By Mark Warmuth
One of the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season for the Cleveland Indians was their outfield.
After letting Michael Brantley walk away via free agency, the Tribe headed to spring training with their most proven player in the outfield being Leonys Martin, and he missed the last two months of ’18 with a life threatening illness.
Before spring training ended, they wound up giving a look see to veteran Matt Joyce, who was released, and signed three time All Star (the Indians keep reminding us of that) Carlos Gonzalez toward the end of the spring.
Gonzalez was activated to the big league roster on April 14th.
Again, we understand the season is just 21 games old, but the situation Terry Francona has to deal with on a nightly basis is still pretty clearly in flux.
Martin has been the one constant, starting all but one game in center field, but he still has big platoon split issues.
Against right handed pitching, Martin is batting .302 with a 932 OPS, belting three home runs. Versus southpaws? Not so good. He is 4 for 22 with three walks and nine strikeouts.
We said before the season started he should be platooned and we stick by that thought.
Tyler Naquin has garnered the majority of the starts in rightfield (18), but outside of the Toronto series when he went 5 for 11 in three starts, he hasn’t performed well.
He’s hitting just .220 with a 568 OPS. Take out those three games vs. the Blue Jays, and that mark falls to .167. He’s struck out 20 times, walking just twice. That might be fine if you are hitting the ball with power, but the early 2016 sensation has just one dinger.
It’s hard to understand Francona’s fascination with him at this point.
Jake Bauers has been the semi-regular in left, starting 12 times, with Greg Allen getting seven starts.
We are more impressed by Bauers the more we see him. He’s hitting just .219 with a 684 OPS, but he’s walked 10 times (with 15 strikeouts), and has held his own against lefties, going 5 for 20.
He’s getting more time now at first (with Carlos Santana DHing) with Gonzalez settling in left. We like his bat in the lineup.
Greg Allen appears to be a young player who is having problems with a part-time role, starting the season just 4 for 34, with half of those hits coming Sunday night. He has fanned 11 times with two walks.
We would like to see Allen get regular playing time in right before determining if he needs to go back to AAA. As we said, his struggles may be the result of getting sporadic at bats.
We had high hopes for Jordan Luplow based on his numbers at AAA, but he struggled in spring training, and didn’t do much after opening the year with the Tribe. He has struck out 10 times in 25 at bats in Columbus.
The darling of spring training, Oscar Mercado, has continued to rake with the Clippers. He has an 897 OPS to date, and has stolen seven bases. We are sure the front office doesn’t want to call him up unless he will receive plenty of playing time, but he looks like he is forcing the issue.
And so is the lack of production that still exists in the outfield. Even if Gonzalez regains some of his form from his Colorado days, you still have a problem in CF against lefties, and RF is still a gaping hole of suck.
How and when will the front office resolve that problem? It this is still how things are going after 20 more games, action will need to be taken.