2010 Cleveland Indians – The Outfield
The Indians roster has been fairly turbulent the last few years. But even with all of the changes, they still have one of the best players in all of baseball; Grady Sizemore. Sizemore was plagued by injuries last season and posted his worst numbers since his major league debut in 2004. In 2009, Sizemore only played in 106 games. If the Indians are going to do anything this season, they are going to need Sizemore to rebound. 2010 projections are pretty consistent on Sizemore; .270, 25HR and .850 OPS. I would take this from Sizemore and it would be a step in the right direction. I like the fact that he has been moved down in the lineup this year. He should benefit significantly batting between Cabrera and Choo; especially if they both put up numbers like they did last year. Sizemore is going to have to be the driving force for this team on the offensive side, so 2010 is going to be a test for him. There is no Victor Martinez; Travis Hafner is not the same guy as he was in 2006; Jhonny Peralta is, well, Jhonny Peralta. Sizemore has to be the man this year and I believe he will.
Another Indians outfielder who has gained notoriety with baseball analysts everywhere is Shin-Soo Choo. Choo burst onto the Cleveland scene in 2008, posting a .946 OPS with 14 HRs in 94 games. Choo did not give Indian’s fans a letdown in 2009, batting an even .300 with 20 HRs and an above average .883 OPS while playing in 156 games. Choo provides Cleveland with consistent production in right field that has been lacking since the beginning of the ‘00’s when Manny Ramirez and Juan Gonzalez manned the position. SSC is only 27 years old and is just entering his prime, so I look for him to keep the productivity at an above average level for years to come (barring a call from his native South Korea to serve a “mandatory” two year military stint).
Left field is the real question mark in this outfield. The Indians brought in Russell Branyan to solidify both first base and left field because with Branyan at first, left field would be all Matt LaPorta. Now Branyan is set to start the season on the DL and LaPorta will start out as the everyday first baseman for the Erie Warriors. This leaves the Tribe with two options in left; neither that I’m too crazy about (yet). Michael Brantley stands to gain the most from Branyan’s injury. He will likely be the everyday left fielder to start the season and depending on how the rest of the offense shapes up (i.e. Travis Hafner) may find himself there all season. Brantley has speed. He’s probably what baseball purists would call a prototypical leadoff hitter. He’s fast and steals bases. What else do you want? But before we brand him the next Kenny Lofton, we should note that he’s not proven. Brantley only has one year of AAA under his belt and he didn’t exactly hit the snot out of the ball; .267 average with a mere .711 OPS. As Lou Brown would say, “you may run like Mayes, but you hit like..” we all know how that one ends. In fact, most projections that I’ve seen have him OPSing around .700; not exactly what you want out of a corner outfielder. Listen, I’m not a Brantley hater; in fact, I think he has a lot of potential. I just don’t like seeing him start the season with the big league club. Had he not put up such meager numbers last year I would probably say give the dude a chance. But we don’t want to throw a guy into the fire that isn’t ready and in this man’s opinion, Brantley isn’t ready. He’s definitely a guy to watch though and I for one would be ecstatic if he proves me wrong (and he could).
The final outfielder breaking camp will be Austin Kearns. Kearns has had a few decent years in the past, but hasn’t really put up major league numbers since 2006, when he OPS’d .830 and hit 24 HRs in the process. I’ve read projections from five sources on Kearns and no one has him hitting over 10 HRs, .250 or OPSing over .750; this doesn’t exactly make my mouth water. But projections have been wrong from time to time. That being said, I don’t like the fact that Kearns and Brantley are our best options in left field.
Overall, I’m pretty high on this group. Cleveland has one of the best RF-CF combos in the American League, if not all of baseball. I look for Sizemore to return to form and put up some solid numbers out of the two slot. I look for Choo to build upon a solid 2009. The real question mark is in left field. I’m going to include LaPorta with the infield for this analysis, but the quicker the Tribe gets him back into a corner outfield spot, the better for the entire offense.