Indians Spring Training Battles: Left Field

Shelley-Duncan-215x300

Remember when it was supposed to be the dream outfield of the Indians brass roaming that giant patch of green grass to open the 2012 season at Progressive Field? Yes, the Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo triumvirate was supposed to be healthy and together from day one. Of course, that never came to fruition. Even before the team played one inning of Spring Training ball, they were thrown for a complete loop when the oft-injured Sizemore came up lame and required back surgery. (Please don’t make me rehash my feelings on this signing. Please. I beg you).

With Grady unavailable until June at the absolute earliest, the Tribe was forced to go with Plan B – moving Brantley to center field and holding a mass tryout for the left field job. Of course had the Indians not gone after Sizemore in the first place or at least protected themselves knowing his injury history they wouldn’t have been in this predicament in the first place. So without a real great option, the Indians left themselves with Shelley Duncan, the newly acquired Aaron Cunningham and Russ Canzler, along with minor-league free agents Felix Pie, Ryan Spillborghs, and Fred Lewis.

Duncan and Canzler are not known for their defense and left field is neither of their natural positions, though the Indians have seen Shelley play there last season. Neither would make anyone forget Dale Murphy. Cunningham is more of a bat option than a glove. Pie, Spillborghs, and Lewis are solid defenders, but they are all fourth outfield options at best.

This Spring, of the options listed above, the only one who has shined with the bat is Duncan. Using his excellent September as a springboard, Shelley leads the Indians in home runs (5) and RBIs (15), however he is just 8-37 (.216). His OPS looks great though (.947). Manny Acta has still yet to even acknowledge that Duncan is the leading candidate, despite the fact that the others haven’t even put themselves even close to him. Canzler is the only other one who has shown some sort of bat (.297/.350/.674), but of his 11 hits, only one has been of the extra base variety, a double. His defense is in serious question and he has options left.

Cunningham is a guy that the Indians would love to have had a big spring, but he hasn’t done so. He is pressing a bit, knowing he is out of options and with a new team after the Padres seemed to have given up on him. Defensively, he has been solid enough, but the questions remained if he will ever hit major league pitching well enough to be a regular. He is hitting just .222 (8-36) with two doubles and one RBI.

Pie can play all three outfield positions and has speed, but he hasn’t hit a lick this spring either (though he had a big game-tying RBI single late in yesterday’s 6-5 loss to Milwaukee). He isn’t suited to be the guy in left, but could be considered as a bench option. Like the rest, the veteran Spillborghs is hitting just .171 and like Pie, was brought in as a potential backup, not a guy who would get regular playing time.

So where does that leave them? Duncan is clearly the best option, but it seems as if the Tribe’s brass wants a something better and doesn’t trust him as the guy until Sizemore (or should I say if Sizemore) returns. Don’t need believe me? Check out the latest Tribe daliance.

According to ESPN Deportes, the Indians worked out former All Star and former AL MVP outfielder/DH Vladimir Guerrero in the Dominican Republic. If that doesn’t show some level of desperation, then may be it shows the Indians are attempting to be creative. Signing Guerrero would be interesting to say the least. Nobody will ever doubt his bat. Even last year at age 37, he hit .290/.317/.733 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs in 145 games as a DH for the Baltimore Orioles. As we all know, the Indians already have a DH who can’t play in the field, Travis Hafner. So if the Indians did sign Vlad, he’d be the one roaming left field. 10 years ago, he had a cannon for an arm in right and was feared by runners. But as recently as two years ago, he could barely play out there because of bad knees and when he did, he was a butcher.

I’m all for adding a bat of his caliber and if he has anything left, he would provide a nice stick in the middle of the Tribe order. But in reality, this seems more like the Juan Gonzalez part deux experiment back in 2005, which lasted one whole at-bat where he pulled up lame and was never seen in a Tribe uniform again.

It’s unknown as of today if the Indians have serious interest in Guerrero, but the fact that he is being considered has to mean they are somewhat concerned for what they have in the outfield. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that we haven’t seen Brantley in a week after he strained his right hamstring.

