Prospect-ranking season is in full swing. As the offseason nears its end, we’re profiling the top young players in the Indians organization. Today, we kick off our top prospect countdown with No. 15: Cord Phelps.
It’s amazing what 35 games can do to a player’s image. After slashing .155/.241/.254 in his first taste of big league action in 2011, Cleveland fans seem to have completely forgotten about Cord Phelps.
Also forgotten is the main cause of that poor showing: a .189 BABIP, which indicates that his struggles were almost certainly due to bad luck.
No one should be judging Phelps from that 35-game cup of tea at the Majors last year, especially with all the quality play he has shown throughout his minor-league career. In three years of MiLB ball, Phelps has accumulated a .288/.376/.434 slashline. And that actually undersells his power, as he has boosted his slugging percentage over the past two years in Triple-A.
All that points to an above-average offensive player in all aspects of hitting. Phelps has shown very few weaknesses, but unfortunately he lacks a major strength. He’s a very well-rounded player who needs to continue to work hard; he isn’t the most physically gifted guy around, but he’s still athletic enough to make plays offensively and defensively.
Phelps has enough speed to steal a few bases, but he still needs a lot of work on that: he’s stolen 28 bags in his minor league career, but he’s also been caught 29 times.
Defensively, scouts seem to be split on Phelps. He has mostly played second base through the minor leagues, but because of the organization’s great middle-infield depth, he played a lot of shortstop before Jason Kipnis was promoted. Some doubt his defensive ability, but he doesn’t commit a lot of errors and he should be capable of holding his own at second base at the next level.
A big question for Phelps is: How legitimate is his power? He’s definitely shown improved slugging ability the last couple years, and it’s a large enough sample size that it could be real. He had a similar situation in college—he didn’t show much power at all until his junior year. Whether or not he can be considered a true full-time big leaguer hinges primarily on his power.
There are some other factors working against him as well, chief among them being age. At age 25, he’s appeared in only 35 MLB games—that usually doesn’t bode well for a player’s odds of having a long career.
For 2012, Phelps should be considered the top option for a utility role if one should open up on the MLB roster. But I don’t work in Cleveland’s front office and they seem to think differently. They added wash-ups Jose Lopez and Andy LaRoche on minor league deals to potentially fill that spot instead.
But what is a realistic outcome for Phelps long-term? I still think he will get another shot at an MLB job soon, but since Kipnis will be implanted as the second baseman for the next few years, Phelps’ only shot in Cleveland is as a utility player. If he were to get a job as a starter for another team, he might just end up as a fringe player; as a utility man, though, he could be a valuable asset to a contending team, which the Indians will hopefully be in the near future.