By Craig Gifford
That trio is one that can be as good as any in baseball when it comes to outfield play. The three have the ability to hit for a good average, all can hit the home run ball 15-20 times a season and all three have strong base-running and fielding abilities. It is an outfield most teams would like to have – including the Cleveland Indians.
While all three do call the Indians their team, the problem is their hasn’t been much playing involved for the group, especially lately.
As of now, Sizemore is the only healthy body among the normal outfield starters, which is actually incredible, considering the time he has missed with knee and hernia injuries over the past several seasons. The one-time all-star and face of the franchise has appeared in just 61 games this season. He has been on the disabled list three times, having come back to action a third time with Monday’s game against the Detroit Tigers.
Those 61 games is actually nearly double the 33 Sizemore played in all of 2010 as he battle knee problems. The issues began in 2009 when Sizemore’s season was cut short after 109 games. At least that year, he did pop 18 home runs. It was the last time Sizemore even came close to resembling the team’s hitting leader of old. When healthy, Sizemore will give you 25-30 home runs and 100 RBI. The problem is he has not stayed healthy in three years and who knows if he ever will. The myriad of knee injuries and surgeries have robbed Sizemore of his once trademark speed. A Former 30-30 player, Sizemore has no stolen bases this year and has been caught attempted to swipe a base, twice. The power is still there, as Sizemore does have 10 home runs in his limited playing time this season.
The story has been much the same for Choo. When Sizemore started having his problems at the end of 2009, it was Choo who took his place as the offensive spark for the Tribe. In 2009 and 2010 Choo became the star of the franchise. In those first two full seasons, he averaged 21 home runs, 88 RBI and batted .300 each year. In 2008, Choo broke out with 14 home runs and .309 average in 94 games.
This season, Choo struggled out of the gates. In early May, he received a DUI which set him back mentally. In late June, Choo appeared to be coming back to form before suffering a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch. He joined Sizemore on the disabled list. Choo came back in late August and was hitting like the player of old. It was simply a flash as he last about a week before going back on the DL with an oblique injury. He is still out, with no timetable yet for a return.
This season has seen Choo play just 84 games, with eight home runs and 36 RBI. The batting average, which lagged early, was raised to .260 in Choo’s August come back and week-long hot stretch. However, he has not been healthy long enough to help a sluggish offense.
Brantley, the youngest and newest member of the Tribe’s outfield brigade, was the glue that held things together for a while. With Choo and Sizemore out, Brantley became the lead-off batter for the Tribe and the one everyday outfielder who seemingly did not belong in the minors (at least until the July trade for Kosuke Fukudome). He even played through pain, with a hurting wrist for several weeks. Finally, in mid-August, just as Choo was coming back, Brantley succumbed and went to the DL. He is out for the season after only 114 games. He showed promise in that time, with seven long balls and 46 RBI. He hit .266. Playing with the bad wrist likely hurt his batting average as he did hit a slump shortly before calling it a season.
An outfield with so much promise has been so uniquely injured this year. Brantley will be the only one of three to reach 100 games played this year. The one good thing to come of all of this has been young players filling in and gaining valuable time. Players like Ezequiel Carrera, Jerad Head and Shelley Duncan, who should probably be getting seasoning in the minor leagues this year, are getting their teeth wet in the majors.
Assuming Sizemore comes back at a discounted price next year (he has a club option that likely won’t be picked up for 2012), he would probably be penciled in as a starter with Choo and Brantley next season. The only way that’s not the starting outfield is if the Indians make a rare move in free agency to bring in a younger, power-hitting outfielder. That gives the Tribe three young, solid options. That looks good on paper, but paper can be ripped apart with injuries as the Indians have learned all too well this year.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images