Depth on a baseball team can be a temperamental thing. Prior to the Indians 2014 campaign, it looked like the team was set in the outfield and bullpen, but would have trouble putting together a solid rotation. There were (well founded) questions about Carlos Carrasco as well as uncertainty surrounding Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar still mostly unproven. Instead, it was Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have struggled, but still the Indians have had no problem filling the holes with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House all impressing already this year. It turns out they had plenty of starting pitching depth as both Salazar and McAllister are still in AAA, but haven’t been able to break back into the rotation.
The outfield has been the opposite story. The Indians started with Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center and David Murphy in right. Ryan Raburn was considered a full time outfielder after experimenting in right the year before with Mike Aviles beginning a new experiment, adding the corner outfield spots to his already impressive position list. Nyjer Morgan also was impressive after Bourn went down with an early injury. At the AAA level, first round pick Tyler Naquin, Carlos Moncrief, Matt Carson and the resigned Tim Fedroff all looked to be Major League ready if needed.
Now, Murphy and Raburn have each fallen apart offensively and Bourn is back on the DL with his touchy hamstring. Even with all this, the Indians should have been fine with Aviles, Morgan, Naquin, Moncrief, Carson and Fedroff available in addition to Lonnie Chisenhall, who had been practicing at the corner outfield spots. Each one of these players has one reason or another while they are no longer considered legitimate options for the Indians outfield.
Mike Aviles is the best option of the bunch, but has been seen to have poor outfield instincts, not very surprising considering this is his first year attempting to play the position. Nyjer Morgan would be the best option as he excelled both offensively and defensively during his time with the Tribe early in the season, but one fateful play during one inning on May 14th lead to a severe knee injury that has kept him on the 60 Day DL to this point. He is eligible to come off the DL after the All-Star break, but hasn’t started his rehab as of yet, so it could be even longer than that.
Also in injury news, Tyler Naquin broke his wrist, had surgery on it and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Even if he makes it back in time for the MiLB play-offs, he is in no position to help the Indians right now. After 50 extra base hits and a .284 average in AA last season, Carlos Moncrief has not been able to continue the success in Columbus and has hit just eight home runs so far this year and batted .264. In addition, while Morgan or Naquin could have stood in for Bourn in center, Moncrief is more of a corner outfielder, specifically right field, and has not been as solid defensively as expected. Fedroff has never had high expectations, but he has produced even less this year in AAA, posting a .243/.378/.305 with 14 doubles and no home runs. Carson has been slightly better (.273/.364/.439), but not so great as to warrant a Major League promotion.
With all that decimation of the depth chart, the Indians had to go a little younger and a little less experienced with the promotion of Tyler Holt. Holt was taken in the tenth round in 2010 and started this year in AA Akron for the third straight year. On May 26th he was promoted South to Columbus after batted .298 with 14 RBI in his first 39 games, then kept it going, batting .302 with another 12 RBI in 37 games with the Clippers. With no better choices available, Holt was promoted and made his Major League debut on July 6th against Kansas City. Holt will be a much better defensive option in the outfield than Aviles as he is a natural center fielder, but has started often in all three positions. This season, he has committed just a single error and made eight assists, so the Indians aren’t likely to regret this promotion. While he can’t be expected to hit much, he should be a solid fourth outfielder with Brantley moving to center, Murphy staying in right and Aviles and Raburn splitting time in left.
In addition to this, the Indians have just picked up Chris Dickerson, a 32 year old outfielder playing with the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates AAA club. This move was made after it was discovered that Bourn is likely to miss at least three weeks and Morgan has hit a set back in his rehab. With both of them gone, the Indians will have to hope that someone stands out among the limited outfielders left, or the Indians could be in deep trouble considering outfield production.