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Second Thoughts: The kids are alright

Rookie reinforcements giving Tribe a breath of fresh air

Second Thoughts: The kids are alright
Rookie outfielder Tyler Holt flashes leather with a diving catch on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images)
August 15, 2014
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While it gives me a chance to quote one of my favorite bands of all time, The Who, there is truth in saying "the kids are alright" for the Indians this season. The Tribe now has a strong rookie contingent on their major league roster due to injuries and trades and it's starting to pay off.

Newcomer Zach Walters made his presence known in Cleveland with a walk-off home run on Wednesday while Tyler Holt has already been turning some heads on the national level with his sensational defense in the outfield in just his first couple starts in the majors. While none of these players possess superstar-level talent or potential, their contributions so far have been refreshing and hopefully a glimpse into the future for the team.

Zach Walters: 3 G, 11 AB, 2 R, 2 H, HR, RBI, 2 BB, 3 K.

Aside from looking like a Grady Sizemore doppelganger, the young utility slugger acquired from Washington for Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline has already sealed himself in Tribe lore with a walk-off home run in just his second game for his new club.

The power potential Walters possesses is certainly the most intriguing aspect to his game, but his struggles with plate discipline have kept major league expectations tempered somewhat. While he only has two hits in 11 at-bats with the Tribe so far, it is nice to see him drawing walks as he now has two against three strikeouts. It's still too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions, but at least he is already having a moment in the sun with his new team, which should boost his confidence.

The question now and over the remainder of the campaign into the offseason is what will be this guy's role with the organization? His versatility creates a lot of possibilities, but it's still difficult at this point to point out a permanent spot for him to fit in. If his hitting and power translate to this level, they will find a place for him somehow, though.

Tyler Holt: 5 G, 9 AB, 0 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 3 K.

Now anyone who knows me or at least follows me on Twitter can attest to the fact that I have been imploring for this young man to get his shot in the majors all season. While the addition of Chris Dickerson proved to be productive for a while, it did pain me to see Tyler Holt sent back to AAA after only one inning on a big league diamond.

His success at the plate, speed on the basepaths and defense and versatility in the outfield made him a near-perfect candidate to me as a backup outfielder for the Tribe, especially with injuries to Michael Bourn and now David Murphy.

It's already nice to see Holt racking up hits at the major league level with four in just nine at-bats so far, which hopefully is a sign that he is already well underway to adjusting to big league pitching. His defense in the outfield has also been a breath of fresh air as he has already made a few highlight reel catches, even though one of them was washed away with the rain. One thing I will say about Holt is he will give 110% on every play no matter where he is in the outfield.

I actually said this during the offseason, but I think there's an even better chance of it now with the season he's had: Tyler Holt will be the Indians fourth outfielder out of spring training next season with Ryan Raburn and Chris Dickerson moving on to better opportunities.

Jose Ramirez (since last call-up): 17 G, 54 AB, 4 R, 15 H, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K, 2 SB.

Speaking as someone who had the pleasure to watch him play at AA Akron all last season, I can say that few came close to being as fun to watch in all areas of play than Jose Ramirez. While he still hasn't quite caught on at the plate in the majors, he has been swinging the bat better since his latest call-up from Columbus batting .278 with a double, a home run and three RBI, plus two stolen bases.

Following the departure of Asdrubal Cabrera, the young infielder has done a fine job of taking over the majority of the duties at shortstop despite the fact that his natural position is second base. His range, in particular, has been especially impressive as he has gotten to some ground balls that his predecessor could probably only reminisce about having the ability to field during his younger days.

Anyone questioning his ability to hit at this level need only check his stats through the years in the minors to see that he is too smart a hitter to never figure things out and make the proper adjustments. His minor league on-base percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio consistently suggest that it's only a matter of time before Ramirez finds his groove.

Roberto Perez: 10 G, 31 AB, 4 R, 9 H, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K.

The season Roberto Perez is having here in 2014 is really one of the great comeback stories in baseball this season. While he has been mostly valued for his defense throughout his pro career, his emergence at the plate has made him an intriguing big league backup option to starting catcher Yan Gomes, a theory that has paid off so far for the Tribe, who decided it was worth testing.

After struggling mightily at the plate in 2013, Perez admitted to battling with Bell's Palsy, which affected his vision to the point where he couldn't close one of his eyes. After ridding himself of it during the offseason, the young catcher got to work on proving he was a better hitter than the numbers showed and did he ever batting .305 with eight homers and 43 RBI for the Clippers, all career highs.

