Friday, July 22, 2011

Beau Mills re-building his career as heir to Hafner

Beau Mills (photo: Tony Lastoria)
Beau Mills was promoted today to Triple A Columbus after 2 1/2 frustrating seasons in Akron. Mills was the first round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2007, and came as a power-hitting corner infielder with a high baseball IQ. He backed up his first round, future-star status in his first full professional season in 2008 at High A Kinston. His line was .293/.373/.506, with 21 homers, 90 RBI and 78 runs scored, and he was named the Carolina League player of the year.

He moved to Akron in 2009, and his numbers took a bit of a tumble. He played nine more games in Akron compared to Kinston, but every major offensive number went down. His averaged dropped 26 points to .267. He scored 19 less runs, hit seven less homers, and drove in seven less hitters. He didn't take the step many thought he would after his big year at Kinston, and his stock began to drop.

He started the 2010 season back in Akron, and his season was marred by nagging injuries and off-the-field issues. He hit only .241, with 10 homers, 72 RBI and 55 runs scored in only 113 games. He had dropped off every prospect radar. As a 24-year-old, many believed that he had already plateaued, and at best, was Double or Triple-A fodder.

Mills started the 2011 season at extended spring training thanks to Achilles tendonitis. After a long and arduous six-week rehab, Mills was activated, and for the third straight season, in Akron. Not a good sign that the Indians had high hopes for their former first-rounder.

But a funny thing happened. Mills began to hit the ball. For the first time since 2008, Mills started to look like the player that the Indians were hoping for when they drafted him. Up through today, Mills had a solid .300/.358/.522 line, with 11 homers and 49 RBI in only 61 games. He struck out only 37 times, with 22 walks, showing a bit more selection than in the past as well.

This earned him his first (and hopefully last) promotion to Triple A Columbus.

It's far too early to state with any sort of fact that Beau Mills has "figured it all out." The fact of the matter is that Mills was playing at the same level for 2 1/2 seasons. Any player with the baseball IQ and power potential that he has is bound to adjust to a level in that amount of time. So the question then is whether or not he can replicate this year's stats in Columbus to close out the season.

It's a big turn of events for the once-lost-prospect, who now finds himself one step away from the big leagues. He's likely heard the term 'make-or-break' before, but in the land of the minors, this Triple A step really is a 'make-or-break' move. Can Mills continue his 2011 production in Akron, or will he revert to the 2009/2010 version of himself?

If the latter is the case, then Mills ultimately turns in to the type of player that routinely litter Triple A clubs for several years, get a taste of the majors when major league players hit the DL, but ultimately never make the next move. Most folks have labeled Mills in this category (or worse) since his struggles began in 2009.

If he can continue his progression, however, than at the very least, Mills becomes a potential big bat that the Indians could call up should something happen injury-wise to either Matt LaPorta and/or Travis Hafner. Both players have had DL stints this season, so having some cushion would provide a boost to the Indians during the stretch drive.

At best, Mills turns back into the top 20 prospect in the system that he was four years ago, and begins pushing for a full-time gig in 2012. Without any big power bats peeking their heads out at both Columbus and Akron (yeah Nick Weglarz, I'm talking to you), Mills becomes a hot commodity in a system that needs him to be just that.

The other thing to think about is Hafner, who has been a walking injury for three seasons, and is under contract for only one more season. Mills continuing his offensive "rehabilitation" gives the Indians an in-house fix when they need it.

Of course, that's a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of what ifs. For now, Beau Mills is hitting the cover off the ball, and has made the next step towards the bigs. One more big step to go...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jason Kipnis promoted to Cleveland: Long term, or just a cup-of-coffee?

Jason Kipnis (photo: Tony Lastoria)
The Cleveland Indians have promoted second baseman Jason Kipnis from Triple A Columbus, according to Tony Lastoria of Indians Prospect Insider. To make the move, the Indians sent Luis Valbuena back to Columbus and designated Jared Goedert for assignment.

Kipnis is the Indians top middle infield prospect, and according to Lastoria's preeminent Indians' minor league rankings, Kipnis was the #2 prospect in the entire organization heading into the 2011 season. He was the Tribe's second round selection in 2009, and started his professional career as an outfielder at short season Mahoning Valley.

