor league level. In 2019 he hit 306/371/496 with 9 HR in 2019, He made his MLB debut last season for 5 games and had 13 PA hitting a single and drawing a walk. It is getting close to now or never for Johnson. Father Time is undefeated and with every month, the odds of Johnson making a positive impact on this ball club become less.
Here are the guarantees in life, death, taxes and the Indians using a platoon to cover right field. The Indians right field platoon may go back to Abner Doubleday.
Jordan Luplow will continue to pummel lefties to a clip of 275/379/603 with 18 HR over his career. The question is who will take the right side of that platoon?
Insert Ben Gamel.
Gamel has played for the Yankees, Mariners and Brewers before finding his way to Cleveland as a non-roster spring training invitee. He has hit 255/326/382 with 20 HR in his career against righties, but his peak in a platoon was 2017 when he hit 275/329/416 with 10 HR.
I can no longer be sold on Zimmer and Bauers. At this point, they are figments of my imagination.
If either of them contributes anything positive to this ball club in 2021, I will right an apology letter to the player of success.
So left field is in good shape, but the rest of this outfield is a giant question mark as spring training opens. This will have to be figured out because this team cannot exceed expectations if they are going to have automatic outs in center and right.