Indians prospect Phelps riding the wave
Infielder enjoying ride despite congested pipeline to Majors
CLEVELAND -- In 2010, Cord Phelps was riding the tallest wave.
The second baseman batted .296 in 53 games for the Akron Aeros, the Cleveland Indians' Double-A affiliate, before earning a promotion to Triple-A Columbus. As the mercury in the thermometer rose, that's when the Stanford, Calif., native heated up like a southern California scorcher.
Phelps batted .317 for the Clippers, racking up 77 hits in 66 games. On July 24, 2010, Phelps found himself in the middle of the Columbus lineup hitting a sizzling .374.
"When you're going well, it's hard to explain why you're doing so well," Phelps said. "I think it's the nature of the game. People slump, then people get hot. I think sometimes you can't really explain those things.
"Some days you feel good like you can't miss, and other days it's like you can't touch it."
It's similar to catching the right waves while surfing. Phelps uses his California roots to surf in his spare time.
"It's been a while now, probably over a year," Phelps said. "I played baseball pretty late into the offseason last year and had to get ready for spring."
The 6-foot-2 infielder, sporting short hair, said he has never considered growing out long, golden locks.
"I never got into that," Phelps said. "I tried to shy away from the stereotypical surfer image."
Phelps now finds himself amid a congested middle-infield pipeline.
Phelps, Luis Valbuena and highly touted Jason Kipnis have all seen time at various infield positions. Jason Donald played second base and shortstop for the Indians last season, but he broke a bone in his left hand during Spring Training while fighting for the starting third-base job.
The Indians' top prospect, Lonnie Chisenhall, is locked in at third base for Columbus. At the Major League level, Jack Hannahan claimed the hot corner after Donald's spring injury, and his solid performance forced the Tribe to send Phelps to Triple-A.
The route to Cleveland also has a pair of other veterans serving as roadblocks. The Indians signed Orlando Cabrera in February, and he has become the team's everyday second baseman. They also inked versatile infielder Adam Everett to a contract and handed him a big league utility role.
Another issue -- not that anyone in the organization sees it as a problem -- is that the Indians currently boast the best record in the American League at 30-17. Under such circumstances, Cleveland has bought itself time to develop its prospects at a proper pace, rather than throwing any unprepared players into the big league fire.
For players such as Phelps, the Major League stage seems so close, but patience is required.
The veteran influx might have delayed Phelps' Major League debut, but the 24-year-old said the insight he gained from being around those players during Spring Training was invaluable.
"There were a lot of good conversations with them," Phelps said. "I think when you do have a lot of guys at a certain position, it does help elevate your game. I think it makes every player better."
Kipnis, another Clippers youngster awaiting his first big league callup, agreed.
"A lot of people might look at it as a roadblock," Kipnis said. "But it's not going to be looked at that way by me. These veteran guys -- at their points in their careers, they handle it the right way, know how to approach every day.
"Their routines are unbelievable and set in stone for them, and that's what gets them ready for each day. I think watching that in Spring Training really helped me and a bunch of other players further our maturation process along."
For Phelps, a professional career is more than just California dreaming. Through 42 games with the Clippers this season, he's hitting .310 with a .414 on-base percentage.
But for now, Phelps is happy riding the wave, rather than worrying about how he'll one day surf off into the sunset.
"It's definitely every player's goal to get to the big leagues," Phelps said. "And it'd be awesome if it could happen some day. Definitely that sets your sights down the road, but I think it's also important to appreciate where you are and enjoy the ride."
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.