End Of Season Grades: Left Fielders
Mike B. | On 06, Oct 2011
By Mike Brandyberry
September 29 began a two week, end of season grade and breakdown by each position. Certainly after the wild ride the 2011 Cleveland Indians took fans on, grades, projections and areas of improvement are all sought for 2012, with the goal being a playoff team next season. Today, we examine the left fielders. Be sure to check out our previous features.
.266 AVG, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 13 SB
The Player To Be Named Later in the CC Sabathia trade was named at the end of 2008, but he really made a name for himself with the Indians in 2011. After two seasons of bouncing between AAA and Cleveland, Brantley became a fixture in the Cleveland lineup this season until a wrist injury ended his season at the end of August.
Brantley, who was the Opening Day centerfielder and leadoff hitter, was moved around early when Grady Sizemore was activated from the disabled list. Somedays he hit leadoff, somedays he hit seventh, but everyday he hit. He hit .297 in April and .278 in May and when Sizemore returned to the disabled list he solidified himself as the everyday leadoff hitter and catalyst to a struggling offense.
After a tough June, Brantley rebounded for a solid July before suffering a wrist injury in August. Once Brantley was injured, his hitting numbers fell drastically, hitting only .211 before being shut down on August 23 and being forced to have wrist surgery. Once Brantley left the lineup, and when he struggled, it seemed the Indians struggled as an offense.
His .266 batting average is probably lower than what the average fan realizes since he played many days in August he probably should not have, but Brantley will be counted on to be the leadoff hitter in 2012 and a player to make the offense move. If he is healthy, and he’s expected to be by spring training, he has to be much closer to a .300 hitter who can draw some walks and set the table for Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the middle of the order.
He may again be asked to play both left and centerfield in 2012. That decision will probably be determined greatly by the Indians decision with Grady Sizemore and the potential to add a right handed hitter that could play the outfield.
.260 AVG, 11 HR, 47 RBI
Fans longed for the moment they would hear that Austin Kearns had been designated for assignment for most of the season. Secretly, Shelley Duncan probably rooted harder than any Indians fan.
Kearns, who could not be optioned to the Indians minor league system, kept a spot on the Tribe’s bench most of the season while Duncan rode the I-71 shuttle from Cleveland to Columbus most of the season before finally getting a shot to play late in the season.
Early in the Indians season Duncan was one of their best bats off the bench, finding himself as one of the American Leagues leading pinch hitters. However, several times when a roster move had to be made, it was Duncan optioned to Columbus, so that the aging Kearns could continue to stay on the major league roster. Certainly frustration had to enter Duncan’s mind as he struggled mightily in May and June at both Cleveland and Columbus.
However, a change in his swing in late July at Columbus resulted in the return of his power stroke and when Kearns was finally given his walking papers and Brantley’s season came to a premature close, Duncan found himself as the everyday left fielder for much of the final six weeks.
With the chance to play everyday, Duncan hit seven home runs and drove in 23 runs in the final month of the season. The Indians have several directions they can go in the offseason to acquire a much needed right-handed bat, but one of the five biggest questions of the offseason has to be, if given the chance, could Duncan play like he did in September and be the Indians everyday outfielder?
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images