3 center fielders that could improve the Indians outfield TODAY

(Jonathan Quilter/Columbus Dispatch)  
It's time to clear the Indians' outfield decks.

While Tito Francona and Chris Antonetti have improved their infield defense with the additions of Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela, the elephant in the Tribe's War Room is what to do about center field.

Michael Bourn isn't cutting it. He's turned himself into a $13.5 million platoon player, and is forcing manager Terry Francona into using an injured Michael Brantley as a center fielder, while platoon player Mike Aviles moves to left.

Not good.

This past week, Jim Pete took a look at nine potential center field candidates the Indians could deal for if they decided to bite the bullet on Michael Bourn. Michael Hattery also discussed how the altered infield defense has helped solidify the ground ball dependent pitchers in the starting rotation.

I'm not sure that even buys the outfield time defensively, since Bourn is a below-replacement level player. If the Indians can find a center fielder to replace Bourn, thus allowing Brantley to stay in left, and move Aviles back to his utility role, the Indians roster immediately improves simply by subtraction.

If they can find a player that is above league average, this team could take a second half jump right into the playoffs.

EHC co-founders Mike Hattery and Jim Pete take a look at some internal candidates that could fill the center field role today.

Jim Pete (JP): The Indians certainly could go outside the system to bring in a difference-maker in the outfield, but to do that, Chris Antonetti would have to both take on payroll, while eating much of the $20 million that Michael Bourn has left on his contract. The alternative to this would be to just bring up one of three different players in Columbus who seem to be different degrees of ready.

They could DFA Bourn, or even get creative in another way with the current roster, and bring these guys up. The three players I'm speaking of are James Ramsey, Tyler Holt and Tyler Naquin.

Before we talk about each Mike, rank the three players in order of "readiness" regarding who could help this club the most.

Mike Hattery (MH): I have never been good at answering questions directly, so I must once again dodge your original question before I answer it.

I believe that there are two ways to address these three guys adding value at the big league level.

The first is the platoon approach, in this sense Holt is the most ready as his defense is above average and his platoon value would be interesting. Holt posted a .738 OPS against left handed pitching in the minors and appears to offer solid platoon value with Bourn.

Beyond that Holt's makeup and gamer profile add a certain intensity value to this team which is a delight.

Now, if I was going to hand off the job to someone, I believe I would hand it to Ramsey or construct a Ramsey-Holt platoon.

I guess I said too much and too little.

If I were to rank in terms of readiness to start:


In terms of readiness to improve the team, platoon:


I guess the most interesting to me, is Naquin. I have covered him for awhile, seen him more than a handful or times and obsessed over his production but you have seen him far more, covered him extensively. What are your thoughts on his readiness and his ceiling?

JP: There are obviously issues with a Ramsey/Holt platoon. I question the Indians' ability to do anything with Bourn. If they just DFA him, that platoon immediately becomes something that we could discuss. If Bourn sticks around and isn't on the DL, then we have roster constrictions without dealing David Murphy or Ryan Raburn, thanks to the OTHER roster-clog, "Nick Swisher."

I don't want to jump down the eight-man bullpen rabbit hole though, just who to bring up.

So being a man of free-will, I'm going to avoid your platoon, and just say:


I'll be honest. Part of this piece is to get you to convince me that Ramsey isn't just a Twitter-fad created by radicals.

Naquin is truly interesting. You know me Miggy, I'm all about the "body of work," and he just doesn't have it. While it looked like he "figured it out" when I wrote my piece earlier in the year, he's run into a buzzsaw. Over his last 14 games, maybe longer, he's reverted back to that high strikeout player we were wary about from the start.

He's K'ed 19 times in 58 PA, with only six walks. That's always a concern. He has to be able to get on base, because while many bragged about his "hit tool" before actually seeing him. This discipline issue makes him a fringe prospect to me, especially in Columbus, where pitchers goto die.

He does have nice gap power. He does have above average ability in the outfield, but there are others that can likely play the fourth outfielder better, such as Holt, who legitimately can play all three outfield positions without missing a beat.

Until I see a year's worth of solid offense, I don't think his defense is better than Holt, and from what I hear, Ramsey.

You and I have talked a ton about Naquin, both good and bad. do you think there's something there, and what about Ramsey? Who is this guy?

MH: I have long shared your trepidation about Naquin. The issue for Naquin is that he is vacant of any power. At best Naquin has fringy power and despite improvement through the system in K/BB, he still strikes out too much for a player who is entirely hit tool reliant.

Of course, we have 141 PA's of Naquin posting a dynamite K% and BB% at Akron this year but he is 24 and ultimately a little old for the level.

Further, there isn't a lot to add for Naquin, at 24 Naquin likely has little improvement left and what he is, is a defense first outfielder with an average hit tool and significantly below average power.

I am simply not optimistic about Naquin, his best tool is likely his defense. Maybe he is a rich man's Tyler Holt but Tyler Holt is just a platoon guy/4th outfielder at best. I don't see a world where Naquin becomes a valuable starting regular and I am not sure he is ready, which at his age is a very bad sign.

As for Ramsey, the nerdy people of which I may be one, really love him. This comes for a few different reasons. First, coming in to 2015, he produced at every level.

