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Cannon looks to make good on opportunity

Cannon looks to make good on opportunity
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Life as a utility player off the bench in the minor leagues is not easy.

They often sit for several games at a time since higher priority players play every day at their respective positions. Every once in a while a bench player will get into a game and play to give a regular guy a day off, but for the most part they spend most of their time watching games and maybe get into one or two games week.

With limited opportunities, when they do get them, they have to capitalize. Performance does not always guarantee more playing time as players viewed to have a higher ceiling will always get priority regardless of their performance, but for a utility player that maybe has a limited ceiling, performance is everything.

As the season wears on those opportunities that were not there in the early going start to come more often as starters get dinged up with injuries, players are promoted, and in some cases players are given some time off to take a mental break after some recent struggles at the plate.

This is where a bench player can make their mark.

High-A Carolina outfielder Anthony Gallas did this a few weeks ago when he was given more time, and he has since ran with it. Another Carolina player, infielder Tyler Cannon, may also have the same chance.

Cannon, 24, is the consummate utility player. He does not have the bat or the above average defense that teams like at one position, but with his athleticism, versatility, and an interesting bat, he suits the utility position well. He is a well-rounded player that can hold his own defensively at just about any position on the field.

So far this season Cannon has only played in eight games because highly touted prospects Ronny Rodriguez, Tony Wolters, Giovanny Urshela, and Jesus Aguilar have dominated the time at all four infield positions at Carolina. In those eight games he is hitting .250 with 0 HR, 3 RBI and .738 OPS.

Recently, Urshela suffered a hand injury which has taken him out of the lineup at third base and Cannon has stepped in there the last three games and played well. Opportunity has come knocking, but now he needs to play well and show he can be a consistent performer both offensively and defensively.

“I think it is all about being consistent,” Cannon said in a recent interview with the IPI.  “That’s why those guys at the very top are as good as they are because they are consistent with what they do.  I think that is the biggest thing going up a level and to the big leagues is the more consistent you are the better shot you have of staying there and playing.”

Cannon really opened some eyes last season when given the opportunity to play every day at Low-A Lake County he went out and hit .366 with 3 HR, 17 RBI, and 1.069 OPS in 30 games before he was promptly moved to High-A Kinston. There was a correction with the numbers when he went to Kinston (.246 AVG, 6 HR, 39 RBI, .710 OPS, 92 G), but he was steady. He even got a short callup to Double-A Akron where he hit .278 in six games.

After a solid season last year it may be a little frustrating for Cannon to be back at High-A and seeing such a reduction in playing time. But that’s the way things often go for utility players in the minors.

Each year more players come into the organization and some have higher priority, which can push others – who may have been good performers – into a reserve role. Cannon’s main positions are third base, second base, and shortstop, but right now the Indians have loads of young prospects at each of those positions getting most of the playing time at Carolina and Low-A Lake County.

In order to potentially give Cannon more playing time, the Indians had him work out exclusively at catcher during spring training this year. With his athleticism, arm, and makeup the Indians felt he would be a natural fit behind the plate. It is not a position that he will play full time, or even as a backup, but now affords him the chance to get in there at the position if Carolina manager Edwin Rodriguez needs him.

“I really don’t know [when I will catch] as that is really all I did in spring training as I did not take any groundballs,” Cannon said.  “I think I am going to play anywhere but on the mound this year, though I pitched in high school so [you never know there] (laughs). I will play wherever Edwin needs me and where I can help the team out.”

Cannon has yet to see any time behind the plate this year at Carolina as he has played five games at third base and one game at second base. Of all the positions he plays, he actually prefers to play second base though is very excited to maybe get a chance to catch at some point this season.

“I’d probably say second base is where I am the most comfortable,” Cannon said.  “It used to be shortstop, but I have not really played that a whole lot since college. Hopefully before the season is over I get some time behind the plate and show what I can do back there to increase my value even more.”

One thing is for certain, and that is he has a newfound respect for everything catchers go through behind the plate. It is a physically exhausting position. Not just during the game with squatting and getting beat up by foul tips, but mentally as well with calling the games and constantly being on your toes when runners are on base.

“Man, it’s tough,” Cannon said.  “They go through a lot. You don’t even realize what they go through back there. It definitely is a whole new deal working back there. [The hardest thing to pick up is] knowing your pitchers and calling a game. Just knowing what everybody’s stuff does as everybody is not the same. They are not going to be straight with the fastball as it going to do different things with cutters and two-seamers and different stuff.”

There is no doubt that with Cannon’s ability to play almost any position that he has value to the organization as a utility player. How long that value lasts depends on what other options become available to the Indians in his role, and most importantly, how he is performing and developing as a hitter.

“I feel alright at the plate,” Cannon said.  “It was a little different with spring training with catching as you don’t get as many at bats because you are catching bullpens. I am still trying to find [my swing] a little bit, so hopefully I can find it soon. I still have things to work on.”

With the opportunity at the moment to play every day it should help Cannon find his swing and give him a chance to show that he can maybe be an asset at the next level with Double-A Akron.

“The one thing I would like to do is move up a level and get to Double-A,” Cannon said.  “I think that is everybody’s goal, which is to try and find a way to have a good year and hopefully move up.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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