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Monday, April 18, 2011

Cleveland Indians: ALC Cellar a thing of the past?

The Cleveland Indians are off to a scorching start to the 2011 season and almost everyone is riding them off as a fluke. While this is probably the case, I doubt they finish any higher than 3rd this year, how far is this team from really being competitive? The Indians have very quietly been building a very strong core of young players, specifically with their offense, that could make them a contending team long before most people expect them to be.

First off, let’s look at their offense and start with arguably one of the most underrated players in baseball. Shin Soo Choo is a stud, no other way to put it. The Korean star has put up .880+ OPS’ in each of the past three years, with great defense, a very strong arm and 20+ stolen base speed. One of the only true 5 tool players in baseball, and still only 28 years old, Choo is going to be the cornerstone of this Indians offense for a while. Next, we’ll go with the man who used to be the best player on this team, Grady Sizemore. Grady was one of the game’s best players from 2006-2008, with an MVP caliber season in 2006, but has pretty much fallen off the map over the past two years due to injury. He only played in 139 games over the past two seasons combined and, due to playing some of those games hurt, didn’t perform all too well either. However, reports are that Sizemore is now 100% healthy, and dazzled in his first game of the 2011 season, hitting a HR and a 2B in 4 trips to the plate. Hopefully, this means that he is getting back to his old ways, as a healthy Sizemore and Choo has the potential to be an excellent top of the lineup threat for the Cleveland Indians. Next, we’ll look at the young phenom backstop for the Cleveland Indians Carlos Santana. Santana was touted as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball before the 2010 season (one of the big three catchers along with Buster Posey and Jesus Montero) and did not disappoint once being called up. Santana beasted in limited time in 2010, hitting for an OPS over .850 with great defense; the sky’s the limit for this kid. Now let’s look at the SS position and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was on my radar since he hit for a very solid .799 OPS. He fell off the table in 2010, but looks to be back on track, hitting for an .869 OPS with 4 HR so far in 2011. If he could go back to his 2009 numbers, he would be a very solid hitter at one of the weakest positions in baseball. In fact, with no American League SS standouts, he could be one of the league’s top SS. Moving on to 1B, we get to Matt Laporta. Laporta was the cornerstone of the CC Sabathia trade and since then has been one of the most frustrating players in baseball, hitting either average or bad in every season of his major league career. However, he’s had a solid start to his 2011 season and, at 26 years old, the Indians can only hope that he’s starting to tap into some of that potential of his. Not sure I would count on it though. Going back to the outfield, we fill the final spot with the young left fielder, Michael Brantley. Probably one of the weakest spots on this lineup, Brantley has not done much since he has been called, hitting for a sub .700 OPS in parts of three seasons. However, he does have a good bit of talent, ranking as the Indians 5th best prospect before the 2010 season by Baseball America with great speed. He obviously hasn’t done anything yet, but I wouldn’t close the door on Brantley being a solid major league player just yet. To fill in the rest of the future Cleveland’s major league lineup, we have to go to their minor league system, with two young infielders with a ton of potential, both knocking on the major league door. First is 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, a young player who most people believe to be the best prospect in the Indians system. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 draft, Chisenhall was ranked 25 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list for 2011 and it is easy to see why. Although he doesn’t really have any “standout” tools, Chisenhall is above average in basically everything, with good pop, the ability to “spray the ball to all fields” and above average defense. He projects to be a good hitter at the major league level and, maybe most importantly, is projected to hit the Indians major league lineup in 2011. Finally, we go to 2B and look at one of my personal favorite prospects, Jason Kipnis. Baseball America ranks him 54th on the Top 100 list, 3rd on the team behind Chisenhall and SP Alex White. Like Chisenhall, Kipnis will make his living with his bat, as he projects to be a very good hitter with good pop, especially for a 2B. However, Kip’s best ability is his plate discipline. He had a tremendous BB/K rate in college and continued in the Indians system, holding a 76/133 BB/K rate so far in his minor league career, which is pretty good considering his age. This good plate discipline has also given him a very nice .386 minor league OBP for his career. Like Chisenhall, Kip should be in the Indians lineup at some point in 2011, bringing immediate help to that 2B position. All and all, you have to be impressed with the Indians future lineup, as a whole.