Second, his skillset has value in center field. Power, even average power at an up the middle position has significant value.

His batting average will never be great mostly because he strikes out too much but unlike Naquin his strikeouts come with power of value.

Ramsey's defense will be average maybe a tick better, which is an upgrade. Further, his minors BABIP is a solid indicator of strong contact authority which translates well to the big leagues.

There is very likely a league average (2 WAR) player in Ramsey due to his tool set and positional adjustment, which is more than I can say for Naquin or Holt.

I guess the last guy we need to touch on is Tyler Holt, a guy we both love. Two questions: Is he good enough to start? Can a Holt/Bourn platoon give us something close to league average production in center?

JP: Before I jump into the Holt conversation, why the hell hasn't Ramsey every made it to the big league level? We can talk about "log jams" in Cleveland and St. Louis, or perhaps Francona-bias, but you and I both know that if multiple people thought he could "play," in the front office, he would be up here.

What's the jam? Is he a Quad A guy?

MH: I don't think is a Quad A guy, I think it is a log jam specifically in terms of left handed hitting outfielders. With Bourn, Murphy, Moss, Brantley, it is tough to call up a lefty outfielder, even for defensive purposes when you have Holt, who offers platoon opportunities.

Holt just makes the most sense right now because you can send out an extra reliever and immediately platoon him and use him as a defensive replacement.

JP: If you would have asked me three or four years ago about Holt starting, I would have likely laughed. This isn't to say he wasn't a "player," but there was so much to his game that I didn't see translating.

He had some on-the-field behaviors that I struggled with. There's being "fiery," and there's being a hot-head. I saw a lot of the hot-head. He never thought a pitcher called a strike, and while his plate discipline wasn't terrible, his bat didn't produce enough to make 100+ strikeouts worthy.

But he was close.

Last year, you could tell he managed the plate better in both Akron and Columbus. It paid off in a move to Cleveland, and he performed well there as well, even though his discipline went out the window. I question his overall "readiness" as well, although the move was necessary.

As far as his fire-plug nature? It's funny how that can turn. His emotions have always been a part of his game, from his leadership role at Florida St. (with Ramsey), and throughout his minor league career with the Indians. At 26, he's now a leader at Columbus, his discipline continues to improve, and his splits really aren't that bad.

Could he be the primary starter in center?

I think he could.

Do I think it's optimum?

Honestly, if it meant getting rid of Bourn, yeah, I think it does.

If we're to be honest, we need a guy that can hold down the fort for a year to 18 months. I kinda want an impact bat in center, as I think it would vastly improve this team over the second half, but don't think grabbing a guy like Cameron Maybin or Carlos Gomez is a likely option because of the cash.

That said, I'm all about an addition by subtraction, and who knows, perhaps a Holt/Bourn platoon helps Bourn, and allows Brantley to stick in left, and keeps Aviles to two or three appearances a week.

There's a lot of immeasurables there though.

Will the Indians do something over the break, or before the non-waiver or waiver deadline? My gut is to say no, but if you would have told me Giovanny Urshela would be starting at third base in June, let alone 2015, I'd have laughed you outta Progressive Field.

Prognosticate for us Mike.

MH: The toughest part of this point in the season is the Indians are unpredictable enough when it comes to targeting assets, add in other teams asking prices and it becomes really challenging. I would love to go externally, though in the interim a Holt-Bourn platoon makes the most sense. Further, I think Ramsey is a slight upgrade over Bourn.

I would bet that the most significant change the Indians make to center field is a Holt promotion.

The frustrating part is the following; CF is the Indians worst position, without a doubt. In fact it might be the only one which can obviously be improved.

The positive is that Bourn is either replacement level or worse, therefore adding just a league average player in center is a significant upgrade.

The marginal value to improving this position is huge, and has to be done in order to improve in the second half.

I ultimately doubt the Indians make a trade larger than a Kosuke Fukudome type deal which is not a great thing to hear as an Indians fan.

Do we make a move that matters Jim?

JP: I'm going to say yes.

I'm going against the grain and say that there is a 95% chance that Bourn isn't playing meaningful innings with the Indians come August. I'm going to follow by saying there's 100% chance that a minor leaguer comes up to fill a "role of some type" for longer than a couple weeks...unless...

They make a trade.

That's the wildcard here.

I'm going to say there's a 25% chance they make a trade. That's likely a high percentage compared to what others are saying, and there's two reasons why I go that high.

1. Bringing up Urshela and Lindor

2. The Ubaldo trade.

As you and I have talked about ad nauseam, Chris Antonetti is an astute general manager. He knows the logjam in the outfield. He's going to be exploring trades, because he understands that if he can find the right fit at the right price, he can fix both the outfield defense and the offense at the same time.

That's a big and bold move, and Antonetti is willing to go that far.

Something to consider: Urshela and Lindor are both rookies, and while Holt, Ramsey or Naquin would help, that adds three virtual rookies to the lineup. I'm not sure, in the end, that's an offensive or clutch benefit offensively.

Don't get me wrong, I will take it rather than sticking with Bourn, but I think there's a true benefit to making a trade for a more veteran player.

I just don't know if the money works.

Either way, I think come July 17th, we are going to see some changes.
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