Clip Show aims to be your weekly update for all things Columbus Clippers. Check back each Tuesday afternoon for team records, roster updates, and performance updates on some of the brightest prospects in the Tribe system.
I know, I know, it’s not really Tuesday. There’s always that one week or so when both the Clippers and Blue Jackets overlap, so today’s first Clip Show of 2011 comes on Wednesday. The season is just getting underway, and so today’s column won’t be so much about individual performances so far as it will be about story lines and players to watch this spring and summer. Last year, it was Santana, Brantley, and LaPorta. This summer brings us a whole new crop of prospects worth following, not to mention what looks to be a very solid AAA team looking to build on a Championship season from 2010. Let’s get it started!
This Week: 4-2
Season Record: 4-2, 2nd place (of four) in ILW (International League West)
4/07 @ Indianapolis – Clippers 4, Indians 3; WP Huff (1-0)
4/08 @ Indianapolis – Clippers 3, Indians 2; WP Gomez (1-0)
4/09 @ Indianapolis – Clippers 8, Indians 7; WP Judy (1-0)
4/10 @ Indianapolis – Clippers 7, Indians 5; WP McAllister (1-0)
4/11 @ Louisville – Postponed, Rain
4/12 @ Louisville – Bats 4, Clippers 2; LP Kluber (0-1)
4/12 @ Louisville – Bats 5, Clippers 4; LP Judy (1-1)
No moves so far, so this is the opening day roster for Columbus:
OF: Bubba Bell, Jordan Brown, Ezequiel Carrera, Jerad Head, Chad Huffman
IF: Lonnie Chisenhall, Wes Hodges, Jason Kipnis, Cord Phelps, Luis Valbuena
C: Luke Carlin, Paul Phillips
SP: 1. David Huff, 2. Jeanmar Gomez, 3. Alex White, 4. Zach McAllister, 5. Corey Kluber
RP: Paolo Espino (R), Josh Judy (R), Jensen Lewis (R), Joe Martinez (R), Zach Putnam (R), Carlton Smith (R), Jess Todd (R)
DL: RHP Hector Ambriz (torn right elbow ligament); OF Nick Weglarz (torn left knee meniscus); INF Nick Johnson (right wrist soreness); RHP Anthony Reyes (torn right elbow ligament); RHP Hector Rondon (torn right elbow ligament)
4/14 @ Toledo, Jeanmar Gomez
4/14 @ Toledo, Alex White
4/15 @ Toledo, Zach McAllister
4/16 vs. Toledo, Corey Kluber
4/17 vs. Toledo, David Huff
4/18 vs. Toledo, Jeanmar Gomez
4/19 vs. Louisville, Alex White
*subject to change
Players to Watch
Rather than our normal Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, let’s instead take a look at some guys to watch based on positions:
This is the area that most Tribe fans are looking for the earliest impact. Most of us know that Jack Hannahan and Orlando Cabrera are not the long-term answers at second and third. We’ve talked often about the second and third base prospects, and this year Columbus is loaded with all of them.
Lonnie Chisenhall – The Chiz has moved quickly through the Tribe’s system after being tabbed with their first round pick in 2008. At 22 for the entire season this year, he’s still considered a touch young for AAA. Chisenhall struggled with an injury early last season in Akron, but still came on to his .278 with 17 homers and 84 RBI in 117 games for the Aeros. With no one but Jack Hannahan in front of him, if he hits at all in Columbus it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in Cleveland by June.
Cord Phelps – Phelps, the Tribe’s 2008 3rd-rounder, spent a good chunk of 2010 with Columbus after hitting .296 in 53 games with Akron to start the year. He not only didn’t show any drop-off in switching levels, but he became the integral cog in the new-look lineup down the stretch after all of the bigger names had moved up to Cleveland. By season’s end in 2010, the switch-hitting 24-year-old was hitting third in the Clippers’ lineup, and he finished with a .317 average and .386 on-base mark in 66 games. He also made just 6 errors in 57 games at second base along the way in 2010.
Jason Kipnis – Kipnis spent all of the 2010 regular season split between Kinston and Akron before joining Columbus for the final series of the IL playoffs. The 2009 second-round pick had a monster year in both Kinston and Akron in 2010, hitting a combined .307 with 16 homers, 32 doubles, 74 RBI, and a.386 on-base clip in just 133 games. He’s not quite the defender that Phelps is at second base, with 23 errors in 121 games at second all of last year, but with the bat you can live with the glove.
