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Columbus Report: Carrera is next in line

Columbus Report: Carrera is next in line
May 20, 2011
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Ezequiel Carrera (Photo: Lianna Holub)
This technically is the second part of Minor Happenings that I mentioned yesterday would post today. I decided with all of the Columbus news to make this a Columbus only piece to bring everyone up to speed with most of the Major League options in waiting at Columbus.

Carrera is next in line

With outfielder Grady Sizemore out with a knee injury and outfielder Travis Buck being scratched from the lineup yesterday with a toe injury, the Indians removed Triple-A Columbus outfielder Ezequiel Carrera from the Columbus lineup yesterday as a precaution. If Buck happens to end up on the disabled list in the next few days, it looks like Carrera would be the next outfielder called up to Cleveland.

Carrera, 23, is an excellent depth option for the Indians to have in waiting at Columbus. In 37 games for Columbus this year he is hitting .317 with 2 HR, 17 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and a .824 OPS. He is not a powerful player as his game is based more on getting on base, stealing bases, and playing excellent defense in the outfield, which are attributes which would fit in nicely as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues.

Carrera has some pop to his pull-side so he is simply not a slap hitter, but he mostly concentrates on working counts and putting the ball in play all over the field. As a defender he is arguably the best outfielder in the Indians system, including the big leagues. He is exceptional at making both the routine and diving plays, takes good angles and routes to balls, and with his plus speed really covers a lot of ground.

The biggest improvement for Carrera this year has been his approach at the plate where he has worked hard to become better at consistently getting on base and using the entire field. He is not a player you probably ever want as a regular in the lineup except as a replacement for injuries, but he is excellent outfield depth for the Indians and should be an integral piece to the roster for the next several years as a fourth outfielder for them.

Phelps is ready for the call

Triple-A Columbus infielder Cord Phelps is ready for the big leagues. Now it is just about when the Indians will give him that opportunity.

Phelps, 24, is hitting .300 with 6 HR, 25 RBI and a .938 OPS in 36 games for Columbus. He has always been viewed as a versatile defender with good on-base skills, and he is showing that this season where he is playing shortstop for the first time and also playing some third base and second base. His 29 walks and .422 on-base percentage both rank 1st in the International League, so the on-base skills are certainly still there.

The biggest change for Phelps has been the increased production at the plate where he is driving in more runs and showing more power. He has a .515 slugging percentage this year, whereas he had a .413 slugging percentage over his entire three year career coming into the season. He hit his 7th homer of the season last night in a suspended game so it is not included in his overall totals, which is one shy of the eight home runs he hit last year in 119 combined games between Double-A Akron and Columbus (a career high).

Even more amazing has been how Phelps has performed offensively even with all the changes being asked of him in the field. For a lot of players being asked to play a new position can be a huge distraction and take away from their offense, but that has not been the case for him at all as he has made a seamless transition to shortstop and other positions on the field and performing at an all-time great level offensively.

With Travis Hafner dinged up and probably heading to the disabled list for a few weeks, the Indians are going to need an internal option with some punch to help fill in and Phelps appears to be the guy best prepared to help the offense in Cleveland going forward. He is an everyday option at second base so he can take some of the everyday duties off the hands of Orlando Cabrera which could help him remain productive over the course of the season, and Phelps could also fill in at shortstop, third base, and designated hitter if needed.

Upward Head-ing

Against all odds Triple-A Columbus do everything fielder Jared Head appears to be on the cusp of getting a Major League opportunity. He is not on the Indians’ 40-man roster and there are other options the Indians may turn to instead for a right-handed hitting bench option, but there is no longer any debate that he is on the Major League radar. With Austin Kearns struggling and Travis Hafner probably out a few weeks, he is one of the top options the team will look at to replace either one of them in the short term.

Head, 28, is an undrafted free agent signing for the Indians back in August of 2005, and now in his seventh season in the Indians minor league season he is showing he may be a late bloomer. It all started last year when he hit .299 with 17 HR, 66 RBI, and a .906 OPS in 86 combined games for Double-A Akron and Columbus, and the level of his play in the playoffs the past two years has been sensational. This year he is hitting .356 with 5 HR, 16 RBI, and a .964 OPS in 30 games, and is ranked 1st in the International League in hitting (.356), 3rd in on-base percentage (.407), 4th in slugging percentage (.558), and 3rd in OPS (.964).

