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A playoff run brewing at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

A preview of the 2013 Cleveland Indians

A playoff run brewing at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
March 27, 2013
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Just like that, we are less than a week away from the regular season kicking off, and while it’s not taking place here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, things couldn’t be more festive here at the North Coast.

The Indians look like they might have something brewing here for the rest of the American League.  The offseason has been incredibly fun, especially when you compare it to the first “book-end, “  the 2012 season. Manny Acta’s last year with the Indians turned into one of the most abysmal, cataclysmic cluster messes of any season since I’ve been born. Remember, the Indians were in first place for a good bit of the beginning of that season. Sure, it was smoke and mirrors thanks to a friendly schedule and Acta’s ability to get teams going early in the season, but they were in first place. Their collapse was historic, and their August implosion may have been the worst in the history of Cleveland Indians’ baseball. 

The hot stove season was such a stark change. Think about it. Manny Acta was fired during the end of the season in September. On October 7th, Terry Francona was hired by the Indians, and in taking the job, clearly ushered in a new era for the Cleveland Indians. Looking back now, it’s fairly clear that the Indians fired Acta with a purpose. I’m not sure if it was Chris Antonetti trying to save his job by being proactive, or if there was a plan already in place, but there was definitely purpose.

I find it intensely hard to believe that the Indians didn’t let him go prior to the end of that season without having a pretty good idea where Francona stood. On top of that, he was able to keep Sandy Alomar on board, and he brought in former manager Brad Mills as well. Mickey Callaway has done nothing but impress in his new role, as the Indians’ pitchers have been pounding the strike zone, and Ty Van Burkleo has a bunch to work with as the hitting coach. Mike Sarbaugh is also a fantastic addition to the staff, and a long time coming.

The question that remains over the next few days is whether or not the Indians can add a second book-end that justifies all the moves they made this offseason.

So, I’m going to take that walk here at the Corner. Let’s take a look at CoCaO’s official 2013 preview:

The Indians made a serious move this offseason to become a “contender-in-a-year.” They added Mike Aviles, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher, Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, Matt Albers, Yan Gomes, Chris McGuiness, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi and Rich Hill. They also added guys like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Matt Capps, who will likely play a part in all this by the time the season ends. They all won’t make the club, but they all could make an impact at one time or another this season. When you incorporate those new players with Terry Francona and his newly assembled coaching staff, you can already make a case for the Tribe being contenders.

Let’s jump in with both feet and tackle the make-or-break piece to this team’s success in 2013, and that’s the starting rotation. The rotation will start the year off with Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir as the first five, and as the year progresses, it will be supplemented by Carlos Carrasco and top pitching prospect, Trevor Bauer. There also could be a Daisuke Matsuzaka sighting, with a smattering of Corey Kluber as well. There have been some very interesting Chris Capuano meanderings as well, with the Dodgers looking to acquire some bullpen help in return. If that’s the case, the Indians certainly could become players for the out-of-luck lefty.

Justin Masterson has to be more consistent, and not give up the big inning. If he’s truly going to be a number one starter, then he really should begin acting like one. Yes, he’s miscast in that role. Yes, it’s not his fault that he is. But, he is, so he has to deal with it. Francona is the perfect manager to do just that, because he’ll figure out a way to take the pressure off. Francona’s approach with Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez this year has been to look at the entire staff as a whole, and not just as a 1,2,3,4 and a 5. That’s the right approach, because all of the starters that currently reside on the staff are middle-of-the-rotation-at-best starters. Honestly, the guy with the most upside may just be Scott Kazmir, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing for the lefty, or a bad thing for the rotation.

