As the calendar turns to May, teams will start to think about who down on the farm should get the next call. Some teams will be looking to bring up prospects for experience, others will be angling for a boost to their roster as they fight for the playoffs this year. Despite being in last place at the moment, the Indians are still in the latter camp, and have already made a few call ups to help the big club.
With Josh Tomlin having been called up the next starting pitcher in line is clearly Trevor Bauer. The team's top prospect, Francisco Lindor, is a shortstop, while other top infielders have already been called up (Jose Ramirez) or are reportedly on the verge (Jesus Aguilar). I thought it might make sense to take a peak at the outfielders, to see what help might be available there.
The top two outfield prospects the Indians have are Clint Frazier and Tyler Naquin. Frazier, the team's top draft pick a year ago, has star potential, but he is just getting a taste of A-ball at Lake County, so we will not see him in Cleveland in 2014. Naquin, at 23 years old, is more polished and much closer to helping, but he has still played fewer than 50 games at Double-A, and his stats there are not nearly impressive enough to suggest that he is ready for the show.
With those two unlikely to help this season, who is available? There are five oufielder who have played for the Clippers this season. Two of them (Nyjer Morgan and Michael Bourn) are already quite familiar to Tribe fans, and on the 25-man roster at the moment. The other three, the guys who haven't been on the roster this season but could be, are an interesting mixed bag.
Matt Carson might be the obvious choice to come up next, considering his performance in Cleveland last year, how highly his teammates and the coaching staff seem to think of him, and his solid start this year. His .284/.375/.407 line is inflated by a .404 BABIP, but his walk rate is up and he has already hit a couple HR. The 32-year-old journeyman is unlikely to become anything special or to be an impact player, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get some important at-bats at some point this year.
If you have followed the Indians closely for the past few years, Tim Fedroff's name is likely one you have heard. Now 27, Fedroff has been in the Cleveland system for six years, and has put up some solid statistical seasons, particularly his AA/AAA year in 2012. 2013 was a step back, though, and Fedroff has never been a highly regarded prospect. 2014 has seen him getting on base at an impressive .373 clip, but showing absolutely no power. More and more, it looks like Fedroff will have a career that looks like Carson's - bouncing around the minors, barely ever touching an MLB field. He'll be on the radar for the team, but it will likely take a series of injuries for him to get a shot. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
Saving the most interesting for last, Carlos Moncrief is the closest thing to a prospect in the Columbus outfield, and he is not much of a prospect. He's 25 and has always been old for the level he is playing at, but he has put up some notable seasons. In his first taste of AA last year, he his 17 HR with a .284/.354/.470 line, and coming into 2014 there was some hope he would continue to show that bat in Columbus. Thus far, it hasn't happened (.253/.297/.358 with just 1 HR), but there is still time for Moncrief to make some noise in AAA. If he does, he likely passes Carson to be next in line to help out at Progressive Field.
It's not exactly a star-studded cast, but those are the best options to spend some time in Cleveland this year, should a situation arise. Assuming good health, we'll likely continue to see Michael Brantley, Bourn, and David Murphy/Ryan Raburn in the OF, with Mike Aviles getting some time out there, and Nyjer Morgan filling in if there's an injury. It's also possible that we may see Nick Swisher make an appearance in the outfield at some point (particularly if Jesus Aguilar is called up and hits well, forcing himself into the first-base picture).
In fact, I'd argue that if long-term OF help is needed, beyond the five guys we have seen, right now Aguilar at 1B and Swisher in the OF is the best option on the table. If his bat heats up, Moncrief could change that equation.
By next year, Naquin should be the first option from the minors, and Frazier could be a year behind him. At that point, 2016, things in the Cleveland outfield will get really interesting.