Early on in the free agency period, the Indians added veteran outfielder Shane Robinson on a minor league contract to compete for a role on the club’s bench in 2016.
Since the move, Cleveland has added several others as the outfield appears to be the team’s greatest point of weakness and contention with Opening Day just one month away. In December, the Indians purchased Collin Cowgill from the Los Angeles Angels, claimed Joey Butler off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays, signed free agent Robbie Grossman to a similar minor league contract with an invite to spring training, and signed higher profile Rajai Davis to a one-year contract. Just last week, they also added another veteran in Will Venable on a minor league deal after the squad lost Abraham Almonte to a PED suspension.
With Michael Brantley out for an unknown period of time to start the season, the Indians will need several of these players and other internal options (including Michael Choice, Michael Martinez, and/or prospect Tyler Naquin) to step up and join Lonnie Chisenhall, who presumably will start the season in right field.
With the exception of Davis, who received a $5.25 million contract and should see significant time over the course of the season, most of the invites and camp options have little Major League experience under their belts. That is where Robinson has the leg up, as the six-year MLBer spent five years on the roster of the St. Louis Cardinals and appeared in 83 games with the Minnesota Twins last season.
He can play all three outfield spots and has done so fairly evenly across his time in the pros, making 103 appearances in left, 87 in center, and 81 in right. He owns a career .982 fielding percentage in the outfield and has performed above league average in range factor per nine innings over the course of his career. While he has appeared in 248 games in the outfield, just 120 of those he has started and in only 80 games did he play the complete game.
Robinson, who turned 31 after the season, was a fifth round pick by the Cardinals in the 2006 draft and debuted in May of 2009. He spent eleven games with St. Louis that season and 100 at Triple-A Memphis. His following season was almost entirely lost to a separated shoulder, as he appeared in just 26 games at Triple-A. The injury bug bit again in 2011 as an outfield collision in April resulted in a broken cheekbone and finger and a concussion. He surprisingly returned to the Majors briefly at the end of the year, going hitless in nine games for the Cards.
The following season, he saw his most extensive game action at the top level, appearing in 102 games for St. Louis while hitting .253 with three homers and 16 RBI. He missed some time towards the end of the season with a strained right shoulder. He split the following season between the MLB and Triple-A clubs, hitting .304 in the minors, but just .150 with the parent club before his season ended prematurely after a left shoulder injury that required surgery at the end of August. Due for salary arbitration for the first time in his career, he was released while still rehabbing from the surgery and signed less than three weeks later with the Twins.
He hit .250 in 2015 with 28 runs scored and 16 driven in.
He was outrighted off of the roster in late October and declared his free agency, leading to his move to the Indians organization.
Last season was the first time in his career that he had spent an entire season on the MLB roster without appearing in at least a few games at the minor league level. He has hit .281 across his minor league career, but just .237 at the MLB level.
It is tough to envision Robinson on the Indians to break camp, given his skill set. He is a small (5’9”, 170 lb.), light-hitting, right-handed hitting, but versatile outfielder. As the team has focused more and more on defense in the last season, he could factor in there because of his ability to play all three spots. But the team’s biggest weakness at this juncture with the loss of Almonte, center field, appears to be the worst of the three spots with a .975 fielding percentage, a below league average range factor, and a -5 total zone total fielding runs above average.
It will take a strong spring camp from Robinson, plus a few other chips to fall his way, for him to find his way on to Cleveland’s roster to start the season. He could stick around with the club and get regular work at Triple-A, where outfield depth is thin for the organization at the present time.
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