It was not that long ago that I looked at the Indians minor league outfielders, with an eye towards who might be able to help this year. Today we'll be less 2014-focused, and instead look at the long-term potential throughout the farm system and, of course, on the current roster.
We'll start with one of the newest Indians, David Murphy. Signed as a free agent this off-season, Murphy has proven to be a solid addition. He posted just .4 fWAR last year, which helped the Indians nab him for a paltry $11 million over two seasons, plus a $7 million team option for 2016. At the rate he is producing now (.6 fWAR already), the next two years will be a bargain. How he ages (he will turn 33 while the Indians are in the ALCS*) will determine if he is here for 2016, as well.
*See what I did there?
Murphy was projected to platoon with Ryan Raburn, but both have often been in the lineup lately. Raburn earned a contract extension in the midst of a career year in 2013, and finds himself on the Tribe payroll through 2015, with a 2016 team option. His deal is even cheaper than Murphy's ($7.7 million total including the option year), so he too could well be around for the next couple seasons, or only one more.
While the RF's are relatively cheap, the CF is one of the Indians pricier players - Michael Bourn was signed as a free agent prior to the 2013 season and has been a pretty major disappointment. Now 31 years old, Bourn has at least two more years on his deal, plus a vesting option for 2017 (though the Indians can keep it from vesting pretty easily). Considering his injury history, 550 PA in 2016 is no sure thing, and if he's moved down in the lineup in 2016 and "rested" once every couple weeks, he'd fall short.
In left field you have Michael Brantley. Originally the "other guy" in the CC Sabathia trade, Brantley has proven to be an extremely valuable member of the team, and is well on his way to a career year at age 27. Brantley isn't going anywhere until at least after the 2017 season, and his 2018 team option looks very appealing as of now. Of the four current outfielders, Brantley is the only one guaranteed to be around in 2017 and I would venture to guess he'll still be here in 2018.
There won't be much need of a new outfielder for 2015, but one or two could be needed in 2016, and by 2017 there will almost certainly be a need for two more.
Who might join Brantley in the future outfield? This most exciting name on this list is without a doubt Clint Frazier. Scouts believe he could be a top ten prospect in baseball by the time 2015 hits, and while he is probably 2+ years from contributing in Cleveland, when he does arrive, he'll arrive with the potential to provide an all-star caliber bat in CF. Slotting him next to Brantley starting in late 2016, in time to stop that Bourn option from vesting, looks awfully appealing.
Next on the list is Tyler Naquin. Further along than Frazier, Naquin could be around as soon as 2015, but whether he is a starter or a solid 4th OF remains to be seen. His upside potential is to be something like what Michael Brantley has been prior to 2014 - double digit power, double digit stolen bases, solid average, nothing spectacular, but nothing you worry about either. If he reaches his potential, your 2016 OF could feature him in CF with Brantley and Frazier, once ready, flanking him.
The next guy on the list is another former MI, Luigi Rodriguez. The speedy Rodriguez has a distinct problem with strike outs and is struggling with High A at age 21. There is still time for him to develop, but it needs to happen relatively soon. If he does put it together, expect to see him in Cleveland no sooner than 2016, likely as a 4th OF/pinch runner/defensive replacement type.
Carlos Moncrief was discussed in the outfield piece linked to above. At age 25, he is a bit old for a prospect, but he could prove to be a useful piece for the big club. Barring injuries around him, though, he is more likely to back up Brantley/Raburn/Murphy in the short term and Brantley/Frazier in the longer term than he is to be a starter.
Getting his second taste of A-ball, Anthony Santander is not yet living up to his potential, but being five months shy of his 20th birthday, there is plenty of time for him to come around. If he does, his future would be as a corner OF with a bit of pop and a smooth swing from both sides of the plate. A nice piece, but probably 3-ish years away, and it is too early to tell what his role will be.
And we wrap things up with LeVon Washington. He came into the organization with a ton of excitement - a speedy outfielder with potential for decent pop, and a great swing, Washington's upside was All-Star level. Now, at age 22, he is still in A ball and has yet to develop any power to speak of. His future, to me, looks more like a poor man's Michael Bourn (the good, gold glove, 50+ steal Bourn) - solid defender in CF, 30-ish steals, solid bat, little pop. If he is going to make it, we'd likely be looking at 2016 or maybe late 2015 if he moves particularly fast.