Projecting Each MLB Team's Future Cleanup Hitter in 2015
Cleanup hitters in baseball have always been judged on their ability to drive in runs. For decades, that's been their main responsibility.
The third spot in the batting order is generally reserved for each team's best hitter overall, combining a solid batting average, on-base percentage and power. But cleanup hitters make their living by plating as many baserunners as possible.
George Bell is a great example—throughout his career he struck out over two times as much as he walked, but he was his team's main source of run production. His on-base percentage was generally only 30-40 points higher than his batting average. Getting on base wasn't a priority for Bell—his ability to plate runs was, however.
The role of the cleanup hitter isn't likely to change as baseball continues to evolve, so each team looks for that one main run producer who can best fill that role in the future.
Here is a look at who the cleanup hitter for each MLB team will/could be in 2015.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Matt Davidson
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Drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, third baseman Matt Davidson has been a run-producer in the minors, averaging 91 RBI per season from 2010-2012.
He's already driven in 45 runners this season for Triple-A Reno in the first half as well.
Davidson is the prototypical cleanup-type hitter—a propensity to strike out yet is always a threat to plate runs.
He could very well be the complement to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of the batting order for the Diamondbacks for the foreseeable future.
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman's late-game heroics provide proof that the cleanup role is right for him. Video courtesy MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com
In just two-plus seasons, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has established himself as a solid run-producer in the heart of the batting order.
At just 23 years of age, it's a role that Freeman could flourish in for quite a few years with the Braves.
He's already collected 48 RBI in the first half despite spending two weeks on the disabled list with a strained right oblique.
It's a role best suited for Freeman in the future as he continues to show off his ability to clear the bases on a regular basis.
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has been bashing in the No. 5 spot in the batting order all season.
But that role could change in the future.
The Orioles currently have Nick Markakis hitting third with Adam Jones at cleanup and Davis in the five-hole. It's a combination that has worked perfectly thus far.
But the O's hold a team option on Markakis' contract for the 2015 season, and they could deem his $17.5 million salary simply too much for a player that averages just 18 home runs and 85 RBI per year.
Davis isn't eligible for free agency until 2016. Considering the incredible numbers he's put up thus far in 2013, the Orioles could be looking to lock him up sooner rather than later.
That scenario puts Davis squarely in the cleanup role in the future.
Boston Red Sox: Bryce Brentz
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In 2015 it's likely the Boston Red Sox will be on the hunt for a new cleanup hitter. David Ortiz's contract runs out at the end of the 2014 season and he'll be 39 years of age.
It's entirely possible that prospect Bryce Brentz could fill that role.
Currently at Triple-A Pawtucket, Brentz continues to show off impressive power numbers with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 65 games. The right-handed bat would obviously be ideal for Fenway Park as well.
The Red Sox have shifted their focus to developing homegrown talent, and as of right now, Brentz has shown the skills that are well-suited for the cleanup role.
Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler
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The Chicago Cubs invested nine years and $30 million in Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler because they believed in his plus-power potential.
At just 21 years of age and with under 90 games of professional baseball under his belt, Soler has shown flashes of that potential.
He's currently hitting .281 with eight home runs and 35 RBI for the High-A Daytona Cubs and was named to the Florida State League All-Star team.
If Soler develops as quickly as fellow Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to see him in the middle of the Cubs' batting order in 2015.
Chicago White Sox: Trayce Thompson
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In 2015, the Chicago White Sox will no longer be contractually obligated to Adam Dunn, and Paul Konerko will be 39 years of age—likely either retired or otherwise.
The White Sox have a number of prospects who could be ready to fulfill major roles by that time, and current MLB.com No. 2 prospect Trayce Thompson could be an attractive cleanup option.
There's no question the power is there—Thompson totaled 49 home runs in his last two minor league seasons and has nine homers this year for Double-A Birmingham.
Drafted out of high school in 2009, Thompson will only be 24 years old at the start of the 2015 season and could already be a fixture in the White Sox lineup before then if he continues to produce.
Cincinnati Reds: Donald Lutz
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Before his call-up in late April, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Donald Lutz had never played above the Double-A level. He has performed admirably in a pinch at the major league level, however, hitting .241 with a homer and eight RBI in limited action over 34 games.
