The natural reaction for a frustrated fan base at this still-early point of the season is to call for the replacement of a struggling veteran with a hot prospect in Triple-A, especially when those players play the same position. Such is the case in Cleveland, where the Indians are disappointingly in last place after a wild card finish last season and one of the glaring weaknesses in the lineup is Nick Swisher, who is hitting just .197.
The answer to this problem, in the minds of Indians' fans, is Jesus Aguilar, who is putting up video game-type numbers in Triple-A. Aguilar has gotten off to a torrid start, hitting .337/.430/.606 with seven home runs so far this season. This seems like a simple fix, right?
Not so fast, writes Jordan Bastain of MLB.com, who has quotes from Indians manager Terry Francona explaining that the team has no intention of calling up Aguilar anytime soon, unless there is an injury. And the team is right.
Aguilar has come on incredibly strong over the past two years, and that momentum has ramped up to an even more extreme level in the past six months. Once considered (and still widely considered) by many to be a limited, one-dimensional prospect, Aguilar's power production has escalated to the point where some can envision him being an everyday first baseman, despite limited defensive and base running value.
Aguilar does feature above-average power. There are questions about his hit tool and whether or not the flaws in his approach will allow his power to play to its complete capabilities. Aguilar has been answering some of those questions lately, but the abounding small sample sizes don't allow for us to draw conclusions with any certainty about actual improvements being made. Aguilar had an incredible winter season and is carrying that over into Triple-A, and the longer this continues, the more he forces the Indians hand and increases the likelihood that he gets a call-up this season. The problem is where to play him.
Swisher is struggling, but is in just year two of a four-year contract. Right or wrong (it's wrong), contracts dictate playing time. More importantly, however, is Swisher's track record. Swisher has been one of the more remarkably consistent players in the game over the past decade, posting an OPS+ between 117 and 129 in seven of the past eight seasons. You can pencil him in for 22-29 home runs with as much confidence as any player in the game. With some holes in his swing that have been there for years, he's always going to be prone to streakiness within the course of a season, but he has a track record of straightening himself out and getting his production numbers back to where they are expected to be. Benching him now for anyone, let alone a prospect who still carries some questions marks, would be short-sighted and foolish.
The longer Aguilar continues to dominate Triple-A pitching, the more the Indians will have to look for ways to get him into the lineup. Barring injuries, however, it won't be as Swisher's replacement at first base, unless Swisher moves back to the outfield. More likely, however, is that Lonnie Chisenhall doesn't hit.368 for very much longer, opening up some at-bats for Aguilar in the designated hitter spot.
The Indians have some roster flexibility, with players like Carlos Santana, and Swisher who can move around to different positions, which could allow for a player like Aguilar to come up and play a few days a week. At this point, however, that wouldn't be good for his development. Aguilar is still a player with flaws, and even though he has made great strides in things like controlling the strike zone, he still needs his at-bats.
As the Indians fall further and further out of the playoff picture, they may be willing to forfeit some at-bats for veterans to see what they have in players like Aguilar. At this point, however, removing a consistent veteran like Swisher to roll the dice on Aguilar simply isn't the risk they need to be taking.