His defense that the Indians love so much has shown itself at the big league level as well as he has already thrown out three of five potential base-stealers. With no immediate viable alternatives currently on the roster or in the farm system, I'd say the chances are pretty good Perez returns as the Tribe's primary backup catcher in 2015.

Kyle Crockett: 2-0, 1.19 ERA, 27 G, 22.2 IP, 19 H, 3 R/ER, 6 BB, 20 K.

Last but certainly not least is the youngest one of them all, Kyle Crockett, who was tossing off a mound at the University of Virginia just a little over a year ago. Now he has established himself as a permanent fixture in the Indians bullpen after starting the year in Akron.

When I first got to see him pitch for the RubberDucks, the thing that immediately struck me about the left-hander is that he is never intimidated and will rarely stray from his aggressive attack on hitters regardless of the situation. In a way, his presence on the mound reminds me of Corey Kluber. While it's not a deep, analytical observation, the fact of the matter is he just knows how to get batters out.

I don't see him leaving the Tribe bullpen anytime soon.

Up Next: Orioles (69-50) vs. Indians (60-60) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05 pm ET.

The Indians will turn to their ace in the series opener against the visiting Orioles, who are beginning to run away with the division in the AL East. Corey Kluber is now one of the leading Cy Young Award candidates in the league as he is now tied for first in wins and is in the top five in just about every other major category. He earned a win in Baltimore back in May pitching seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts against the O's.

Toeing the rubber for the Birds will be left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who has pitched much better of late going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in his last 10 starts. While the Indians have had their share of struggles against southpaws this season, they did manage to get to Chen for five runs in May as he took a no-decision.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

August 16, 2014 - 11:38 PM EDT
Jimmy, I like Perez as a backup only. He's not a guy you want to DH and being exposed more than he already is. Put him in a position to succeed in limited time against pitchers he can have success against. He's a below average ML bat, but with his defense he could be a nice backup for a long time for the Indians.

I agree the Indians are likely stuck with both Swisher and Bourn.....but I think if they are willing to eat money that perhaps they can find someone to bite on Bourn (probably wishful thinking). Unfortunately, the Indians probably ar resorted to getting down on their knees this offseason and praying to the gods that Bourn/Swisher come back next season and perform as hoped when they were signed to their deals.
Joe Chengery
August 16, 2014 - 10:24 AM EDT
I said before you must move both Chisenhall and Kipnis to the outfield this offseason and allow Urshela and Ramirez to take over at 3B and 2B respectively. Combined with Lindor when he arrives, an underrated Santana at 1B, and Gomes/Perez, that INF defense should improve significantly. I'll take any growing offensive pains playing at the ML level rather than trying to see Kipnis play defense at 2B (he can't) and Chisenhall play consistent defense at 3B (too erratic).

YourTribe, I understand your point about Chisenhall and am disappointed he hasn't been able to get himself righted again, but am more disappointed in Kipnis.

I think the injury has little to do with his struggles, if any at all- if he was that injured, the Indians would not be risking him after giving him a 6-year contract- he's likely pretty much healthy outside of the everyday aches and pains from a long season. And, he wasn't injured to start the season, when he struggled, and he wasn't injured the second half of last season when he struggled. Kipnis' hit tool has likely been overrated, and when you combine that with below-average defense, I'm actually more down on Kipnis than I am Chisenhall.

Never mind the fact that Kipnis makes far more than Chisenhall, and the fact Kipnis doesn't drive the ball hard the other way; I think Chisenhall has driven the ball hard the other way as many or more times this year than Kipnis has in three seasons- that's a major reason why Kipnis has struggled to hit at or near 300 in three seasons, and I know some were considering him a "poor man's Chase Utley when he came up."

Chisenhall is probably a better bet to still finish with as good or a higher season BA in his first full season than Kipnis has managed in three seasons- yes, BA is not everything, but still shows some ability of a player's hit tool, further showing that Kipnis' hit tool is overrated. Never mind the fact Chisenhall still has an OPS of over .800 and an OPS+ of 132; Kipnis hasn't been anywhere near an .800 OPS in any month since June 2013 when he had an OPS of .1218. Many months Kipnis hasn't even been at 700.

I think Chisenhall found a good approach and stopped trying to hit the long ball- that is his best approach going forward. He needs to clean up the at-bats and stay on the pitches. Kipnis would also do well doing that- that would help him to avoid these long dry spells that have been a staple of his career to this point (it was in 2013 as well when he was certainly healthy, and as I said, the Indians wouldn't be playing him if they thought he was unhealthy to play).

