Cleveland Indians: Can Myles Straw be the next Kenny Lofton?
December 10, 1991: The Cleveland Indians send the Houston Astros pitcher Willie Blair and catcher Ed Taubensee for centerfielder Kenny Lofton. Over 20 games with Houston, including a September 14 debut, Lofton struggled to establish himself at the plate, slashing just .203/.253/.216 with just one double and two stolen bases. Then, he came to Cleveland.
Once with the Tribe, wearing No. 7 in center, Lofton immediately clicked into place. His first season in Cleveland saw a slash line of .285/.362/.365 with 15 doubles and an American League-leading 66 stolen bases. He ended up finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting, losing to Milwaukee’s Pat Listach.
Now, it’s almost seeming like history could be repeating itself in Cleveland. Fast forward to the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline.
July 30, 2021: The Cleveland Indians send the Houston Astros pitcher Phil Maton and catcher Yainer Diaz for centerfielder Myles Straw. Over 196 games with Houston, including a September 15 debut, Straw saw average numbers at the plate, slashing .256/.334/.324 with 21 doubles and 33 stolen bases. Then, he came to Cleveland.
Once with the Tribe, wearing No. 7 in center, Straw planted himself at the top of the order and saw an increase in his output. So far since the trade, Straw is slashing .282/.350/.403 with nine doubles and five stolen bases.
Now, the storyline matches up which helps create the initial comparison. It’s just icing on the cake that they came from the same team in a trade that involved the same positions, wear the same number and play the same position. However, the similarities go beyond that and there’s the chance that Straw could have similar potential.
Lofton was 25-years old when he arrived in Cleveland and Straw is currently 26 and came with a lot more MLB experience already under his belt. Possibly Lofton’s best offensive attribute was his speed and while Straw has exhibited that at times, it’s hard to see him breaking out for 60-70 steals a season. But, 30 seems reasonable and that would work for this edition of Cleveland baseball.
The defensive side of the game is comparable as well. Straw hasn’t scaled the wall and robbed a home run that was two feet over the fence yet, but the diving plays and catches at the wall have been there. It’s seems rather obvious that he’s the best defensive centerfield Cleveland has had since Lofton.
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The stats when slotted at the top of the lineup are similar as well. During Lofton’s first season in Cleveland, he slashed .281/.360/.359 with 15 doubles, eight triples, four home runs and 64 stolen bases when batting in the first spot. While Straw’s numbers haven’t quite been at that level, there’s been signs with a slash line of .273/.346/.364 including 10 doubles, a home run and seven stolen bases in 100 fewer games.
Where Straw will need to improve is starting games. When he’s the first batter of the game this year, he’s slashing just .219/.242/.406 with only three doubles. That’s where Lofton strived. During the 1992 season, Lofton slashed .303/.433/.422 with three doubles and two triples when starting off a game.
Adjustments like that will come with time, but the initial returns from Straw in Cleveland have definitely been promising. The Tribe have been searching for a long-term option in center for a long time and there’s a good chance that Straw provides that. He’s already exhibiting the skills both offensively and defensively and while there’s room for improvement, he’s been rather impressive in the short sample we’ve witnessed.
So, back to the original question – can Myles Straw be the next Kenny Lofton? It’s very possible. Anyone who is familiar with the Tribe teams of the 90’s knows that those are big shoes to fill, but it seems like Straw might be up to the task.
Will he Straw steal 60+ bases a year? Probably not. Could he become a stable force at the top of the order and in center? Absolutely. You could make the argument that he already has. What remains to be seen is if he can fully tap into his potential and reach the same Hall of Fame level career that Lofton had, because that’s what Lofton should be – a Hall of Famer.