ABOUT YOUNG OUTFIELDERS
1. In 2016, Tyler Naquin was the surprise of spring training and earned a spot on the opening day roster when Michael Brantley was injured. Naquin spent most of that season with the Tribe, batting .296 (.886 OPS) with 14 HR and 43 RBI in 321 at bats.
2. Why mention that? Because the door is wide open for Naquin to claim right field – and he has the talent to do it. In the last two seasons, he’s battled injuries. Last Aug. 2, he had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his hip. A good guess is it bothered him for a few months before the operation.
3. Few remember in 2018 that Naquin was batting .333 (25-for-75) with 2 HR and 11 RBI when he suffered a hamstring injury in the middle of May. He came back for a while, didn’t hit. He didn’t seem healthy. And eventually had the hip surgery.
4. In 588 big league plate appearances over three seasons, Naquin is a .280 hitter (.785 OPS) with 17 HR and 67 RBI. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to help the Indians. He is an above-average right fielder because of his arm.
5. Manager Terry Francona on Naquin: “He’s in a positive place. He feels really good. We’re rooting for him to show he can handle it (starting in the majors).”
6. Bradley Zimmer is not expected to open the season on the active roster, but Zimmer has looked surprisingly strong in spring training after having major shoulder surgery in July. He remains an intriguing prospect if he can stay healthy.
7. Zimmer is an excellent defensive center fielder. He’s fast (22-of-24 in stolen bases) and has some power. In 405 career big league at-bats, Zimmer batted .237 (.671) with 10 HR and 48 RBI. A big problem was 143 strikeouts – about one of every three at bats.
8. Zimmer is 26. He was the team’s 2014 first-round pick. Naquin is 27, the first-round pick in 2013. It’s possible one of them can emerge with a good season. With top prospects, mistakes can be made when teams lose patience with them.
9. Obviously, the Indians allowed Michael Brantley to leave because they were cutting the budget. I heard his agents originally wanted a 3-year deal in the $50 million range. He signed for $32 million over two seasons with Houston. A healthy Brantley is an All-Star outfielder. That’s what hurts the Tribe. They have no one like him in the outfield.
10. Part of what the Tribe is doing is creating room for some of their younger outfielders. Last spring, most Tribe fans were intrigued with the idea of Zimmer starting in center field. As a rookie in 2017, Zimmer batted .241 (.692 OPS) with 8 HR and 39 RBI in 101 games. His defense and base running (18-of-19 in stolen bases) were impressive.
11. The Indians kept Zimmer over Clint Frazier when discussing a 2016 trade with the Yankees for Andrew Miller. I was told they had him rated higher than Frazier, who has battled major concussion problems with the Yankees.
12. Also in 2016, Greg Allen was in a deal with Milwaukee to bring Jonathan Lucroy to the Tribe. Lucroy vetoed the trade. Other teams also have asked about Allen, who will be 26 on March 15.
13. Allen started slowly with the Tribe last season, batting .207 (.533 OPS) in 139 at bats at the All-Star break. But in the second half, his confidence grew. Allen hit .310 (.783 OPS) in 126 at bats. He doesn’t have much power. He can run (21-of-25 in stolen bases) and plays all three outfield positions.
14. Now that Leonys Martin has come back from a bacterial infection that threatened his life last year, the Indians could have a superb defender in center field. The Indians have Martin, Zimmer and Allen as candidates to play center field.
15. Martin batted .255 (.747 OPS) with 11 HR and 33 RBI in 318 at-bats last season. The lefty batter is much better against righties (.279) than lefties (.176). Allen is a switch hitter. He could platoon with Martin in center.
16. The Indians have other outfielders such as veteran Matt Joyce in camp. Is he the guy with the bad back who batted .208 (.675 OPS) with 7 HR and 15 RBI last year? Or is he the Matt Joyce who hit .243 (.808 OPS) with 25 HR and 68 RBI in 2017?
17. The Indians have liked Jordan Luplow for a few years. He had spot duty with Pittsburgh in 2017-18, batting only .194 with 6 HR and 18 RBI in 170 plate appearances. He’s a career .300 hitter in 132 Class AAA games. At 25, is he ready to find a big league career?
18. I know, lots of questions. And I know, an alarming lack of power in the outfield. But I also know that Naquin, Allen, Luplow and Zimmer have all been considered good to excellent prospects at one point. Luplow is a right-handed hitter who could pair with the lefty-hitting Naquin in right field.
19. During the winter, I wrote about Carlos Santana possibly playing some left field. That still could happen. Or Jake Bauers (another prospect) also played the outfield last season in Tampa. Both guys are best at first base.
20. It’s also possible the Indians could trade for an outfielder during the season. You can anticipate some type of significant deal in the summer.
ABOUT TREVOR BAUER
1. Not every thought and opinion has to be expressed. I thought about that when reading the recent Sports Illustrated story about Trevor Bauer. He obviously is doing things simply to get attention. He admitted as much to Mandy Bell (MLB.com): “Everyone’s talking about me today. So, as a personal brand goes, is that bad? From a personal branding standpoint, all attention is good attention. You would much rather be in the press than forgotten…”
2. I’m going to skip any discussion of his rules for dating. But in late November, Bauer tweeted: “Plot twist, I was better than Kluber this year.” Why say that? Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, and a 20-game winner in 2018. He’s stayed healthy enough to pitch at least 203 innings in each of his last five seasons.
3. Bauer and Kluber are teammates. Kluber is older and has done more in the game than anyone else on the current pitching staff – period. Baseball is hard enough. Teammates need to support each other.
4. Bauer’s work ethic and obsession to find any edge to pitch better is worthy of respect. I love his old school mindset when it comes to ignoring pitch counts. If Bauer pitches at a Cy Young level, they won’t care what he says. If he struggles, it will be a different story.