With around 70 players in the Indians Major League camp right now, and just 25 players that get to go back to Cleveland, the odds of any player making it big this year are very slim. From that, take away about 20 players are virtually guaranteed jobs, leaving five spots left for the remaining 50 players in camp. Breaking that down further, there are between one and two offensive roster spots available for 21 offensive players in camp without a job. One of those players is outfielder, Nyjer Morgan, who hasn’t played in the Majors since 2012 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Morgan has been working out with the starting outfield this Spring (Michael Brantley, Jeff Francoeur, Michael Bourn, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn) and hitting with a group of players all on the outside looking in, including Matt Carson, Francoeur and the up-and-coming Jesus Aguilar. This respect shows that he is being given a real chance to compete for a role, despite his season in Japan in 2013. Last year, Morgan was the starting center fielder for the Yokohama Bay Stars and played well, but experience has shown that Nippon League numbers don’t translate directly into Major League success.
The versatility of Carlos Santana gives the Indians a great opportunity to avoid carrying the usually useless back-up catcher and instead, bring in someone of significantly more value. With Brantley, Bourn, Murphy and Raburn already slated to make the team, there would not usually be room for another outfielder, but by withholding the extra catcher (Santana would be considered the DH), there is one more place available. Using this spot for an extra outfielder, especially a defense minded one like Morgan (or Francoeur) makes a lot of sense. With Santana hoping to play third base, either Raburn or Murphy could be used as DH. In this case, a player like Morgan would be a great asset in right field, irrelevant of offensive output.
Defensively, both Morgan and Francoeur are considerably superior to both Raburn and Murphy. Morgan has the speed of a center fielder and in almost 500 games at the most difficult outfield positions held a fielding percent of .990, including a 1.000 in his last season. Outside of a great 13 assists in 2009, Morgan hasn’t shown much of an arm, but would have a shorter throw out of right field. His addition would possibly make the Indians outfield even faster than last year’s edition that already included three center fielders in Bourn, Brantley and Drew Stubbs.
In addition to practicing with the A-team, Morgan started the Indians first three games and has seen more time in early Cactus League action than any other player. In addition to a couple hits and RBI early on, Morgan has been as impressive as expected defensively, putting his body on the line to make a tremendous diving catch on Friday against the Reds.
It is still too early to see who has an edge on these final roster spots, but it is reassuring to see that the Indians seem to be making it a fair fight and giving everyone a chance at least early on. Most likely, Morgan will make it through the first few rounds of cuts, giving the Indians a better chance to see more of him late in Spring, when the games start to matter a little more. Despite being 33, Morgan can still keep up with the youngsters in camp and could be a valuable asset as a pinch runner, late inning defensive replacement and utility outfielder as long has he continues to be given the chance.