With Chris Heisey set to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, Lutz could be the odd man out. But he's shown that he can handle major league pitching.
Lutz impressed during spring training, hitting .277 with two home runs and 12 RBI. He's struggled a bit at Double-A Pensacola, hitting just .212 on the season before his call-up. But with his showing over the past two months, Lutz could well be an attractive option in a cleanup role in the future.
Cleveland Indians: Jesus Aguilar
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There's an awful lot to like about the power potential of Cleveland Indians first base prospect Jesus Aguilar.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2007, the 22-year-old at 6'3" and 250 pounds is built more like a linebacker. Aguilar hit 23 home runs in 2011 but struggled somewhat last season before rebounding to combine for 48 extra-base hits and 71 RBI.
This season at Double-A Akron, Agiular has driven in 57 runs in just 68 games. That's a ratio the Indians wouldn't mind seeing at all at the major league level in two years.
For now, the Indians have been using Nick Swisher at first base. With a four-year contract there's certainly a chance that he'll be on the Indians roster in 2015. But he's always been more suited as a complementary producer lower in the batting order, not the main guy in the No. 4 hole.
Aguilar does fit that description if he can continue putting up solid numbers.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
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Few players in baseball exhibit the tools and skills of Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
It's obvious how fans already feel about him—he's easily outpacing all other shortstops in the latest update of fan balloting for the upcoming All-Star Game.
Tulowitzki also thrives in the cleanup role, hitting .358 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI when batting in the No. 4 hole this season.
It's a role that fits Tulowitzki, and there's no reason that can't continue provided he can somehow manage to avoid serious injury in the future.
Detroit Tigers: Prince Fielder
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Having just turned 29 years old last month and with several years left on a long-term contract, it seems that Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder has the cleanup role reserved for a while.
It fit him in Milwaukee with Ryan Braun hitting third, and it plays well in Motown as well hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera.
No reason to mess with success.
Houston Astros: Chris Carter
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In just a couple of years, Houston Astros first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter could have the chance to hit in front of two excellent prospects in Jonathan Singleton and George Springer, not to mention others in the system.
Carter has clubbed 15 home runs with 40 RBI in 73 games for the Astros in 2013 and has hit anywhere from fourth to sixth in the batting order.
Given the potential of prospects who could be impacting the roster in 2015, Carter could be the man chosen to inflict damage in the No. 4 hole at that time.
Kansas City Royals: Billy Butler
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For some reason, Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler has gotten off to a slow start this season, hitting just .268 with five home runs and 39 RBI. Given the production of the past two seasons, it's certainly out of character.
However, Butler is best suited to be the team's cleanup hitter for the foreseeable future.
Provided he can shake his current slump, Butler has been an efficient run-producer and will be just 29 years old at the beginning of the 2015 season.
Los Angeles Angels: Mark Trumbo
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There hasn't been a whole lot for Los Angeles Angels fans to cheer about this season. But one constant that keeps fans engaged and excited is Mark Trumbo.
Now famous for his "Trumbombs," he's connected for 17 long balls this season already with 50 RBI. He's also settled nicely into the cleanup hole as well.
Trumbo is under team control through the 2016 season and will be only 29 when the 2015 season rolls around. It's reasonable to expect that he'll be in that role at that time.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
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When the Los Angeles Dodgers dealt for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez last August, they inserted him into the No. 3 hole with Matt Kemp hitting cleanup.
At the start of the 2013 season, the roles were reversed with Gonzalez batting behind Kemp. Gonzalez has moved back to the third spot in the order while Kemp has been shelved with hamstring issues.
Provided that Kemp can fully bounce back from all of his injuries over the past year-plus (hamstring, shoulder surgery), that 3-4 combination is likely to continue in L.A. for the foreseeable future.
Miami Marlins: Marcell Ozuna
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If by some chance the Miami Marlins happen to hang on to some of their current players for a while, a special 3-4 hitting combination could be in the offing for several years.
Earlier this year the Marlins called up Dominican outfield prospect Marcell Ozuna. Thus far he has handled the transition to the majors well, posting a .294 average with two home runs and 23 RBI.
