Cleveland Indians Depth Chart: Ranking the Top 10 Guys Close to a Call Up
After a hot start, the 2011 Cleveland Indians are starting to cool off.
With Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana struggling to produce in the middle of the lineup, and Travis Hafner still not having a timetable for a return, it may be time for the Tribe to turn to the minor leagues for some offensive help.
Or will the Indians' brass decide that a starting pitcher is needed more with the Indians' arms struggling to post quality starts lately?
We can only speculate, but here is what I believe is the Indians' organizational depth chart.
These five players are more or less wild cards on this list. They could get called up at any time, but if they are, I believe it would just be for a quick taste as a bench player or a spot start.
1. David Huff SP
Huff has seen considerable time at the major league level, but has failed to impress. Still, being left handed and having experience could get him a call up for a few starts sometime soon if an injury occurs.
2. Ezequiel Carrera CF
Cleveland got to see him (and his great diving web gem in center) for a few games in 2011 when Grady Sizemore was on the DL. Carrera is fast and a defensive whiz in centerfield. If Sizemore continues his injury woes, Carrera will be back in the big leagues.
3. Jensen Lewis RP
Lewis has seen his fair share of time in the major leagues, but is currently the odd man out in a deep bullpen in Cleveland. The Tribe have some great relievers at Triple-A including Lewis, but his experience could push him to be the next one called up over the younger guys.
4. Zach Putnam RP
Another young Triple-A reliever with a bright future, Putnam could pitch his way to the major leagues sometime in 2011. He has a deep arsenal for a reliever with a 93 miles per hour fastball, complemented by a splitter slider and changeup. Putnam could be perfect for a middle relief role later in 2011, or at least by September.
5. Chad Huffman OF
The everyday right fielder at Triple-A Columbus, Huffman is a dark-horse for a call up in 2011. Huffman has versatility in the outfield and could steal a bench spot as a fourth outfielder in case of injury.
10. Drew Pomeranz, SP
The fifth overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft is unlikely to make it to the Major Leagues in 2011.
Or is he?
Pomeranz is currently in High-A Kinston, but he is dominating every hitter at that level. Thanks to his plus-plus knuckle curve and his 95 miles per hour fastball, Pomeranz now holds a 1.85 ERA for the Kinston Indians.
A promotion to Double-A Akron is imminent, but Pomeranz strangely skipped his last three starts in May. He returned June 1st and looked great (5 IP, 3H, BB, 4K), but you don't skip three starts in the middle of the season without something being wrong.
The Indians said there was no injury, meaning it was probably just an innings limit, but if they are that serious about limiting his innings it could be unlikely we get to see him in Progressive Field in 2011.
I say there's a zero percent chance he makes a start in the big leagues this year, but if the Tribe continues to contend and makes it to October, it could be possible he pitches out of the bullpen (e.g. David Price) to help propel Cleveland.
It is unlikely, but if Pomeranz continues to pitch the way he has, he'll move quickly, and we could see the Indians use him the same way they used Alex White and see him by May or June of 2012.
9. Nick Hagadone, RP
Justin Masterson has worked out well for the Tribe so far, and Hagadone could do the same.
Tommy John surgery in 2008 all but eliminated the left-hander's chances of being a starter, but with a fastball that sits at 97-98 miles per hour and could maybe hit 100 (though he has yet to ever be recorded that high) Hagadone is one of the best relief pitchers in the minors.
Hagadone has a plus slider that is almost un-hittable for lefties and a changeup that is a work in progress. With his future in the back of the bullpen, Hagadone's changeup won't matter as his fastball and slider will be all he needs to shut down the opposition for an inning.
A September call up is almost guaranteed now that he is two years removed from surgery, and it isn't out of the question that Hagadone could overtake Tony Sipp as the premier left-hander in the pen within the next two years.
8. Jeanmar Gomez, SP
Indian fans have seen him before, but Jeanmar Gomez is still one of the top starting options for Cleveland.
While Gomez did not do very well in his few starts in the majors in 2011, he has pitched well at Triple-A Columbus thus far. Through seven starts Gomez sports a 2.53 ERA with a 7.0 K/9 ratio. His BB/9 rate of 3.1 isn't bad, but could afford to drop a bit if he wants to maintain a spot in the rotation for awhile.
Gomez probably has a future as a spot starter for Cleveland, but that is probably all he will ever be. His fastball sits in the 90-92 miles per hour range and has touched 95, but never consistently. His changeup and slider are only average and with all the pitching depth the Indians' have, it is unlikely Gomez will stay with the Tribe for most of his career.
7. Nick Johnson, 1B/DH
Raise your hand if you knew Cleveland signed him.
Nick Johnson signed a minor league deal with the Indians back in March after most teams were scared off by his wrist surgery.
Cleveland signed him due to their lack of depth at first base in the minors and viable backup plan in case something happens to Matt LaPorta.
Johnson has recently finished rehabbing his injured wrist and is currently at Double-A Akron on a rehab assignment. Soon he'll be promoted to Triple-A Columbus where he will probably take over first base duties from Wes Hodges or split time at DH with Luis Valbuena.
By now everyone knows what Johnson's game is. Average power, though it leaves something to be desired from a first baseman, but a career OBP of .401 will help the Tribe score runs.
Johnson should be called up at least in September as a bench bat, though it could be sooner if Hafner continues to sit on the DL.
6. Zach McAllister, SP
Zach McAllister was the player acquired from the New York Yankees in the Austin Kearns deal in 2010. Pegged as the Yankees fifth best prospect in 2010, he struggled mightily after being named the pitcher of the year in their minor league system.