I think Kipnis should move to RF if he can handle it next year, LF if he can't. Chisenhall should try LF, while backing up 3B to spell Urshela, and even 1B. Both he and Kipnis can DH on occasion, though if Chisenhall can't play LF or Kipnis has to move to LF because he can't play RF and the Indians can't trade him, (suspect they probably won't anyway because he just signed long-term recently), Chisenhall could be your main DH (Swisher shouldn't be playing more than a few times a week max, just like Giambi) vs RHP. You can still utilize Kipnis and Chisenhall next year AND incorporate all of those young guys onto the team as well, while lessening the time of guys like Bourn (who I think will still be traded this offseason) and Swisher (if he's still here, he's assume that 25th man role).

Certainly, I would not advocate trading guys like Ramirez, Holt, and Walters for starting pitching that is really no significant upgrade over the likes of Carrasco, Tomlin, McAllister, and House- I'd be perfectly fine with them filling the 4-5 spots next year behind Kluber, Bauer, and Salazar. Young pitching doesn't get better at the ML level if they don't face ML hitters- we know those aforementioned four (and even Salazar and Bauer) can get AAA hitters out- we need to know they can get ML hitters out, and that's not going to happen if you get some decent veteran or some other young starting pitcher who's not any better or proven than the guys you already have in one or more of those spots and leave those four on the sidelines in the bullpen or atAAA. Whichever two don't makeit, yes, they can be in the bullpen or at AAA, but I'd prefer seeing two of them filling the 4-5 spots next year than some decent veteran or a young starter who's no better and/ or no more proven than them, whether it's via a signing or a trade.

We wanted the farm system to start producing young talent, including starting pitching- well, it is now. Now, it's time to start trusting it and using it going forward because that's how the Indians are going to compete for a championship, not by acquiring or purchasing high-priced veterans.
August 15, 2014 - 2:28 PM EDT
Fangraphs had an excellent piece up earlier in the week, explaining just how bad the 2014 Indians defense has been. To make a long story short, by both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the 2014 Indians have been one of the 3 worst defensive teams in the last dozen years in MLB. Keep in mind that the defensive metrics LOVE Yan Gomes, rating him as one of the best defenders in all of MLB, and yet the team as a whole is still historically bad.

This is why you have to consider radical changes to the lineup. The improved defense could very likely make up for any decrease in offensive production.
August 15, 2014 - 2:14 PM EDT
Matthew I agree. Cut trade whatever as much dead weight as possible and give the kids a chance. Starting now.

Jimmy, Lonnie and kipnis are good defensively??? Lonnie is bad and kipnis has no range. I would move Lonnie and give Giovanni a shot. Not a Lonnie fan at all. Has done nothing in 4 yrs of being handed a job except for a few months early this year.
August 15, 2014 - 1:11 PM EDT
We are pretty much stuck with Bourn and Swisher (and Raburn, though his contract is small enough to swallow) unless we agree to pay most of their salaries for another team. The Tribe really got scorched with Bourn and Swisher. We'd have to throw in Erik Gonzalez and another top prospect to even get a riocj team to take one of their lame bogus contracts off our hands. Aviles has value still. Murphy may, too, as his deal is only for one more year and he does not totally suck.,
August 15, 2014 - 12:09 PM EDT
Yeah, you really have to wonder if the record would actually be any worse next season if they just cut bait with Swisher, Bourn, Murphy, Raburn and Aviles and just rolled with:

C- Gomes
1B- Santana
2B- Ramirez
3B- Urshela
SS- Lindor
LF- Kipnis
CF- Brantley
RF- Ramsey
DH-Aguilar/Chisenhall platoon

Bench: Perez, Walters, Holt.

That's probably a .500 ball club. Just like this year's. The infield defense would go from worst in MLB to probably the top third. The outfield defense would be a little worse, and the offense would probably be slightly worse, but with some intriguing upside. Best of all, it would be about $40M cheaper.

Before anyone says it, I completely understand this is unrealistic and they will never do it. I'm just saying it as a thought experiment.
August 15, 2014 - 11:56 AM EDT
Completely agree with you, Jake. J Ram, Lonnie, Jason and Carlos are a very good defensive infield. Boy, can J Ram get rid of the ball when throwing to first. I think that Perez is learning that pitchers are pitching him outside and when he learns to take it to right, Gomes will have he back-up since he can already throw base runners out. Maybe a combination of Gomes and Perez catching and DH?
I was very impressed with Zach and Tyler and hope that they continue to start in outfield. Tyler, what catches and hits. Zach, who looks like Brantley batting, a homer. WOW Go Tribe
August 15, 2014 - 11:44 AM EDT
Other than Walters, all home-grown. Nice.

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