Around the Horn: Youth, depth key Tribe outfield

Luplow, Martin, Naquin likely to man starting spots for Cleveland

February 4th, 2019

In the final weeks leading up to Spring Training, has been going around the horn to examine each area of the Indians' 2019 roster. This final installment focuses on Cleveland's outfielders.

Projected Starters: (LF), (CF) and (RF)

Luplow may not have a tremendous amount of Major League experience, but he's joining the Tribe at time where all three of the outfield positions are up for grabs. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti recently said that the team thinks it'll be increasingly important to "provide young players an opportunity to contribute at the Major League level," and he is hopeful that these players will take advantage of each opportunity they receive.

The 25-year-old Luplow was traded by the Pirates after playing in 37 games in 2018 and 27 the previous season. Although he has a good chance of earning his first starting job in the big leagues, he said at Tribe Fest that his mindset will be no different than in years past.

"I think for me, I've always been fighting for a spot and I've always had that chip on my shoulder," Luplow said. "So I don't think it's going to be anything new. It's going to be really cool to be able to compete against a lot of young talent and a lot of these guys that I'm getting to know right now. They seem like they're ready to go win some ballgames."

• Around the Horn:Middle infield | Corner infield | Rotation | Bullpen

Martin will finally get the chance to don the Indians' uniform on a regular basis after playing in just six contests for Cleveland last year before suffering a life-threatening illness. Now that he's been cleared to resume all baseball activities, the center fielder said that he feels 100 percent healthy and is looking forward to getting back on the field.

After being traded to Cleveland at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Martin got off to a hot start, going 5-for-15 (.333) with two home runs and four RBIs. With such a young roster, the eight-year veteran will be a nice addition to help lead the Indians' outfield.

Naquin is expected to be healthy at the start of Spring Training after undergoing right hip surgery last year that limited his season to just 61 games. In that time, he hit .264 with seven doubles, three homers and 23 RBIs, while logging 39 appearances in right, 19 in center and five in left.

Other options:, , and

Allen has proven that he can play all three outfield positions, but he will likely compete with Luplow to be the Opening Day left fielder. In 2018, he made 78 appearances in center, 16 in right and three in left, and he hit .257 with 11 doubles, 20 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 91 total games. Even if Allen doesn't win the starting job out of the gate, he will likely see a good bit of time in the grass, rotating as a backup to all three spots.

Bauers is another outfield option, although he's less likely than Allen to be a regular. Bauers, traded to the Indians from the Rays in exchange for and in December, will spend the majority of his time at first base while getting a chance to DH when gets his reps at first. However, if Cleveland needs Bauers to spell either of its starting corner outfielders, he can easily do so. After getting the call up to the big leagues on June 7 for Tampa Bay, he played 16 games in left and made four appearances in right. Although he doesn't quite have the same experience in the grass as he has in the dirt, Bauers recently said he's ready to play whatever position that will get him in the lineup.

Both Barnes and Thompson are non-roster invitees to Major League camp this spring. Barnes has six big league seasons under his belt, having spent time with Houston, Colorado and Cleveland. He came up in September for the Indians last season, playing in 19 games and hitting .263.

Thompson has made a handful of big league appearances over the past four seasons, and he split last year between the A's and White Sox. Overall, he hit .117 with three doubles and three home runs in 51 contests.

Returning from injury:

Zimmer is recovering from right shoulder surgery that he underwent last July. As of Jan. 11, the 26-year-old outfielder was hitting off a tee and throwing up to 75 feet without issues. Initially, Zimmer was expected to return midseason, but he recently said that he expects to be cleared much sooner. The Indians have said that he will have some restrictions at the start of Spring Training, but how he responds to increasing his activity will determine how quickly he can get into game action. With Cleveland's lack of depth in the outfield, the sooner Zimmer is able to return, the better.

Prospect to watch:

The 24-year-old outfielder was traded from the Cardinals to the Tribe at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline last season and he was recently ranked Cleveland's No. 16 prospect. Mercado was originally a shortstop and struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line, but in 2017 he made the move to center field and saw quite the change. That season, he slashed .287/.341/.428 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs for Double-A Springfield.

In 100 games with the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis in 2018, Mercado hit .285 with 21 doubles, eight home runs, 42 RBIs and 31 stolen bases, but he cooled off slightly after joining the Columbus Clippers, hitting .252. His athleticism and plus arm have made his transition to center field seamless, giving the Indians another outfielder to consider during Spring Training.

Who else is in the Pipeline? (2018 rankings)

No. 5 George Valera (age: 18, highest level: Rookie ball)

No. 12 Daniel Johnson (age: 23, highest level: Double-A)

No. 23 Oscar Gonzalez (age: 21, highest level: Class A)

No. 24 Johnathan Rodriguez (age: 19, highest level: Rookie ball)

No. 25 Will Benson (age: 20, highest level: Class A)

No. 26 Mitch Longo (age: 24, highest level: Class A Advanced)