These three will be alternating between second (Kipnis and Phelps), third (Chisenhall and Phelps), and DH. Through six game so far in 2011, they’ve combined to hit .314 (22-for-70) with three homers and 17 RBI. Phelps is leading the way, hitting .440 (11-for-25) and two homers and seven RBIs.
There isn’t much left in terms of immediate need, with Michael Brantley, Shin Soo Choo, and (hopefully) Grady Sizemore manning the outfield in Cleveland for the next two years. That said, two years ain’t long in baseball terms. The dearth of high-level talent in the outfield with the move of Matt LaPorta to first base and the promotion of Brantley is somewhat alarming. We’ll talk about this more below, but let’s take a look at two guys that hopefully will get some love this year.
Nick Weglarz – Big Red suffered an injury last summer that cost him. He was on track to be ready to go this spring, until he went down late in spring training with a torn knee meniscus. This is a significant injury for Weglarz, as he is expected to miss the first couple of months of the season. Big Red struggled to hit for average upon first coming up, but then again he’s been a career .262 hitter in the minors over six seasons. The biggest thing missing from his game for a large chunk of his time with Columbus was power, as he hit just six home runs and slugged just .497 in 50 games with Columbus. The brightest spot over his career is his .383 career on-base-percentage. Here’s hoping injuries haven’t derailed the career of the 23-year-old, though at his age there’s still some time.
Ezequiel Carrera – Carrera came over in the deal for Russell Branyan last summer, and played an integral part at the top of the Clippers’ lineup during their playoff run. He filled in admirably in center field, and his speed and bunting in the #2 spot in the lineup proved invaluable. He is still 23, but has never really been considered a high-level prospect. However, with Weglarz’s current injury issues, he’s really the only guy playing right now in the age range of being considered a prospect for the Tribe outfield someday, and he’s a career .292 hitter in 1762 at bats in the minor leagues.
The rotation should again be solid. We’ll skip the likes of David Huff and Zach McAllister. Huff has already tried in the majors twice and had no success, and McAllister was a trade throw-in from the Yankees last year who is probably not considered a Major League prospect. But, the other guys? Let’s take a look.
Jeanmar Gomez – The big right-hander had a nice cup of coffee with the Tribe in 2010, and though he struggled for a large part of the AAA season, he found something in June and July that showed why the organization is high on him. At 23, he’s just coming of AAA age so to speak, but has already put in a full season. Gomez was 8-8 with a 5.20 ERA in 20 starts for Columbus last year, but he got progressively better as the season wore on. He made 11 starts in Cleveland, going 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA, which is indicative of that improvement. He’ll be the #2 starter to begin the year in Columbus.
Alex White – Here’s the guy I’m looking forward to seeing this year. White was the Tribe’s 2009 1st round pick out of the University of North Carolina, and will be manning the #3 spot in the rotation to start out in Columbus. The 22-year-old made 26 appearances (25 starts) between Kinston and Akron in 2010, and was 10-10 with a great 2.45 ERA and 117 K’s against just 46 walks in 150.2 innings of work.
Corey Kluber – Kluber was a late-season call-up for Columbus last season, after coming over to the Tribe organization from San Diego as part of the Jake Westbrook deal. Kluber made 29 total appearances (28 starts) across AA and AAA all of last year, and was 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA and 165 strikeouts versus 56 walks in 160.0 innings. He made two starts for Columbus late in the season, and was 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA.
A Quick Word…
…about story lines. This year’s club is not short on story lines. We’ve talked about few in terms of players above, but let’s take a higher-up view.
Is this the year Mike Sarbaugh finally gets a major league job?
Sarbaugh is going into his eighth season of managing in the Tribe’s system, and this is his second year at AAA Columbus. Sarbaugh’s pedigree has continued to bloom since coming to the Indians’ system, and with Manny Acta being in Cleveland (and looking to be safe for the time being), one wonders if another team will come calling for Sarbaugh at season’s end if the Clippers have another good run.