It seemed the Tribe wasn't getting much of a return when McAllister arrived with a 5.09 ERA in 24 starts for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate. Then, he pitched even worse in his three starts for Triple-A Columbus, posting a 6.88 ERA to end an ugly 2010.
McAllister's major league chances seemed slim considering all the depth the Indians had in pitching, but McAllister has bounced back with a great 2011.
Through 10 starts McAllister boasts a 2.42 ERA for Triple-A Columbus. His BB/9 rate of 1.7 is spectacular though his K/9 rate of 6.7 leaves a lot to be desired.
But with the way he's pitching now, McAllister could be the next pitcher to get the call to Cleveland and with the Tribe's improved defense, that strikeout rate might not need to rise for him to be successful.
5. Jason Kipnis, 2B
Jason Kipnis is the Indian's third best prospect according to Baseball America. He has been dubbed as Major League ready by most and could man second base for years to come in Cleveland.
So why is he only No. 5 on this list?
Orlando Cabrera had a great start to 2010, but has fallen off the map in May. Cabrera's OPS is a rancid .590, not at all worth an everyday spot in the lineup. Cabrera's OBP is a measly .275 leading to him being a black hole in the lineup.
Despite this, Manager Manny Acta still bats him sixth or even second in the lineup.
It may be time for Kipnis and his .830 OPS at Triple-A Columbus to force Cabrera to the bench.
Kipnis's defense at second has room for improvement with a .963 fielding percentage in 2011, but the drop off in defense could be worth taking Cabrera's bat out of the lineup on a daily basis.
Kipnis could very well actually be the next minor leaguer to be called up, but for now with Acta's faith in Cabrera to rebound I think Kipnis will get some more seasoning in the minors, and we won't see him in Progressive Field until after the All-Star Break.
4. Nick Weglarz, LF/RF/DH
Nick Weglarz seems to be lost in all the depth the Indians have in the minor leagues, but he is still considered the fifth best prospect by Baseball America.
So why haven't we heard more about him?
The issue with Weglarz is injuries. His season was cut short three of the last five years thanks to a broken hand, a stress fracture in his left shin and a sprained thumb that prematurely ended his season last year.
A knee injury in spring training has not allowed him to play yet this year, but he was assigned to Double-A Akron on June 5th and should quickly move up to Triple-A Columbus.
Weglarz has some of the best raw power in the minor leagues as his .893 OPS last year attests to that. Weglarz strikes out a lot, but he still knows the value of a walk and has a career .383 OBP in the minors.
Now that he's healthy, Weglarz hopes to stay that way. With a lot of the Tribe's best players struggling with injuries in 2011, Weglarz could make an impact soon. I could see him taking the DH spot away from the atrocious Travis Buck/Shelley Duncan platoon if Hafner remains on the DL for awhile and Weglarz plays well at Triple-A.
3. Josh Judy, RP
Josh "Judge" Judy made his major league debut against Cincinnati earlier this year and could see time with Cleveland again soon.
The closer for Triple-A Columbus, Judy is the next in line for a call up if the Tribe needs bullpen help. Rookie Vinnie Pestano felt a tightness in his back warming up for his last appearance, and I feel as though a DL trip could be likely. The Indians say it isn't that serious as he is only Day to Day, but I never like hearing a pitcher having back issues.
Judy has a bulldog mentality on the mound, making him a perfect fit for a setup role in the future. His fastball sits in the 91-94 miles per hour range and can touch as high as 96 at times. His slider is his out pitch and improves year to year.
Judy didn't get to last long in the majors his last time around, but is Pestano goes on the DL, Judy will certainly get the call and might take the job and run with it.
2. Cord Phelps, 2B/SS/3B
Originally lost in the mix of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, most Indians fans now know the name Cord Phelps.
Phelps, a third-round pick in the 2008 draft, is a well-rounded player. He doesn't have one great tool, but he has very little weaknesses and can play all around the infield. His best position is second base, but that is manned by Kipnis at Triple-A, so Phelps plays every day at shortstop. Phelps can also play third, but he only has eight career games there, so he is unlikely to play there every day if something happens to Jack Hannahan.
Phelps has been one of the best players at Triple-A thus far, with a .303 BA and seven HRs. His .897 OPS is great for a middle infielder.
Phelps has the ability to be an everyday major leaguer, but not the opportunity. He is not exactly a "blocked prospect" and someone the Tribe is just looking to trade. The Indians will give him any opportunity possible in the major leagues as sort of a Ben Zobrist type.
With his versatility and hot start, Phelps will be one of the next prospects to make his major league debut in Cleveland in 2011.
1. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
As if you were surprised.
Chisenhall has been labeled the Tribe's top prospect two years in a row now due to his great swing.
The third baseman may not be a perennial All-Star, but his potential is to have a .300 BA and 20-25 HRs and should make the All-Star game a few times for Cleveland.
He has been solid thus far at Triple-A Columbus with a .273 BA, five HRs and a .801 OPS. His defense could use some work though. While he projects as an above-average third baseman defensively, his fielding percentage is currently .947.
But the Indians could think his bat is worth it. Jack Hannahan has played spectacular defense at the major league level, but he has been a black hole at the bottom of the Tribe's lineup.
With run scoring a huge issue right now in Cleveland, Chisenhall could be just what the doctor ordered and help propel the Indians to the playoffs.
Regardless, expect to see Chisenhall before the All-Star Break.