The Indians decided to maximize his offense by moving him to second base prior to last season, when he started his first full professional season in Kinston. He responded with a .300/.387/.478 line in 54 games, with six homers, 31 RBI and 34 runs before being promoted to Akron.

Kipnis continued his progression with the Aeros, batting .311, with 10 homers, 43 RBI and 63 runs scored in 79 games. His offense certainly overshadowed his defense at his new position, but he was showing growth. In Kinston, Kipnis committed 10 errors in 245 chances for a .959 fielding percentage. He slightly improved in Akron, committing 13 errors in 366 chances, a .965 fielding percentage.

The Indians didn't let Kipnis' season end when Akron finished up theirs, and promoted the second baseman to Columbus to help in their quest for the International League Governor's Cup, as well as the Triple A Championship. He responded by going 10-for-22 (.455), with three doubles, two triples, two homers and three RBI in the series. Most impressive was his performance in the clincher, when as the DH, he went 4-6, hitting for the cycle.

He wasn't done showcasing his massive offensive game, falling a single short of throwing up back-to-back cycles in the Triple A Championship game against Tacoma. He ended up going 3-4, with three runs, a homer and an RBI. In making his sparkling Triple A debut, Kipnis showed Tribe brass that he could perform under pressure after a promotion. No, it wasn't the Indians, but there's no doubt that the Triple A playoffs mimicked a potential big league call-up in the future.

The Indians kept the Kipnis-ball rolling, sending him to the Arizona Fall League so he could gain some more experience at second base.  Kipnis came out of the AFL gates slow, which is understandable considering it was his first full minor league system, complete with stops at High A Kinston, Double A Akron and Triple A Columbus.  After his first three weeks, his line was a horrendous .159/.213/.409 with 2 HR and 10 RBI. He walked 3 times, struck out 5, with a stolen a base.

In typical Kipnis fashion, he went on an ungodly tear to end the season, ending the year with six straight multi-hit games and seven of the last eight. During those six games he he 14-for-26, and raised his average from .173 to .295. He has also had an extra base hit in six straight games and in 12 of 19 games played. 
He ended the season with three homers, 19 RBI and 13 runs in those 19 games.

Kipnis started the 2011 season back with Triple A Columbus under the assumption that he would play there a full season to solidify his defensive skills. Chris Antonetti was hoping that the top prospect would be seasoned and ready at second for the Indians to make a playoff push in 2012.  They even signed Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal to hold down the fort at second. Well, best laid plans are made to be broken, and the Indians decided to contend a year sooner than many thought.

Kipnis did his part this season, and while he's struggled at the plate lately (in his last ten games, his line is a less than stellar .103/.182/.205, which may be more about traveling across the country in his all-star game spectacular), he's had another solid season overall. He's currently batting .281, with 12 homers, 54 RBI and 64 runs, in 90 games, and he was chosen for the XM Futures game (lead-off homer), and the Triple A all-start game (1-2 with a double).

While Kipnis is a work in progress in the field for sure, he continues to improve yearly. This season, he's committed 11 errors in 370 chances for a .970 fielding percentage, another decrease in errors and increase in percentage from both Kinston and Akron in 2010. While he still as a ways to go in the field, the Indians figured they could overlook his defense for that potent bat. Kipnis has proven that he is a quick learner, and it's a testament to his ability that his offense has flourished with the move. Many lesser players have disappeared into playoff oblivion.

Kipnis figures to start at second base for the foreseeable future, moving Orlando Cabrera to the utility role. It should be interesting to watch how Cabrera reacts to the move, since the 15-year veteran surely didn't sign with Cleveland to sit on the bench. Hopefully, being a veteran presence on the team, as well as being in the midst of a late-summer playoff run will be enough to keep him happy. When I talked to Tony Lastoria last night about Kipnis and Cabrera, he voiced a similar concern:
"The only issue really centered around Orlando Cabrera and how he would handle losing his starting position yet again, something that with his outspokenness we will surely hear about this weekend."
While it's clear that Kipnis will only be playing second, there is a slight possibility that the Indians could dabble with him playing a start here-or-there in the outfield, since that was his primary position in college and his first half-season in the minors. It's clear though that Kipnis is an infielder at this point, and with Valbuena getting sent down, the Tribe doesn't have enough infielders to allow Kipnis any extended time in roaming the corner outfield slots at Progressive.

