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Who Will Fill In For Michael Brantley In Left?

Two weeks into Spring Training, the Indians are slowly sorting the finer points of their roster – in particular, who will be the opening day left-fielder to replace Michael Brantley.

Even though Brantley has progressed to lateral agility drills as he works his way back from right ankle surgery in October with an eye toward playing as much as possible this season, he probably start it on the Disabled List. If that means he isn’t ready for the Indians’ opener at Seattle, so be it.

The organization has other options which are competing this spring to take the road trip north to Seattle on March 28th. Those other options include: Melvin Upton Jr., Rajai Davis, Brandon Barnes and, to a lesser extent, Francisco Mejia.

Through 11 games (Monday) http://gty.im/922326310 this spring training, here are the stat lines for each:

Melvin Upton Jr 20 0.158 0.200 0.316 1 1 7
Rajai Davis 15 0.143 0.200 0.143 0 0 4
Fransisco Mejia 10 0.500 0.500 0.900 1 0 1
Brandon Barnes 20 0.056 0.100 0.167 0 1 11

As you can see, neither candidate is impressing anybody through their spring training numbers. Of course, it’s still very early in the spring and the numbers aren’t the best predictor to regular season success. In fact, Melvin Upton Jr. is probably still the favorite to start the season in left based off his improved regular season performance. However, you would expect a little carry over into spring training.

That brings us to a “dark-horse” candidate, one which might emerge as the favorite to start the season in left: Mejia. Although he has not played left field to date, he is familiar with being on that side of the diamond as he’s had time at third base. As we’ve seen in the past, Tribe skipper Terry Francona is not afraid to play a player out of position in favor of having the bat in the lineup – most notably, Carlos Santana playing left-field in the 2016 World Series at the national league ballpark.

Travis Sawchick from The Athletic did some research and came up with some conclusions about today’s batted ball environment:

“…because of the increasing number of strikeouts and record level of home runs, there have never been fewer balls put in play. In fact, five positions — second base, shortstop, right field, center field and left field — have seen their opportunities steadily decline in the past decade, and all five of those positions have had their chances decline by 19 percent or more compared with 2017 levels.”

What does this batted-ball climate mean for the Indians? It means the Indians can probably be more aggressive with the defensive placement of a player like Mejia and try to wedge as much run-scoring potential in the lineup as possible. This is true even more in the first two weeks of the season when teams typically use four-man rotations and thus opposing teams with see better pitching.

This wouldn’t be a permanent move to the outfield but would simply be an early season way to get his bat into the lineup and add more offense to an already potent lineup.