April 20, 2014

Indians Notes: Kipnis as Leader, Chisenhall Returns, Strength of Schedule

There aren’t particularly too many Browns storylines right now and my brother and I covered many of the pivotal NBA ones yesterday, so today is Tribe time. Check out my usual WFNY Wednesday Wahoos for more of my regular Tribe coverage.

– Who are the new Cleveland Indians? Of course, people reminisce all the time about the Tribe teams of the ’90s. Those teams were the classics for many current sports fans in NE Ohio, featuring such legends like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar and more. Then, moving forward, the Indians continued to win games and AL Central titles up till 2001, before having a six-year playoff lapse.

Looking back, the team that went to the 2007 ALCS featured names such as Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia and Jhonny Peralta, all guys on other AL teams also fighting for the 2012 playoffs, along with long-gone folks like Ryan Garko, Casey Blake, Josh Barfield and Joe Borowski. Outside of players that then hardly played like Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez and Shin-Soo Choo, there are hardly any guys still around from just five years ago.

That’s quite an unbelievable fact. So when we all look back at this current Indians squad, the one that at least began to compete for division crowns beginning in 2011, who will be the leading man? In my mind, the Tribe’s leader, emotional go-to guy and key offensive producer has to be 2B Jason Kipnis.

Sure, closer Chris Perez is all over the place with his emotions and getting the crowd fired up. We saw that three weeks ago, obviously. But, when there are entire Plain Dealer articles being written about Kipnis as a “dirtbag” who’s growing more comfortable at second base and loves using Twitter to connect with fans, and when he’s hitting .280/.340/.480 in just 88 career games and is on pace for 28 homers, 41 steals and 106 RBI this season, he has to win the nod.

Kipnis is classic Cleveland sports. The 25-year-old Arizona State product was drafted in the second round back in 2009, and was an outfielder back in college. The Chicago native then was immediately converted to second base, despite loads of questions about his future impact defensively. That keeps getting better, however, and all he does is just kill the baseball. Kipnis should be an All-Star this year and is on target to the be the team’s biggest star.

– The only player in my mind who could compete immediately with Kipnis is 3B Lonnie Chisenhall. When I worked for the Akron Aeros from 2008-10, debate raged on almost every other week about which prospect was the better one. Kipnis always seemed to be more of a “dirtbag,” a more advanced hitter and a more outgoing leader, but then you looked at this one huge factor many people forget: age.

When I was writing the last paragraph about Kipnis, I re-realized how old he truly is for a top prospect with still under 100 games of MLB experience. Kipnis turned 25 in early April. On the other hand, Chisenhall, who recently returned to the club after another nearly two months at AAA Columbus this year, remains the youngest player on the roster at 23. He won’t turn 24 until early October. In prospect terms, 18 months mean a huge difference.

So yes, while Kipnis has done better at each level offensively than Chisenhall for the last four years, now it appears they are finally on even pavement for the long haul. Chisenhall’s career MLB line is .262/.289/.437 in 71 games. Yes, the on-base percentage is disappointing, but you’ve got to be impressed and encouraged by the slugging abilities. Chisenhall’s been tremendous thus far since his re-promotion, and all anyone can talk about is his beautiful swing. His ceiling may continue to be higher than Kipnis’, especially slugging-wise, but it’s too early to make a decision just yet.

– Sure, it’s only early June and it’s a bit early to get too excited about the fact that the Indians remain 28-24, only 1.5 games out of first place in the American League Central. Again, that means we can’t get too disappointed for now about how the Tribe quickly fell behind the charging Chicago White Sox, who lost for the first time in 10 games Saturday night. Now, to sour the mood a bit more however, we do need to talk a little bit about this schedule thing.

You see, the Indians have been very fortunate so far. Jon wrote back in late April that the Indians had the easiest schedule in the majors at the time. Currently, the Indians rank No. 23 on that ESPN SOS list, not as bad as previously, but still something that’s worth a note. Moving forward, things will continue to get harder and harder for the Tribe.

This weekend’s series wraps up today against the lowly Minnesota Twins (19-33). The Indians will need to take today’s game because the road gets much tougher from here until the All-Star Break. Our next seven series are three-gamers at Detroit (25-28), at St. Louis (27-26), at Cincinnati (30-22), vs. Pittsburgh (26-26), vs. Cincinnati (30-22), at Houston (22-31) and at NY Yankees (28-24). Then, we have four games at Baltimore (30-23), before finishing at home with three against the LA Angels (28-26) and four against Tampa Bay (30-23). Add that all together, including today’s game, and you have a SOS of .520 in this stretch before the All-Star Game.

The team’s current SOS is .495, again, No. 23 in the league. The .520 figure would rank third in MLB, right up there with a bunch of AL East teams, and should tick the Indians back to the middle of the pack overall by mid-July. What this means is that wins might be a bit hard to come by. If we can survive this upcoming 33-game stretch by remaining slightly over .500, that will be a huge positive. Last year’s slide began right around this time 12 months ago, so hopefully we can keep the positive momentum going for now.