Head is the consummate professional who has the versatility to play any position on the diamond including catcher in an emergency. He has primarily played left and right field this year, but has the ability to play first and third base on a regular basis and can fill in when needed at shortstop, second base, and center field. His bat has improved every year and he has some good pop from the right side. He runs through walls for his manager and is a favorite of the organization, and while viewed an impossibility just a few months ago his big league opportunity now is well within reach.

Both Kipnis, Chisenhall are steady

It is amazing how nearly identical both Triple-A Columbus second baseman Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall have performed so far this season. Both have played 37 games where Kipnis is hitting .275 with 3 HR, 21 RBI and a .801 OPS and Chisenhall is hitting .282 with 3 HR, 23 RBI, and a .805 OPS.

The Indians really like the power and discipline Kipnis has with his bat. He also has a unique competitiveness to him and has no fear, which have helped him as a performer. Chisenhall shows natural ability at third base and is doing well in a league where most of the players are two to five years older than him.

The focus for both Kipnis and Chisenhall is to make them the best defensive players they can be. This is just Kipnis’ second season playing second base so his focus is more on gaining more experience and picking up the nuances of the position, and for Chisenhall it is about ironing out some wrinkles he has at third, mostly with his throwing. At the plate both need to continue to refine their approach to not get overly aggressive or too anxious, but offensively both are ready for the big leagues.

Huff putting in his work

Triple-A Columbus left-handed pitcher David Huff has been working on his mechanics and also more heavily incorporating a breaking ball into his pitch mix. He has always been mostly a fastball-changeup pitcher, but the Indians have challenged him to throw sliders often in order to develop the pitch. As a result he has been hammered around the park some the past two outings where in 10.2 innings he has allowed 23 hits and 11 runs (8 earned).

Even with the rough outings his last two times out, Huff is still having a solid season for Columbus where in seven starts he is 3-2 with a 4.10 ERA (41.2 IP, 46 H, 13 BB, 19 K). He has been battling some mild elbow soreness which as a precaution the Indians skipped his scheduled start this week, but he has not been placed on the disabled list and is expected to be back out there when his next turn in the rotation comes back up.

Random Notes

After right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez it looks like right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister is the next starter in the pecking order to fill a need at the big league level in Cleveland. With lefty David Huff struggling a little and slowed with some elbow soreness he has now jumped Huff. The Indians believe McAllister has all the attributes to be a long term Major League starter. In seven starts this season he is 6-0 with a 2.80 ERA, and in 45.0 innings has allowed 40 hits, 10 walks, and has 35 strikeouts.

Right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann may be called to Cleveland soon to replace the departed Justin Germano as the long man in the bullpen. The Indians may also decide to insert right-hander Mitch Talbot into that role in the short term while they sort out their starting pitching needs. Herrmann has been throwing harder since he was optioned to Columbus, and one of the more encouraging things has been the development of his slider as it has been much more consistent. In nine appearances for Columbus he is 0-0 with a 5.91 ERA, and in 10.2 innings has allowed 13 hits, 4 walks, and has 12 strikeouts.

Right-handed reliever Zach Putnam is coming on strong and the Indians firmly believe he will be an impact arm for the big league bullpen, possibly this season. If the Indians decide to nix going the long man route in the pen with Herrmann or Talbot, they may opt to bring up Putnam now to add another good arm to the bullpen that could potentially be used in any situation. He is commanding his fastball well to both sides of the plate and both his slider and splitter have been at least average or better this season. In 13 appearances this year he is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA, and in 21.1 innings has allowed 18 hits, 4 walks, and has 17 strikeouts.

Left-handed reliever Eric Berger may not be long for Columbus with his performance and with some bullpen options at Double-A Akron ready for promotion (Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee). In six games with Columbus he is 0-1 with a 12.27 ERA where in 7.1 IP he has allowed 14 hits, 9 walks, and has 11 strikeouts. After a solid start at Akron this year where in five games he had a 2.13 ERA (12.2 IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 16 K), his issues with command have resurfaced as he has struggled to throw consistent strikes in Columbus.

Outfielder Chad Huffman could be another option the Indians turn to soon to fill a short term need as a right-handed bat off the bench. He can play all three outfield positions and some first base, and he has some power and run producing ability with his bat, so he would be worth taking a look at in place of Austin Kearns. In 36 games he is hitting .265 with 5 HR, 21 RBI and a .800 OPS.

Infielder Josh Rodriguez has mostly played the outfield since being returned to the Indians, but with the recent injury to Jason Donald and the promotion of Luis Valbuena, he should now see most of his playing time in the infield. In eight games he is hitting .192 with 1 HR, 4 RBI and a .596 OPS.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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