The biggest question mark for the Cleveland Indians right now on offense is the outfield. Michael Brantley is one of the best in the game over in left field, and Lonnie Chisenhall has been an above-average player when roaming either right or center, but Chisenhall’s currently on his last year of arbitration and Brantley’s contract has a club option for 2018 and he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
The team has tried to fill in the other gaps with platoons and a mixture of veterans like Austin Jackson, Brandon Guyer, and Abraham Almonte, but all three are currently on the disabled list.
So what does the future look like?
MLB Pipeline’s top outfield prospects
|1||Bradley Zimmer||CF||Bats: L Throws: R||24||MLB||2014 Draft, 1st Round (21)||2017|
|7||Will Benson||RF||Bats: L Throws: L||18||Rookie||2016 Draft, 1st Round (14)||2020|
|9||Greg Allen||CF||Bats: S Throws: R||23||AA||2014 Draft, 6th Round (188)||2018|
|20||Gabriel Mejia||CF||Bats: S Throws: R||21||A||Signed 10/28/2013 (Dom. Repub.)||2020|
|27||Oscar Gonzalez||RF||Bats: R Throws: R||19||A-||Signed 7/2/2014||2020|
|28||Andrew Calica||OF||Bats: L Throws: R||23||A+||2016 Draft, 11th Round (332)||2019|
|30||Conner Capel||RF||Bats: L Throws: L||20||A||2016 Draft, 5th Round (162)||2020|
Thankfully, the top prospect in the Indians system is Bradley Zimmer, and he was called up last week, racking up his first major league hit and home run in just his second game. The former first-round draft pick is currently batting .313 in a small sample size of 19 plate appearances. I know it’s early, and strikeouts are still an issue, but he definitely looks like he belongs.
Further down on the farm, Double-A Akron’s Greg Allen looks like he could be the leadoff hitter and center fielder of the future with his high on-base percentage, elite speed, and spectacular defense, but he’s going to have to get healthy first. He’s on the disabled list with a broken hamate bone and isn’t expected to be back for at least another month.
Will Benson is a major standout in the Tribe system as last year’s first-round selection. The 6’5 super athlete possesses serious power potential as a corner outfield prospect, but he’s still several years of development away.
Oscar Gonzalez also seems promising with major power potential and a cannon arm in the corner outfield position, but just like Benson, he’s still at least three years away from debuting.
Zimmer is hopefully here to stay, and Greg Allen was hoping to debut with the Indians in late 2017 via September call-up, but he likely got pushed to 2018 with his injury setback.
Other notable outfielders
|Tyler Naquin||CF||Bats: L Throws: R||26||AAA|
|Conner Marabell||CF||Bats: L Throws: R||23||AAA|
|Mike Papi||RF||Bats: L Throws: R||24||AA|
|Dorssys Paulino||LF||Bats: R Throws: R||22||AA|
|Luigi Rodriguez||LF||Bats: L Throws: R||24||AA|
|Taylor Murphy||RF||Bats: L Throws: R||21||AA|
|Ka'ai Tom||OF||Bats: L Throws: R||22||A+|
|Jodd Carter||CF||Bats: R Throws: R||20||A+|
|Todd Isaacs||CF||Bats: R Throws: R||21||A|
|Mitch Longo||OF||Bats: L Throws: R||22||A|
|Hosea Nelson||LF||Bats: L Throws: L||20||AZL|
Tyler Naquin finished third in Rookie of the Year voting last year, but he really struggled in the final two months of the season and those same struggles with defense, strikeouts and high fastballs carried over into 2017, earning him a demotion to Columbus, where he’s currently on the 7-day disabled list with a bad back.
Conner Marabell is likely just enjoying a cup of coffee at Triple-A while Austin Jackson heals up, but he’s definitely making the best of his double promotion, batting .467/.500/.600 through five games. He’s not just a flash in the pan either. Marabell led all Indians minor leaguers in doubles last season with 45.
The biggest surprise this season has been Mike Papi in Double-A Akron. A former first-round CBA pick, Papi had lost his luster as a top prospect over the past few seasons, but he’s stormed out of the gates in 2017, currently slashing .278/.383/.429 and likely putting himself back on the prospect radar if he can keep it up over an extended period of time.
The future is still promising for the Tribe outfield, even after trading away Clint Frazier last year. Zimmer looks like the real deal and should be roaming the Progressive Field grass for at least the next six years and hopefully Naquin can turn things around. Greg Allen also appears to be a serious candidate to make the team in 2018 as long as he can come back strong from injury while Will Benson represents that big-time corner outfield power threat the team has been lacking since the days of Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to add some more depth, but you have to like what you see right now.