My best guess is that Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti see any time for Kipnis in the outfield as a potential roadblock to his improving infield performance. I happen to give Kipnis a bit more credit than that, as I can't imagine that he's forgotten how to play in the outfield (again, his primary position for most of his career), or the infield for that matter, if he spent time at each position. He's got a high baseball IQ, and you have to take that into account. Of course, being a 2nd baseman major leaguer is a finicky thing, just ask Chuck Knoblach and Steve Sax, who both suffered from "Steve Blass disease" at second base, and it cost them their major league jobs.

Kipnis is the type of player that every team wants. He plays with a high energy, and is one of those kids that's doing it for more than just the money, although I'm sure that the cash will come, and a whole bunch of it. Kipnis was more than excited, first throwing up a bit of a mystical tweet, followed by something a bit more clear.

Make no mistake, Kipnis is extremely talented, and while a host of people have been preaching either patience (oh, it's too fast, he can't play defense yet), or trade (I'd be okay with dealing Kipnis), both would be a mistake. Kipnis is a can't miss prospect, and will be one of the best, if not THE best second baseman in the league in a few years. He potentially could be the spark that this offense currently needs. Should they hold off on moving him up? Sure, in a perfect world, 2012 would be his landing date, but the pennant chase changes everything, and Kipnis has proven that call-ups suit him just fine. According to Lastoria,
" is definitely the right move and right time to make the move...he (Kipnis) should add some much needed punch to the lineup in need of it and in some ways is like a trade pickup in itself."
Kipnis has historically shown explosion after a promotion, and I don't expect this to be any different.

The move in many ways reminds me of the Indians' call-up of Asdrubal Cabrera during the playoff run in 2007. Cabrera was called to take over second base for a struggling Josh Barfield, who was hitting a paltry .244, with two homers, 48 RBI and 49 runs in the middle of a playoff run. ACab had been hitting a combined .310 in Akron and Buffalo (mostly Akron, as he'd only played a handful of games for the Bisons before the call-up), and provided the Tribe with an in house "trade." With the Indians offense sputtering in early August, Cabrera came up and brought a quick spark. Cabrera was hitting .300 as late as September 14th, and ended up hitting .283.

The Indians used the Cabrera call-up along with a late-July trade for former Tribe All-Star, Kenny Lofton to give the Indians a lift during the dog days of Summer. While neither alone were necessarily the essential cog, their signings helped filled holes in their lineup, both offensively and defensively.

Kipnis likely could provide the same boost offensively. Orlando Cabrera, the player Kipnis will be taking over for, is currently hitting .244 (remember, Barfield was hitting an identical .244), with four homers (2 for Barfield), 38 RBI (48 for Barfield, but with three weeks more game action) and 34 runs (15 less than Barfield, again, in three less weeks). The only complication with Cabrera is supposedly his clubhouse presence, especially with regards to Asdrubal Cabrera, who by all indications believes OCab is the player that helped him take the next big step. Still, there comes a time when the best player has to play. Remember, Barfield was nearly run out of town, and OCabs stats are at best, equal to Barfield's. You could make a case that Barfield's numbers were a bit better.

It also appears as though the Indians may be mimicking the 2007 Indians by attempting to sign a former member of the organization, as they did with Kenny Lofton. The front office continues to pursue several outfielders to help fill the long-term void thanks to the long-term injuries to Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo, and the short-term health issues with Travis Buck and Michael Brantley.  Heading the list are two former Indians', Ryan Ludwick and Coco Crisp. Other outfielders the Indians are reportedly discussing include the Cubs' Kosuke Fukodome, the Royals' Jeff Francoeur, the Nationals' Mike Morse and the Athletics' Josh Willingham.

