As we approach the June 1st mark the crazy starts that fans have all fallen in love with across the sport are beginning to normalize. Everyday players are starting to approach the 200-plate appearance threshold, and hot streaks people thought would be fads are starting to look legit. The same can be said however about the slow starts players have frustrated us fans with. For the Cleveland Indians coming off a tough World Series loss in Game 7 against the team of destiny, things are progressing more or less the way most fans would hope. Outside of being behind the Twins by 2 games in the standings at this point the teams pitching is looking phenomenal now that it is no longer completely decimated by injuries like it was in last years playoff run. Well, outside of Klubot on the DL right now but that is neither here nor there.
The interesting part about the Indians thus far is their offense has truly just been lackluster; they currently rank 21st in MLB in Runs/G, whereas last year they finished 2016 6th in this stat. They made a large splash in FA this off-season, signing Encarnacion to a 3-year deal for $60 mil. So far this year his start has not been up to the standards of the front office and fans were expecting coming into the year. Through 45 games this season Edwin is sporting a 28% K%, which in comparison to his final numbers last year is up by about 9 points. Comparing his final season numbers with this years short sample isn’t exactly fair so lets take a look at his Contact% heat maps from the same time frame for this year and last.
2016 Contact % heat map
2017 Contact % heat map
A quick glance at the above can show a strong reason as to why Edwin has been swinging and missing so much more this year. The interesting part is the sentiment “Oh he’s just a slow starter” is a widely used conversation piece for those expecting Encarnacion to turn it around. It clearly seems that this years slow start is let’s just say, even slower than expected. While I don’t believe E5 will continue this trend all season long, the projected 23 home runs ZiPS is giving him on the year is a rather drastic difference from last year’s 42. One thing we can all say with 100% certainty however is that the Indians 1B/DH options on the current MLB roster are only getting older by the day.
Along with Encarnacion, Carlos Santana is also having himself an interesting year in comparison to his last season’s performance. His current projection for HRs (17) is exactly half the total he hit last year (34). Santana does have a few less years under his belt than Edwin does but his contract is coming to an end after this season. At the end of the day though this dip in power production is having its effect on the Indians run production. So that brings us to our ultimate question, where do the Indians look for their 1B/DH power potential in the coming years?
So I’ve spent some time detailing a key major league player for the Indians but that defeats the purpose of this website right? The answer to the question regarding the Indians source of power very well may not be too far off. Granted, the Indians do have several power potential prospects one of which, Yandy Diaz, has seen some MLB playing time already this season. The player I’d like to focus on though is a first base prospect by the name of Bobby Bradley. The 21-year-old lefty slugger has made his way to the Double A affiliate this season out in Akron, the Rubberducks! He’s coming off a very impressive year at High A ball where he hit 29 HRs. Bradley is starting off the year well in his opportunity at AA so far. He is currently slashing .228/.338/.441 with 7 home runs through 37 games. While that line isn’t overly impressive, especially his batting average, his K% is currently down 4 points from last year now at 25.2%.
2016 High A numbers compared to 2017 Double A numbers (37 games)
Interestingly enough, this season Bradley’s GB rate has gone up while his FB rate has gone down. He’s also dropped his Pull% some while increasing the amount of balls he is hitting back up the middle of the field. Bradley has shown in the past he has plus power to all areas of the field and this trend may be showing how he is adapting to the higher levels of pitching. Even with the dip in fly balls if we project his start over a full 162 games he is currently on pace for about 30 HRs and that is nothing to balk at.
A comparison some could make for Bradley would be a guy like Miguel Sano. You know, someone who has insane power potential but just strikes out way too often. In Sano’s first year in Double A he had a 29% K rate with 19 HRs. That’s about in line with the K% Bradley posted last year in High A and slightly above what he is performing at right now. If Bradley can learn from the likes of Eric Thames and Aaron Judge by really understanding how important patience at the plate is, then his 60 grade power potential could be a real asset for the Indians come late 2018, early 2019. As always we have to remember, the kid is in fact only 21, which may explain for part of the fluctuations he’s having on the ground ball front this season.
The question for Bobby Bradley going forward is going to be very reliant on his maturity as a hitter since he is still on the younger side. Key factors to look out for are his improvements of his strike out rate as well as shortening up his swing to ensure solid contact through the zone. The increase we are seeing in his center field contact rate might be indicative of his progression with his swing. While due to Bradley’s potential strike out issues as he progresses to the big leagues, if he can keep his plate discipline in check his power ability gives him the potential to be a 30 home run first baseman. At the end of the day Bradley is still a year or two away from the big leagues but he’s the type of player as a dynasty fantasy owner I am going to keep my eye on to acquire if I don’t already own him, especially over this next season while he is playing in Akron.
Article featured image of Bobby Bradley/Akron Rubberducks – courtesy of MiLB.com/rubberducks – Mark Olson/MiLB