Ubaldo Jimenez has to become a serviceable starter, because for 1 ½ years, he hasn’t been anywhere close to that. I can get into the velocity issues, but we all know about those. I can get into the mechanical issues, but we all know about those as well. I can get into the 12 pitches that Jimenez can throw, but we know all about even that. Here’s what I will get into: he’s hammering the strike zone right now, and he’s never done that before. That does make this past month the outlier, but it’s certainly hopeful. Last year at this time, Jimenez had walked 15 batters and struck out 15 batters in 23 1/3 innings. This year he’s struck out 17 and walked four in 25 innings. No, he’s not the 2010 Ubaldo that had one of the most impressive half-seasons ever, but he certainly is a guy that I believe can win 15 games or so.

Brett Myers has to find the fountain of youth in returning to the rotation, and not turn into Derek Lowe circa 2012. I chuckle a little bit when I say that, because he’s all of 32-years old. His drop in velocity over the past three years though lets us know he’s an oldish 32, and that’s a bit of a concern, especially considering how the Colorado Rockies absolutely torched him on Monday Night. There’s a lot you can say about Myers both on and off the field, but he’s always been a good pitcher. His take on it: “I don’t really care what people think about me…If people don’t like me, they can deal with it. This is who I am.” The Indians need a bit of this attitude. He’s feisty. He’s pig-headed. He’s stubborn. If he can pitch, he’s exactly what the Indians need. We shall see.

Zach McAllister has to mirror or improve on his 2012 season. He has size and better velocity than people think. He can come at hitters from a nice angle. He is a pitcher as well, so he can hit corners, and when he’s doing all of that, he can be very good. I see a bit of a poor man’s right-handed Cliff Lee in him, or perhaps Jake Westbrook would be a better comparison. He’s a sleeper in this rotation, and I expect big things. He needs that Brett Myers’ nastiness on the mound.

Scott Kazmir has to keep getting better, and not already be at his peak for the season in spring training. It really is one of those things that make you wonder every time he steps on the mount. Kazmir has never really had major arm issues, but he’s been on the DL six times, and his disappearance after 2010 was a bit of a mystery, even to him. His arm was tired, and the velocity was gone. It’s back now, and the question really becomes whether or not he keeps the velocity, improves on it, or faces dead arm again. His upside is there, and he may end up the best pitcher on this staff.

Carlos Carrasco has to find his location and stay healthy. He was sitting right in the mid-90s this spring, and that’s a legit number seen by more than one person I’ve talked to who were sitting with scouts in Arizona. If he can find his location, which is the last thing that comes back after Tommy John, than Carrasco will do some damage this year. He does have ace potential, regardless of what the Sunday morning scouts have to say.

Trevor Bauer has to go from promise to performance. He sits in the low 90’s, and he isn’t the flamethrower that Carrasco is right now, but boy can he locate his slider, curveball, changeup and his “reverse” slider. His delivery is a spring-loaded mechanism that adds velocity by deception. His curveball is devastating. He can run it in as much as six inches on right-handed hitters, and then it drops 6-to-12 inches on top of that. He can throw a straight curve that simply drops off a table. On top of that, his reverse slider runs away from lefties, and is a definitive out pitch. You mix his change and moving fastball in the middle of all that, and you have something special.

I really believe Bauer and Carrasco will be the #1 and #2 starters in this rotation this year. Kazmir could be the #3 when it’s all said and done, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Everyone focuses on the bad edge this rotation could take. What really would happen if Carrasco and Bauer reach their potential this year, which isn’t likely, but possible. If they do, and Kazmir does have more in the tank, how good would a rotation with Masterson as the #4 and Ubaldo or someone else as your #5 (I hear Steve screaming McAllister)? It’s not likely, just like it’s not likely the rotation will be as bad as it was last year, but people do keep going there, don’t they.

If it’s somewhere in the middle, the Indians will be okay. Why? That means they get to their bullpen.

The bullpen blitzkrieg© should be stout. The Bullpen Mafia mantra has run its course. This bullpen will hit teams in waves, and it’s not going to be pretty. Mafia’s get in and get out. I don’t think that’s what we’re going to see at all. I think we are going to see a lightning war from this pen night in and night out.

