Inbox: How will Tribe use CF this year?

April 6th, 2021

It’s been a rocky start to the 2021 season for the Indians’ offense. Where do they go from here? Let’s try to come up with some answers in this week’s Indians Inbox:

How long do we see the Luplow and Gamel platoon in center? Who do you think we see there from the alternate site first: Mercado or Johnson?
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It will probably be a little while until we see call ups from the alternate site, unless there is an injury. The players in Columbus have yet to play a game since Spring Training ended, and considering the Indians wanted guys like Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer to get more at-bats before they come back up to the big leagues, they may still need some time. Daniel Johnson could be in a different boat since he's not specifically working on making adjustments at the plate, but it seems like the Tribe wants to try the Jordan Luplow/Ben Gamel platoon in center for at least a little longer.

How is Amed Rosario doing in his transition to CF? At what point in the season will Tito be confident enough in Rosario to give him regular at-bats in the outfield?
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The more reps he gets, the better Rosario will be in the outfield. We all remember how this transition began in Spring Training (three errors in his first game), but Indians outfield coach Kyle Hudson was confident at the end of camp that Rosario would continue to improve. Each day he’s not in the lineup, he’s getting ground balls at shortstop and fly balls in center. Although his first two starts came at short this year, a Rosario/Andrés Giménez platoon is unlikely. Indians manager Terry Francona was clear on Monday, saying that Rosario is not just a platoon guy. If the team is expecting to play Giménez regularly, that means Rosario's time in center field could be coming soon.

Is Bauers on a short leash knowing Bobby Bradley is very close to being ready for a potential call up? Any other prospects considered to be “very close” for a call up as well?
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The Indians want to see what they have in Jake Bauers. It may be harder for fans to buy into that concept when the team has resorted to platooning Yu Chang with Bauers at first, at least through the first four games of the year, but the Tribe was not willing to have Bauers go through the waiver process without giving him one more chance. That means he’ll get a decent opportunity to prove if he can win the everyday job. And with the way the club emphasizes how difficult it is to evaluate players in cold Aprils in Cleveland, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has the first month or two to give him ample time to try to find his footing.

As far as other prospects that could get a call up, it may take some time, but keep an eye on Johnson and Nolan Jones moving forward.

Despite the lack of runs, is there still promise with the hard-hit balls the Indians have been getting even if they aren’t always hits?
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If you ask Franmil Reyes, there’s definitely still promise.

“When everybody starts hitting and those balls start dropping, we’re gonna be good,” Reyes said, after Monday’s loss to the Royals. “I trust my teammates, I trust myself, I trust my pitcher and the pitchers are doing a very good job. So, when those balls start falling, we’re gonna be good.”

But do the numbers back it up? Let’s take a look at the Tribe’s batting averages and expected batting averages (xBA) from the first four games:

Thursday: .188 avg (6-for-32), .230 xBA
Saturday: .226 avg (7-for-31), .341 xBA
Sunday: .277 avg (10-for-36), .287 xBA
Monday: .107 avg (3-for-28), .278 xBA

So, based on the exit velocities and launch angles of the Tribe’s batted balls, the numbers do show that the team has run into a bit of bad luck. But the offense still has a lot of work to do.

Was Chang expected to get this much time at first base entering the season? I didn’t see him start taking reps there until very late in Spring Training.
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Because he didn’t start playing there until the end of the season, this seems like an idea that was cooked up in the middle of camp. The Indians saw the potential of his bat once again, and when the team decided to ship Mike Freeman to the Reds, it became clear the Chang was going to be the utility guy. But when third base, shortstop and second base are all manned by guys who rarely get a day off, the Tribe wasn’t quite sure where Chang would get his at-bats. That’s when the idea of having him get reps at first base was born. And when excelled defensively in this transition, the Indians got their answer.