Bobby Bradley's Opening Day Roster Spot on the Indians Could Depend on Franmil Reyes
Franmil Reyes’ progress in the outfield will likely be one of the biggest narratives for the Cleveland Indians this spring.
Though best serving as a designated hitter, Reyes told the team he wanted a chance to get back to right field in 2020. He’s spent the winter trying to improve his fielding, while also shedding a few pounds to help his speed.
As noted earlier this month, Reyes' defensive woes won't be easy to fix. However, considering the lack of sure things in the Indians’ outfield, the team is certainly rooting for him to surprise this spring.
So is Bobby Bradley.
Along with providing Cleveland some much-needed offense in the outfield, Reyes improving his fielding could also open the door for the team’s hard-hitting prospect to clinch a roster spot.
There’s admittedly some irony when making such a statement. After all, acquiring Reyes last summer made Bradley’s chances to get back to the majors a little more difficult. With a more proven power hitter in place at DH, and Carlos Santana locking down first base, the two best fitting positions for Bradley were spoken for.
However, if Reyes can claim one of the Indians’ outfield openings, Bradley could make his case to open the year as their designated hitter.
This is easier said than done, in more ways than one.
First of all, in order to convince Cleveland he can be reliable in the outfield, the progress Reyes displays needs to be significant. He played 660.2 innings in right field last season, logging a defensive runs saved (DRS) of -11.
That number will have to drastically improve – and do so in the span of a month – in order for Reyes to prove he’s a viable outfield option.
Even if it does, even if Reyes stuns everyone and looks demonstrably better in right, Bradley still has a lot to prove on his end before the Indians can consider him as their Opening Day DH.
Bradley spent the first half of 2019 as Cleveland’s cult phenomenon, hitting 24 home runs in Triple-A Columbus while fans openly begged the Indians to bring him up to the big leagues. He had a strikeout problem, sure, but the Tribe’s lineup significantly lacked power. Calling Bradley up to the majors seemed like the most obvious solution to this problem.
Things didn’t exactly work out that way.
After logging a double in his first Indians plate appearance, Bradley only notched seven more hits in his next 48. Despite constantly flexing home run power in the minors, he rounded the bases just once with the Indians. He slashed .178/.245/.356 over a span of 15 games, generating a wOBA which landed well below average (.256).
Making matters worse, the strikeout issue Bradley displayed in Columbus only got worse once he got to Cleveland. In 49 plate appearances, Bradley struck out 20 times. His 40.8% strikeout rate was the highest it's been at any level of his career.
Sure, the sample size is small. However, if you’re trying to prove you can handle big league pitching, striking out in almost half your plate appearances isn’t the best route to take.
The Indians obviously aren’t going to give up on Bradley, especially considering the power he possesses at the plate. That said, in order to even be considered for the Opening Day roster, Bradley will have to drastically decrease his whiffs this spring.
Even then, Cleveland might not have room for him. That is, unless, Reyes can hold his own in right field.
Should that take place, the Indians can carry an outfield of Reyes, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields Jr. and Jake Bauers. Provided Bradley makes great strides at the plate this spring, he could grab an infield roster spot and collect consistent at-bats at DH.
Again, this coming to fruition is dependent on two major changes occurring in Arizona. Reyes has to prove he's no longer a defensive liability, and Bradley badly needs to cut down on his K’s.
Vegas odds aren’t favorable for either situation.
Bradley’s strikeout issues are undoubtedly frustrating for Cleveland, especially considering what he can do when he makes contact. The Indians got a small sample of this last year, and would surely welcome more of it in 2020.
At the moment, though, there doesn’t appear to be a vacancy Bradley can take advantage of. There could be if Reyes convinces Cleveland he can be an everyday right fielder.
As a result, while many with the Indians are hoping Reyes can improve defensively, nobody will be rooting harder for him than Bradley.