Will Brennan needs to be Cleveland Guardians' starting right fielder

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Guardians
Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Guardians / Jason Miller/GettyImages

Terry Francona is no stranger to the platoon, especially when it comes to the corner outfield positions for the Cleveland Guardians. Before the emergence of Steven Kwan in 2022, it had been years since players like Michael Brantley held down left or right field for the majority of the season. Part of it has been a player will up being incredibly one-dimensional at the plate, essentially forcing Francona's hand into a platoon scenario. Part of it is that no one at the outfield positions over the last few years aside from Myles Straw (and now Kwan) has really been experienced enough to handle being in the lineup each day.

For the most part, it’s worked to a T. Think of Jordan Luplow, the lefty killer, and Tyler Naquin, who bashed right-handed pitching, in 2019. Francona didn’t have a complete player, so he piecemealed together three or four corner outfielders and made a cyborg outfielder that hit essentially like an All-Star. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and players just need more time in the minor leagues. 

The most recent iteration of the outfield platoon has developed with Will Brennan and Oscar Gonzalez. Brennan has dominated out of the gate and forced himself into a position where Francona almost has to play him each day. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter, who made his major-league debut in the final weeks of last season and made his way onto the Wild Card and ALDS rosters, had to battle to even break camp with the big-league club. He started off spring training as a maybe to make the roster, and even then was likely to just sit on the bench as a fourth outfielder in a situation complicated by having three catchers on the roster.

An at-bat here or there was certain, a spot start on a Sunday day game likely, but Gonzalez was going to be the starting right fielder, and that was that. Then Gonzalez started slow, as the free-swinging righty began to show signs of a sophomore slump and struggles with adapting to pitching. Brennan, meanwhile, kept hitting well and showed an improved glove. He had played his way up the bench and into a platoon. Both he and Gonzalez are young and extremely raw, with Gonzalez struggling mightily through the first four series.

Brennan has ten fewer at-bats than Gonzalez, but has one more hit and half the strikeouts. It’s a small sample size, and I do expect Gonzalez to pick his play up a little bit or get optioned to work through his kinks at the plate, but it’s clear that Francona needs to make the permanent switch to Brennan. He’ll likely hold out on switching to Brennan until the wheels completely fall off on Gonzalez and he’s basically forced to, but I think 13 games has been enough to know what Gonzalez is - and what he isn’t - at this point in time.

The hesitation, statistically, is that while it was only six at-bats last year, Brennan only managed a single against left-handed pitching. Even in spring training this year, his batting average was 60 points lower against lefties than against right-handed throwers. Brennan has a long swing and one that lends itself to pulling the ball into the right-center gap or towards center field. It’s difficult to turn around a 90+ MPH pitch from a lefty. He can hit to left field, like he did here against James Kaprielian, but hasn’t displayed his ability to take lefties to the opposite field at the big-league level yet.

The move should be more focused on the disaster that Gonzalez currently is at the plate, the .147/.194/.206 slash line he currently holds, the fact that he has one more strikeout than hits thus far, and that his strikeout rate has remained high while his walk rate remains comically low. Brennan could wind up being an everyday outfielder alongside Straw and Kwan - boy what an outfield that would be - but that’s not going to happen if the Guardians don’t give him the time to marinate in the lineup each day.