Crisis Means Opportunity: The Cleveland Indians Infield

Last year, Jason Donald, Jayson (not Laynce) Nix, Drew Sutton, Mark Grudzielanek and Luis Valbuena played second base for the Indians. Andy Marte joined this stupendous crew once you include third base.

Not a single one topped a .307 wOBA for the year. Donald’s .253/.312/.378 made for the best of the bunch.

That is a crisis, ladies and gentleman. And crisis usually means opportunity in fantasy baseball. If you were able to guess the correct owner of the second and third base roles in Cleveland next year and beyond, you could take advantage of that opportunity in your keeper league now.

Of course, the leaders in the clubhouse are Mssrs Donald and Nix, as they finished the year in those roles, are under control, and the Indians are in no shape to push their prospects onto a team that most likely won’t contend next year. But Donald and Nix are flawed, and there’s little reason to think that they’ll improve next year.

Donald’s strikeout rate last year (23.6%) was just too close to his minor league rate (23%) to think he can reduce it too much, and he never even showed average power in Triple-A (.146 max ISO at that level). His career-high in stolen bases was 12, too, so speed won’t be the reason he sticks around. His defense could improve – he is a former shortstop – but will it be good enough to float a poor bat? Luis Valbuena showed us that former shortstops with poor bats and too many strikeouts don’t always stick as slick-fielding second baseman, right? Nix may have some upside – he has power, at the very least (.165 ISO) – but he’s over 700 PAs into his career and he strikes out too much and has a career .248 BABIP. He may or may not be a poor fielder, too. This is not a foundational pair.

Cue Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Cord Phelps. Somewhere in this trio the team hopes to find two infielders.

Phelps is coming off a great year (.317/.386/.506), and it was good enough to make Carson Cistulli’s MLE hot list. He’s the closest to the major leagues – he played a full year at Double- and Triple-A – and therefore he may get the first shot once Donald and Nix underwhelm. But his power sort of came out of nowhere (his .189 ISO at Triple-A was preceded by a .100 at Double-A, and a .102 in High-A). He may make a good re-draft name to file away, but as a long-term keeper don’t spend too many resources to get him.

Phelps does not have the upside of Arizona Fall League attendee Jason Kipnis, for example. His career .307/.386/.486 shows that he has a bat worth targeting. He’s walked about ten percent of the time, struck out about twenty percent of the time, and showed above-average power at every level. At the AFL all-star game, he flashed the leather with a great pick at third base and then hit a ringing double off of Chris Carpenter after the Cubs’ prospect hit triple digits on the stadium gun. Get excited.

Chisenhall had a poor 100+ at-bats Double-A in 2009 but he also had an inexplicable .176 BABIP there. Otherwise, he’s shown good power overall (.183 ISO) and the potential for more. He’s only struck out more than 20% of the time at one level, as well. Given a healthy and productive start to the 2011 season, he may also get a shot at a major league job soon, and his more extended power run also places his upside above Phelps’. Everyone will find a favorite among the three, but with a crisis on the infield in Cleveland, there’s assuredly opportunity for two of these men to step forward and provide value.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

One Response to “Crisis Means Opportunity: The Cleveland Indians Infield”

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  1. Shannon says:

    What about Jared Goedert?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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