I still think the Indians should give Duncan his shot in left and hope for the best. Maybe this is finally his time and the guy we saw in September will be the real Shelley in 2012. Only time will tell.

  • Double_Up

    Time will tell, but at least the Indians are trying and not simply giving up.

  • EyesAbove

    Kenny Lofton was at Goodyear not long ago and looked to be in decent shape…

  • kjn

    1.) I don’t think Brantley/Sizemore/Choo was ever anyone’s “dream outfield” (see our two attempts to sign Carlos Beltran).
    2.)”At least protected themselves”? This IS the Indians protecting themselves– outfield by committee. It was our last, worst option. The front office bent over backwards trying to get a LF/CF, but were either a.) outbid or b.) downright rejected (thank you, Mr. Pena). I’m sick of hearing about some magical mystery thing they should have done, as though there were better options out there they neglected to consider.
    3.) I doubt Guerrero’s bat. Those numbers were over nearly 600 PAs. He was a straight-up average hitter (across the league, not by position). Seriously- put his numbers next to Matt Laporta’s and weep. On top of all that, he hasn’t played OF regularly since ’08 and has one career game in left under his cap.
    4.) I think the one thing we agree on is that if it’s come to this, just make Shelley Duncan an everyday player and live with it.

  • mgbode

    I didn’t want to be the one to say it first, but hey, why not.  It worked in 2007 :)

  • mgbode

    why not put LaPorta in LF?

    #AlexGordonLateCareerRevivalTour

  • kjn

    We could build him a statue.

  • EyesAbove

    Its probably a long shot that we could get anything of value, but I have to wonder if we could make a trade somewhere. What would it cost, for example, to get somebody like Gerardo Parra from the D-Backs? They seem to have a log jam in the outfield with Kubel, Chris Young and Justin Upton. 

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Unlike LaPorta Gordon can actually hit.

  • EyesAbove

    Prior to last season Gordon couldnt hit either, not very well anyway.

  • Jaker

    looks like somebody has been reading bleacherreport 

  • EyesAbove

    MLB Trade Rumors actually, but I was just throwing a name out there for the sake of discussion. 

  • mgbode

    yep, Matt LaPorta actually has a higher career OPS+ than Gordon did going into last season.  

  • EyesAbove

    Maybe some time in AAA will help him. I still dont think hes a lost cause, as crazy as that sounds. 

  • kjn

    I just don’t see what we have to trade. Jason Donald? A bullpen arm? We don’t have enough bullets for a guy like Parra. Any trade for a serious LF would require creating a hole somewhere else.

  • kjn

    He had a ridiculously high BABIP last year. We’ll see if it lasts.

  • Harv 21

    Please, just give Shelley the job so that in 2 months people will finally be over his September stats against the call-ups and will pick a new Crash Davis to root for. Folks, he’s had a decade plus to crack starting outfields in multiple organizations. Thirty-two year olds don’t suddenly figure it out, they get some hits against other fringe guys or pitchers too cocky to follow the scouting report. Go ahead, tribe, expose him so we can move on to someone who might develop.  

  • kjn

    I concur. Mostly. It’s not completely unheard of for a guy to figure it out in his early 30’s. But yeah, very unlikely. Seems like most of those late bloomers are terrific athletes who finally put it together. Duncan doesn’t strike me as that type.

    I do kind of wonder though why Shelley never got a chance to play every day somewhere. Not to say he’s good, but rather that there are so many bad teams who regularly trot out bad, bad players. Even with only 250 PAs, he still would be tied for third on last year’s Astros for HRs. Why has he never got a chance to play every day on a Royals or a Pirates?

    But hey, Jim Thome thinks he’s our best young star.

  • EyesAbove

    All true but like I said earlier I was just throwing a name out there. Parra is only 24 and still under club control for a few more years, its been reported that the D-Backs would want a lot in return to move him. Is the Jack Hannahan of left fielders out there somewhere? Im not even hoping for a stud, just somebody serviceable because Duncan in left terrifies me. 

