Somebody's Wrong About Russ Canzler

FT. MYERS FL: Russell Canzler of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Minor-league slugger Russ Canzler, who put up big Triple-A numbers in the Tampa Bay organization last year, was recently purchased by Cleveland. Can he help the hitting-starved Indians?

Sure, it's the off-season and most of the free agents have found new homes and so we're desperate for news.

Still, considering I'd literally never heard of a fellow named Russ Canzler until a week or so ago, I was surprised to see his name burning up the Internets earlier this week. But the Indians bought him from the Rays and he's got some big minor-league numbers and Odin knows the Indians need some big-league numbers.

From Paul Hoynes, some particulars:

The Indians acquired right-handed hitting Russ Canzler from Tampa Bay for cash.

Canzler, 25, was the International League's MVP last year at Class AAA Durham. He hit .314 (149-for-474) with 40 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 83 RBI in 131 games. Canzler, 6-2 and 215 pounds, played 41 games in right field, 33 games in left, 40 games at third and 17 at first.

He had a OPS of .931 for the season and 1.034 in the second half. Canzler hit .356 (63-for-177) with 17 doubles, eight homers and 30 RBI in 47 games after the Class AAA All-Star break.

Now, you might think the Rays could have used a guy like that. But when they signed Jeff Keppinger last week and needed a roster spot, Canzler was jettisoned; according to the Rays, he wasn't one of the 40 men in their organization worthy of a place on the 40-man roster.

Today, the new Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived at my door. Russ Canzler isn't listed among the Rays' 30 best prospects. Even though he didn't play much first base last season, he's listed third on the prospect depth chart at first base ... behind two other guys who didn't make the Top 30 list.

I'm sure that I'm missing something. But Canzler looks pretty impressive to me. He didn't reach Class AA until he was 23, but that's true for a decent number of good major-league players. He struggled initially, but then tore up the Southern League at 24 and the International League at 25. If a guy can post a .314/.401/.530 line in triple-A at 25, he can probably hit in the majors.

A little bit, anyway. I don't suppose his 2011 Major League Equivalency (MLE) would be all that impressive, but still good enough for some sort of job with the Indians, especially considering how many plate appearances have been wasted on Matt LaPorta's potential over the last three seasons.

What sort of role might Canzler have with the Indians? Apparently GM Chris Antonetti is envisioning a sort of super-utlity player ... though one restricted to the four corner slots. That's actually sort of a cool idea: two utility guys, one for the middle and one for the corners. Oh, the possibilities before the seven-man bullpen. But I digress...

Here's a snippet from MLB.com:

Barring another addition, however, Canzler might also compete for time at first base.

"Sure," Antonetti said. "I wouldn't rule anything out."

Given the struggles of first baseman Matt LaPorta over the past two years, Cleveland has been on the hunt for a potential alternative this winter. The Indians struck out in their pursuit of free agent Carlos Pena and the club still remains linked to free agent Casey Kotchman.

You'll pardon Antonetti for restraining his excitement about Canzler. The Indians couldn't get Peña, but the Rays did. Now the Indians have the Rays' fourth- or fifth-string first baseman, but they're still going after the guy who the Rays dumped to make way for Peña. Wait, which is the team that's perpetually playing Moneyball?

Oh, right: Both of them.

The history of players like Canzler who apparently nobody really wants isn't encouraging. Another season or two in the minors, no matter how well he hits, means a spot on everybody's Quadruple-A All-Star Team. Which is really awesome if you're attending a convention of baseball nerds, but doesn't really do much for the kids' college savings accounts.

Now we sorta gotta pull for Russ Canzler, because we've all felt at some point that nobody really wanted us.

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