This is the seventh in a series of posts looking back at the realities of the Indians 2010 season. We’ll look at what was hoped for, what actually happened, and what the expectations are going forward at the position in 2011.
From 2005 to 2008, it seemed like center field was the least of the Indians’ concerns. They had an all-star (and borderline MVP candidate) in Grady Sizemore, who was not only an offensive threat but also a dynamic defender. From 2005-2008, the fewest number of games Sizemore appeared in was 157, and he never had less than 634 at bats. Now that’s reliable.
However, Sizemore had an injury-plagued 2009, playing in only 106 games. While he still hit 18 home runs, his OPS was down by almost .100, at .788. Sizemore was looking for a bounce-back year in 2010. Incoming manager Manny Acta had made the decision to drop Sizemore from his usual perch in the leadoff spot all the way to hitting second in the batting order, a move made to increase Sizemore’s RBI opportunities (ugh… whatever). But Sizemore never really got a chance to prove Acta right or wrong. He suffered a knee injury in spring training, and was never really the same. He re-injured his left knee during a hard slide in late May, and had to undergo microfracture surgery, ending his season.
So Manny Acta was left having to use a backup plan he didn’t expect to need: former first round pick Trevor Crowe. Crowe spent 271 at bats as the center fielder, amassing a .288 OBP (On base percentage!) and playing some, um, adventurous defense. Eventually, Acta had seen enough, and with the trade of Austin Kearns, Crowe shifted to left field while prospect Michael Brantley took over in center. Brantley really struggled in his first two stints in Cleveland, but the light seemed to come on in September. He still wasn’t walking a bunch (4 walks in 105 at bats in September), but at least he was starting to hit (30 hits). His defense had started to come around as well, or at least it looked that way when compared to Crowe’s defense. Brantley has appeared to secure a starting spot somewhere in the outfield going into next year, unlike Crowe, who’s at risk to be designated for assignment.
But I don’t specify where Brantley will play because I don’t know, and that has everything to do with Sizemore. If Sizemore can show that he’s healthy, then he will most likely at least start the year in center field. However, if Grady looks at all hobbled or slow, I don’t think Acta would hesitate to put Brantley in at center and use Sizemore in left. What the lineup will look like will also be interesting next year, and a lot will again depend on Sizemore. This is becoming a critical year for Grady, and it could affect his legacy as a Cleveland Indian.
So, like most of the other positions Deep Left Field has covered, center field will not be a sure thing in 2011. But it will most likely be either Sizemore or Brantley, and that’s a lot less uncertainty than there is at other positions.