As fans at Minnesota’s Target Field marveled at moonshots sailing through the night sky during Monday’s Home Run Derby, no members of the Cleveland Indians were anywhere to be of found.
Sure, All-Star Michael Brantley was taking in the festivities, but no Tribe player was among the 10 mashers invited to participate in the contest. It shouldn’t come as a shock, as no Indian is close to being among the league’s home-run leaders, nor does anyone in Terry Francona‘s lineup pose a true deep-ball threat. Jason Giambi, who is barely a part-time player, may be the only player on the roster who strikes fear into the opposition with his deep-ball potential, but injuries have derailed his season.
The Wahoo’s lack a true-power hitter, and have had this hole in their offense since Travis Hafner was healthy. If your mind is a little a foggy, that’s because 2006 was the last year Hafner was among the game’s elite home-run hitters. He would go on to hit more than 20 homers just once in the final seven, injury-marred years of his career. Grady Sizemore hit 33 homers in 2008, but the argument could be made that the former All-Star center fielder wasn’t the prototypical home-run hitter.
Fans were spoiled in the 1990s and early 2000s, and PED use ran rampant. Now the game’s cleaned up, and home runs are down across the board, but the Indians seem to clearing the fences on a less frequent basis.
Just how bad has the power outage been in Cleveland? In 2013, Nick Swisher led the team with 22 long balls. The top five sluggers in baseball averaged 41 homers.
Since 2009, no Indian has hit 27 or more homers since Carlos Santana accomplished the fete in 2011. The franchise hasn’t had three players hit 20 more home runs since 2008, when Sizemore (33), Jhonny Peralta (23) and Kelly Shopach (21) were in the lineup.
Jim Thome was the only man on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario to be among the game’s top five home-run hitters when he blasted 52 in 2002 (Thome was second, Alex Rodriguez led the league with 57). Since then, only one Cleveland player has come close to cracking the top five. Hafner made the closest run with his aforementioned 2006 season, and finished tied for seventh.
Here’s the team home-run leaders since 2009:
2013: Swisher, 22
2012: Santana, 18
2011: Santana, 27
2010: Shin-Soo Choo, 22
2009: Shin-Soo Choo, 20
If chicks really do dig the long ball, they haven’t been doing so at Progressive Field, but there is some hope. Brantley entered the All-Star break with 15 homers. His career high prior to this season was 10. Like Sizemore, he’s not thought of as a home-run hitter, but some guys do hit for more power after a few years in the league. Dr. Smooth could fall into that category.
The problem for the Indians is the organization’s inability to locate and develop their own power-hitting prospects. Just look at the current crop of minor leaguers. Jesus Aguilar was named a Class AAA All-Star and has 12 homers for the Columbus Clippers. Whether Aguilar can be a viable big-league power remains a big question, but at least he looks the part.
Last year’s No. 1 pick, Clint Frazier was drafted out of high school because of a big bat, but the kid is only 19 and playing at Class A Lake County. He’s still four or five years away.
Mike Papi, taken in this year’s competitive balance round, had some nice power numbers at the University of Virignia, but it’s way too early to tell if he can have successs in professional baseball.
The Indians have fallen on some lean years in the power department. So, what does it all mean? That depends on who you talk to. Swisher had 22 last year and the Indians still made the playoffs–as the wild card. Would a deep threat have made the difference between the wild card and a division title?
Having a power hitter makes a manager’s life easier. A power hitter is a name that can be penciled into the lineup without hesitation. Just think how Nelson Cruz would look in this year’s Indians’ lineup.
Guys like Brantley, Santana and Yan Gomes may generate a few fireworks at Progressive Field, but until the Indians finally start to churn out their own home-run hitters, “Souvenir City” could continue to be lights out.