The Arizona Fall League (AFL) unveiled their rosters on Tuesday afternoon, and the Indians will be sending seven players to the highly touted offseason prospect league.
The Indians will be sending one player from Triple-A Columbus in second baseman Cord Phelps, and an additional four players from Double-A Akron in second baseman Jason Kipnis, left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes, left-handed pitcher Eric Berger, and right-handed pitcher Chen-Cheng Lee.
Two additional players from the Indians will be sent, one a catcher and the other a pitcher, but who exactly they are sending has yet to be confirmed as the Indians, players and league are still working out details.
For those unaware on how the AFL rosters are set up, there are six teams in the AFL where each team is comprised of five Major League organizations that provide six players for a total of 30 players per team. The following roster rules apply:
•All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible provided they were at least on a Double-A roster by August 1st.
•Each Major League team is allowed to send one player below the Double-A level.
•Only one foreign player is allowed as long as the player does not reside in a country that participates in winter ball, as part of the Caribbean Confederation or the Australian winter league.
•Players with one year or less of Major League service time by August 31st are eligible, except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
•Any players on minor league disabled lists must be activated at least 45 days before the conclusion of their respective seasons to be eligible.
The Indians have already publicly mentioned that they were hoping to send High-A Kinston catcher Chun Chen to the AFL, and seeing how one of the “TBA” players is a catcher this certainly looks like who they plan to eventually send. The main reason he has not been announced as a participant is because he may play for Taiwan this offseason in the Asian Games, but he has to make the team. If he does make the team there then it would make sense for the Indians to have him go play there as by doing so his military requirement would be waived. In Taiwan it is a requirement that all healthy males serve 15 months in the military, but for a player like Chen he would actually be granted an exception to cut the mandatory service time down from 15 months to just 12 days if his Taiwan team wins a gold medal in the Asian Games. Taiwan and many other Asian countries that have mandatory military service time often provide this perk to their players as an incentive to win these highly competitive contests between rival countries in the Pacific Rim.
As for who the “TBA” pitcher may be it is not very clear, but there has been some speculation that it could be Low-A Lake County right-handed pitcher Jason Knapp. League rules specify that a player needs to be on the active roster 45 days before the season ends. Well, Knapp was activated on the rookie-level Arizona League roster on July 24th, and including that day when counting to the end of the Lake County season this Monday…..it is exactly 45 days. Still, this may just be coincidence and it is very unlikely Knapp goes since if Chen is sent then Knapp would not be able to go as well since only one player below Double-A can be sent.
The pitcher I have my money on to be sent out to the AFL is right-handed pitcher Hector Ambriz. He is currently in Cleveland, but he could use the time to get some much needed additional innings and work on some things. He falls under the rule where players picked in the most Rule 5 Draft can be sent, and he also has under one year of Major League service. Plus, listing him as a “TBA” and not releasing his name yet makes sense since he is still pitching for the big league team in Cleveland.
As for who is missing? The one glaring omission is Double-A Akron third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall who all but appeared a lock to go to the AFL. However, after he and the Indians weighed the pros and cons of playing in the AFL versus the opportunity for rest, recovery and strength training this offseason, they opted for the latter. As many know, Chisenhall has had a lingering shoulder issue all year which is much better now, but it makes sense to have him take the offseason off and get the shoulder and body back to 100% for next year, especially considering he is a big league option at third base as soon as June or July next season.
As for the roles of the players already announced to the team, Berger is going out to make up for some lost innings this year since he missed about the first six weeks of the season due to an intercostal strain. Barnes has some work to continue to do with his delivery, and Lee needs an opportunity to face higher level competition in a priority bullpen role.
As for how Phelps and Kipnis will both factor in, especially with highly regarded Mariners’ second base prospect Dustin Ackley on the roster? Well, reportedly Ackley will see some time at first base which would open up a lot of playing time at second base. Kipnis will 100% play second base (or at times DH) and will not be playing any other positions. The same can’t be said for Phelps, who will see limited time at second base because the Indians are sending him out to the AFL to primarily play third base.
It appears given that since Kipnis and Phelps play the same position and will open in Triple-A Columbus next year that the Indians are going to experiment with Phelps at third base in the AFL to see if it is an option for him next year at Columbus or Cleveland. It will not be completely foreign territory for Phelps as he has played third base and shortstop in college at Stanford, and is really a move that was coming to add some needed versatility for him.