Messy Outfield Situation in Cleveland Could Lead to A Poor Season

With All-Star doubles machine Michael Brantley (Left) on the disabled list to begin the year, and Abraham Almonte (Right) suspended for 80 games, the already thin Cleveland outfield has some serious questions to answer Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
With All-Star doubles machine Michael Brantley (Left) on the disabled list to begin the year, and Abraham Almonte (Right) suspended for 80 games, the already thin Cleveland outfield has some serious questions to answer
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of publicity concerning the Cleveland Indians star player Michael Brantley, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and will begin the 2016 season on the disabled list. The injury was already viewed as something that could really hurt the Indians chances this season considering their lack of outfield depth, and they could really use some help now after Abraham Almonte tested positive for Boldenone and was suspended for 80 games. Cleveland feels they have the right pieces to fill in until Brantley returns, who is well ahead of schedule in the recovery process, but many have their doubts. The loss of Abraham Almonte is not as big of a hit, considering there was certainly some questions as to what he could accomplish this year, but it doesn't help. Almonte, 26, has been in and out of baseball for the past 3 seasons (166 MLB games from 2013-2015, 258 minor league games), and has never really reached a very high level of success. In 2013, Almonte hit .264 with 2 homeruns in 25 games for Seattle, .230 with 3 homeruns in 2014 between 27 games in Seattle and 32 with San Diego, and .250 with 5 homeruns in 2015 between 31 games with San Diego and 51 with Cleveland. In those 51 games with the Tribe, Almonte hit .264 with 5 homeruns, 9 doubles, 20 RBI, and 6 steals, which gave Cleveland hope that he could be a platoon player or possibly an every day outfielder. Now that two out of three outfielders Cleveland wanted in their Opening Day lineup are out, let's take a look at who can step in.

Lonnie Chisenhall made a change from third base to the outfield last season, and Cleveland was very impressed by how quickly and smoothly the transition was made. Chisenhall will without a doubt be the starting right fielder in 2016, but there are some questions about his consistency. Lonnie has struggled to stay in the big leagues over his career due to his sometimes stellar sometimes cellar play. After a demotion to AAA last year (Which is when he made the switch to RF), Chisenhall came back and impressed a lot of people. In the month of August, Chisenhall played 23 games and hit .403, and his second half numbers totaled to .288 with 25 RBI. Chisenhall did not just impress with his hitting however, as he ranked second among right fielders and fifteenth among all outfielders in defensive runs saved (11) while only playing in 51 games (106 total games, 51 as an outfielder). As he goes into his age 27 season, Cleveland feels pretty confident that he will contribute for a full season on both sides of the ball this season.

Newcomer Rajai Davis was originally signed as a platoon option, but it looks like the veteran speedster will now be forced into an every day role for a good portion of the season. Davis is now 35, and what they get from his bat is questionable, but they can expect a .250-.265 average to go along with 20 doubles and 20-30 stolen bases. Davis has hit as high as .305 (2009), and once reached 50 steals (2010) in a season. While he is obviously not the huge MVP candidate that Cleveland so desperately needs in the outfield, Davis will hopefully add some depth to the lineup and make a nice impact with his speed.

Players battling for spots:

Zach Walters was acquired for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in July of 2014, and has since battled injuries and lack of contact. While they believe the power is in the tank, the strikeouts have been very evident and it might not be such a good trade-off (47 strikeouts in 118 at bats with Cleveland between 2014 and 2015). Walters does have a lot of versatility, but when you hit below the Mendoza line and can't make contact, you aren't helping yourself.

Joey Butler is known in Cleveland as the guy who broke up Carlos Carrasco's no hitter with two outs to go at Tropicana Field in 2015. Now, the 29 year old has become good friends with "Cookie" Carrasco and is vying for a job on the same team as him, In 2015, Butler did very well with Tampa Bay, hitting .276 with 8 homeruns and 30 RBI in 88 games. I view him as one of the best possible options to fill in at least until somebody returns, but he is obviously not the number one guy you want out there.

Robbie Grossman has spent the last three seasons in Houston, and is now fighting for a job with Cleveland. In 190 career games Grossman has been less than impressive, hitting .240 with 11 homeruns and 63 RBI. In 2014, Grossman played a career high 103 games and hit .233 with 6 homeruns.

Collin Cowgill seems to be a popular option among Terry Francona and the Indians front office. Cowgill's bat has never been there (308 career games, .236 average, 12 homeruns), but the Indians like his speed and defense. The team seems to like him, but I would not feel confident at all if the Tribe have him playing every day at any point this season.

Michael Choice was once one of baseball's top outfield prospects, but he is now with his third organization and has not seen any success so far. He is 26 years old, and has done well in the minor leagues, but it just has never translated to MLB success. I would sincerely doubt he has much of a chance to make the big league team.

Shane Robinson is a 31 year old outfielder who has played 351 games over parts of six seasons, and has a career average of .237 to go with 5 homeruns. As with most of the Indians choices, he has a weak bat but likable defense.

Will Venable is probably the most likely option to be in left field on Opening Day. In 2013, Venable broke out with a .268 average and blasted 22 long balls. However, Venable has fallen off since his breakout year, and gone back to the player he was priod to 2013. In 2014, Venable hit .224 with 8 homeruns, and .244 with 6 in 2015 between San Diego and Texas. Cleveland hopes to see flashes of 2013 from the 33 year old, and perhaps for him to fill in until Brantley returns then become a platoon player.

Outside the box candidates

Tyler Naquin is currently the organizations number 9 prospect, and we may see him make the jump to the big leagues on Opening Day. Naquin has been held back by injuries in his minor league career, but has potential to provide a very nice average, plus speed, and good defense. While he won't make the debut splash that Francisco Lindor did last season, he could wind up producing very well in Cleveland this season.

James Ramsey was acquired for Justin Masterson two years ago, and could be ready to take the step into the big leagues. From 2012-2014 Ramsey showed off an all around game in the minor leagues, but struggled in AAA last season hitting just .243. The 26 year old was expected to reach the MLB last season, but failed to do so.

Jose Ramirez is now the super utility player for Cleveland, and it is remotely possible we see him in the outfield a few times this season. Ramirez has been an infielder most of his career, but is starting to pick up the outfield a little bit to increase his versatility.

No matter how you look at it, Cleveland has a serious lack of outfield depth that could seriously harm them. Should they be in contention at the deadline, they do have a strong farm system they could deal from to add a big bat, but as of right now lack of production from the outfield could be their downfall.