The Cleveland Indians outfield looked like quite the question mark entering this season, but things may be turning around for the Tribe.
Let’s be honest, this is mostly because of Michael Brantley. His speedy rehab and return to game action which included a two-run home run and an outfield assist to throw out a Chicago Cubs’ baserunner at the plate is everything. We anticipated Abraham Almonte playing a big part, but he’s suspended. Lonnie Chisenhall finished strong last season, but this spring hasn’t been kind to him (1-for-21, .048). And newly signed Rajai Davis is just 5-for-29 for a .172 average.
And then there’s Tyler Naquin. It seemed like his name was always glossed over, or that he would need to do something special to earn a fourth outfielder spot. His spring has been that and more as he’s hitting .438 (14-for-32) and trails only the rejuvenated Mike Napoli (.467) this spring for players with regular playing time.
Even non-roster invitee Shane Robinson is having a better camp than Davis or Chisenhall. When looking at the opponents quality of pitching, Chisenhall has faced the most difficult in his defense with an 8.5 (10-MLB, 8-AAA, 7-AA). Naquin has seen mostly guys who spent last season at Double-A, but the results are still there. And Robinson has faced pitchers with a rating 0f 8.1, so he’s getting it done against guys in the majors or close to it.
The addition of Marlon Byrd would allow a better platoon in right field than we had just a few weeks ago. And you don’t lose anything defensively with Byrd. He plays a solid corner outfield, and in a pinch could fill in out in center field. He’s no longer an everyday player, but he hits lefties well.
Coming into the spring I think the assumption was no Brantley for a month and the Indians would patchwork it till then. Most tried to talk up Almonte and Chisenhall, who each finished 2015 strong but neither had a track record of doing it over the course of an entire season. We can’t read too much into spring training numbers, but they are enough to open some eyes as to what the Tribe should do.
Brantley is likely to be ready for the season opener. If not, I think I’d be stunned. And Naquin is ready for his chance. With Robinson being a NRI that would require a roster move to make room. I’m not opposed to seeing Davis sent on his way. I didn’t think he was a great signing anyhow, so not heartbroken if they release him.
Regardless, the Indians’ outfield situation looks to be more on the partly sunny side of the forecast then mostly cloudy. Brantley just adds that little bit of sunshine that we needed. Let’s go ahead and bring that from Goodyear to Cleveland.