Satoshi’s Projected 2013 Indians Lineup:
C: Carlos Santana
1B: Matt Laporta
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3B: Lonnie Chisenhalll
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shin-Soo Choo

I’m a little less impressed with the Cleveland pitching, but even there, they are better than most people give them credit for. Leading the way is sinkerballing “ace” Fausto Carmona. I put ace in parentheses, because Carmona is not an elite shut down pitcher that most people expect an ace to be. However, he is a very solid, groundball specialist who can be successful if he keeps the ball out of the air and does walk people. For example, in 2010, he only had a 5.31 K/9 rate, but due to a 3.08 BB/9, a 0.73 HR/9 and a 55.6% GB%, he still managed a 3.78 ERA and a 3.70 tERA. Not too shabby. After Carmona, there isn’t really anyone I would categorize as a good pitcher, but there are a few average-ish guys who would make solid backend of the rotation pitchers, most notably Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson. The 27 year old Tomlin is another low strikeout, low walk guy who relies on his defense to get him through games. He did have a relatively decent 2.26 K/BB in 2010, thanks to his very low BB rate, and with a little bit of luck, could end up as a decent 4-5 pitcher on this Indians staff. Masterson is a guy I like a little bit more than Tomlin, seeing as he can actually strike people out and keeps the ball on the ground. In 2009, Justin had an 8.28 K/9 and followed it up with a 7.00 rate in 2010. Neither are awesome rates, but they are both big improvements from the first two pitchers featured so far. Most impressively though, is his career 57.1% GB% and his HR/9 of 0.78. Masterson had a 3.93 tERA in 2009 and a 3.80 mark in 2010. Not a great pitcher but a solid middle of the rotation guy, as seems to be the trend so far with this pitching staff. To fill in the rest of the minor league staff, we have to go to the minor leagues again, and we’re going to start with 22 year old Alex White. Alex White was the 47th best prospect in baseball entering 2010 according to BA’s list and projects as a #2-3 starting pitcher for the future. He was pretty impressive in 2010, posting a 2.25 ERA and a 2.85 K/BB in 108 AA IP. So far, in 11 AAA IP in 2011, White has excelled allowing only 2 runs and putting up a 4.33 K/BB….then again, I generally try to not make it a habit of getting excited over 11 IP. Like all of the pitchers so far White also has a very good GB% in mid to high 50’s. He doesn’t project to be a stud pitcher by any means, but could be a solid #2 or #3 and should be ready to contribute by 2011/2012. The 2nd minor league pitcher who should help the Indians relatively soon is Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz ranks 61 on the BA 2011 list, 4th in the Indians system behind the aforementioned Chisenhall, White and Kipnis. Pomeranz probably has more upside than White, being a lefty who can touch 95 MPH with his fastball and probably DOES have dominating potential, but command issues, delivery questions and the fact that he’s probably a little farther away puts him lower on the list. Pomeranz only has 11 minor league IP to his name, as he was drafted in the 2010 draft, but as a 22 year old he should probably rise through the system pretty quick. As long as he doesn’t have any set-backs, Pomeranz should probably hit the majors by late 2012/early 2013. This SP staff does not, by any means, have the potential that their lineup has, but with a bunch of decent-slight above average starters and some good prospects, this could be a nice rotation in a few years.

Satoshi’s Projected 2013 Indians Rotation:
#1. Fausto Carmona
#2. Justin Masterson
#3. Alex White
#4. Josh Tomlin
#5. Drew Pomeranz

Now on to the bullpen. Seeing as I’ve already written more than I expected to and don’t particularly value relievers as much as most people, I’m going to keep this short. The Indians have a solid closer with 26 year old Chris Perez. Taking over for the departed Kerry Wood, Perez had his best year in 2010, posting a 1.71 ERA, a 2.18 K/BB and 0.57 HR/9. He’s a guy who gives up a good amount of walks and too many FB, but should be able to put up decent numbers, especially if he can keep the ball in the park. Following Chris in the pen are Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp. Not the most impressive group of guys but, like I said, I don’t value relievers much at all; this Indians pen should be decent enough to not be a problem for them in the future.

Do I think the Indians are suddenly going to break out into a dynasty? No, not at all. But for a team that has been in or near the cellar since their excellent 2007 team, I think that the future is much brighter than the last few years have been. With a strong lineup, a decent rotation and a young core, I think this team will be much better in the future and maybe be legitimate contenders for the AL Central division as soon as 2013.


  1. Meh, I just wanted to do offense in one paragraph. I guess I could have separated it into OF and IF or something like that. Or MLB'er and prospects maybez.