Major League may be one of the funniest baseball movies of all time although nothing is really funny about being the fan of a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1948 (unless maybe you’re a Cubs fan). However those of us that grew up living and dying with Cleveland sports every year brings a new chapter of optimism and ultimately heart-break and agony. But not this year! At least that’s what we tell ourselves year after year, after year after year after year. Still whether you root for the Browns, Indians, or the Cavs you live for the beginning of the season when everyone is tied for first place and the hope that comes with starting a fresh year. I am taking this opportunity to grade each position on my beloved Cleveland Indians for the upcoming year so grab some rum from JoBu and a pack of Stadium Mustard…it’s officially baseball season in Cleveland.
1B- I love Casey Kotchman, just the name Casey at first base reminds me of “Casey at the Bat” unfortunately the “bat” part of that is a free agent that the Indians could never afford and is currently playing first for Detroit. That being said I don’t think there’s a better defensive first baseman and saying it’s an upgrade over LaPorta is the understatement of the year. I give this a solid “B” only losing points due to his lack of power and hitting at a power position.
2B- I have a strange feeling that Jason Kipnis is going to take over the defunct Grady Sizemore as becoming the new fan favorite in Cleveland. He just has that personality and is the team joker. If you had a chance to watch that game in Spring Training where it was all game audio or the 30 Teams in 30 Days about the Indians you can tell Kipnis is a favorite in the clubhouse and diehard Indians fans are just going to love his personality and the way he conducts himself. Does that translate into great on field play? Well thus far he has only played 32 games total (23 of them last year) so it is really hard to make a major judgment on him YET. However his overall .979 fielding percentage makes him off to a good start and obviously Acta sees something in him that made him say “he is our second baseman.” I have to give him an Incomplete though at this point (with potential for a “B-”)
SS- Assssssssdrubal Cabrrrrrrrerrra!!! Our mighty shortstop who grew up idolizing none other than Omar Vizquel had an absolute comeback/ breakout year last year as he established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game and to top it off he just signed a two-year extension. How he idolizes Omar with the way he works, the way he fields and how he differs from Omar in the way he has potential to hit for power and I would bet my life savings that he has twice the appetite Omar has….. Ya oooops. Apparently Asdrubal also idolizes the Nathan Hotdog Eating Contest. Still I am giving him an “A-“ on what he did last year although I am scared that he could be a letdown now that he got an extension….in his belt.
3B- Jack Hannahan is getting the job because of his lifetime .973 fielding percentage at third base and I definitely believe that Manny Acta did the right thing by making him the starter however he is a lame duck and any Tribe fan can tell you that. Despite his great fielding, his bat is quite disturbing. Let’s be honest here yes he did bat better in the second half of last year to improve his average to .250 which is fine for a young guy but not somebody who has been in the league since 2006 and is now 32 years old. I can’t give this move more than a “C,” but just when you think it can’t get better the Tribe also have Lonnie Chisenhall and all the potential that he brings. I won’t grade him due to the fact that nobody knows if and when Lonnie will make his big league appearance this year although I could see it happening around the All Star Break. I’ll hold off on grading him for now.
LF- Oh the importance of left field. Teams make it or break it by the power that comes out of this position. With great power players such as Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez that have prowled the outfield at the Jake you just know the Indians are going to get a high mark for, drum roll please, Shelly Duncan. Well I’ll give him this in his MLB career in the outfield he has a .994 fielding percentage so that means something right. Yeah except he’s what 33 and that is only 111 games total. Well what of his power numbers? I mean he has 30 homeruns…total in 229 games and let’s not forget he played in Yankee Stadium for most of that too where homeruns weren’t exactly rare. I am beyond disappointed that the Indians did nothing to improve this position. Oh yeah duh I forgot Brantley was supposed to be at left and Sizemore at center (I’ll get to that in a minute) but once again the Indians did NOTHING about this position of such importance. Yeah Duncan you get an “A” for Spring Training but an “F” going into the regular season.
CF- Isn’t THIS the year that Grady’s Ladies are supposed to be back patrolling this position? At least that’s what the Tribe thought when they invested $5 million dollars on him. Unfortunately this isn’t a Disney movie and at this point Grady getting injured is as common as Greg Oden having micro fracture surgery or Travis Hafner, oh sorry I’m getting ahead of myself. So stop the press Grady is out which puts in Michael Brantley. I have to be honest I love Michael Brantley, he a great combination of great fielding mixed with a little bit of speed and not a terrible bat. Most of the people in the world of baseball would call this a centerfielder. In Cleveland unfortunately they call it a left fielder filling in a hole. Still I’ll grade on Brantley alone as I don’t predict Grady to do a whole lot of playing this year and I will rate it a “C,” losing some points due to a .266 average last year and only 13 stolen bases in 114 games. I think this is going to be a statement year for Brantley however and I could see him moving up to a “C+” or gulp maybe even a “B-.”
