Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Prospect Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a prospect’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the prospect’s future.
In hindsight, it may seem somewhat silly to compare the two prospects, but there was a time where it seemed to make sense. Both players flew through the minor league system, and both players were highly regarded by a number of scouts.
The Indians selected the switch-hitting Phelps out of Stanford University in the third round of the 2008 Draft. Much like fellow second baseman Kipnis, Phelps quickly moved throughout the Indians system before he made his Major League debut during the 2011 season.
However, unlike Kipnis, Phelps has not been able to stick at the Major League level. He has had two short tours, in both 2011 and 2012, and while there have been glances of Major League ability, Phelps has also been somewhat underwhelming at times.
It’s hard to say what lies ahead for Phelps. However, for now, he remains a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster. But only time will tell how long his roster spot is safe.
Phelps made his debut shortly after he was drafted in the summer of 2008. Phelps spent one game with the GCL Indians before he moved on to Single-A Mahoning Valley. The scouting report on Phelps was that he had an advanced bat and was a player that was pretty good at just about everything. In 35 games, he helped show that.
There was really no area that Phelps did not excel in during that first summer. High-average hitter? Try .312. Plate discipline? Fifteen walks compared to 22 strikeouts. Ability to drive in runs? Twenty-one RBI.
The only area where Phelps really lacked was power, but even that is somewhat debatable. While he only hit two home runs in the 35 games, 14 of his 44 hits went for extra bases, and his ISO of .142 at least suggested that he was capable of being an average power hitter.
Phelps spent the next season in High-A Kinston where his overall line was .261/.386/.363 in 130 games. The average was down significantly, but it was hard not to love the discipline that Phelps displayed. Overall, he drew 93 walks compared to 97 strikeouts. It was easy to see that Phelps was a well-polished hitter.
He then spent the 2010 season in Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus where he hit .308/.368/.457 in 119 games between the two affiliates. The number of walks decreased a bit (39 walks compared to 68 strikeouts), but Phelps also hit eight home runs, which was the highest total of his career to that point.
Phelps began the 2011 season with a repeat tour of Columbus before he was called up to Cleveland. Unfortunately for Phelps, aside from a walk-off home run that capped a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in June, the California native was unimpressive in 35 games (.155/.241/.494 line in 71 at-bats) with the Tribe.
Phelps spent the majority of the 2012 season back with the Clippers where he posted a .276/.368/.451 line with 16 home runs, 34 doubles, 61 RBI and 71 walks in 135 games.
He joined the Indians in September, but once again, his performance was largely underwhelming. In 14 games and 33 at-bats, he posted a .212/.235/.303 line with one home run and five RBI.
Many had hoped that Phelps might have performed a little better in his second tour of duty with the Indians, but that just did not seem to be the case. However, there is some evidence that suggests that Phelps may have been starting to turn the corner.
In his first five games played, Phelps went 0-for-10. However, in the final nine games that he played, he seemed to be a different hitter and also seemed to find his comfort game. In those nine games, Phelps went 7-for-23 (.304) with one home run and four RBI.
Granted, the numbers are not out of this world extraordinary by any means. However, it is safe to say that this was the best stretch of offensive baseball that Phelps had ever enjoyed in his brief Major League career. Twenty-three at-bats and nine games is an incredibly small sample size, but it does make a person wonder if Phelps could sustain success as a Major League utility man.
There is no concrete answer in regard to what the future holds for Phelps. He has a unique skill set, but with the acquisition of Mike Aviles, it could be argued that the Indians no longer have use for Phelps on the Major League roster.
While Phelps did play one Major League game at shortstop last season, it’s a position that Phelps unfortunately cannot play adequately enough at the Major League level. Otherwise, the Indians may never have acquired Aviles.
However, of the other various utility-type players that spent time on the Indians roster last season (Jason Donald,Brent Lillibridge and Jack Hannahan), Phelps may be the most intriguing simply because there is so little information on him at the Major League level.
Donald, Lillibridge and Hannahan have had years to show what they have to offer, but Phelps has still only had a total of 104 Major League at-bats. It seems premature to write him off as a failure, especially considering he seemed to be finding his groove toward the end of last season.
Regardless, there is still no guarantee that he’ll be a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster come April. It would be nice to see him get a chance, but as stated earlier, the acquisition of Aviles makes Phelps somewhat expendable.
Still, it’s hard not to like all that Phelps has to offer. He’s a switch-hitter with patience and some power. One would think that those three traits might warrant a roster spot, but only time will tell.
Previous Then & Now profiles:
- Nov. 6, 2012: Tim Fedroff
- Nov. 2, 2012: T.J. McFarland
- Oct. 27, 2012: Chen-Hsiu Chen
- Oct. 16, 2012: Danny Salazar
- Oct. 10, 2012: Paolo Espino
- Oct. 5, 2012: Jared Goedert
- Sept. 24, 2012: Hector Rondon
- Sept. 17, 2012: Nick Weglarz