I for one miss our old friend DP. He left us for greener pastures, but his legacy lives on. No, I’m not going to talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets, but with the Tribe on an off-day yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to check in with DP’s very own AAA Columbus Clippers. With the expected offensive struggles of the big club, Tribe fans should always be keeping on eye on the Clippers. There is some talent down I-71, but there are also a lot of 4A specials who are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. So in an ode to DP’s former weekly column “Da Clip Show,” we now take a gander at what’s goin’ on down south.
There is only one place to start – Matt LaPorta. Good old “Mike MaTola,” as many of my Tribe reporting blog buddies call him, came to spring training as a long shot to make the Indians. He played poor defense at first, didn’t hit, and then was given some time in left field. Needless to say, AAA was the place LaPorta was going to have to find his swing and get his confidence back. Naturally, he has played right into the “4A” stereotype to start the season, mashing four homers in his first six games. Last Friday he was hit in the hand by a pitch and was forced to miss a couple of games over the weekend, but was expected to be in the lineup last night in Louisville.
Before getting the hand contusion, he was the one of the Clippers hottest bats, hitting .316/.372/1.056 with those four homers and seven RBIs. The downside to LaPorta is once again plate discipline. He has nine strikeouts and just one walk and reports are he still can’t lay off that low and away breaking pitch. This is probably MaTola’s last chance to make a name for himself and could get a call at some point this season should an injury arise.
And then there’s the Chiz Kid. The correct play was to send top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall back down to AAA for more seasoning. He still had just a half season in Columbus before being rushed up to Cleveland last season before he was ready. This spring, he had the chance to win the third base job, but struggled in Goodyear, striking out 14 times while drawing just two walks. His defense has always needed improvement, as does his batting eye. With Jack Hannahan able to hold down the fort in Cleveland, it is Chisenhall’s time to really hone his craft. He is still very much the future at third base.
You have to credit Chiz. He has taken his development and growth seriously and has started out smokin hot. In 11 games, all at third base, he’s hitting a whopping .380/.404/1.124 (19-50) with four homers and eight RBIs. He has struck out eight times and walked twice. The downside? Chisenhall has made four errors at third and is clearly still a work in progress in the field. But after issues with the bat this spring, its great to see him get off to a quick start. He is still the only top tier prospect bat in AAA or AA, so unlike last year when the Tribe went down for reinforcements and had prospects to go to, this year’s crop is essentially Chisenhall and a 4A crew.
And speaking of 4A, the nine lives of Trevor Crowe continue. The Indians 2005 first round pick has had stints in Cleveland for the past three seasons, including being the Tribe’s fourth outfielder two seasons ago where he played in 122 games. Last year was mostly lost after needing surgery to repair his shoulder. He was taken off the 40-man roster this offseason, but he cleared waivers and came to camp as a non-roster invitee. He now is playing left field for the Clippers and raking while doing so.
Crowe, who is trying to get himself back in the mix to become an extra outfielder for the Tribe, has started on a tear with 12 hits in 28 at bats (.469/.553/1.396), including two homers and five RBIs. Crowe’s outfield play has always suspect (he is notorious for taking strange routes to balls), but thus far it hasn’t been an issue. Barring injury, I’m not sure we will see him and he isn’t on the 40-man roster. But kudos to “Crazy-Eyes Rally Killa” (as Jon calls him) for putting himself back into the conversation.
Other Clippers of note who are off to a solid start are 2B Cord Phelps (.327/.364/.825/17-52) and OF Chad Huffman (.320/.346/1.026/8-25)
As for the pitchers, the starters aren’t off as quickly as the bats are. Kevin Slowey, who made his third start last night in Louisville, was great in his Clippers debut, pitching seven string innings allowing just one run on two hits. In his next start, he wasn’t nearly as sharp, getting hit for five runs (three earned) on seven hits in seven and two-thirds. Last night, he was the losing pitcher in the 7-3 affair. Slowey was rocked for six runs in five and a third. He is still first in line to get a call-up when the Tribe needs a starter.
While Slowey has that major league experience the Indians brass likes, Scott Barnes and Zach McAllister are the future options. However, both haven’t looked their best early. McAllister has made three starts and has allowed eight earned runs in 18 innings (4.00 ERA) with 16 K’s and six BB’s. The 1.44 WHIP is a bit of a concern, but reports are that he is throwing decently. Barnes in his two starts has had similar results to ZMac. He has only pitched 11 innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits, but has also walked six. He is the one guy I am most intrigued by in the Columbus rotation.
The guy who has looked the best according to my peeps in Columbus is Corey Kluber. He is throwing his fastball consistently at 91-92 MPH and struck out 10 in five innings in his season debut on April 7th against Louisville. 18 K’s in 10 innings is a great sign.
In the bullpen, the guy to watch is still lefty Nick Hagadone, especially with the up and down performances of fellow southpawsTony Sipp and Rafael Perez. He’s made four appearances spanning five and a third innings, and has yet to allow a run on just two hits. He is throwing well, striking our five while walking just one. Hagadone is on the fast track to the bigs. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if a team needed a left-handed reliever came calling to the Tribe for Sipp or Raffy, especially at the trade deadline if the Indians are out of it. But it also wouldn’t shock me if we saw Hagadone much earlier than July.
And DP…wherever you are, we miss you wit and wisdom on all things Columbus Clippers and Blue Jackets.