The Cleveland Indians’ typical draft strategy is at the same time smart and a little silly. Drafting up the middle athletes, guys who profile to hopefully find their bat while packing some athleticism, is a great way to fill a team with multi-talented, multi-position type of players, but it also makes for a hell of a logjam when the 38 consecutive shortstops you’ve drafted are blocked by Francisco Lindor.
It’s not a massive problem, I’m sure these guys would be fine with learning a new position to get to the Majors, it just seems like they relish the opportunity to throw extra little wrenches in their works, and give their fans a lot more to think about.
Such is the case with Yu Chang. Blocked like so many others because of Frankie, Chang is going to have to find his place on the team elsewhere, whether by being versatile, by showing his bat is a real thing, or by ensconcing himself as a potential MVP candidate at another position like José Ramírez managed to. The first option is the clearest, and easiest, the third the impossible dream we all hope for, but that middle one, what if that’s real? He’s hit home runs off most of the Indians starting rotation during summer camp. It might be time to pay him some due.
It may be that it’s just nothing, just some pitchers working their way back into game shape after spending the last three months lifting weights and eating bratwurst (I assume, and am not projecting), but dingers are dingers. And by all accounts, they’re not cheapies. When Carlos Carrasco calls you scary, that’s a compliment and a half. Chang attributed a pair of them to wind, but a couple days and a couple wind patterns later, what are we to believe?
It’s not as though he was a power threat in his brief stint in Cleveland last year. In 36 plate appearances he posted a .273/.333/.455 line. If he could come back and do that again over the 240 plate appearances available to a starter, of course we’d be happy. That’s a line with a lot of noise though, so we can’t quite tell if it’s real, if it’s a fluke, or what’s going on. He only hit the one home run, but it wasn’t cheap, and it was at night in Anaheim, a tough time to go yard for anyone.
The thing is, he’s at this point battling for a position with Mike Freeman and Christian Arroyo. These are not names that fill me with joy, excitement, or anything besides a muttered “yeah, whatever”. I know with just 60 games it makes sense to go with the known quantity, to not let too many question marks lurk, planning to ruin a season. Counting on the “what if” is how you can tank a season like this in short order. That said, if the known quantity is either a guy who plays every position merely okay and posts a career 72 OPS+, or someone with less experience and less success at the plate, why not have your utility guy be someone who has at least flashed a hint of power, and as MLB.com puts it, “his raw power might be his most impressive tool”.
This oddball season is going to rob us of things like Chang's development, whether in the minors or if he got a chance to come up to Cleveland and make a name for himself due to an injury or whatever. More than likely, the team is just going to go with what they can expect in Arroyo or more likely Freeman. After all, it’s only a utility role. It just seems like a sad bit of a waste to not look at the younger guy with the higher ceiling. It’s not like they’re short on outfielders, and even they’r worried about his defense if he had to play second he’d get the benefit of the Lindor Effect. A small move like this — finding a diamond in the rough nobody planned on — could turn the tide of two or three games, and when that’s five percent of a season, that’s the difference between October on the field and at home.
Yu Chang might be that, or not. We don’t have many rolls of the dice to take here though, isn’t this a good one to choose?