Continuing my hyperspeed journey through the 2011 Spring Training NRIs, it’s time to look at the Cleveland Indians group.
The hitters here are far more interesting than the pitchers, which is why you’ll see a look at all but one non-catcher, but only a few pitchers.
With Cleveland’s young team in a state of flux, all ten players here could factor in at some point in 2011.
OF Jordan Brown–The International League batting champion in 2009, Brown didn’t have much of an encore in 2010. He hit a good-not-great .298/.341/.463 in Triple-A and couldn’t get the ball off the ground in the majors, going 20-for-87. Designated for assignment on January 6, Brown cleared waivers and finds himself on the outside looking in at age 27. Similar to Chris Carter (the veteran, not the Oakland prospect), Brown has good contact skills, but doesn’t have much in the way of plate discipline or defense, and what doubles power he possesses hasn’t made the trip from Triple-A to the majors. He’s got to find a second skill to go with the contact ability, and now’s the time.
OF Travis Buck–Buck is roughly in the same place as Brown, except for the fact that he once put together a good MLB season (2007). He hit .298/.364/.463 in Triple-A last year, which is okay, but doesn’t make a 27-year-old corner outfielder particularly interesting. Buck’s also been constantly riddled with injuries which have prevented him from getting in anything close to 2007 form; each major league chance has brought worse results. At his age, he’s on the verge of becoming minor league filler unless he shows something fast.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall–A heralded prospect, Chisenhall is expected to become a solid MLB third baseman, perhaps as soon as July. The 22-year-old didn’t light Double-A on fire last year, but he hit an adequate .278/.351/.450. With Cleveland’s infield very much in flux (a theme that you’ll see continue throughout this piece), he’ll have a chance to dictate his promotion timetable with his spring performance.
SS Adam Everett–The all-glove, no-hit shortstop is trying to get another chance in this porous infield. Just 34, the career .243/.294/.348 hitter was just 15-for-81 last year with Detroit, and worse yet, his defense has declined to nearly average. He’ll be in camp trying to show he can still outhit pitchers and be a vacuum at short.
3B Jack Hannahan–The third base version of Everett, Hannahan is a career .224/.311/.347 hitter; while he has power, an unfathomably long swing makes him swing through way too many pitches. Still, he’s a fantastic defender at third base, and he’s even got good ability at second as well. If he could learn shortstop, Hannahan could be an Everett-style useful infield reserve; if not, he’s going to have to show he can hit with some degree of competency. He’ll be 31 in March, so the odds aren’t in his favor.
2B Jason Kipnis–Another hyped prospect, Kipnis hit .311/.385/.502 in Double-A last year, which makes him one of the better offensive middle infield prospects. A converted outfielder, he needs to polish up his defense at second base. Like Chisenhall, Kipnis can expedite his timetable with a dominant spring, particularly if he shows defensive improvement from 2010. It’s not like Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald are huge obstacles.
2B Cord Phelps–One guy who is an obstacle for Kipnis is Phelps, who hit .317/.386/.506 in Triple-A last year and is considered a good defender at second. With so little in front of him, there’s no reason Phelps can’t win the second base job with a strong spring. Track his progress closely, Indians fans–this guy doesn’t get much hype, but could evolve into a rock-solid starter at the keystone. Phelps is major-league ready, and if Cleveland is smart, they’ll hand him the 2B job in April so he gets a few months to prove himself before Kipnis arrives.
LHP Drew Pomeranz–The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, Pomeranz is a polished college lefthander with a dominant curveball and good fastball. With no minor league experience yet, Pomeranz’s spring likely will have some sort of bearing on where he starts his pro career, which could be as high as Double-A, a la Mike Minor, if he’s in shape and looks like he was advertised in college.
RHP Anthony Reyes–Once a hyped prospect, Reyes never really panned out, as he owns a well-deserved 5.12 career ERA in nearly 300 innings. Now 29, Reyes has flashed a plus curveball, but neither his fastball nor his changeup have ever done much against MLB hitters, and his mediocre control and extreme flyball tendencies don’t help. After missing nearly all of 2009-10, it’s unclear if he’ll ever even get back to his mediocre pre-injury form. He’s still a semi-big name, but there’s no reason for optimism here.
RHP Alex White–A solid mid-rotation prospect, White made it all the way to Double-A in his first full pro season. The sinker/slider pitcher did a nice job keeping the ball on the ground, and while he didn’t miss many bats, the 22-year-old threw strikes and kept the ball down. Slated to begin 2011 in Triple-A, White’s knocking on the big-league door, and if he has a good spring, he could be up at some point in 2011.