Ozuna has hit in the cleanup spot in 34 games as well. As he continues to mature he'll be a perfect complement to right fielder Giancarlo Stanton in the three-hole.
Look for Ozuna to stick in that spot as he continues his maturation process and progresses into the power hitter that scouts projected he'd become.
Milwaukee Brewers: Hunter Morris
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The Milwaukee Brewers have to be thrilled at what they've seen from power-hitting prospect Hunter Morris.
After hitting 28 home runs with 113 RBI and a .303 average last year at Double-A Huntsville, Morris has hit 13 bombs in the first half at Triple-A Nashville this season.
He's struggled a bit with a .236 average, but he's again showing the power that led the Brewers to draft him out of Auburn University in 2010.
Morris will be 26 years of age entering the 2015 season. If he can show consistency in handling pitching at higher levels, he's a solid candidate for the cleanup spot in the Brewers lineup.
Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano
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Just over two weeks ago, the Minnesota Twins promoted top hitting prospect Miguel Sano to Double-A New Britain.
It shouldn't have been much of a shock—Sano was bashing at High-A to the tune of a .330 average, 16 home runs and 48 RBI in 56 games.
He's struggled to adjust thus far, hitting just .171 with two homers in 11 games. But there's no questioning the raw power that Sano possesses. He's been given a potential score of seven on his power tool at MLB.com, a number that's exclusive to the very top slugging prospects.
Sano is only 20 years old, so it's reasonable to assume that there's plenty of time before the 2015 season to see if he can figure out pitchers at advanced levels.
But if he does, the cleanup spot is perfect for both he and the Twins.
New York Mets: Cesar Puello
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The New York Mets have been waiting for power-hitting prospect Cesar Puello to show off his considerable skills.
Unfortunately, Puello's development was delayed several times in the past few years by a spate of injuries.
However, Puello has been completely healthy in 2013, and the tools that led the Mets to sign him back in 2007 are finally starting to show themselves.
Puello is hitting .335 with 14 home runs and 49 RBI at Double-A Binghamton.
Puello will have to deal with a major off-field distraction, however. He was implicated in the MLB PED scandal back in February and could still face disciplinary action as a result.
If Puello can get past that and continue staying healthy, he's the cleanup hitter the Mets desperately need.
New York Yankees: ?
Will it be Gary Sanchez, another prospect or a free agent who becomes the cleanup hitter for the Yankees in 2015?
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The New York Yankees have not hesitated in the past when it came to plucking top hitters off the open market.
But with their mandate to not spend as lavishly as has been seen for what seems like decades, the Yankees' 2015 lineup is completely up in the air.
It's safe to assume that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez won't be around by then. Robinson Cano could be, but he's much better suited as the second or third hitter in the lineup.
So just who does that leave for the cleanup role in 2015?
Gary Sanchez could be a possibility. The young catching prospect is currently honing his skills for Tampa in the Florida State League. According to MLB.com, Sanchez possesses raw power that garnered a potential score of seven on the power tool. Whether or not he's ready by the 2015 season remains to be seen.
It's a role that could also be filled by a free agent, someone like Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres if they decide to pass on him at the end of the season.
With the Yankees, it's anyone's guess.
Oakland Athletics: Michael Choice
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Oakland Athletics prospect Michael Choice has served as the cleanup hitter at Triple-A Sacramento for much of the 2013 season. Thus far, he's handled the duties very well.
Choice is hitting .288 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI in 71 games for the River Cats. The power-hitting skills are clearly there—for Choice, it's a matter of continuing to produce and proving himself at the major league level when he finally gets the call.
At 6'0" and 215 pounds, Choice has a compact swing that can generate power to all fields. He would be a great complement to Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard
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The Philadelphia Phillies have had a cleanup hitter in place for several years now. And because of his bloated salary, he may be in place for a while longer.
First baseman Ryan Howard is nowhere near the hitter he was when he bashed away to the tune of 198 home runs from 2006-2009. He's hitting .282 with 10 home runs and 41 games in 71 games this season.
Howard is owed roughly $95 million between now and the end of 2016, which includes a $10 million buyout of his 2017 season.
Unless the Phillies pony up a sizable portion of that money in a trade between now and 2015, Howard will likely be their cleanup hitter at that time as well.
Pitttsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell
There's no question that Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Josh Bell has the power that profiles well in the cleanup role. The question is whether he can continue progressing enough to be ready by the 2015 season.
If Bell progresses to that point, the Pirates would have a formidable lineup with Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Bell.
After just 15 professional games last season, Bell was back in the South Atlantic League with the West Virginia Power to start the 2013 season. He's hit .292 thus far with eight home runs and 48 RBI in 67 games with an .836 OPS.
With a young talented pitching staff and a burgeoning group of hitters, the Pirates could be a team to beat in 2015. And Bell could be firmly implanted in the middle of the order.
San Diego Padres: Carlos Quentin
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Unless something changes between now and the start of the 2015 season, outfielder Carlos Quentin will open that season as the San Diego Padres cleanup hitter.
Quentin has hit in that spot for the vast majority of the time when healthy. That's likely to continue unless injuries continue to derail his career.
Quentin has the power to deliver in that role, but his balky knees have prevented him from fully realizing his potential in the past two seasons. If he can manage to stay healthy, it's a role that fits his run-producing style of play.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
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San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey has shined in his role as a cleanup hitter, with a .303 average, 45 home runs and 181 RBI when inserted into the No. 4 hole during his career.
Posey inked a nine-year deal that keeps him in San Francisco until 2021, so the Giants have that part of their batting order covered for years to come.
Seattle Mariners: Mike Zunino
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Top hitting prospect Mike Zunino got called up just over a year after he was drafted with the third overall pick by the Seattle Mariners last year.
He'll have some time to grow, which could eventually lead directly into the cleanup hitter role.
Zunino showed off his run-producing abilities in the minors with 24 home runs and 86 RBI in just 91 games.
The Mariners would be thrilled if Zunino provides anything close to that at the major league level.
St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig
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Over the past two seasons, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig has shown the ability to do exactly what's expected of a cleanup hitter—clean the bases.
Craig drove in 92 runs in 119 games last season and has followed up with 58 RBI in 73 games this year.
With a well-balanced offense that has Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday providing protection behind and in front of Craig, he'll continue to rack up RBI for the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay Rays: Wil Myers
Video courtesy MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.
He may be hitting sixth in the batting order for the Tampa Bay Rays right now, but eventually Wil Myers will take his rightful place as the cleanup hitter.
Myers has already started to get used to life in the majors.
Imagine him in the cleanup role with Evan Longoria hitting in front of him for the next several years.
Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre
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He may be 34 years of age, but Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Even without the protection provided by Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli, Beltre is hitting .298 with 13 home runs and 48 RBI. Not too shabby at all.
Under contract through at least the 2015 season, Beltre still flashes a great glove at third base as well. There's no reason to think he can't continue to thrive as the Rangers' designated hitter in 2015.
Toronto Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion
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The Toronto Blue Jays were more than satisfied with the production of designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion last year, inking him to a three-year contract extension.
After blasting 42 home runs and 110 RBI last year, Encarnacion has followed up with 21 homers and 63 RBI this season, actually slightly ahead of last year's pace.
Signed through the 2015 season, Encarnacion, along with slugger Jose Bautista, figure to continue providing the bulk of power for the Blue Jays in 2015.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
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Bryce Harper has hit anywhere from second to ninth in the Washington Nationals batting order since he was called up in April 2012.
Yet he has never been inserted into the lineup as the cleanup hitter.
It just could be a role that suits him perfectly.
Harper has hit second in the order the vast majority of the time. But it's been perfectly clear that without him in the lineup, the Nationals are dead in the water.
He's shown the ability to drive in runs on a regular basis. He's shown the ability to hit for power as well. With Anthony Rendon starting to assert himself offensively and Ryan Zimmerman solid in the three-hole, Harper's best spot in the order may just be at No. 4 with Rendon and Zimmerman hitting in front of him.
It probably won't happen when Harper returns from the disabled list within the next week or so. The Nationals need Harper's presence near the top of the order to start generating offense again. But at some point, I'm of the belief that his power, his ability to plate baserunners and his overall plate discipline fits perfectly in the cleanup spot in the Nationals offense.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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