Coming out of the 2020 season there was two, possibly three outfielders that could be penciled into the starting lineup for the Cleveland Baseball Club on a regular basis. Those three were Franmil Reyes, Josh Naylor, and Oscar Mercado. Now that the team has gone out and signed Eddie Rosario that number increases by one more and a little bit more clarity comes to that group. In Cleveland’s group of outfielders there are some players who will get significant at-bats and others who will see play time sparingly if at all. Before we get into some of those players, there is an issue that must be discussed.
Musical chairs at three positions
Exactly which position some of these options play will give a better perspective into how the Cleveland outfield will be constructed. While all names that will be mentioned can play the outfield, there are other positions that they have the ability to play.
First base is a position that can be manned by two players, the aforementioned Josh Naylor and Jake Bauers. If either player can fill that position, it provides an opportunity for the other in the outfield, although there is a better chance for Naylor to stick in the outfield than Bauers.
Last season there was a plan to try and get Franmil Reyes more time in the outfield. For a variety of reasons that did not come to pass and Reyes saw his playing time almost exclusively at DH. If Reyes does find his way into the Cleveland outfield this season it will impact the playing time of a non-outfielder, that person being Bobby Bradley. Reyes in the outfield clears a path for Bradley to get regular playing time at the major league level. If not, Bradley will have to fight for the first base position with Bauers and Naylor or even spend more time at AAA. This should go without saying but Reyes and Rosario in the corner outfield spots are not defensive wizards so that could come into play in regards to whether or not Reyes is an option in the field.
The last chance duo
There are two players on the roster who may not be long for Cleveland if they do not find a way into the lineup, the previously mentioned Jake Bauers and Bradley Zimmer. Bauers is someone who has options at first base if outfield is not an option, but Zimmer is purely an outfielder. The issue with Zimmer has been injuries and a subpar performance at the plate. Even with the reconstructed swing Zimmer is not all that inspiring when he steps into the batters box. If Cleveland determines that they are not in need of their services, and that seems very possible, that they may have to try and catch on with another club.
Here is what we know about Jordan Luplow, he can mash left handed pitching and struggles against righties. Luplow is a left handed pitching hitting specialist for Cleveland and his career splits show that. Against lefties Luplow slashes .275/.379/.603/.982 while against righties it is /.193/.274/.316/.589. 18 of Luplow’s 23 career home runs have come against lefties and 15 of 24 doubles. It is pretty clear that Luplow should only see playing time against left handing pitching.
The unknown and the best combination for Cleveland
There is one player that fans have been screaming to get a legitimate chance in the Cleveland outfield, Daniel Johnson. Johnson only has 13 plate appearances at the major league level and definitely deserves a real opportunity. Johnson has always been blocked one way or another in the outfield and has not really had a chance to make an impact. Now there is a path, but it is consists of a very specific combination. This path exists only if Reyes is the DH, Naylor is at first, Rosario in left, and Mercado in center with everyone else not being a real option.
Of all the combinations for Cleveland this one actually makes the most sense. Naylor fills the hole at first base, Rosario plays his familiar left field, Mercado patrols center, and Reyes can concentrate on hitting and can settle in to what his probably his future permanent position. If the construction of the roster ends up this way it should give them the best combination of all their pieces. This version of the Cleveland outfield seems to be the most stable and could provide the most offensive production for a group that has been lackluster for quite some time.