THEY NEED TO STEP UP: ASTROS AND INDIANS

By Bernie Pleskoff

In this week’s edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD, I neglected to identify the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians players that need to step up.  Every other team was represented in my recent article.

Thanks to a reader on my Twitter account, I will correct that here.  Last year’s statistics appear below the name:

HOUSTON ASTROS-Gerrit Cole-RHP

W-L: 12-12 ERA: 4.26 ERA WHIP: 1.25

It really is a fact that the Houston Astros received production from virtually everyone on their roster relative to their skills.  The team reached such fantastic heights and became the World Champions because they played in concert with each other, cut down on their strikeouts, and many had career years.

The Astros were like a symphony where each part blended together to receive a beautiful result.

As good as they were, adding pitching certainly won’t hurt. The Astros chose to bring Gerrit Cole over from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a January 2018 trade for outfielder Jason Martin, pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove and third baseman Colin Moran.  Frankly, I feel the deal was a steal for the Astros. Much, however, depends upon Cole finally reaching his potential.

Cole is a former 1st round and first overall draft pick from the 2011 draft.  Scouts viewed him at the time as a “can’t miss” starter based upon his excellent work at UCLA.

Cole is entering the season in his prime at age 27.  He is a solid 6-4, 225 pounds and has a big mound presence.

In five years pitching for the Pirates, Cole has a career record of 59-42 in 127 starts covering 782.1 innings pitched.  Yes, he has been a winning pitcher overall.  In 2015 Gerrit Cole won 19 games, a tough accomplishment in any league.

With the Pirates, Cole was pretty much “the man” each and every year. Expectations of him after his first overall draft selection were quite high.

I remember meeting him after he signed his contract and thinking he was good enough to be in Cy Young discussions.  He had an attitude about him off the field that seemed to expose a bit of a chip on his shoulder. I remember liking that tough exterior.

With the Astros, he really doesn’t have to be “the guy”.  That distinction belongs to Justin Verlander followed closely by Dallas Keuchel.  Cole should slot behind both as the No. 3 starter in a rotation improved this year by Cole’s presence.

However, there is pressure on Cole to produce.  He has the ability. He’s on the right team.  He has a bit of an early edge because he is changing leagues, requiring the hitters to adjust to what he throws.

Imagine what happens to the Astros if Cole steps up and delivers a 14 or 15 win season, which he is more than capable of providing. Imagine if he senses the excitement of a pennant race and possible World Championship ring and has a career year?

I was amazed the Astros could get Cole from the Pirates for a cost that didn’t include one major league player with potential impact.  They collected several inexpensive players that may or may not produce for a starting pitcher that has produced and still has more fuel in his tank.  In my estimation, he might possibly deliver much more.

Of course, Cole will become more expensive than the Pirates choose to pay for a quality- starting pitcher.  I guess that’s why they moved him because I can’t determine any other reason.

I think Cole steps up and becomes a focal point of the Astros rotation with some big wins at important times.

CLEVELAND INDIANS-Jason Kipnis-2B/OF

AVG: .231 HR: 12 RBI: 35 SB: 6

Last year was a lost season for Jason Kipnis. Injuries reduced him to playing 90 games and making 336 plate appearances. In 2016 Kipnis hit .275/23/82 in 156 games and 610 plate appearances.  The Indians didn’t get the services of Kipnis until late in the season.

This just in-Kipnis is being held back in Spring Training so far because he has a bad back. Not good news.

Because Jose Ramirez is a far, far better defensive second baseman than Kipnis, the Indians kept Ramirez at second in their postseason run and used Kipnis in center field to replace the injured Bradley Zimmer.

This season, manager Terry Francona has announced that Kipnis’ position will be as the team’s second baseman.  Jose Ramirez will return to third base.

In my evaluation of the Indians, playing Kipnis at second and Ramirez at third is not the club’s best defensive option. I believe they are a much tougher team to beat with Yandy Diaz playing third base and being replaced in late innings by the defensive wizardry of Giovanny Urshela.  Ramirez would be playing second base and form a terrific middle-infield combination with shortstop Francisco Lindor.  Kipnis would be on my bench.

Indeed, that is not going to happen. In reality, the Indians are paying Kipnis a total of $52.5MM on a contract that expires at the end of the 2019 season.  I assume he is too expensive to sit on the bench and too expensive to find a trade partner that suits the Indians.

Assuming Kipnis remains with the club, he has to step up. He has to provide offense to offset the defense that remains suspect at second base.  Frankly, Kipnis does not have good, major league quality range at all.  Especially in relationship to what Ramirez offers at second.

If Kipnis returns to driving the ball to the opposite field, which in fact he is capable of doing, he can add value to an offense that lost Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce.  Those are two major bats removed from the lineup.

With Michael Brantley due back in left field at some point early in the season and a healthy (if that happens) Kipnis playing every day, the loss of Santana and Bruce can be somewhat offset.  But not entirely.

It remains to be seen if Kipnis stays healthy.  It also remains to be seen if Kipnis keeps his job at second base an entire season.

But if he plays, he has to produce. The Indians need his bat.

I’m not convinced he can deliver.

About The Author

Creator of Clubhouse Corner, Doug has been covering Minor League Baseball since 2014. His work has been featured on YES Network-affiliated Pinstriped Prospects, Heels on the Field and Pinstripe Alley.