During yesterday’s 4-3 Spring Training win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tribe’s slated opening day center fielder, Michael Brantley, left the game with what has been described as “mild tightness in his right hamstring.” Manager Manny Acta said taking Brantley out of the game was “a precaution.” While the injury will most likely end up being no big deal, the thought of Brantley being lost for an extended period of time leaves me frightened, but more than that, disturbed.
Why you ask? Because the guy who was supposed to play center field will already be missing at least the first two months of the season. I of course am talking about Grady Sizemore. In top of that, the AA and AAA outfield options are almost non-existant.
I have been on record since day one that bringing back Sizemore was a mistake, and the thought of a Brantley injury certainly doesn’t make me feel any different. The Indians banked on Sizemore, figuring if he flames or gets injured, they at least could slide Brantley over to center and not miss a beat. But what was the contingency plan if something happened to Brantley?
Acta said yesterday that Felix Pie, Aaron Cunningham, and Ryan Spillborghs will take center field in Brantley’s absence. None of those options is needle moving, especially considering that none of the three have really stood out in camp and have been given the opportunity to claim the vacant left field job. Spillborghs is nothing more than a fourth outfield option and bench guy. Pie was once the jewel of the Cubs system but at this point has become the Chicago version of Andy Marte. He is on his third team and has never been able to become a regular. Cunningham was a guy that the A’s and the Padres, who like the Indians rely on talent building from their farm system, gave up on this offseason. He has dominated AAA last season (.329/63 RBI) but couldn’t get it to translate when he was called up to the majors (.178/9 RBI/90 ABs). Cunningham is out of options.
Is it time to see more of Jason Donald as a center field option? Does this mean that we could be seeing more of the Ezequiel Carrera experience (I know he was optioned out, but he’d be the first option in an emergency)? Could the Indians be looking at trade options to add an outfielder? Could they seriously be considering bringing in free agent Johnny Damon who is still looking for work (he was a bad defensive outfielder five years ago and was a full-time DH last year in Tampa)?
Another issue at play here – the Indians have no legitimate AAA or AA outfield prospects on the horizon. The guy who would fit this bill, Nick Weglarz, has seemingly been in the system forever, though he is just 24 years old. He has been unable to stay healthy the past three seasons, and struggled in Akron in 2011 (only 41 games .179/.360/.666/3 HR/12 RBI). He was never considered as a big league option heading into Spring. They haven’t drafted an outfielder in the first round since 2005 and that player, Trevor Crowe, is a fourth outfielder at best. Guys like Levon Washington and Bryson Miles are still years away. To put it another way – there are no young, on the come, stud outfielders we can look to for minor league help.
You’d have to think that Shelley Duncan is in the driver’s seat for the left field job at this point. He still has that right-handed power that the lineup lacks. The issue will him will be if he is able to handle playing left field on a daily basis. His natural position is first base, but he is actually more of a DH type. Choo is healthy and looking good in right.
Brantley’s “mild tightness” in his hamstring should probably be an alarm going off to GM Chris Antonetti and his crew. The outfield of dreams for the Indians brass – Sizemore, Brantley, and Shin-Soo Choo – barely played together last season. We are already on pace to repeat that feat again.I harken back to the original point – counting on Sizemore and not having “quality” depth behind him was a serious roll of the dice.