There’s been plenty of talk this offseason about moves the San Diego Padres have made. Like them or not, Josh Byrnes has not hesitated to pull the trigger on deals that he thinks are best for the team.
What has also been discussed around the virtual watercooler are the moves Byrnes hasn’t made. The one I’m interested in the most for this piece is the acquisition (or lack thereof) of middle infield starters. After all the deals that have been done, San Diego is still without proven talent at SS or 2B.
Fans and bloggers alike were clamoring for help at these critical positions. The assumption was, since we didn’t acquire any, then such players must: #1 not be out there, or #2 must not be available. In looking at San Diego’s system, it is difficult to believe that ownership wasn’t attempting to upgrade at these positions. However, maybe they feel comfortable with any of Logan Forsythe, Everth Cabrera, Beamer Weems, Jeudy Valdez, Jonathan Galvez, or a healthy Drew Cumberland. One could argue a case for any of them, although most on that list are 1-2 years away.
I did some investigating into potential options that would be viable for San Diego to acquire. Viable was really at the crux of my research. It’s easy to dream for guys like Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc, but those are pies in the sky. So, on the one hand, there are plenty of talented, young players at those crucial positions; but, not surprisingly, teams aren’t interested in parting with them (takes care of #2 above). The other side of the coin seems to indicate that available talent in that area is limited. Many names that piqued my interest were still 1-2 years away. If the wait is that long, why look outside the organization?
There was one name, though, that struck a chord (apologies): the Cleveland Indians’ Cord Phelps.
Now, if you do the research, Phelps is not an elite prospect by any means, and most scouts would probably project him to be a utility guy. To me, though, I see some opinions wavering as to his future status. Some think he might blossom if given a starting gig. I’m firmly entrenched in that camp.
First, let’s look at his career MiLB slash line over four seasons (I’m not going to consider his MLB numbers since he only has 71 at bats under his belt.):
.288/.376/.434 (.810 OPS)
Obviously, the OBP stands out. Over the past three seasons, he’s had more than 375 AB per season. In 2009 (A+), his OBP was .386. In 2010 (AA/AAA), it was .368. Finally, in 2011 (AAA), it was .376. Those percentages are consistently strong.
Now, let’s look at some advanced stats. Keep in mind, these are his MiLB numbers we’re talking about, and we know that past performance doesn’t always predict future success.
His wOBA over those seasons: .350, .383, .377. Again, average is typically around .330. Impressive, right? There’s more. His BB% over those three seasons averages out to 10.8. Anything in the double digits in BB% is considered above average. The guy has excellent plate discipline.
Additionally, his K% over those three seasons averages out to 16.2. That percentage might even be slightly elevated, since his K% in Triple-A Columbus last season was 20.5, generally six to seven percentage points higher than his typical performance. Why? Likely because he wanted to prove he had some pop, as he hit a career-best 14 homers that season, nearly double the output of his previous career-best.
Phelps’ track record also has a nice history when it comes to runs created. Here are his wRC+ numbers for those same seasons:
So, in High-A Kinston of the Carolina League, Phelps was 15% better than league average, and during the first half of 2010 in Double-A Akron, he was 4% worse than average. He made significant improvements in this category in Triple-A. For the last half of 2010, he was 41% higher than average and then this past season he was 34% better.
Now, there’s plenty more, but I wanted to focus on his ability to get on base and to create runs. I think we should harken to the old days where your middle infielders are the guys at the top of the lineup who set the stage and score the runs. He seems to be well-suited to the 2-hole, as he hits from both sides of the plate and scouts say his swing stays in the zone for a long time, allowing him to barrel up the ball.
Phelps is also looking for a home. He’s currently on the Indians radar as a utility player. He can play 2B, SS, and 3B. In fact, this fall, they tested him out at 3B during the Arizona Fall League. He’s blocked by a couple of prospects that are in line to inherit his positions. Lonnie Chisenhall is earmarked for third base, Cabrera has short stop locked down, and Jason Kipnis is slated to be the regular second basemen. I say we make a move to acquire Phelps and make him either our short stop or second basemen. I wouldn’t give up any major prospects for him, but I could see an MLB bench guy plus a young arm in the system. Jesus Guzman makes sense and would fit well in the AL.
Now, defensively, Phelps is not a wizard, but he’s not a butcher, either. Let’s look at his range factors for the seasons above:
Those numbers put Phelps right in line or slightly above the players currently in the system that I mentioned earlier, with the exception of Cabrera whose RF/G is generally higher. So it seems as though he’s capable with the glove and has a really nice approach at the plate. That’s why I think he’d be a good fit for the lineup.
I’d love to see him take over at shortstop, but I’m not sure he has what it takes to play the position at the major league level. Peter Friberg makes some interesting points for Weems as a potential short stop, and Valdez seems to be suited for the position defensively, so maybe Phelps could hold that fort down until the lower level guys establish themselves, then switch to second.