Hello Tribe fans. Welcome to a beautiful May Monday morning as we discuss the 2019 Cleveland Indians following the weekend series in Oakland against the Athletics. That series was not the most hospitable to the Tribe as they walked away with a sole win in three tries. The bullpen continued the run of excellence giving up a mere three runs in 12 and a third innings pitched, yet came away saddled with both losses on walk-off fashion. Such is baseball especially when the offense continues to struggle to plate runs despite 10 hits in each loss.
The Minnesota Twins have been one of the early surprises of the MLB season as they enter the week with the best record in Major League Baseball. There was expected offensive excellence from the Twins in 2019, who have not disappointed as Nelson Cruz and Jorge Polanco have led a group that is Top 5 in most batting categories. The big shock has been a pitching staff expected to finish in the lower quartile has been a Top 10 group thus far. Jose Berrios has continued his break out, but it is Martin Perez adding two miles per hour to his fastball and Jake Odorizzi coming through with excellent early campaigns that have bolstered the ballclub.
While there could be some regression coming, the Twins do appear capable of continued success, so let’s take a look at some of the available options the Indians could tab to help strengthen the current MLB team to compete for the AL Central division as they currently sit four games back. Of course Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel would be immediate upgrades, but both are expected to continue to demand more money than the Tribe will offer and are likely holding out to sign a contract until the draft compensation expires on June 2.
Oscar Mercado: Mercado is a fun prospect to consider. He is a 24 year old with a good arm and even better speed in the outfield; capable of playing all three positions. He has hit for a high average with good patience, even if he does strike out a bit more than the ideal. He has gap power rather than home run power, but he is a good– and aggressive– baserunner.
The downside is Mercado has never been a top prospect, and, while his numbers look great for the Columbus Clippers, they are still lower than what Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Freeman, and Jordan Luplow did there– albeit in smaller sample sizes. Just be warned there is no guarantee the production being seen for the Clip Show will translate to The Show. When you dig into the profile, Mercado is basically Greg Allen– two years younger– with slightly more ceiling in his power profile. That isn’t a bad thing as if Allen can figure out how to become even a league-average hitter he will be a good value. Mercado should give him some competition this summer to see who can figure that out first.
Bobby Bradley: The only other Clipper with a higher OPS than Mercado without MLB service time is Bradley. The still 22 year old continues to show off his power with 19 extra base hits in 32 games. He has hit at least 25 home runs in each of his minor league seasons with good walk totals to offset a sometimes lagging batting average. Bradley is hitting over .300 though this season in large part due to his success against left-handed pitching. It is still an extremely small sample size, but the .472/.486/.972 against southpaws– including four of his seven home runs– would make the left-handed batter an even better prospect if he can continue to show ability there.
The downside is the strikeouts (44 in 133 plate appearances) and the current fixture on playing first base as his defensive position. With Jake Bauers struggling to handle left field, the opportunity to push Bradley onto the 25-man roster is difficult. As noted with Mercado, initial struggles should be expected especially given the likelihood for high strikeout totals. The power potential combined with being the youngest player in the Tribe’s system to reach AAA gives hope he could be help the struggling MLB lineup.1
James Karinchak: Karinchak is treating the minor leagues like someone allowed a high school varsity’s star pitcher go against the freshman team. He is absolutely dominating every level with ease. In less than a year and a half, he has flown through every level of the minor leagues and compiled 144 strikeouts in 85 innings with a 2.65 ERA. Almost all of the runs allowed were in rookie ball his first year (15 of 22 earned runs). After one offseason with the Tribe, he has been untouchable. His 10 innings in Columbus have seen zero runners cross the plate, while 24 have sat back down in the dugout after strikeouts. The Indians need a second dominate closer to pair with Brad Hand– and use Nick Wittgren in the Bryan Shaw third-man role– and Karinchak appears to be that man. Soon.
Matt Kemp: Kemp is a 34 year old outfielder who has batted .274/.316/.472 in his four post-prime years of his 30s without any season being particularly high or low from that slash line. He has also played in 154, 156, 115, and 146 games in those seasons giving him a decent recent history with health. Adding what appears to be a near-guaranteed above average bat into an outfield desperate to inject offense in the lineup (or even at designated-hitter) seems to be an obvious move.
However, the Cincinnati Reds thought the same when acquiring Kemp in the offseason before he put up .200/.210/.283, while battling some injuries. He also struggled in the second half of 2018 after being great enough in the first half to make the All-Star Game. His current status leaves him recovering from a broken rib. A healthy Kemp would be a boon to the Tribe’s outfield, and he might be willing to sign a cheap deal to prove his health and setup his next deal this offseason (especially since he’s getting paid $21.75 million this year on the last year of his eight-year $160 million contract). The Indians should at least be keeping tabs on him.