Chris Perez, if he stays healthy, should be a top closer again in 2013. Vinnie Pestano is generally considered the best reliever in the current bullpen, but Perez just doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. He’s really good, and provided he’s healthy, he’s going to be really good again. He really is the fulcrum to the success of the 2013 season. There are so many questions in the rotation, that we can’t afford any in the bullpen. We need Chris Perez to stay healthy.

Vinnie Pestano is the best set-up man in baseball, and can clearly take his place if he has to. I just don’t want him to have to. I am moderately concerned about his struggles at the end of the World Baseball Classic, but to be a good reliever, you have to have a short memory. Pestano has just that. If Perez is the fulcrum, than Pestano is the anchor. He’ll likely find himself pitching at least three times a week, and if the rotation gets to him, he has to win. There’s no reason to think he can’t do it.

Cody Allen is ready to ascend to a place of prominence on this team, and should overcome spring troubles to become an important part of the back-end of the pen.  I keep trying to tell people that this kid was still pitching college ball this time two years ago.  This is the first spring training that he’s spent knowing he was going to be a major league pitcher. He’ll rebound, or at least get a chance to.

Joe Smith is the glue of the bullpen, and brings a more finesse to the mound, as opposed to the other three I’ve already mentioned. Every team needs a Smith. He’ll never be the guy that blows it by you. He’ll never be the guy you talk about at the water cooler (unless it’s bad). But, that’s exactly what you want from him. You want him in and out, with out being the appropriate term.

The lefties start withe the flame-throwing Nick Hagadone, who may be as good as anyone when his head is right.  If you read me with any regularity, you know that I think Hagadone just might have the best out pitches of any pitcher, starter or reliever. He also can be a mess at times, and he holds a grudge, so those messes are hard to clean up. My hope is how his season ended last year pissed him off. I hope that his grievance pisses him off. I hope he takes it all out on the opposition. He has in spring, that is for sure.

 Rich Hill has become a wily, Joe Smith-esque guy from the left side. I don’t have any worries about him, other than health. If he stays healthy, he’ll be really, really good. Remember his role. He’ll be the first lefty out of the pen, and he’ll likely only be facing a hitter or two most of the time. He can go a full inning or more, but he’s not going to have to.

Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw should also play a part out of the gate, and Shaw has been getting raves. He’s liquid fastball right now, and while he doesn’t bring more than that, it’s pretty tough to hit. This pen will hit you in waves. Gone is the Bullpen Mafia, and in its place is the Bullpen Blitzkrieg©.

The line-up is extended, and that is the understatement. Michael Bourn leads off and brings a speedy presence. Honestly, the biggest addition will be his glove, which is the best in the game in center, and gold glove caliber. He can steal bases, and is has more stolen bases than anyone in the league since 2008. He brings a national league mentality to the American League, and he should give the weight of this line-up someone who can score.

Asdrubal Cabrera moves from the three-hole to the two-hole and immediately becomes the best two-hitter in the league. Yeah, I said it, and I believe it to. I got an e-mail last night worrying about his back, but I wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s serious, and he’s as fit as he’s ever been. He’s ready to break out, and considering his numbers over the past two seasons, that’s saying something.

Jason Kipnis hits third, where he likely should be. He’s protected now, and when he finds his swing, he will be devastating. He can hit for average. He can hit for power, and when he finds that zone that he gets into, we’ll call it the “Kip-Zone,” he can carry a team. He wants to. Last year, he felt like he had to, and it was too much of a burden for a guy who hadn’t yet played a full season.

Nick Swisher will hit fourth, and he’s consistent power. Boy, if there’s ever been an understated statement to what Swisher brings to this team, it’s that. Swisher is energy personified. He’s always positive, always smiling, and this spring, always hitting the ton out of the ball. He’s this team’s leader, period. What’s great is that he wants to be. He immediately takes pressure off the rest of the team.

