Blink and you missed Bobby Bradley’s contributions to the Cleveland Indians in 2019. The slugging first-base prospect — who leads all Indians minor leaguers in home runs over the last decade — hit just one ball out of the park and whiffed in nearly half of his at-bats in his first taste of the big leagues.
None of his strikeout issues were a mystery leading up to his debut, but it was thought that his power could overcome a propensity for striking out — if not 40-home run potential, at least a lot of extra-base hits. It didn’t happen, and the Indians turned to the trade market and Franmil Reyes as their preferred designated hitter weapon of choice. That was a mixed bag as well, but Reyes has at least proved he can slug in the majors.
Over at Cleveland Baseball Insider, Casey Drottar pondered the idea of the Indians relying on Reyes as an outfield option, more than a true DH. Like Drottar, I don’t think it’s likely we see Reyes get much time out there. When playing for the National League Reyes was forced to play somewhere and the Padres chose the outfield. He wasn’t very good.
Defensive stats are what they are, but Reyes ranked as one of the worst outfielders in the league in range with a -7.4 UZR between 2018 and 2019. He also cost the Padres 12 runs in that span, according to DRS. He’s not going to be an outfielder, god willing, and thus he’ll probably be occupying the designated hitter slot in 2020.
So what does that mean for Bobby B? There obviously are not a lot of data points to work with 15 games, eight hits, and not a lot of balls put into play. Bradley did have a few screamers, though, including that one homer her blasted off of Tyler Duffey at 113.5 miles per hour. He also had a 101.6 mph double play ball, a 102.3 mph double, a 108.4 mph single, a 109.3 mph double, a 110.0 mph double, and a handful of other balls leaving his bat at triple-digit speeds. Combined with everything else, tt all averaged out to a 91.9 average exit velocity and a 40.0% hard-hit rate (to, unfortunately, match his strikeout rate).
You could have taken the Reds trade as a sign they were moving on — after all, if the Indians truly believed in Bradley’s power potential, why bother bringing in Reyes? Reyes, who is not a free agent until the 2025 season, has already proved he can hit in the majors. He makes Bradley entirely redundant.
One mildly concerning answer is that Bradley could be an early successor to Carlos Santana. Santana is under contract in 2020 for $17.5 million with a $17.5 million team option in 2021 (with a $500,000 buyout). Now, of course I’m not saying the Indians would short themselves on talent to trim their bank account — they would never — but that’s exactly what they could do. If Santana wavers at all, or if Paul Dolan wants to upgrade to first class on cross-country flights, they have a potential first baseman in Bradley on the cheap for 2021 instead of paying Santana handsomely for his services. By then, hopefully, Bradley will have worked out the massive holes in his swing and be able to make contact. If not? Hey, he’ll cost virtually nothing.
Bradley will probably get another shot sometime in 2020 — injuries, inconsistencies, and random needs for warm bodies happen — but it’s difficult to gauge where the Indians truly see Bradley right now. According to Paul Hoynes last year, the Indians want Bradley to hit spring training in better shape and prepared to play better at first base, as well as improve his pre- and post-game routines. Hard-hitting or not, there isn’t much of a future for a guy that whiffs as much as Bradley did in his first campaign. Whether it really is a fitness or routine issue, or something that can be worked on in the minors, something’s got to be fixed before he makes an impact for the Indians.
If he can do all that, maybe those opportunities to prove himself come quicker and more often. If not, he might join a long line of fabled Indians power hitters that drift away.