The Indians recent slump has cost them first place in the Central, but more importantly, it has cost them their confidence. Manager Manny Acta has said that this team needs a spark to turn it around. With some recent moves, however, Acta is finally putting those words into action.
Most of the Tribe’s woes have been because of the sputtering offense, and who can say they are completely surprised? Some of the players in Indians uniforms simply aren’t poised to produce in the majors. Seeking to turn this team around, Acta went to AAA Columbus for the wealth of talent gained in big time trades in the past five years, because if it’s one thing the 2010 AAA National Champion Clippers have, its MLB-ready talent.
The first move was with second baseman Cord Phelps, brought up to give Orlando Cabrera some relief at the position. Phelps hit .299 with 7 homers and 40 RBI’s in AAA this season. Though he struggled early, with just 1 hit in his first 16 at-bats, Phelps has come alive lately, with 8 hits in his last 25 at-bats, including a walk-off home run against Pittsburgh.
The next move was Lonnie Chisenhall, arguably Cleveland’s best prospect from the minors. Chisenhall struggled some this year in AAA, hitting .265 with 7 homers and 44 RBI’s, but got hot at the right time. Chisenhall went 9-21 last week with 2 homers and a stunning 14 RBI’s in just 5 games en route to being named the International League Player of the Week. Chisenhall came up to take on a void that has been sitting at third base all season.
Jack Hannahan, who has started most of the games at the hot corner this year, has not produced enough to earn that spot. The 31 year old has hit just .220 in his 64 games, with 5 home runs and 20 RBI’s. Chisenhall has been up for just two games, but has hit the ball hard several times, and has 3 hits in his first 8 at-bats, a positive sign.
And therein lies one of the most obvious, but difficult problems this year for the Tribe. Veterans with Major League experience were given their positions at the start of the year, and kept those spots despite lack of performance. Hannahan goes .220 and starts 64 games? The teams 3 veteran players off the bench, Adam Everett, Shelly Duncan, and Austin Kearns have a combined average of .207. Are those the type of players who should be pinch-hitting in a pressured spot? Well, the numbers say absolutely not.
The Indians struggles the past several years were linked directly to trading off talent for prospects. Tribe fans waved goodbye to Cy-Young winners C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, as well as slugger Victor Martinez in trades that brought fan’s anger to boiling point. But these trades were made with the future in mind, and a ton of young talent was brought into the Indians farm system. Eventually, however, it’s time to stop training them and relying on mediocre veterans to get by for 2nd place.
Acta has begun to act on this. With Phelps, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta (sans injury), and Michael Brantley getting regular starts, the team’s median has shifted towards the young talent. Veterans Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Shin Soo Choo (sans injury) and Olrando Cabrera are the only regular starters over the age of 26. They can help these young players adjust to the big league game, but the time is ripe for young players to earn their spots and justify the talent that was given up for them.
The Columbus Clippers won last year’s AAA National Championship, and have the best winning percentage in the International League so far in 2011. So while AAA wins are a sign of great things to come, it’s time to bring that talent and those winning ways back up to the big leagues to bolster the struggling Indians back to the top of the Central.
-Jamie ArkinFollow paulmbanks