Sarbaugh became manager at Mahoning Valley in 2004, and led the Scrappers to the NY-Penn League title that season. He moved on to Lake County in 2005, and then landed in Kinston for the 2006 season; the K-Tribe won the championship of the Carolina League that season, making Sarbaugh 2-for-3. He stayed in Kinston for the 2007 season, and moved on to Akron for 2008. Guess what? Another level, another title. Three titles in five seasons! He managed again in Akron for 2009, and after the season was promoted to Columbus for the 2010 season. And, to bring it all full circle, again in his first season at a new level, he took his team to a league (and AAA) championship. If you’re scoring at home, that’s four championships in seven seasons as a manager at all levels of the minors.
So, what else does Sarbaugh have to prove to get a crack in the majors? Not much, in my opinion. His 2010 job may have been his best work to date, as his roster was pillaged midway through the year by the Major League club. His dugout was in a state of flux almost continuously throughout the season, and he got whatever guys he had on a given day to play hard, and he got them all the way to the AAA National Championship.
I can’t say what Manny Acta can or should do about his coaching staff, but in my opinion if the Tribe isn’t willing to make room for Sarbaugh in some capacity in Cleveland by 2012, they will probably lose him, and the organization will be far worse for doing so.
Should we be concerned about the lack of “prospect level” outfielders?
It’s hard to say at this point, but it’s certainly alarming. Sizemore can be gone as soon as this winter, and Choo’s clock is ticking as well. Weglarz was supposed to make a big jump this year, but injuries continue to hamper his progress. The other outfielders on the roster? Jordan Brown: just turned 28 in the off-season, and his “prospect” time is all but over. This is his fourth straight year in AAA. Jerad Head: just turned 29 in the off-season, and has spent the past four years in Akron and Columbus. He never really climbed into the “legitimate prospect” category. Bubba Bell: also 29, he came over in a trade from the Red Sox organization, and is in his third straight season at AAA. Chad Huffman: about to turn 26 at the end of April, and has bounced around the minors for some time.
Matt McBride got some run toward the end of last season, but the 26-year-old is back in Akron this spring; not exactly a ringing endorsement of his potential. In short, if Sizemore never makes it back all the way, or if Heaven-help-us one of the Tribe’s outfielders gets hurt, there isn’t really any immediate help on the horizon.
Where is the pitching depth in Columbus this year?
Last year, it was decidedly in the rotation, as Carlos Carrasco, Jeanmar Gomez, and Josh Tomlin all got legit looks in the majors. Two of those guys are up there again this year. So, the rotation took a bit of a hit, especially with Hector Rondon still out due to injury. But, the strength of this year’s staff is again going to be the starters.
The spotlight this year is on Alex White, as the 2009 first round pick makes his AAA debut this year. Gomez is back, and at age 23 is ahead of the proverbial age curve. Corey Kluber, who came over from the Padres last summer, just turned 25. He came up at the end of 2010 to Columbus and pitched in the playoffs. Even despite the injury, Rondon is still just 23.
The issue this year looks to be the bullpen, as the two stalwarts from last season—Frank Herrmann and Vinnie Pestano—are up in Cleveland now. Josh Judy is 25, but has a career 2.78 ERA in 139 appearances in five minor league seasons (all but two appearances out of the pen). Zach Putnam is 23, and has a career 3.88 ERA in 80 appearances. Beyond that, not too many guys are going to excite you in the pen.
One of the biggest changes from last year to this is the departure of pitching coach and local favorite Charles Nagy, who moved on to become the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. New pitching coach Ruben Niebla has big shoes to fill.
Can the Clippers repeat?
Absolutely! The odds are better this year that the roster will remain intact, with the only immediate potential call-ups being Lonnie Chisenhall and perhaps a starting pitcher as needed, the Clippers are set up to be a very good team from wire to wire this year. Add in the fact that their manager just flat-out knows how to win, and that many of the guys on the roster won the championship last season, and you have a nice recipe for a playoff team again in 2011.
…this Saturday is Opening Day at home for Columbus. The weather isn’t looked especially awesome in forecast, but none the less your faithful Clip Show reporter will be there with Mrs. Clip Show in our upgraded seats this year. We’ll be sitting about eight rows behind the Columbus dugout this year, which should afford us some great perspectives. I will do my best to provide a better multimedia experience this year for you, the reader, as the availability of better player photos and video (new Flip HD cam, too!) should provide a nice upgrade.
But, short of all that, you can always come out and catch the games in person yourself! Check out http://clippersbaseball.com for tickets!