While Kipnis shouldn't be expected to carry this team, there will be some high expectations with the call-up. Along with those expectations come the trappings that Cord Phelps, Luis Valbuena and to some extent, Lonnie Chisenhall have felt in recent weeks. All three have struggled a bit during their respective time with the big league club, and all three have felt the wrath of the Tribe faithful. Kipnis has even higher expectations than all three (with the exception of Chisenhall), so if he struggles early, it will be interesting to see how he handles it, as well as how the Indians' management handles it. Lastoria also professed a bit of a cautionary tale for these early days in Kipnis' big league career:
"I'm sure there will be some early struggles, but I expect him to adjust quickly and settle right in at second, a position which could be his the next six to seven years."
Kipnis isn't going to be up for a cup of coffee. If he struggles, I don't see them sending him down quickly. They'll give him a chance, as they did Chisenhall, to gain traction and plant some roots at second. My best guess is that Kipnis won't be seeing Triple A next to his name much more in the future. If you ask me, Kipnis truly is the Tribe's best position prospect (sorry "Chiz" fans). I like him better than Chisenhall, and that's high praise, since "Chiz" is a big-time talent.

I'm sure that Chisenhall will be an All-Star in the future, and one of the better third basemen in the league, Kipnis has the potential to be the type of impact second basemen that just aren't typical. Kipnis has the ability to be as good as guys like Robinson Cano, Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. He is that good, and that explosive, especially when you take into account the fact that he's a middle infielder. His call-up, in my opinion, is a few weeks too late. He should have been up right after the all-star break.

Now, it certainly is time to see if Kipnis is as good as his numbers and baseball IQ would suggest. Welcome to Cleveland Jason Kipnis, and may your stay be long and fruitful.

Sizemore goes under the knife for sports hernia?

Grady Sizemore had sports hernia surgery?


I have to admit, my first thought was, "Where did he get the knee surgery, in Trinidad and Tobago in some sort of jungle shack?"

It turns out that the knee injury Sizemore suffered this past Sunday wasn't as serious as had been reported. It was tweaked, yes, but wouldn't need the same microfracture surgery that he needed last season.

So where did this sports hernia surgery come from?

It turns out that Sizemore will miss four to six weeks after undergoing a 20-minute surgery to fix a sports hernia. Sizemore's hernia came on the same May slide that put him on the dl for two weeks after he injured his knee on a slide.

Sizemore was placed on the DL on Monday after tweaking his knee rounding first base in Baltimore on Sunday. The injury looked eerily similar to the knee injury last year that required microfracture surgery for the Tribe's centerfielder. While the injury wasn't as serious (according to the Indians and Sizemore), it was still believed that Sizemore could miss up to a month of playing time. This allowed Sizemore to go ahead and have the hernia surgery.

With Sizemore out, the Indians have been playing without any of their starting outfielders from the start of the season. Shin Soo Choo has been out since the end of June with a broken thumb, and Michael Brantley has been out the past two games with some sort of illness hybrid that may be dehydration, the flu, or food poisoning.

With two of the three outfielders out long term, the Indians have begun to pursue outfielders in a potential trade run. At the top of the list are two former Indians in Coco Crisp and Ryan Ludwick, although the higher profile Hunter Pence has been bantered about as well.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Hafner jerseys for everyone!
(photo: Imagine 24)


I can't tell you how many times I've seen or done something that seemed larger than life when it happened, but turned out to be just okay as time settled in.  Think back to the last summer blockbuster that you saw.  You likely walked into the theater, saw a couple of hours of explosions, walked out thinking it was the best thing you ever say, then realized later it was the same explosions you saw before.

Last night's Cleveland Indians game certainly wasn't one of those times. No, Pronk's grand slam has maintained it's blockbuster voracity.  The next morning, it was still sending shivers down my spine.  I'm not sure if this is the kind of hit that will translate into a new mentality for the Tribe or not, but it sure does feel like it. 

With that said, words really can't express last night's transcending moment. So instead of me rambling on for a few paragraphs, I'll let a couple of guys do all the talking for me. Here's STO's call of the events last night, followed by one of the best play-by-play calls in recent memory by the best in the business: Tom Hamilton. And yeah, Hamilton's call has video as well.

Sorry folks, but if that didn't get you out of your seat, then you're simply dead. Enjoy those worm races in your backyard...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Cleveland Indians next starting pitcher is...

