Think the Cleveland Indians will solve the conundrum known as centerfield before Opening Day?
Call Kenny Lofton, because I think he’d be a safety bet than what we’re looking at now.
As we still gnash or teeth together over the Indians indecision at the position, here’s where center field stands ahead of Opening Day, which is just nine days away.
Additionally here are mmy best guess as to who the Tribe will send out to cover the pasture at Detroit’s Comerica Park.
1. Zimmer and Rosario platoon
With Amed Rosario due around $2.4 million, he’s going to make the team and center field looks like the place the former top prospect can get at bats.
Defensively, there’s obviously a concern. Rosario notably made three errors in his center field debut last week. Since then, he’s done a good job of making the routine plays.
With him out there, the Tribe will be walking a tight rope, but there’s only way to get big-league reps once the season starts, and that’s by playing him.
The Tribe’s decision to not move Rosario to center at the onset of Spring Training may haunt the club through the entire season. Yes, they had to find out if Andres Gimenez could start every day at shortstop, but the usually smart front office couldn’t figure out that Gimenez had already beaten out Rosario for the job just six months ago while in New York. Why wouldn’t he be able to do it again?
So you’ve got Terry Francona talking about making Rosario comfortable, which is why they teased him at shortstop to begin Cactus League play. Comfortable!? How comfortable was he when they sent him to center field halfway through camp and he made three errors, on a game that was broadcast back in Cleveland, no less?
Playing Rosario in center field is actually a good idea. He’s athletic enough to make the switch. Oscar Mercado notably switched from shortstop to center field in the minors. Defense isn’t his issue.
How and why the Indians continue to drag their feet at the position remains a mystery, but I guess it really isn’t.
They coveted Bradley Zimmer over Clint Frazier in the trade that brought Andrew Miller to Cleveland back in 2016. It was, “a bit of misstep.”
I’m rooting for Zimmer because I think he can be fine defensively and because the Tribe is invested him. That said, you don’t need to be Billy Beane to know he’s not going to stop striking out and he’s not going to hit enough to make him a viable, every-day starter.
2. Ben Gamel
With just over a week until Opening Day, I think Ben Gamel makes the team. The five-year vet came up through the minors playing center field and appeared in 10 games at the position last season while with the Brewers.
Lifetime, he’s a .261 hitter (.720 OPS). He’s an insurance policy should Rosario just look lost–which is a possibility.
3. Zimmer and Luplow platoon
Jordan Luplow really struggled during the truncated 2020 campaign and he’s been hurt for a good chunk of Spring Training.
In 2019 he crushed left-handed pitching to a tune of a .381 batting average and a 1.181 OPS. The Indians had Luplow play a few inning in center field on Monday. I don’t think they’re going to ignore what he did against southpaws just because his 2020 was out of whack.
When Luplow was at his best two seasons back, he mostly platooned in right field. However, the Indians look to be committed to Josh Naylor in right field, and Naylor hits lefties about as well as he hits right-handers.
Frankly, at this point, I’m not ruling out a trade. The Reds are DESPERATE for a shortstop. Cincy fans should feel that they’ve been slapped in the face because they’re team hasn’t trade for Rosario.
4. The minors
How Daniel Johnson wasn’t given a true shot to make the club is another failure of the organization thus far in 2021. All the prospect has done is hit at the minor-league level (.284, .804 OPS). He’s mostly been thought of as a corner outfielder, but he’s played over 100 games in center field during four seasons in the minor.
The Tribe went through an outfield situation in summer camp last season that resulted in Johnson being sent to the alternate site. They heavily complimented the prospect, much like they did when they demoted him last week.
At this point, what the heck are they waiting for?
As for Oscar Mercado, the job was his, but he had a dreadful time in spring training.