– WFNY received a similar email about a topic in Paul Hoynes’ Q-and-A today, so I’ll share his answer with all of you here as well. Top organizational prospects RHP Dillon Howard and RHP Jake Sisco, the team’s second- and third-round selections last season, remain in extended spring training out in Goodyear. Hoynes reported that both complained of tired arms in the offseason, and thus the squad used a conservative approach to have them work out for a longer time this year. Both are expected to join the roster of either Short-Season Mahoning Valley or A Lake County by the end of the year.

In terms of putting this strategy in context, consider that both Howard and Sisco are 19. There is nothing wrong with being a bit safe about any type of tired arm with these young guys, especially when you consider what these folks usually go through with unmonitored pitch counts in high school and college. These two are still a long way from being the next coming of RHP Jason Knapp, the highly touted still-21-year-old acquired in the Cliff Lee trade all those years ago. Knapp pitched only 28.1 innings in 2010 and hasn’t pitched in organized ball since.

– Finally, I want to touch on the upcoming MLB Draft one last time here today. I wrote a little bit about it in my latest WFNY Wednesday Wahoos column a few days ago. For some more background information, check out Terry Pluto’s column from Saturday, this great Indians Prospect Insider big board and The DiaTribe’s latest on key prospects to watch.

First, the changes: 40 rounds not 50, no international draft yet this year although it’s in the works for 2013, and major spending restrictions compared to year’s past. Signability is a huge factor compared to 2011 and before. Jon touched on this when the changes were unveiled, and it appears that the Indians lost a bit of a peculiar competitive advantage because of these limits.

That’s neither here nor there for now, as that’s the game everyone will be playing starting tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Most of all now, I just want talent. Starter or left field, first base or right field, we just need some new guys that can re-energize the minor leagues in the same way that Kipnis and Chisenhall did over the past four years. RHP Alex White and LHP Drew Pomeranz are in Colorado, and so many other of our top 10 prospects since 2008 are either in Cleveland or still struggling in the minors. It’s time for Bud Grant to again earn his keep as a great drafter and stock up the system with some exciting guys for the future.

Jason Miller/Getty Images North America

  • Pete

    It’s a stretch to say Fausto “hardly played,” he was in the discussion for the Cy Young! And he mowed down the Yankees in the Midge Game of the ALDS, when Joba “The Hutt” Chamberlain had a meltdown thanks the bugs…

  • Pete

    I have come to the realization that I sound like the average annoying 92.3 call-in and I apologize.

  • JPerrotta757

    agreed 100% on kipnis and chisenhall being the driving force going forward – but i am having a hard time not getting excited about what brantley has been doing this year.  he could legitimately have 80+ RBI’s, 30+ stolen bases, and bat close to .300.  i can’t even imagine what our outfield would have looked like so far this year without him.  LaPorta being a bust or not – Brantley has being more than holding his own by continuing to improve at the plate, and while i’m not in ohio and regularly getting to watch games, it appears he has been playing a helluva centerfield for us as well.  Legitimate potential (non-pitching) all-stars next year – not saying its likely, but its a genuine possibility:


    i know i’m a glass half full type of guy, but i think this squad is shaping up to be as close as we’ve had to the 95-97 squads.  

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    “i know i’m a glass half full type of guy, but i think this squad is shaping up to be as close as we’ve had to the 95-97 squads,”

    ..no you drank not only half the glass but the bottle too!  This team isn’t half the teams from 1995-1997 were and it’s probably not even as good as the 2005 one.

  • JPerrotta757

    i know i know.  i just can’t help myself.  i just haven’t gotten to a point where the inevitable crashing of unrealistic hopes leaves me wary of getting too excited again – for any of our teams obviously.  but point taken.
    i will point out that i said ‘as close as we’ve had’ not ‘close to’ the 95-97 squads.  

  • Natedawg86

    “i know i’m a glass half full type of guy, but i think this squad is shaping up to be as close as we’ve had to the 95-97 squads.”

    You crazy kid!  Back then if there was a stat, we were on the top of the list.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You are entitled to your fandom especially rationale fandom don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!  As far as the current Indians go I didn’t think they were a good team before the latest string of injuries so I especially don’t think they are good now.  The strength of the team was supposed to be starting pitching and after a strong start it’s gone down the crapper.  I for one never thought the SP was as great as other people.  Jimenez cannot be counted on, Masterson is equally erratic and has never shown any true consistency which leaves Derek Lowe as their best.  At best Lowe is a third maybe even fourth starter on most pitching staffs.  The saving grace is there are alot of teams with SP issues.  Now on the other hand, the offense, good grief.  Pathetic comes to mind.  All an opponent has to do is pitch a left handed pitcher and they have a legitimate shot at a victory.