RF- Will the real Shin-Shoo Choo please stand up? Here is someone who was well on his way to being a top right fielder in the entire game. He was averaging 20 homers, over 80 RBI’s a year and then he made the classic mistake of saying “I can drive.” Mr. Choo’s game felt the disgrace of an entire nation and he disappeared from the rising star that had made him one of the best right fielders in the game. The only thing that didn’t seem to be broken on Shin-Shoo last year was he rocket South Korean arm which may be still the best in the game at getting base runners to hold up and the most dangerous at potential outfield assists. What we will see if a little bit a new ink on his golden arm and his time in the South Korean Army did him good. Still I am giving Choo a “B+“ going into the season. Let’s hope he doesn’t let the Cleveland faithful or my fantasy team down.
DH- Welcome to Pronkville? Oh wait that’s right that went the way of the DoDo along with Hafner’s ability to stay healthy. Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore both seem to be yearly question marks when it comes to health although surprisingly Hafner seems to be the one who has more potential to stay healthy this year. If he can stay healthy I am pretty sure he can be a 25 homer 80 plus RBI man but the odds of that seem to be pretty out there. I’m hoping Hafner can play over 130 games although I’m guessing he will be right around 90 or so. For being a homer and an optimistic about the once feared left hander I will give the DH position a “B-” IF he is healthy, if he isn’t Chief Wahoo will be lucky to pass with a “D-.”
C- If there is one position that the Indians have been able to maintain a dominant player in it is catcher. Carlos Santana is the best switch hitting catcher to put on the Indians’ red white and blue since Victor Martinez. Ok that may not be that long ago but somehow the Indians have been able to reload at this position. If Santana has one flaw it is his defense but that is where Lou Marson comes in. The only problem with Lou Marson is that he can’t hit, and people wonder why they based the movie Major League after the Indians. Still for Santana he is building off of season of 27 home runs and 79 RBI’s and if he can get his average up a little bit he will cement his place as one of the top catchers in the game which is why I am giving this position an “A-.”
Pitching Rotation- Let’s see they have Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, and Fausto Carmona. I mean Roberto Hernandez or is it Roberto Hernandez Heredia? Anyone remember the line in Major League “Who are these F’ing guys?!” Yup once again it fits only in Cleveland. Well Carmona or Hernandez or whatever his name is currently out of the picture they are left with an interesting mix of young talent (Masterson, Tomlin, Gomez) and as of recently under performers (Jimenez, Lowe). I think the Indians have a very bright future with their young talent but this season is going to ride a lot on how Ubaldo and Lowe perform. Lowe is coming off an absolutely terrible year and many doubt that he can bounce back where Ubaldo is a lot more of a puzzle. It was only a couple of years ago that he had one of the best first half of the seasons in recent memory before his numbers started falling off. Last year he blamed it on injuries although this year he has no excuses and is setting the bar extremely high for himself when it comes to control and dominance. Just ask Troy Tulowitzky how well his control is. In my opinion Jimenez needs to put his personal issues aside and just pitch and Lowe who was supposed to be just an invite is now filling the hole left by Fausto Hernandez or whoever. One of the problems that this rotation is going to run into is their lack of run support but I’m going to go just on pitching alone. I give the younger starters (Masterson, Tomlin, Gomez) a “B” and the veterans (Jimenez, Lowe) a “D” for a “C” average.
Bullpen- Please insert the Godfather theme song here as we get to the biggest strength of the Indians, the Bullpen Mafia led by the Godfather himself Chris Perez. The rest of the baseball world may not know the likes of Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Vinnia Pestano, Joe Smith, and company but I can assure you that opposing batters know exactly who they are. They may be one of the finest overall bullpens in all of baseball and if my grading is correct with Jimenez and Lowe than the whole bullpen may be splitting the team MVP award if the Indians have any shot in the Central division. The key to the bullpen is simple: stay healthy and throw the batters pitches that they can’t refuse. They all get an “A.”
So if you average out all the Indians grades (not counting the Incomplete at second) the Indians preseason GPA averages out to be 2.7, which is right around where I think you could put them. Average to a little above average with potential to either excel or completely fall off. If 2.7 was a record it would be right around 82-82, give or take 5-7 games. That means if the Indians play up to their potential they could be pushing right around 87 to 89 wins with under this year’s expanded Wild Card could just be enough to squeak into the one game playoff. For this to happen they are going to need all of their pitchers to pitch to their full potential to make up for the Tribe’s lack of power and speed. All the fans at the Jake can do pray to JoBu and hope that the Indians get off to another great start and their bullpen is able to keep them in games to allow them to have some of that late inning Jacob’s Field magic.