In case you have not heard the news, Amed Rosario may be patrolling centerfield for the 2021 Cleveland Indians on Opening Day. Rosario is a 25-year-old shortstop who was acquired by the Cleveland Indians from the New York Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade. During his time in the minor leagues, Rosario was considered a top 100 prospect in all of baseball by FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus.
After becoming a full-time player in 2018, Rosario’s value plummeted due to his below-average offensive performance and awful defense at shortstop. Progressive organizations such as the Indians, Astros, Rays, and Dodgers frequently buy low on individuals that were once highly thought of and/or possess interesting tools as it is a low-risk, high-reward move to try and find value at a low cost.
2021 Cleveland Indians: Patching the Black Hole in Centerfield
Recently, the Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona mentioned that they would give Amed Rosario reps in centerfield during Spring Training. With Andres Gimenez winning the position battle to be the opening day shortstop and the re-signing of Cesar Hernandez to play second base, the organization decided to utilize Rosario’s top-tier athleticism and experiment. Rosario has been in the 90th percentile or better for Sprint Speed via Baseball Savant, so he has more than enough speed to cover ground in centerfield.
The signing of free agent Eddie Rosario to play left field, Josh Naylor getting reps in right field, and Amed Rosario getting reps in center field is an indicator that the organization is punting outfield defense and aiming to give the lion’s share of plate appearances to the trio that they think is most likely to create runs at the plate. While creating a run and preventing a run are equal in terms of pure value, position players get way more chances throughout a season to accrue offensive value than they do to accrue defensive value.
I prefer Amed Rosario as the primary centerfielder for the 2021 Cleveland Indians over Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado because he has a higher ceiling and a better track record. Since 2016, the Cleveland Indians have had one of the worst outfields in all of baseball and at this point, I am all for the radical experimentation. Amed Rosario brings a league-average bat to centerfield for a team that has not had a league-average centerfielder since Grady Sizemore, which is absolutely embarrassing.
Mercado and Zimmer both have detrimental flaws in the various facets of their game and do not have other traits to reach the tangible floor that Amed Rosario provided for the Mets during his four seasons in New York. Rosario also has more experience at the major league level than Zimmer and Mercado combined and exhibited growth from a year-to-year standpoint that paints an optimistic bigger picture.
Despite Amed Rosario’s present value being centered on his athleticism and hypothetical versatility, he still possesses offensive upside and room for growth. In his first three years in the majors, Rosario improved at the plate each season and in 2019 he put up an 89 OPS+ during the first half and a 112 OPS+ after the All-Star break. I am more than willing to put an asterisk next to Rosario’s statistics from the 2020 season because trying to conclude 60 games worth of data after an improper ramp-up period does not make sense, to put it plainly.
The disparity in Rosario’s home/away splits is bizarre to say the least, as most hitters perform better at home than they do on the road. Rosario put up a 73 OPS+ at Citi Field and a 106 OPS+ on the road, which is a thirty-point difference in production. Citi Field is known as a pitcher’s park due to the ballpark’s dimensions/factors, and it is a terrible offensive environment for right-handed hitters to play in. A change in scenery may help Rosario get back on the right track in the batter’s box.
Progressive Field becoming Rosario’s home park may lead to an increase in his effectiveness at the plate, as it has much more neutral factors/dimensions for right-handed hitters. Rosario has an approach that hinges on hitting ground balls up the middle and to his pull side and that approach would fare a lot better at Progressive Field than Citi Field. It would be interesting to see if Rosario could make a concerted effort to shift his approach towards spraying the ball to all fields, as Progressive Field’s dimensions would reward him for going the opposite way at a higher rate.
It is very encouraging to see the Cleveland Indians front office show some creativity with the 25-man roster by making high-risk, high-reward moves to put the best nine players on the field after giving a plethora of washed-up veterans chances in the outfield during the late 2010s. Taking advantage of Rosario’s athleticism by giving him chances in centerfield not only makes the team better but helps build his trade value in the short term. Converting Amed Rosario from a shortstop into a centerfielder simultaneously gives him plate appearances to turn things around offensively in a better run environment and makes use of his elite athleticism to potentially provide defensive value at an up-the-middle position since the infield is crowded.
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