Before the season, most prognosticators saw Cleveland finishing a distant fourth or perhaps even fifth in the 2011 American League Central. However, Cleveland jumped out to a big early lead, and although things have slowed down for the Tribe, at the All-Star break they are only half a game behind division-leading Detroit. Players such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, and Carlos Carrasco have led the charge. Like all teams (especially those in the AL Central), the Indians have holes, especially with Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore taking their traditional stints to the disabled list. Such holes aren’t always easy to fill. However, during yesterday’s Cleveland-Toronto tilt, as the Blue Jays’ announce team raved about Orlando Cabrera‘s status as a veteran leader and good luck charm, it struck me again that the Indians do have a obvious solution in at least one spot. According to second base prospect Jason Kipnis (who hit a home run in last night’s Futures Game), the team has his number. Why won’t they give him a call?
I’ll be the first to admit that I have no way of knowing what sort of miraculous effects Orlando Cabrera’s intangibles have on a team — maybe he really is the cause of Cleveland’s run at the division title this season. Leaving that possibility aside, he’s been objectively horrible this season, as a quick glance at this shows. Yet he has started 70 games at second base. I don’t think I need to pursue the “Cabrera is terrible” angle much further. He might have made sense as a stopgap for Cleveland before the season, but if they are serious about making a run at the division, it’s time to move on.
The real issue here is Kipnis. Along with recent call-up Lonnie Chisenhall, Kipnis is widely regarded as one of Cleveland’s top prospects. Indeed, I’ve even seen him listed ahead of Chisenhall in one or two places. It is interesting to compare Kipnis’s numbers in the minors to fellow-converted second baseman Dustin Ackley. While Ackley (23) is rightly considered the superior prospect, Kipnis (24) is only a year older, his numbers on similar levels are every bit as good as Ackley’s, and while Kipnis’s fielding at second is described as a work in progress, I don’t think that’s any different than Ackley’s situation. The Mariners probably are out of it for good this season, but they saw Ackley as ready, and called him up.
Of course, just because Seattle called their hot second base prospect up doesn’t mean that Cleveland should do the same. The more interesting comparison is with Cleveland’s own decision to call up Chisenhall (21) to play third base. Despite the exceptions I mentioned above, most prospect-watchers do consider Chisenhall to be the superior prospect to Kipnis, as his young age allows for greater upside. His glove is also better at his position. However, prior to the season few expected Chisenhall to be up before September. Moreover, Chisenhall wasn’t exactly tearing it up at AAA this season, and had some injury issues as well. However, one might be able to understand the Indians’ decision to call Chisenhall up given that they are in the divisional race and that Jack Hannahan is only a stopgap himself. However, just about any justification of that sort used for calling up Chisenhall applies even moreso to Kipnis. Hannahan is only a stopgap, but I would argue that he’s better than Cabrera (he at least isn’t worse). Whatever their respective upsides, Kipnis’ bat is clearly better than Chisenhall’s a the moment. If the team wants to preserve service time, then why would they call up Chisenhall?
There are other issues but they are easily set aside: the team does have more “depth” at second, but if they seriously wanted to give Luis Valbuena another chance, they wouldn’t have given Cabrera the job in the first place. Cord Phelps is a more interesting issue, but it isn’t clear that the team views him as a serious option (rightly or wrongly). If they are trying to win this season, they need to go with the best player at the position, and that this point, it’s Kipnis. Hopefully for Cleveland fans, he comes up after the break is over. I’m sure the team has their reasons for the decisions they’ve made, but in light of the aggressive promotion of Chisenhall, I honestly can’t see why Kipnis isn’t up already.
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