Mitchell: Looking ahead to 2012- Outfield
OK, so last time we took a look at the likely infield alignment for the 2012 Columbus Clippers with most likely Jared Goedert or Lonnie Chisenhall at 3B, Juan Diaz at SS Cord Phelps 2B and Beau Mills or possibly Matt Laporta at 1B. The Indians just signed veteran catcher Matt Pagnozzi which puts him in the catcher mix at Triple-A with Luke Carlin, Chun Chen and seemingly less likely, Michel Hernandez.
Who will roam the outfield in Columbus? With Grady Sizemore returning to Cleveland and reportedly told he’ll be the center fielder, Michael Brantley will be in left and Shin-Soo Choo will be in right. Shelley Duncan seems very likely to make the club assuming a solid camp and with Sizemore’s injury history, a 5th outfielder to start the season seems like a necessity. Ezequiel Carrera is the most likely candidate for that spot as he’s the only remaining option currently on the 40-man roster with MajorLeague experience. With those five in Cleveland, the outfield in Columbus will likely look quite different than the one we saw most of 2011.
Gone is Jerad Head, signing a minor-league deal with Detroit. We may see a lot of him at Huntington Park, but it would be in a MudHens uniform. In his usual left field, is likely Thomas Neal. Neal joined the Clippers after being acquired from San Franscico in a trade last season. Neal is a physical specimen, but he was hampered by injury most of the time he was in Columbus, so I have no good idea as of yet what sort of player he is. It should be noted that he put up impressive stats in the Giants system and is a multi-time All-Star.
In center, the Clippers may have the services of Trevor Corwe for much of the season. Crowe was taken off of the Indians 40-man roster after the season, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Columbus. Trevor has a very good Triple-A resume. a .276 average with 55 SB in 113 games. He has a very good outfield arm and can really run the ball down as well. He has the ability to play all 3 outfield positions, so he will provide Mike Sarbaugh with flexibility on his lineup card. If he’s healthy, the only real concern about Crowe is his state of mind entering the season. Being outrighted from the Big League team can have a dramatic affect on a player’s attitude and outlook, but Crowe seems like the type who has strong character and a positive outlook. I’m sure he will take this season as on opportunity to work his way back to where he wants to be, whether in Cleveland or elsewhere.
Right Field is something of a question mark. Maybe Thomas Neal plays here. In his very brief time, he flashed a cannon of an arm, but it wasn’t very accurate (again, with his injuries, I don’t put much stock in the snippets we saw). Chad Huffman is still in the fold and mainly played in right, but also played left field and 1B. The Indians picked Huffman up off of the waiver wire from the Yankees and had him batting cleanup much of last season. Chad struggled badly at times last year, but also had some incredibly hot streaks. Defensively, Huffman is not a speedster, but he gets good jumps, takes good routes to the ball and has a very solid arm. He also played the right field wall at Huntington Park better than any outfielder in the 3 years the park has been open. I think the Indians may view him as an option, but he must find consistency at the plate.
If Neal is in right most days, expect to see a healthy does of Tim Fedroff in left field for the Clippers. Tim became the center fielder by default in Columbus after Ezequiel Carrera was promoted for good to Cleveland. Fedroff is a bit miscast in center, as he doesn’t have outstanding speed, nor does he get particularly good jumps off the bat. Looking at his season stats, they seem to also say he doesn’t perform as well at the plate when asked to play center. At the time of his promotion to Columbus in late June, Fedroff was leading the EL in hitting, playing mostly left field (58g-LF 2g-CF 4g-RF). While with the Clippers, Fedroff played over two thirds of his games in center. In CF, Fedroff’s slash line was .248/.351/.327. As a left fielder for the Clippers Tim hit .377/.459/.509. Those are pretty significant splits and they were similar in 2010 at Akron. Fedroff really came on strong down the stretch when the Clippers needed offense. He is a slasher who can set the table, might fit a #2 hitter roll.
The Indians have already resigned Ben Copeland, who finished with the Clippers, but who saw very little playing time. Copeland is a minor league veteran with lots of Triple-A time, mostly in the PCL. He has a little pop and brings some speed. He seems like a depth player who can fill situational needs. He spend most of last year in Akron and may wind up there again to start the season.
The great mystery continues to be Nick Weglarz, The herculean outfielder from the great white north. The Indians have been waiting for Weglarz to be their heir to the slugger throne in the bigs for a while now, but Weglarz has not been able to stay healthy long enough to develop. Injuries have derailed many promising careers, but Nick has so much raw power and such good plate discipline, that he can really make a manager drool. Weglarz’ future, if he has one, is likely at first base or DH as he is not a very good outfielder. Of concern to the Indians is that Nick struck out in a third of his at bats last season, far above his career average. The walks were still there in abundance, so it would appear his eye is still good. Hopefully this is the year Nick stays healthy. He was slated to start the year in Columbus before the injury last year I would guess this season would be the same. If that happens, expect to see Weglarz at DH, some 1B and a bit in the corner outfield spots as well.
The Tribe has Weglarz and Neal on the 40-man roster, so expect them to get consistent playing time to develop. Crowe is going to play because the Indians know what they have in him and need to keep him involved in case his services as a 4th outfielder are needed. Fedroff is going to be 25, so he needs to make a strong showing to put himself on the radar before he becomes an “organizational player.” Huffman got a big push last year but didn’t take advantage. He will need to reestablish himself in spring training, where he was a beast in 2011.
With these five and Copeland in the wings, Mike Sarbaugh will have a happy problem of having more quality players than spots on the field, much as he had with the infield last year. I’m confident that he will handle this as well as he handled last year’s juggling act. With the Winter Meetings in full swing in Dallas, also keep in mind that there is always the possibility that the Tribe makes a move of an outfielder that causes a domino effect and throws this whole thing out of wack.
A belated Happy Birthday to my friend & broadcast partner Scott Leo. The Clippers are one of the few teams to employ and travel 2 full-time broadcasters, and during the season, we spend far more time together than with our families. I’m lucky to work with someone with whom I get along so well. I’ve never known someone who eats so many hamburgers and still weighs less than his shadow.