PHOENIX: A glaring weakness of the Indians’ farm system the past decade has been the scarcity of outfielders and first basemen, more specifically outfielders and first basemen with the potential to hit for power.
That might be changing. General Manager Chris Antonetti addressed the issue over the winter by claiming Mike McDade off the waiver wire from the Toronto Blue Jays and selecting Chris McGuiness off the Texas Rangers’ roster at the Rule 5 draft.
Most fans wouldn’t recognize these players if they dressed in home whites, with McGuiness and McDade stitched on the backs of their jerseys, and peddled programs in the concourse at Progressive Field.
Progressive Field, of course, is foreign territory to McGuiness and McDade. Kind of like a pianist who aspires to perform at Severance Hall but is stuck playing My Way in a second-rate supper club.
Teams don’t usually find the most talented players waiting to be plucked off the waiver wire or in the Rule 5 draft, but there are exceptions.
McDade and McGuiness have made favorable impressions in camp and bear watching. McDade was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Friday and headed for the minor-league complex. McGuiness must remain on the Tribe’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Rangers for $25,000.
There is only a microscopic chance the Indians will keep McGuiness on the roster, but they can offer to make a deal with the Rangers, give them a lesser player from the farm system in exchange for the right to send McGuiness to the minors. Those kinds of trades don’t usually happen until the end of spring training.
“In a perfect world, you want to be able to have a Rule 5 guy in your minor-league system,” manager Terry Francona said. “We really like him a lot.”
One look at McDade, who is 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, and it’s obvious he can hit a baseball a long way. He conjures up the fantasy of being able to alter the course of a pitched ball with shock waves generated by his swing.
McDade made the most of his time in big-league camp, compiling a .400 batting average (12-for-30) with two doubles, one home run and 10 RBI.
“There were so many different [scouting] reports on him, and they were all over the map,” Francona said. “But he can hit and hit from both sides of the plate. He also can play first.”
It’s easy to see why scouts would appreciate McDade’s talents but have reservations because of his bulk.
“That has probably dogged him his whole career,” Francona said. “I didn’t want to hammer him about it. I just told him to keep an eye on it. I don’t think those types of things are as important as they’re made out to be. One report said that he could hit, but you’d have to pinch run for him.”
Obviously, reports by the Tribe’s scouts were more positive, and after watching McDade play, Francona seems genuinely enthused about him.
“I think he has a chance to hit good pitching,” Francona said. “I think he can hit velocity. And for a big guy, he stays in the middle of the field. He does so many things well, but he will go as far as his hitting takes him.”
McDade, 23, began last season at Double-A New Hampshire before being promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas the last month of the schedule. In 100 Double-A games, he batted .275 with 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 49 RBI. He played 18 games at Triple-A, batting .338 with three doubles, two homers and 18 RBI.
Statistics compiled at Las Vegas — and all ballparks in the southern tier of the Pacific Coast League — will always be suspect because of the heat and light air. That doesn’t mean McDade won’t hit at Columbus.
He also played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and batted .286 with five doubles and eight RBI in 77 at-bats.
McGuiness has not had a splashy spring. In 26 at-bats, he has hit safely only three times, but those who have watched him — including Francona — think that he was pressing.
“It looks like he was trying too hard,” Francona said. “But you can’t go 2-for-1.”
Francona thinks that McGuiness, 24, is a future big-leaguer.
“He has a beautiful swing, and he’s a hard worker,” Francona said.
McGuiness has played first almost exclusively in the minors, but Francona said he can play left and right field.
Last year at Double-A Frisco, McGuiness batted .268 with 25 doubles, 23 home runs and 77 RBI in 456 at-bats.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.