It’s the old dog you’re not supposed to be able to teach new tricks; youngsters are supposed to be the easily moldable. Yet, for the Cleveland Indians, it seems that the younger members of the team are the ones that are struggling to rise to the occasion and revamp their performances to be big league worthy.
Last year, there was an idea that the young members within the organization would rise to the challenge and become the backbone of the team. Zach Walters and Jose Ramirez would act as precursors to the greatness that would be Francisco Lindor, and Kyle Crockett would be the first 22 year old to make a huge impact on a Major League bullpen.
This year, however, paints a different story.
Ramirez was benched for two games during the Kansas City series because of poor play. Walters has seen seven games on the Major League stage this year. Crockett was sent down to Triple-A Columbus in early April and hasn’t seen Cleveland since. Terry Francona told Cleveland.com that Lindor isn’t ready for a big league debut, so the team is going to have to stick with who they have for the time being.
Sunday night, while all of Cleveland watched the Cavaliers play Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Indians announced they would finally option Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall back to Columbus and recall Walters and Giovanny Urshela. Urshela will make his Major League debut on Tuesday night and will provide the Indians with better defense at the hot corner.
But what happened to these once-promising young players that has led to their struggles this season? Was there too much expected too soon, were they not yet completely ready for the big leagues, or were they just flashes in the pan?
For Crockett, the culprit of his demotion can likely be chalked up simply to age. Crockett is 23 and made his big league debut at 22 as the first player from the 2013 draft to be called up to the big league stage. Crockett flew through the minors and boasted a 2.23 ERA in 64.2 innings throughout the minor leagues before he appeared in Cleveland for the first time. In 30.0 big league innings last year, Crockett went 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He struck out 28 batters and gave up 26 hits, allowing only 6 hits on the season.
This year, Crocket made three appearances with the big league team and didn’t give up a single hit or run. In Columbus, however, Crockett has been off his game, posting a 7.16 ERA in 16.1 innings. He has given up 13 runs on 24 hits while striking out 13 batters. His struggles have subsided as of late, though, and the Indians have said that Crockett could be back in the big leagues soon. His mechanics seem to be the culprit of his struggles and, since he is young and hasn’t had a ton of experience in the professional ranks yet, taking time to work out the kinks in his delivery isn’t something to be concerned about. The organization has seen that Crockett can deliver, so there shouldn’t be worries that his struggles are anything more than age and experience.
Ramirez and Walters, however, can’t make the age argument as easily. Both have been more than off their game this season, and redemption isn’t easily seen on the horizon. As mentioned, Ramirez was benched in favor of Mike Aviles for two games during the team’s series in Kansas City, which Francona admitted was due to Ramirez not making the consistent, necessary strides to completely improve his game.
Ramirez is hitting .184 in 44 games, with 27 hits, six doubles, and one home run. He has committed eight errors on the field and is hardly the shortstop the Indians need right now. When he was called up, Ramirez almost acted as a young ray of hope and spark that ignited the Tribe in 2013. That power, though, has worn off, and the young player isn’t bringing the same performance to the field. His play has been consistently below average this season, and it seems that a trip to Columbus could do the 22 year-old some good. He can’t be sent down to Columbus until the team is ready with someone to regularly replace him, and Lindor, while much improved from the beginning of the season, is still not 100 percent ready to be the Tribe’s everyday shortstop.
Walters has played some shortstop in his career, as well, though is hardly a good replacement to consider for Ramirez prior to a Lindor call up. In fact, Walters is hardly a good replacement to consider for many a position at his current state. He doesn’t have the sought-after glove of Lindor, and his hitting has really taken a blow since he came onto the Cleveland scene with some well-timed home runs last season. This year, Walters started the year in Columbus and made a brief appearance with the Tribe for seven games, managing to hit only .059 before he was again sent down to the minors. He had one hit and knocked in one run while with the big league team.
Walters is hitting .250 in Columbus, though, which could bode well for a future recall at some point this season. His big leagues performances have been so spotty, though, it’s hard to say for sure if his minor league performances can easily transfer to a showing in Cleveland. Walters isn’t one to write off this season completely, but he isn’t one to peg hopes on, either.
For the time being, the veteran players are going to need to be the ones to propel the Indians over the .500-mark as the middle of the season approaches. The promise these young players brought last year has faded a bit, but not completely disappeared, though how long the flame can flicker remains to be seen. It looks as if some new players will get their chance at the big league level soon.
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