It's distinctly hard to remember just when Fausto Carmona stopped being a factor as a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cleveland Indians. Some will point to the playoff meltdown in 2007, when Carmona never made it out of the fourth inning and was lit up for a 16.50 ERA.  Some will point to the 2008 and 2009 season, which were marred by injury and general poor play, and saw Carmona demoted to the minor leagues.  Some may even point to the 2010 season, in which Carmona was a more than serviceable 13-14 record, and a 3.77 ERA. Of course, Carmona was more Jake Westbrook in 2010, than he was ace 1B for the 2007 Tribe.

It was becoming increasingly clear that while Carmona was busy becoming this year's opening day starter (3 IP, 11 H, 10 ER) for the first time in his career, he was nowhere near the status of a staff ace.  His number one status was based simply on the fact that heading into this season, the Tribe staff was full of unknown commodities in Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco. It's almost funny now to think that Carmona was thought to be the best of that bunch.  As it turns out, he wasn't, and it appears as though he wasn't even close.

Let's not just throw Carmona under the bus here.  Can he be a quality starter?  You bet he can, as he showcased from April 7th through April 17th in which he went 7+ innings in all three starts, giving up a total of only three earned runs in 21 2/3 innings.  After one bad outing, Carmona was back again, with three more starts of 7+ innings, only giving up three runs in 22 innings.  For those counting at home, Carmona made six outstanding starts in seven appearances, giving up a total of six runs in 42 2/3 innings.  For those counting at home, that's a 1.26 ERA.  So there is his tantalizing talent.

The problem with Carmona when he's in "ace mode" these days is that you never really know when it's going to disappear, as it did after the third game during that second stretch of games on May 8th.  Starting from his next start on May 13th, Carmona has gone 1-7, and given up 4, 8, 4, 7, 4, 6, 2, 7 and 3 earned runs before he was injured in yesterday's game.  His ERA during that stretch was 7.99, and people began clamoring for a change, whether it be Carmona moving to the pen, or just plain moving.  With Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and especially Carlos Carrasco making a case to be the staff ace, Carmona slowly became an afterthought as a starter, and a major thought as a reminder to bad baseball.

To top it all off, Carmona was not only feeling pressure from starters at the big league level, but Triple A Columbus boasts a loaded staff that includes four starters not only announcing that they may be ready for a move to the big leagues, but HAMMERING on Carmona's front door, letting him know that another bad start or two, and his time would be finished in the rotation.  Still, Carmona remained in the rotation...

...until yesterday.

Yesterday, Carmona has pitched a solid two innings against Cincinnati, giving up only two hits, while striking out one.  Unfortunately for the big righty, his 6'4", 240 pound body wasn't built for speed...or even maybe running.  Carmona laid down a bunt and began barreling down the first base line in, trying to stay out of a double play.  As he approached the bag, gravity took hold as he stumbled, hit the bag, and careened over it like he'd been tackled.  The result was a strained right quad muscle and a trip to the 15-day DL.

It's funny how injuries can take care of roster issues.

Enter a four-man push from Triple A to take Carmona's potential two missed starts (one before the break, and one after) and make a case for a longer stay.  While it's doubtful that Carmona would return in any capacity but as a starter, it could get dicey should someone fill in and pitch as well as the staff is pitching in Columbus.  Of course, Carmona's job may not be the only one under scrutiny, right Mitch Talbot?

Here's a look at the four starters from Columbus in the mix to take over for Carmona:

Zach McAllister: 8-3, 2.97 ERA, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 97 IP, 86 H, 32 ER, 6 HR, 21 BB, 71 K:

Had Carmona's injury occurred  a month ago, I doubt there would have been any doubt that McAllister would have been the player to call up.  Not only was he pitching better than anyone on the Columbus rotation, but a good case could be made that he was one of the best starters in the entire minor league system.  He was the first player in all the minors to get to seven wins (without a loss), and he was dominating with a sub 2.00 ERA.  On May 31, he had his first true bad start, but has maintained his ace-like status since then.  No, he wasn't pitching at the same clip as before, but obviously the 2.97 ERA showcases a pitcher who is clearly ready for a push.  Still, McAllister has never pitched in the majors before, and likely won't be the guy they choose for two-spot-starts.  He's been overshadowed over the past month by three others who have been lights out.  Still, McAllister started on Friday night, so he'd be in line to make the start on Thursday with six-days rest.  Corey Kluber, who started yesterday, is just depth fodder, and doesn't figure into this mix.