 Michael Brantley is at #5, and he’s such a good hitter, that his numbers really could be interesting here. His biggest knock offensively is his lack of power, but there’s a part of me that wonders. Might there be more there than meets the eye? I firmly believe that Brantley may not hit 20 homers, but in the five slot, he’s going to drive in a boatload of runs. I love Brantley, and he sure can hit. I haven’t even talked defense. He moves to left, and will immediately become one of the better defenders.

Carlos Santana hits #6, where he’ll protect Brantley, and not feel the pressure of the #4 hole.  Last year, Manny Acta had to have Santana hit third or fourth, and while I wouldn’t say the added pressure did him in…well…yeah I will. Now he may hit sixth all year, because he can. He’s the best offensive player on the team, or I should say, has the most upside. Without pressure, he could have a monster season. As a matter of fact, he will.

Mark Reynolds hits seventh, and he’ll strike out a ton, but he hit a 500 foot homer the other day. I mean, it was a shot. This is what you’ll get. There will be months where he doesn’t hit air, and there will be months where he’s the best player on the team.He’s going to be fun to watch, because he’s going to hit that scoreboard this year…I know it.

Lonnie Chisenhall is going to hit eighth, and he’s going to have a rookie-of-the-year type season, without being a rookie. I don’t think he’s the second coming of Jim Thome, but I do think he’s going to have a noteworthy season. He was the #1 prospect for this team for a reason. Yes, the Indians’ system hasn’t been good, but he was highly thought of across the league. This spring, he’s been calm, cool and collected, and he’s only hitting .412. He’ll struggle at times, but his solid stretches will be really good.

Drew Stubbs is hitting ninth, and provides the Indians with back-to-back lead-off hitters with Bourn leading off. If he gets right, he could be very, very good. He was a number one pick, and you can see the potential. He’s a big kid, and is the fastest player on the team (alright, sorry Mr. Bourn, maybe the second fastest). He has power to all fields, and has every tool you could want to be a big-time offensive player. He hit a shot to the opposite field that went off the wall. He just reached down and took the pitch that way without any effort at all.

The bench is led by Mike Aviles, who would start on many teams. I watched him play left the other day, and he just looks confident. He can play all over the place. Ryan Raburn is similar, with more outfield skills. I like that he came from the Tigers. He could have a chip on his shoulder. Jason Giambi may be the sleeper here. How I’ve gotten to the point of thinking that is beyond me. He’s the 25th guy on the team, and essentially another coach. Here’s the thing. Look at the lineup with Giambi in it. As yourself this: Who is the one player that could come off the bench cold and hit a home run? Giambi might not be the first guy you think of, but he would be one of your top three or four guys. He’s a pinch hitter and a spot starter, nothing more, and nothing less.

I think this offense is a top three offense in all of baseball, and could definitively argue that point.

This team is going to slow-build to a crescendo this year, and while I think they’ll be middling to begin with as they look to find their feet, they’ll be locked and loaded by July. They’ll make some moves to improve their pitching, and Terry Francona and the Indians will make a run for the division. When they win their 90th game this year, they’ll be in first place in the Central, and be in line for some 2013 playoff baseball.

The Rearviewmirror:

It appears as though David Huff, Ezequiel Carrera and Chris McGuiness are leaving town. The Indians are potentially trying to deal Huff. Carrera is being released, and McGuiness may be heading back to Texas. With that said, they all could be back to…so this is a tentative rearviewmirror today.

What are your thoughts for the season? Hey, I’m an optimist, and it’s spring, even if the white stuff is coming down near April. You can make a mountain out of a snowhill, can’t you?

Tune in on Friday for a brand new weekly column from the complex mind of one of our best writers, Steve Orbanek, called Orbiting Cleveland©. Steve is nothing if not smart, opinionated, and of course, a Duquesne grad. What do you get when you put all three together? The hell if I know, but we’ll all find out on Friday! My guess is it’s going to be the must read piece to head you into the weekend.

No pressure Steve.

It’s a beautiful day for baseball, isn’t it?

