As Cleveland baseball barrels towards its 2021 season, one of the hotly contested lineup decisions is at first base. With Carlos Santana’s departure to Kansas City in free agency, the club will be looking to plug its hole internally before making any positional adjustments.
Jake Bauers struggled to the tune of slashing .226/.312/.371 for an abysmal 80 wRC+ in his 423 plate appearances in 2019. After being completely glossed over for playing time through banishment to the alternate site in 2020, the question lingers about his ability to cut down on the strikeouts and put enough charge into baseballs consistently to etch his name into the Cleveland lineup for an extended period.
Bobby Bradley has spent his minor league career destroying baseballs to beyond fence lines, yes. However, he has spent the last few years whiffing against the breaking balls of Triple-A pitchers to the tune of 33 percent strikeout rates. He has an option remaining, thus decreasing the likelihood that he will open the season in Cleveland. Like Bauers, Bradley did not see any big league action in 2020.
The best offensive bet for the first base position in Cleveland is likely Josh Naylor, but the shift to first will reduce the scope of his overall offensive portfolio in the future. Naylor hits the ball hard and often, separating him from Bauers and Bradley. The Cleveland organization has made it clear that they want his stick in right field, as it makes questions easier to answer in future years. It is much easier to identify an offensive replacement for the first base position in the offseason than it is to back into a productive corner outfielder.
One of the most tightly contested positions this spring, join Everyone Hates Cleveland’s Gage Will and Mike Hattery for deeper discussion with your favorite podcast provider: