Comebacks and Callups Mark Only Interest in Final Month for Tribe
By Craig Gifford
The Cleveland Indians have not given their fans much to be excited about over the past month. With 27 losses in their last 32 games, the Indians are 55-76 and will be in spoiler mode this September.
With a full slate of AL Central teams on the schedule, the final month does not appear that it will make the radar of a lot of the Tribe faithful. The one thing that could make things interesting is the annual September call ups and a certain injury comeback. Yes, a season that started with playoff aspirations has been reduced to a final month of prospect watching.
The biggest name to watch as the calendar flips to baseball’s final regular-season month is third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The Chiz Kid has been out since late June with a wrist injury. At the time, the 2008 first-round pick seemed to be figuring out major league pitching.
Following a slow start upon an early-June promotion from Triple-A Columbus, Chisenhall had gotten his numbers up to respectable total of three home runs, nine RBI and a .278 batting average 72 at bats, over 24 games. The 23-year-old looked on the verge of putting it together and becoming that key cog in the batting order the Indians hope he becomes.
It now appears Chisenhall could be on a minor league rehab assignment as soon as this weekend and be back in Cleveland in about week. He needs to make the month of September his time to shine and take the third base job away from Jack Hannahan.
If the Indians are to rebound next year from this nightmare season they will need their young prospects to produce as expected. Chisenhall is at or near the top of that list. He will be 24 next season and should no longer be the third baseman of the future. When he returns to the big leagues it should be his time to be the third baseman of now. He has the bat to be a similar hitter to fellow 2011 rookie Jason Kipnis. Kipnis, until recently hitting the wall in his first full major league season, has been about what Cleveland management hoped – nearly an All Star.
Chisenhall has the chance to be the same type player, he just needs to take the next step. He will have the better part of the final month to take it.
Another interesting player to watch will be Cord Phelps. As a rookie last year, Phelps looked lost in his first big league experience. The 25-year-old second baseman has gotten back on the Tribe’s radar with a solid Triple-A campaign. With 16 home runs, .275 batting average and improved glove work, Phelps should be on the short list of call ups when the roster expands. He could prove to be a viable future bench player who can spell Kipnis. He could also put up solid September numbers and be useful in an off-season trade.
Starting pitcher Jeanmar Gomez is another player getting a final month look. He was just called up and will be starting soon. After a strong April and early May in Cleveland, Gomez faded and was shelled for a month before being demoted to the minors. He will have a shot to recapture the early-season magic and make a case for being a number four or five starter in 2013. It could be the last shot for Gomez, who has shown flashes of brilliance over the last several years, but not on a consistent enough basis.
Speaking of last shots, outfield Russ Canzler could get his this September. An offseason signing and one-time hot prospect, the 27-year-old may just get his first call to the Tribe in the next week or so. He is worth a look, putting up solid power numbers (21 home runs, 73 RBI) in Columbus. The Indians could use a power bat in their lineup. Just as importantly, they could use a right-handed power bat in their batting order.
The natural argument with Canzler is the same used with the oft-criticized Matt LaPorta. If he hasn’t figured it out at this point, will he ever? Canzler was more Tampa’s disappointment than Cleveland’s. Canzler has not had an opportunity with the Indians, so the change of scenery could mean something. LaPorta has had his struggles with Cleveland. He may need to go elsewhere, a la Brandon Phillips, to salvage anything from his career. Canzler is worth a long September look. Besides, we do not need to see Ezequiel Carrera in left field every night.
It will be interesting to see what some of the young guys can do over the final month. It is a far cry, however, from the September Cleveland fans thought would come when it was still July.
Photo: Dave Reginek/Getty Images