David Huff: 8-2, 3.74 ERA, 0 CG, 89 H, 35 ER, 7 HR, 23 BB, 51 K:

 Huff has the most experience of the bunch, having pitched much of the 2009 and 2010 with the Indians.  The lefty was the favorite heading into 2011 to become the #5 starter, but was simply outpitched by Josh Tomlin.  Huff started off the year with Columbus scuffling a bit, but since June 8th, Huff has made four fantastic smarts against one bad start, to get his name into the mix.   During those four outstanding starts, Huff has gone 4-0 (5-0 overall, winning the bad start against Gwinett), giving up 17 hits, three runs and six walks in 27 innings pitched, while striking out an impressive 24 batters, which isn't really his game.  His 1.00 ERA during that span certainly has the Tribe brass taking notice, and with only two starts planned, Huff may have the best mentality to come up.  He certainly isn't the most flashy of pitchers, fitting into that Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey mold as being a location pitcher.  Still, when he's on, he's pretty darned good.

Jeanmar Gomez: 8-2, 2.49 ERA, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 79 2/3 IP, 22 ER, 4 HR, 27 BB, 68 K:

Gomez is the only one of the current Clippers' starters who has played at the big league level this season.  While he wasn't dominating by any stretch, his last two starts were very, very good before being demoted.  Gomez was rolling through the end of May and most of June, absolutely dominating the International League.  Over his last eight starts, Gomez has gone eight innings three times, seven innings three times, and six innings once.  He's gone 56 1/3 total innings, giving up 46 hits, 13 runs, 19 BB and struck out 45 batters.  Don't forget, Gomez also made 11 starts in 2010, so there is definite experience here.  It appears that Gomez is a pitcher the the Tribe brass like right now, so he could be the favorite.  He does make a start today, so take a quick look at the box scores in Columbus today.  If he's pitching well and comes out of the game with any sort of a pitch count, he'll likely be the guy on Thursday for the Tribe.

Scott Barnes: 7-2, 3.40 ERA, 0 CG, 76 2/3 IP, 29 ER, 11 HR, 31 BB, 82 K:

Barnes may have the best upside of all the starters.  While he has similar intangibles as Gomez, being a power lefty certainly helps.  He's had a hot June, which has placed the 23-year-old directly in the mix.  Since his May 24th start, Barnes has gone 47 1/3 innings, giving up 35 hits, 10 earned runs, 4 HR and 16 walks, while striking out and impressive 55 batters.  When this kid is on, he can absolutely dominate with an attacking, 94 MPH fastball, a plus changeup and an improving slider.  While Barnes certainly has the most ups of this group, his one downfall is that he didn't play a Triple A game until this season.  If it were a normal season in which there weren't three other starters pitching extremely well, Barnes would clearly get the call.  As it stands now, I can't see the Indians rushing Barnes to the majors.  While he'll be a factor in 2012, I think 2011 will go to Tribe vets Gomez and Huff, and McAllister, who's in his second full season at Triple A.  Still, Barnes is an intriguing pick.

At the end of the day, the Tribe can't go wrong with any of the four starters, but if I had to put odds on it, I'd say Gomez is the guy at the head of the back, followed by Huff, McAllister and Barnes.  The irony is that I think Barnes has the best stuff, but will get the last look.  Gomez seems to be the flavor of the month, and he's absolutely earned it.

The Indians could go in a different direction altogether, and call up Gomez or Huff prior to the break, and if they struggle, bring up the other after the break, looking at both as spot starts.  While I doubt they'd do that, it could be a possibility based on timing.  With Huff scheduled to start for Columbus prior to Thursday, they could call up Gomez on Thursday, the Huff after the break with enough rest.  Of course, this isn't taking into account McAllister and/or Barnes, who could both do the same.  Still, I don't see the Indians wasting an option on either with Huff and Gomez ahead of them.

As for Carmona?  Get health, and come back like the guy that dominated in 2007, and earlier this season.  If you don't, watch out for the Clippers buzz-saw.