When the Cleveland Indians became the surprising mystery team to sign center fielder Michael Bourn, it looked like the end of the line was coming rather quickly for also-newcomer Drew Stubbs, who had arrived as part of the trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Tribe.
The Indians didn’t end up trading Stubbs, though. Instead, they gave the 28-year old a lifeline.
It required a position change, as the former Indians center fielder will now shift over to right field to take over for Nick Swisher, who moves to first, putting Mark Reynolds at the full-time DH spot.
The defensive benefits to such a move is self-evident, as the trio of Stubbs, Bourn, and Michael Brantley will give the Indians one of fastest outfields in all of baseball in 2013.
Yes, the Indians outfield is going to be a place why fly balls go to die; that said, whether Stubbs will have a long-term future with the Indians is still going to depend on his ability to get over his struggles at the plate at the big leagues so far.
No, a .610 OPS like the one he posted in 2012 isn’t going to play in the Indians outfield, regardless of how many defensive runs he might be worth. Fortunately for him, the team has obviously shown faith in him enough to potentially take away at-bats from Reynolds, and Stubbs will have a long enough leash to really establish his place on the team.
That’s not to say that the team won’t eventually trade an outfielder sometime this season, but instead of being a backup outfielder, the Indians want to see how much value Stubbs can show – and he’s taking the steps to make sure he’s able to show it.
According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Stubbs has been changing the timing mechanism of his swing to hopefully bring about a faster bat, and improve his ability to contact with pitches. His 73.2 percent contact rate in 2012 was a major part of why he wasn’t able to get his on-base percentage above .300, and increasing his bat speed by simplifying parts of the swing should hopefully mean a reduction of his career-high 30.5 percent strikeout rate last season.
If he can do that, Stubbs can use his elite foot speed to generate more base hits by beating out ground balls, and get to more positions where he can do some damage on the basepaths.
Fail to do so, and the Indians probably won’t have too much of a problem shifting back to the team’s original configuration with Swisher in right field. This team is counting on a significantly improved offense in 2013, and if they want to make some noise in the AL Central, Stubbs will have to be good enough not to hurt them there.
After all, it is just a lifeline that the Indians gave their new right fielder, and that’s no guarantee as to where he will be if he struggles again this season.