Raburn Looking to Rebound to 2013 Form
Craig Gifford | On 19, Mar 2015
When Ryan Raburn is healthy and hitting to his capabilities he is as good a utility bench player as almost any in baseball.
The problem is, two of Raburn’s last three seasons have been marred by injury and ineffectiveness. However, it is the season in the middle of two bad ones that give a glimmer of hope that Raburn can still be a strong presence, in a reserve role, in 2015.
This will be Raburn’s third season with the Indians after spending his first seven big league campaigns with the Tigers.
The first season with the Tribe went better than anyone could have guessed as the utility outfielder/infielder played an important role in Cleveland’s trip to the American League Wild Card round.
That 2013 campaign saw Raburn bounce back from a disastrous 2012 with 16 home runs, 55 RBI and .272 batting average in 87 games, 243 at bats. Those numbers were very similar to the three-year stretch he enjoyed in Detroit from 2009-2011 when the right-hander average 15 jacks, 52 RBI and hit better than .280 twice. He batted at a respectable .256 clip in 2011.
However, the wheels came off and Raburn’s relationship with the Tigers soured in 2012. The power hitter struggled with injuries and his work at the plate took a major hit. Aside from a brief Major League sting in 2004, Raburn’s 2012 numbers were career lows, across the board, as he hit a meager .171 with just one long ball 12 RBI. The Tigers cut him loose after that.
Tribe manager Terry Francona, who had been hired in the fall of 2013, always had a fondness for Raburn and his work ethic and decided to take a chance on a guy who was only a season removed from three solid years. Raburn was inked to a minor league contract that obviously worked out well.
It worked out well enough that Cleveland extended Raburn at the end of 2013 for two more guaranteed seasons and third team-option year in 2016. Due to $2.5 million owed to Raburn this year, it is nearly a foregone conclusion he will be back with the Indians as one of the club’s bench guys this summer. However, that team option for next year is in doubt.
That is because Raburn’s Year 2 in Cleveland was only slightly better than his miserable final one in Detroit. Last year, Raburn fell back to four homers, 22 RBI and .200 average. By the end of the year, he was not used very much and became something of an afterthought, at times.
Despite the poor numbers, Raburn is still poised to break camp with the Tribe for several reasons. The biggest of those being his ability to play all over the field. Over the course of his career, the 33-year-old has played every position other than shortstop and catcher. He even pitched a perfect inning of mop up in 2013, striking out a batter. Raburn’s use in the infield has been minimal lately, however. He has not played any infield this spring.
Still, it is with the bat that the Indians are really counting on Raburn to make his mark. On a team loaded with left-handed bats, the ability to hit from the other side distinguishes Raburn. When going right, he fills an important role in pinch-hitting against a tough lefty or getting a start against a southpaw.
Because of his ability to play both the outfield and infield, the Indians will likely see if and hope he can have another bounce-back season, a la 2013.
That said, the first part of the year will be very important to Raburn, who will turn 34 on April 17. Cleveland’s outfield has grown the last couple of years and the need to have a guy who can simply play all over has diminished a bit.
The projected starters in the outfield for most games this year are Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Brandon Moss, who can also play first base and designated hitter. There is also David Murphy who the Indians are counting on to provide more power than last season. Nick Swisher can also play the corner outfield spots, but will likely see more time at DH than anywhere else due to recent surgeries on both knees.
The last couple years, the Tribe needed guys like Raburn and Mike Aviles who could play all over the field because of having Jason Giambi on the bench. Giambi was a nice guy to have on the roster in terms of being experienced and still having enough pop in his bat to make a difference at the plate. However, he was a DH only and guys who could play three or four spots were almost a necessity.
With Giambi now retired, Cleveland will carry four or five bench players who can actually take the field on a daily basis. More than ever, Raburn will need to prove his worth at the plate.
If Raburn falters early, he make be a prime candidate for the cutting block. The Indians, traditionally, do not like to eat salary in the small-market, low-spending state they are in. However, Raburn’s money is not so great that it couldn’t be done. If he comes out in April and May hitting like he did last year or in 2012, he could be gone in favor of the younger Tyler Holt. Holt is able to play all three outfield spots and his bat is good enough that he very well could be the team’s future utility outfielder sooner rather than later.
Raburn and the Indians could really use the guy who has hit well in four of the last six seasons. If he can get back to that 15 homer pace, it would really be a big boon to a Tribe lineup that did not have a wealth of power last season.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer