By Coach Ryan
One of the most remarkable parts about the 2013 Cleveland Indians is how they managed to have such a strong record without having amazing hitting or pitching. I’m not saying the Tribe didn’t have good numbers but they really didn’t have that “oh no here comes ______ to the plate” type player. The Indians relied on key moments from every possible player, from Jason Kipnis to Jason Giambi there was a different hero every night. As non-intimidating as the Indians hitters appeared to be they did exactly what they were supposed to, beat the teams they were better than. What hurt them in the end was how they fared against the top tier teams. The best example of this can be summed up looking at their record against the White Sox (17-2) vs. their record against the Tigers (4-15). Much like the pitching staff the Tribe’s brass didn’t feel the need to completely retool the batting lineup, adding only a few sabermetric players like David Murphy and Jeff Francoeur while extending one of their best players in Michael Brantely. Even without bringing in the big splash hitter the Indians still have some interesting options and story lines going into this season (especially at third base). Let’s break down the lineup and check out some of the story lines across the field in part 2 of the 2014 Indians Preview.
- Michael Bourn
- Nick Swisher
- Jason Kipnis
- Carlos Santana
- Michael Brantley
- Asdrubal Cabrera
- David Murphy
- Yan Gomes
- Lonnie Chisenhall
Something to consider when looking at my projected lineup is more than likely even if this is the opening day lineup card, it will change about 153 times over the course of 162 games when Terry Francona is in charge. Last year Tito proved that he has no problem shaking the lineup around and putting players like Carlos Santana at different places and fully utilizing every one of his bench players. When it comes to Tito Santana it’s never a guarantee that a player will be designated to just one position.
1st Base- Nick Swisher/Carlos Santana: After the Indians signed David Murphy it kind of sealed the deal that Nick Swisher will be the first pick to play first base. That being said one thing you will see as we go from position to position is how many options Tito has. Carlos Santana has been slowly transitioning to first base for the past couple years but make no mistake Swisher and his giant glove will be expected to be the man at first. Indians fans will be hoping that not only does Swisher continue the solid fielding percentage from a year ago (.991) but is able to improve at the plate. Swisher is one of the most entertaining players to watch around the league as he jokes, interacts with fans, and sports a grin, but Mr. BrOhio wasn’t smiling very often last season at the plate. 2013 saw Swisher’s numbers drop significantly in every category which the Indians hope will be helped by new hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo. Some of his struggles could be the added pressure he put on himself as being “the man” in Cleveland as opposed to the complimentary piece he’s been in the past and if Swish can relax and just play his game he should see a spike in his numbers. If the Indians plan to repeat last year, his at bats will go a long way to making that happen.
2nd Base- Jason Kipnis: This is one position that the Indians don’t have to worry about as they bring one of the best second baseman in the game. Luckily for the Tribe they have Kipnis signed through 2017, but even so they know what they have and are already attempting to get an extension done to keep him in Cleveland. I understand that Robinson Cano put up impressive numbers as a Yankee but with Cano moving west into a much bigger stadium Kipnis could emerge as the best second baseman in the league. This will be Kipnis’ third year as the starting second baseman and if his numbers keep going up you could be watching a superstar in the making. My bold prediction is that Kipnis will be in the top three of every major statistic for a second baseman this year and could bring a Gold Glove and/ or Silver Slugger Award to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera/ Francisco Lindor: My goal in this article is to only list the players who I think will be playing significant time at the position which is why I haven’t listed players like Aviles and Raburn. Here I have listed Lindor who at 20 years old and only three seasons in the minors may be promoted quickly to shortstop. As good as Cabrera has been throughout the past seven years in Cleveland I do believe that his time with the Indians is coming to a close. He has been a major rumor around the trade market the past year or so and had it not been for a very bad 2013 at the plate I think he would have been moved last season. Cabrera’s contract is up with the Indians at the end of the season and one of the more interesting rumors I’ve heard is the Yankees have their eye on him to take over shortstop after Derek Jeter’s farewell tour. Still whether or not he is moved and for how much will depend on where the team is and how well Cabrera is able to rebound after last season. Sitting in the minors waiting is Lindor, and although I don’t think he is quite ready for prime time will be one of the most talked about players in the minors this season. From everything I read Lindor is on track to be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop and we should be seeing glimpses of that in 2014.
3rd Base- Lonnie Chisenhall/ Carlos Santana: If you don’t follow the Indians as intently as I do you might be surprised to see Santana’s name pop up again at the hot corner. With the emergence of Yan Gomes at catcher Santana has adapted by becoming one of the most versatile players in baseball, which poses a problem for Chisenhall. The Indians have been patiently waiting for Chisenhall to step up and be the player they so desperately want him to be, but he has continued to struggle with adjusting to life in the show. If Lonnie could be the player that he was in the Indians’ post season loss to Tampa (hitting 3 for 4) stepping up when his team needed him he would be a no brainer. Santana spent the summer in the Dominican League playing third and apparently has adjusted very quickly. Santana isn’t just becoming a good hitter he is finally blossoming into a feared switch hitter who finished second in walks and seventh in doubles in the AL while constantly working pitchers deep into counts. With Swisher becoming the everyday first baseman and Gomes catching the Tribe can’t afford not to play Santana somewhere. Will Lonnie finally step up to the challenge or will Santana be the go to guy at the hot corner?
Catcher- Yan Gomes/ Carlos Santana: Hey look it’s Carlos Santana, again. Although I’m sure Santana will get a little playing time at catcher, last year was the coming out party for Yan Gomes. As tough of an out as Santana is at the plate, saying he struggles throwing out base stealers is like saying A-Rod struggles with PEDs. In 2013 the playing time was split among the two with Santana catching 84 games and Gomes catching 85 with Santana throwing out 18% of runners (51 stolen bases, 11 caught stealing) and Gomes throwing out 41% (29 stolen bases, 20 caught stealing). Gomes also has been solid at the plate and if he stays healthy all year he has .300, 20 HR, and 75 RBI potential. Like I said expect Santana to be playing a lot of third.
Left Field- Michael Brantley: Hands down my favorite move the Indians made during the offseason was giving Brantley an extension through 2017 (team option in ’18). Brantley may not have traditional left field power (10 HR in 2013 is a career high) but there’s at least 28 teams in the league where he’d be starting in center. When the Tribe signed Bourn last season Brantley moved to left field which means if you are going to get extra bases you better be moving. Michael Brantley has the nickname “Mr. Smooth” which embodies the way he approaches every aspect of the game. Not only is Brantley a beast fielding left, but it seems like anytime he’s in a situation where the Tribe needs a clutch hit Brantley will come through. How smooth is Michael Brantley? He’s all of 1.000 fielding percentage in 2013 smooth.
Center Field– Michael Bourn: The reason Brantley doesn’t play center field is also one of the players the Indians will be hoping has the biggest improvement over a year ago. The Indians shocked their fans last season when they went out and grabbed Bourn with a 4 year $48 million contract. What they weren’t expecting was Bourn to have one of his worst seasons in his career dropping in every major category. One of the most disappointing stats had to have been his drop in stolen bases going from 42 in 2012 to only 23 last season along with his major drop in OBP, SLG, and OPS. A lot of this is more than likely attributed to switching to the AL after eight seasons in the NL, but he’ll be feeling the pressure to show improvement during 2014. I expect all of his numbers to show some improvement, but if the Tribe wants to sniff the post season this year he is going to improve to be the player the Indians thought they were signing.
Right Field– David Murphy: The biggest question mark going into the season comes in right field, the one position the Tribe has a new look at. In 2012 David Murphy had a career best year and then in 2013 he had his career worst year yet Tito Francona was more that willing to give Murphy a shot in right. Considering the disappointment that Drew Stubbs was last year I have to think that Murphy can’t do much worse, but that isn’t why the Indians brought him on. The Tribe will be hoping that Murphy looks a lot more like the .309/ .859 OPS hitter of 2012 than the .220/ .656 OPS hitter he was last season. There’s been talk on why his numbers dropped so drastically last season, which could have something do with the Rangers losing Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Napoli making Murphy feel like he had to be the guy. It also could be the case of having a 32 year old hitter who just isn’t able to hack it anymore. One thing is for sure, in Cleveland Tito Francona will do whatever he can to prove that it was losing all the talent in Texas, and will be hoping the pendulum swings back. In case it doesn’t the Indians took a low risk/ high reward chance with Jeff Francoeur who will more than likely get some decent playing time this year in right field.
DH- Carlos Santana/ The Goon Squad: The Indians may want to consider changing their name from to the Cleveland Carlos Santanas as much as we’ve seen his name on this write up. I have to think that depending on where Santana is playing will go a long way to determine who will be at DH for the Indians on any given day. A major difference for Francona between Boston and Cleveland is that he doesn’t have a David Ortiz he can just plug into the lineup and end up with 30 HR/100 RBI. In Cleveland he has a DH by committee, which led to some of Cleveland’s greatest moments from a year ago. The DH will more than likely be made up of a mix of Santana, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jeff Francoeur, or whoever else happens to be sitting in the dugout that day. As much as this situation seems to be a mess, last year the same sort of combination is ultimately what led the Indians to the postseason.
Will the Indians be able to strike gold two years in a row? What are the X-Factors that will make or break the 2014 campaign? What will be the Indians record in 2014? Make sure to check out ‘Part 3: The X-Factors‘ on Friday for all this and more. You can also go back and read the the first part of this series that takes a look at the Indians’ pitching. Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.