In the waning moments of a Cleveland victory in Kansas City last week, a newcomer manned left field, a converted shortstop covered center and a natural first baseman hobbled around in right. The Indians obtained all three — Harold Ramirez, Amed Rosario and Josh Naylor — via trade within the last nine months.
When the club returned to Progressive Field on Friday night, manager Terry Francona scribbled nine names onto his lineup card. Only one starter — José Ramírez, who signed in 2009 as a pint-sized, overlooked teenager out of the Dominican Republic — progressed through Cleveland’s system en route to the majors. The team acquired the other eight players in Francona’s lineup via trade, short-term free-agent signing or waiver claim.
This is how the Indians have, for years, pieced together their position-player troop. It’s a trend they’re aiming to reverse. Draft picks have flopped. Promising prospects have fizzled. Overmatched veterans have treated Cleveland’s clubhouse like a pre-retirement waiting room.
The Indians have showcased boundless wizardry in the pitching development domain, but that has prompted a parallel question: Why haven’t they mastered the other half of the equation? Where are the homegrown hitters?
As one member of the organization noted: If the club could simply churn out capable hitters and avoid subjecting itself to offensive inconsistencies, “we would just do it.” There’s no button to press. This is an inexact science. And it’s something many teams are prioritizing.
Front office and coaching sources are quick to point to Ramírez, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley as organizational triumphs, hitters who weren’t projected to record gaudy statistics at the plate but ultimately blossomed into MVP candidates. Those same sources, however, admit the Indians are still working to boost the proficiency of the club’s hitting development operation.
They don’t want to be the Cleveland pitching factory. They want to be the Cleveland player development factory. But how do they get there?