Cleveland Indians Report Card: Grading the first half of the season
We’re all acutely aware that the outfield has been a point of serious contention among fans and critics alike since allowing Michael Brantley to walk after the 2017 season. A rotating cast of prospects like Oscar Mercado (2019 excluded) and Bradley Zimmer blended with veterans the team took a flier on like Carlos Gonzalez and Domingo Santana have been less than ideal. Though based on the first 81 games of 2021, this write as one question; why the hell did the Miami Marlins let go of Harold Ramirez?
Cleveland claimed the other Ramirez off waivers in February, making his Indians debut May 3rd and has been an every day player for Terry Francona since, slashing .280/.326/.470 in 52 games. He has been a breath of fresh air for the team, both offensively and defensively, capable of playing any outfield position as needed and hitting both right and left-handed pitching very well (.274 and .284 batting averages respectively.) Ramirez is just 26, under team control until 2026, and seems like he’s carving out a home here with the Indians. You should expect more of the same the next 81 games and beyond.
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Speaking of outfielders that were surprisingly let go, this year’s veteran acquisition on a one-year deal is division foe-turned-friend Eddie Rosario, who victimized Cleveland for six seasons with Minnesota. Rosario has lacked some of the pop in his bat that Cleveland hoped would come with him, slashing .255/.297/.390 through 77 games with just seven home runs, but 46 RBIs. Rosario is a career .288 hitter at Progressive Field, which makes his .209 batting average at home this season, and just two of those seven home runs all the more bizarre compared to hitting .301 on the road.
Although primarily filling Cleveland’s DH spot in the lineup Franmil Reyes falls under the outfielder jurisdiction, playing right field in inter-league contests or worst-case scenarios. Reyes contributes next to nothing defensively, so let’s talk about his .261/.317/.562 slash line in 42 first half games for Cleveland, smacking 12 home runs and driving in 29. Reyes missed much of the first half with an oblique strain, but his pre-injury production should provide a huge boost to the lineup going forward.
The rest of the outfield, with the exception of Josh Naylor who was really turning a corner before a collision with Ernie Clement ended his season, has been abysmal to say the least. Ben Gamel lasted just 11 games, Oscar Mercado hasn’t had enough time to prove he can regain his 2019 form, Jordan Luplow still can’t hit a right-handed pitcher when healthy, and Bradley Zimmer has been exceptionally inept so far. Meanwhile, right down I-71, Tyler Naquin is experiencing a full on career revival with Cincinnati, further complicating public opinion of the front office.
With Naylor out for the rest of 2021, the Tribe have just two legitimate every day outfielders in Harold Ramirez and Eddie Rosario, saying that Rosario will be back from the injured list soon. Just like the infield, a curve is necessary to properly assess the outfield, but in this case the rotating cast outfielders Cleveland has deployed as needed unfortunately brings down the rest of the class, resulting in a C-.