Bobby Bradley is making an impression for the Cleveland Indians this spring. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance he earns himself an opening day roster spot.
While Cleveland’s biggest offseason project – turning Franmil Reyes into a viable outfielder – initially created an opportunity for Bradley to fill the void at designated hitter, said opportunity seemingly disappeared with the team’s signing of Domingo Santana. The former Seattle Mariner appears set to rotate with Reyes between DH and right field this season.
As a result, Bradley’s year may still start in Columbus, regardless of his solid spring.
Admittedly, the use of words like “may” and “almost” was intentional. Though it initially doesn’t look that way, there’s still a route the Indians could take with their roster which sees Bradley playing in Cleveland this March.
It all just depends on the team’s willingness to take on the risks which come with it.
Throughout spring, the consensus projections for Cleveland’s outfield have been relatively unchanged. Reyes in right, alternating with Santana. Oscar Mercado is a lock, while veteran Delino DeShields Jr. can be penciled into a utility role. From there, it’s Jordan Luplow and one of either Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer or Jake Bauers as his platoon partner.
I touched on this last bit a few days ago, noting the rocky springs Allen, Zimmer and Bauers are experiencing and wondering how the Indians plan to approach this. Right now, each of these options looks like a hole at the bottom of Cleveland’s batting order.
However, instead of having Reyes and Santana alternate between DH and right field, what if the Indians choose to start both as their corner outfielders?
Despite the defensive concerns which come with said approach, sandwiching Mercado between Reyes and Santana would at the very least provide some more muscle to the Indians’ offense.
It’d also reopen the DH role for Bradley.
While it’s necessary to use the “it’s just spring training” caveat, Bradley has definitely earned the right to be considered for an opening day roster spot. He entered Friday slashing .368/.400/.737, having already launched a pair of home runs which both threatened to cross state lines.
Though it’s way too early to claim he’s improved his strikeout issues, that Bradley’s spring strikeout rate is currently at 15.0% is certainly encouraging. Sure, he’s not facing elite pitching, as Baseball Reference grades the level of opposing pitchers he’s faced as Double-A quality. Still, for someone who boasted a 33.7% K-rate across his last two seasons in Columbus, you take progress when you see it.
Said progress has been noticed by fellow teammates.
“Bobby’s looked really, really good,” infielder Christian Arroyo told Mandy Bell of MLB.com. “His approach has become more refined, especially for a big guy, too.”
As mentioned, though, Bradley may open the year in Triple-A despite his improvements. Unless, of course, Cleveland takes the route of relying on Reyes and Santana in the corners.
In this scenario, the outfield roster spots go to Mercado, Reyes, Santana, Luplow and DeShields. Zimmer (two), Allen (one) and Bauers (one) each have remaining options available, so there’d be no issue sending them to Columbus.
Meanwhile, Bradley grabs himself a spot and gets at-bats at DH.
We’ve reached the point of the argument where the risks of this approach need to be addressed, as they’re both present and glaring.
For one, putting Reyes and Santana in the corners is a significant sacrifice in the defense department. Both boast ugly Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating numbers, while Santana committed 12 errors alone last year.
In a slight silver lining, both players have been error-free this spring, with Santana even flashing a little defensive flair in right.
Also worth noting are the strikeouts, the oh-so-many strikeouts which would come from this approach.
Neither Reyes (28.3%) nor Santana (32.0%) boast encouraging career K-rates. That Bradley struck out in 40.8% of his big league at-bats last season isn’t reassuring, either.
When these three make contact, though, they offer the kind of strength this Indians offense sorely needs. Santana (.194 ISO) and Reyes (.248 ISO) possess above average-to-excellent raw power, while Bradley’s (.303 ISO) was on another level entirely in Triple-A last season.
Ultimately, in contemplating the idea of putting Reyes and Santana in the field to create a spot for Bradley, the Indians need to answer two questions.
Do we feel confident that at least two of our struggling outfielders will figure it out offensively come opening day? If not, what's more important, defense or offensive power?
If it’s the latter, creating room for Bradley is a route worth pursuing.
This may just end up as an exercise in wheel-spinning. The Tribe could still send Bradley to Columbus to open the season, either due to other outfielders hitting their stride or concern about the genuine drawbacks which come from a Santana-Reyes outfield.
As Thursday's lineup card indicated, though, the latter is something the Indians are at the very least willing to consider.
In doing so, a sliver of hope remains for Bradley’s chances to spend opening day in Cleveland.