  • Steve

    It’s not like he’s suddenly figuring it out at 32. He’s actually hit since about 25, when he hit 34 homers. It’s that he doesn’t have a position, and is very likely to look awful even at LF or 1B. And it’s only been two organizations. NY and here. All we knew is that he wasn’t good enough to start in the cavernous LF of Yankee Stadium for a team that can support a $200 million payroll.

    And as an Indian he now has 500 PAs of a 113 OPS+. Nothing special, but certainly passable. And a lot of his September value last year came against Verlander.

  • mgbode

    small sample size of spring says yes.

  • mgbode

    he’s a right handed hitter who will likely hit 20-25 HRs.  despite the bad AVG and terrible defense, you might not get your wish of him fading away so quickly (especially if he picks April to be his “good” month for the year).

    he’s not great, but, sadly, he might be the best we’ve got.

  • Harv 21

    and that’s the Duncan cliche I reject: never got a chance to play. He’s had the same chance every other minor leaguer in the Yanks system did, but couldn’t even get a call up until ’07. He hit a little just until the pitchers saw the holes in his swing and then nada. In Cleveland we’re crying for outfielders the last few years and he can’t sniff regular at bats. There’s no conspiracy or lousy luck at work here. You’re right, he’s not crazy athletic. He’s also a 32 year old with the plate discipline of a 20 year old, indicating his baseball IQ comes from mom’s side. Don’t mean to dump on him; he’s climbed over hundreds to make it this far. I’m dumping on those who are think the jury is still out. If he becomes a contributing starter at this level at this age it’s more than a feel good story. I want him tested.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I mean, LaPorta in LF actually isn’t a terrible idea.  He doesn’t have anywhere near the OPS you’re looking for a 1B or corner OF, but he did put up an OPS of .711 last year, which is just a shade below the league average.  I still think I’d rather give Duncan a shot, but if LaPorta tears up AAA for a couple months while Duncan flounders, maybe we can bring him up and give him a shot in LF.

  • Steve

    When was this “nada”? He’s hit in the minors since 2005. If its the 34 games he got in the majors in 2008 and 2009, well there serious sample size issues there.

    And he hasn’t gotten regular at bats because he’s not a long-term answer. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who says he’s that. But he is likely to be a passable LF, and currently our best option there right now.

  • mgbode

    also LaPorta is a better overall athlete than Duncan.  I don’t know if he can track flyballs, but I’d be willing to give him a shot.   I mostly gest when comparing him to Gordon (can’t expect best case scenario to actually happen), but I do think there is merit to the idea as well.

    but, where is LaPorta playing in Columbus?   if not in OF, then it’s not likely a consideration.

  • kjn

    Maybe “chance” wasn’t the right word. I just meant I can’t believe some crappy team wasn’t desperate and apathetic enough to let him play everyday.

  • EyesAbove

    LaPorta used to play the outfield. In the minors he played 84 games in left, 87 in right and 57 at first base. He’s also played 36 games in left field with the Tribe. 

    Regardless of position I think some time in AAA will help him. They rushed him up to the bigs too soon, and destroyed his confidence. Hopefully they can build him back up. Im with you, not giving up on him just yet. 

  • kjn

    That’s pretty much how I saw the glut of guys we brought in this offseason- the quest for The Casey Blake of Left Fielders (or Jack Hannahan, if you prefer).

    Duncan worries me, but so do the obvious FA solutions– Damon or Guerrero.

    As it always seems with this team, we’re looking for the best worst option.

  • EyesAbove

    Damon wouldnt be a terrible option if he was willing to sign cheap, but apparently he isn’t. I guess we’ll have to roll with Dunc-a-Dunc and hope for the best. 

  • Garry_Owen

    Can’t we just trade Hafner, straight up, to the Dominican Republic for Guerrero?