I’m probably one of the world’s worst predictors, except that when it comes to “pick the standings” contests. My point is that if you want to play a fun game, bookmark this post so you can come back and (probably) make fun of me later this year. I tried to predict where some of the big-name free agents would go last fall, and I was pretty much 0-for-whatever. There are methods to my madness though, so hopefully you can see how I came to these conclusions.
Breakthrough player to watch: Jason Kipnis
I don’t think I’m going very far out on a limb in thinking that Kipnis could have a pretty big year. While I don’t think he’ll quite reproduce the power he displayed when he was called up to the Tribe last season (most consecutive games with a home run by a rookie since Al Rosen in 1950 and 7 home runs in 136 at-bats), he’ll still be a presence in the lineup. In his short stint with the Tribe, he hit .272/.333/.507 and his career numbers in the minors are .297/.378/.486.
Comeback player of the year: Ubaldo Jimenez
Maybe I’m biased with this one, because I’ve always been a huge fan of Jimenez. If you look at his career numbers, it’s quite possible that as long as no secret injury was behind his drop in performance in 2011, that it was an anomaly. There are many Indians fans that still absolutely loathe the Drew Pomeranz/Alex White for Jimenez deal, but I’m not one of them. I’ll admit that I’m not 100% sold on the deal, but I definitely don’t hate it (yet). Even if he doesn’t reproduce his stellar 2010 season, Jimenez still kept his ERA below 4 and his WHIP below 1.40 for much of his Major League career.
Potential All Star: Carlos Santana
When one of my all-time favorite players, Victor Martinez, was traded to Boston, Santana became my surrogate Martinez in many ways. He looked up to Martinez, he was a switch-hitting catcher, he even adopted his #41. I know that I’m already biased toward thinking the best of him, but I honestly think he’s poised for a monster year. He already led the Indians in home runs (27) and OBP (.351) in 2011; I’m going to predict a modest raise to his batting average (.239 in 2011) and a jump in OPS. He may not have the defensive catching skills of Lou Marson, but could still fit well in a catching platoon. I’ll go ahead and predict that he’ll be wearing an Indians jersey at the All-Star game in Kansas City later this summer.
Pleasant surprise of the year: Jason Donald
With Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall (as well as Jack Hannahan) I think that Donald is often forgotten. He had a chance to win a spot on the roster last spring, but had a bit of back luck with an injury and started the season on the DL. Part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, Donald is often labeled a utility infielder even though he was once seen as a promising shortstop prospect. In just 132 Major League at-bats in 2011, Donald hit .318/.364/.402; his career numbers in the minors are .286/.373/.432.
Most likely to succeed off the scrap heap: Felix Pie
Out of all of the players signed to minor league deals with Spring Training invites, I think Pie has the best chance of success. Not that I think he necessarily will have success, just that he probably has the best chance. Maybe I feel this way because he was so hyped just a few years ago, and I’m not quite ready to give up. I’ve already discussed his stats at length in other posts, but at the very least he provides some depth at Triple-A in the case of injury. He’s probably a bit more polished than Ezequiel Carrera at least.
Breakthrough minor leaguer: Chen-Chang Lee or LeVon Washington
Washington was considered a very promising outfielder when the Indians drafted him in the second round in 2010 (he was actually a first round pick by Tampa Bay in 2009 but did not sign). However, after he struggled last season at Lake County (.218/.331/.315 with 4 home runs and 15 stolen bases), people seemed to think a bit less of his chances. I think he improves this season and puts himself back on the radar. If nothing else, he provides some entertainment via his Twitter feed.
Lee was the 2011 recipient of the Bob Feller Award as the Indians’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Between Akron and Columbus he was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 99 strikeouts and one save over 71.1 innings pitched. With several young bullpen types traded or designated for assignment this off-season (Josh Judy, Zach Putnam, and Cory Burns) Lee represents one of the good, young relief arms still in the system.
Player that worries me: Josh Tomlin
I should preface this by saying that I really like Josh Tomlin. While his stuff may not be the best, he has an amazing ability to locate his pitches and remains calm and focused even when he’s in a jam. Because he doesn’t necessarily blow guys away with his pitches, there’s always the risk that hitters start to figure him out. He also struggled with injuries toward the end of the season, and though he’s supposedly healthy now, I still worry that they could flare up early in the season. With the Indians already down Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez Heredia and Carlos Carrasco (Tommy John surgery) the Indians can’t afford to lose more starting pitchers.
Thoughts on Sizemore and Hafner:
Every year, for what seems like the past billion years, there’s the same old analysis – “if Sizemore and Hafner are both healthy…” The problem is, they’re pretty much never both healthy. It’s likely true – if both were healthy and productive for an entire year, it would be an incredible boost for the offense. And yes, I’m sure it’s possible that one day it theoretically could happen; unfortunately it’s probably the day I also watch a pig flap its wings and fly past my window. For years, I saw the Cubs base their game plan around the fact that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior would be healthy starters at the same time; that plan never came to fruition. Hafner and Sizemore may have their moments this season, but I’m not counting on the fact that they’ll both be there for the duration of the season.