Mitchell: 2012 Clippers at a Glance Part 1- infielders
So, with minor league free agency declared and the Winter Meetings next week, let’s take a look at how the Clippers potential roster looks today and what the Indians’ shopping needs might do to impact it.
The Clippers will not have the services of their 2 best position players from 2011 as Luis Valbuena was traded to Toronto and Jerad Head chose to sign with the Detroit Tigers. The lot of a minor league team is to replace pieces on a yearly and even daily basis, so who do Clippers fans count on for the late-inning theatrics those 2 provided?
The Clippers should have a pretty similar infield to what we saw near the end on 2011.
At first base, I think Beau Mills improved enough to warrant an opportunity to play there. I knew he could hit the ball a mile when he connected, but what I was pleasantly surprised to see when he came to Columbus was how adept he was as a first baseman. He has soft, sure hands and looks comfortable moving around the bag. He will need to continue to improve his bat-to-ball to ever get a shot in the bigs, but the Indians are in no way set at 1B for the future. Manny Acta has publicly said they want to improve at that spot and that Matt LaPorta must earn his spot there. I think LaPorta has an option remaining, so if the Tribe makes a significant signing for that position, it is possible that he would be the Clippers first baseman.
Second base should be Cord Phelps’ everyday position with Jason Kipnis in the Majors with the Indians. Cleveland tried to round out Cord last year as a utility player. While he is fine as a second baseman, Phelps is limited as a left-side defender. His bat is a definite impact weapon for the Clippers as he hits well from both sides of the plate and is developing more power as matures physically.
Jared Goedert would seem a likely candidate to be the 3rd baseman, but the resigning of Grady Sizemore may impact that. How can Grady coming back affect a minor league 3rd baseman? Well with Sizemore, Choo and Brantley as the starters, and Grady’s health concerns, you likely have to have 2 back up outfielders in Cleveland. As of right now, Shelley Duncan and Ezequiel Carrera fill those rolls. That would leave room for only one bench infielder. Lonnie Chisenhall Jason Donald and Jack Hannahan will fill the role of 3B and utility man. That’s 3 players for 2 spots. Chisenhall is the future, but has options and development left to do. Hannahan was one of the best defensive 3B’s in baseball last year and hit enough to stay in there, but has played only 13 career games at shortstop, where a back-up is necessary. Donald can play three IF positions and had a quietly stellar season with the bat in the Majors. Even if Chisenhall doesn’t struggle in spring training, the Indians may want to season him a bit more at the beginning of the year. If Chisenhall is in Columbus, Goedert will most likely fill the role he did when he was activated last year, playing DH and spelling at 1B & 3B.
With the departure of Valbuena, Juan Diaz looks to be the man at shortstop for the Clippers in 2012. He is a huge body for the position and his frame has lots of room to fill out. He showed good range, decent speed and some gap power in the very limited time he played for the Clippers. I wonder as he gets older and bigger if he will be able to get down on balls while on the move as a SS and his offensive numbers were not overly impressive in the lower levels. Francisco Lindor, the Tribes #1 pick in the 2011 draft is a long way off and the SS position is thin in the minor league organization. There is always the possibility of a veteran signing for depth as outside of Donald, I don’t know who the Indians would feel comfortable planting at shortstop if something were to happen to Asdrubal Cabrera and a stop-gap were needed.
At catcher, This Indians resigned Luke Carlin and Michel Hernandez, but it would seem likely that Chun Chen would get his first taste of Triple-A baseball. Chen hit a ton in High-A in 2010. Last year at Akron he posted a .782 OPS, which is very good for a catcher. The Indians said he needed to work on his game-calling and more importantly, his mastery of the English language last year. If he made enough development in those areas, I’d think it’s cinch he’s the Clippers every day catcher in 2012. If not, there will be another veteran catching committee in Columbus. One of our favorite guys, Paul Phillips’s status is unknown at this time.
Next time we’ll look at the outfield.