By Christian Petrila
The Columbus Clippers currently house the MiLB’s greatest collection of “4-A” players.
Definition: Players who always excel in AAA, but never live up to expectations in the Majors.
In fact, there are so many 4-A guys that had they produced well in Cleveland, the Indians’ struggles of late could be a totally different story.
The easiest way to find a 4-A player is to look for guy who has been designated for assignment multiple times. Enter Ezequiel Carrera.
Carrera didn’t make the club out of spring training and was subsequently DFA’d by the team on Mar. 25. Philadelphia claimed him on Apr. 2 and after struggling mightily with the Phillies, they designated him for assignment in order to activate Delmon Young from the disabled list. The Indians re-claimed him on May 2, after which he would play just two games for the Tribe before – you guessed it – getting DFA’d yet again.
It’s not only Carrera’s bat that hurts the Tribe whenever he’s up. His glove is more of a liability than anything when he’s on the field. When he isn’t committing errors, he’s taking the world’s most questionable routes to balls. Sometimes, the only reason he escapes disaster is simply because his speed allows him to recover.
Next there’s Lou Marson. One can only speculate what could’ve been had he actually played as though he was traded for a Cy Young winner. Instead, this career-.219 hitter’s career as an Indian could be on life support thanks to the emergence of Yan Gomes.
Marson was acquired by the Tribe in the much-scrutinized Cliff Lee trade and was highly touted as a very good defensive catcher who could hit for contact and get on base. Unfortunately for the Tribe, neither of the two really ended up happening. The highest Marson’s average got with the Indians was .250 in 2009, but that was in just 14 games. After that, his batting average never got above .230 for a full season while dipping to .195 in 2010.
Cord Phelps is the next to go under the microscope. Called up in 2011 to try and take some pressure off of Asdrubal and Orlando Cabrera, he had one glorious moment when he hit a walk-off, three-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Father’s Day. Other than that, his average that year was .155. Expectations were so high for him because he was thought of as one of the second basemen of the future, especially since the team promoted him before Jason Kipnis.
That walk-off didn’t do much to endear Phelps to the fans, as they quickly called for Kipnis over him. Kipnis’ success in the Majors coupled with Phelps’ continued struggles in his brief stints have made fans cringe whenever the words “Cord Phelps promoted” break across Twitter.
It doesn’t stop there. Unfortunately for the Indians, the pitching problems are even more prevalent in Columbus. So many guys on the Clippers put together great numbers every time, which is really a tease for an Indians team which desperately needs pitching.
First and foremost is the never-ending soap opera that is Carlos Carrasco. Like Marson, Carrasco came to the Tribe in the Lee trade with high expectations and a hard fastball. However, he hasn’t been able to figure it out for very long and he still hasn’t matured enough to be a fixture on the team.
His Triple-A ERA this season is just 3.21, but his ERA in the Majors is north of 15.00 after two dismal starts. Not only that, but he continues to jeopardize the team with his frustration. On July 29, 2011 against Kansas City, Carrasco was ejected for throwing at Billy Butler’s head immediately after giving up a grand slam to Melky Cabrera. It ended up in a six-game suspension for Carrasco. Thanks to Tommy John surgery which forced him to miss all of 2012, he had to serve the ban to begin this season.
If that weren’t enough, after making the team wait out for his mistake and opening the season with limited options at pitcher, he makes his first start against the Yankees and does the exact same thing. He gives up a home run to Robinson Cano and promptly hits Kevin Youkilis. The MLB handed down an eight-game suspension (recently reduced to seven) which he just began serving. Fittingly, it came after a less-than-stellar start against Detroit.
Next comes a guy who has been the recipient of much criticism this season, Nick Hagadone. Hagadone’s numbers in the minors have always been impressive. However, they always go by the wayside when he gets the call to Cleveland. His struggles have been magnified this year when combining the team’s expectations with the bullpen’s recent struggles.
Control has been one of Hagadone’s biggest issues since entering the Majors. He has allowed 33 walks in 55 innings with the Indians. In that same span, his ERA is 5.89. What hurts the most for Indians fans is that for the past two seasons, he’s started off so well for the Tribe only to implode almost immediately. For instance, in 2012, he had a 2.04 ERA entering the Tribe’s June 3 game against Minnesota. By the end of the month, it was up to 6.08. This season, his ERA was 2.08 after the May 10 game against Detroit. By the end of May 11, it was up to 5.19. Since then, that 5.19 is the lowest it has been, as it sits at 7.27 entering Tuesday.
Finally, there’s Scott Barnes. Acquired by the Indians in 2009 for Ryan Garko, Barnes is another lefty who hasn’t provided much relief for the Indians bullpen this season. In fact, he hasn’t provided much relief for Columbus either, as his ERAs are above seven in each city. His most recent struggle guaranteed a trip back to Columbus, as he struggled in the May 31/June 1 rain game against the Rays in which he allowed five runs in just one inning.
It can’t be ruled out that Barnes will make a return soon in place of Hagadone. However, the only way he stays is if his ERA takes a massive nosedive. Otherwise, it’s just going to continue being a never-ending trip up and down I-71.
Neither of these six players ever lived up to their expectations. However, all six of them continue to get opportunities because of their good success in AAA. It’s highly unlikely that any of these guys will ever become anything more than a 4-A player, but we can expect to see more of them for the remainder of the season.