Difficult roster moves have been anticipated for the last two weeks as the Cleveland Indians awaited the returns of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis from their shoulder injuries.
With Chisenhall ready to go, the Indians made one of those tough decisions on Thursday afternoon as they optioned center fielder Tyler Naquin to Triple-A Columbus.
The move may come as a surprise to some, as Naquin had a breakout 2016 season and finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after slashing .296/.372/.514 with 18 doubles, five triples, 14 homers, and 52 RBI over 116 games. While the overall numbers were impressive for a first season, a troubling trend developed over the course of the year as his strikeout rate climbed higher and higher as he seemed to struggle to lay off of pitches up and out of the zone. He would finish the regular season striking out in 30.7% of his plate appearances. Defensively, he showed some trouble with effective route running early in the season and was optioned several times in the first half of the season with a roster crowded by outfield options.
The left-handed hitting Naquin hit .301 against righties and .250 in significantly fewer at bats against lefties last season. He was a near non-factor in the postseason, appearing in eleven of the club’s 15 games while hitting .174 with a .208 on-base percentage with two doubles, two RBI, one walk, and 14 strikeouts in 25 plate appearances.
This season, he had appeared in six games (four starts and four complete games worked) and had supplied a .235/.278/.294 line with a double among his four hits in 18 trips to the plate. He had drawn one walk and struck out five times (27.8% of his plate appearances) in limited action, with all plate appearances occurring against right-handed pitching. He was coming off of good spring numbers, when he hit .333 with a .366 OBP in 15 games with five doubles, a homer, and five RBI with just seven strikeouts in 41 plate appearances.
With Naquin optioned, it means a stay for Abraham Almonte. The switch-hitting outfielder had made a strong case for himself in the spring, but he was presumed to be the odd man out until Chisenhall injured his shoulder in a collision with a wall in the final days of action in Arizona. He finished the spring with a .352/.417/.593 line in 21 games with four doubles, three homers, and 12 RBI and was a perfect 3-for-3 stealing bases.
Through eight games this season, Almonte is hitting .250 with a .471 OBP, courtesy of a team-leading five walks drawn this season (tied with Francisco Lindor).
Retaining Almonte gives the Indians outfield and bench a little more flexibility to it. Almonte can play all three outfield spots and has with regularity throughout his professional career. While the bulk of his work has come in center, he has logged more than 300 innings in each of the corner outfield spots during his Major League career. Hitting from either side of the plate allows manager Terry Francona to match Almonte up however needed, making him a nice late-game bench option. He has enough speed to be a threat on the base paths, giving him pinch-running potential as well.
Naquin has historically shown issues against left-handers and, from a defensive standpoint, has played all but 27 minor league innings and 21 Major League innings in center field (with those 48 innings all logged in right), decreasing the amount of versatility he provides the team when not in the starting lineup and playing center field against right-handers.
Chisenhall returns at a time that the Indians offense is in dire need of a boost. He is expected to team up with Brandon Guyer to platoon in right field, but he saw action in Wednesday’s rehab start with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks in center field. The 28-year-old outfielder worked in four games during his DL stint, hitting .333 between his stops at Akron and Columbus. Four of his five hits came in his second start back, when he went 4-for-4 at the plate with three singles, a double, and a stolen base while scoring two runs.
He put together a .286/.328/.439 slash in his sixth big league season last year, hitting 25 doubles, a career-high five triples, eight homers, and 57 RBI.
Michael Brantley will continue to work from left field, while Austin Jackson may see more playing time coming in a time share with Almonte in center.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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IMHO this is stupid. Dump Jackson instead.