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Anomaly Johnson
March 29, 2013 - 11:01 AM EDT
I have a dumb ass cardinal that's been running into my screen door since last winter. He understands what hitting a door over and over means...
Larry
March 29, 2013 - 9:58 AM EDT
I have been a Tribe fan since the days of Rosen and Doby so I think I understand how runs are scored. I did not say they did not have a decent offense but to say it's a top three or five offense in all of baseball is absurd. Maybe we can chat again in September







offense in all of baseball i








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Jwahoo
March 28, 2013 - 10:37 PM EDT
Larry, For one that really does not say much at all. BA is one of many ways to judge a players offense.

Second, I mean we know what type of hitters they could be if they put it together. Kipnis, Santana and Ascab are all better then their stats last year.

Last, again the ".280" thing really does not say much and strikes me as cherry picking. Neither Bourn nor Swisher hit .280 last season but were both very productive players. Mark Reynolds is not going to hit .280 but thats not the type of hitter he is. I think your right that not many of the players will hit for a high average but that hardly means they won't be productive even dominate offensive players.
Larry
March 28, 2013 - 9:35 PM EDT
Of all the players you talked about only one hit over .280 last year, so to say you know what they are capable of is also a bit of a stretch
Jwahoo
March 28, 2013 - 5:00 PM EDT
I think the batting order is inspired. It just makes sense.

I think its easy for an outsider to look in and not understand why we are so excited about the offense.

The thing is we know what Kipnis, Ascab, Brantley, Santana and Chiz are capable of. This is where the offense will be made or broken. Kipnis is the most important part of the offense. We need him to step up and own the 3 hole.

Then you add in Bourn, Swisher and Reynolds. We know what Swisher should do, Bourn can be a top leadoff hitter and we need Reynolds to have a bounce back year and hit 25-30 homers.

The only guy I have not mentioned is Stubbs. I think he has enough skills that he won't hurt us but I also think he has the potential to break out in the 9th hole this season. If everything can gel right this could be a top 5 offense in baseball or at the very least a top 10.

I think we have better depth this year as well. Aviles and Raburn give us two utility guys who should at least give you around league average production. Giambi should provide walks and the ability to hit mistakes out of the park.

If someone does not work out we also have Yan Gomes and Chord Phelps down on the farm. So, if Stubbs really struggles I think Phelps could step in at some point.

Potential and depth.

I am ready for the season to start.
Larry
March 28, 2013 - 3:23 PM EDT
I just read the projected lineups on MLB.com for all the teams and to say the Tribe has a top ten lineup is a real stretch.
Tony
March 28, 2013 - 9:48 AM EDT
And here you have it.....the 2013 Indians preview as only Jim could do it. I'm ready for some baseball now!

I think a little much to say the lineup is top 3 in baseball, but no doubt it has the potential to be. I will settle for a top 10 lineup at this point considering what has been out there in recent years.

Interesting that Brantley is 5th. I know he has been hitting in that spot of late, and I may have missed it but did Francona say something about that being where he will hit? If so, interesting call. Brantley is definitely one of the best hitters and most clutch guys on the team, so hitting him there may not be a problem.

I do agree that in the end, health and the starting rotation will determine the Indians' fate this season.
Jwaho
March 27, 2013 - 9:21 PM EDT
Jim, well I really hope this is what he goes with because I honestly think its the perfect batting order for this team.
Jim
March 27, 2013 - 8:42 PM EDT
Jwahoo, I can't say for sure if this is the line-up, and I'm relatively vague on this, but at some point, Tito threw this line-up out. I don't know that he definitively said this, but at some point I was left with this impression. I don't know if it was a statement about Brantley, or about Santana, or both, but at some point this spring I was left saying, "Santana sixth?" Really?..

I do believe this to be the lineup though...but not 100% sure...
Jwahoo
March 27, 2013 - 8:22 PM EDT
I think its its pretty much the perfect batting order but I am not sure is that the on Tito said he would use? I have been anxiously awaiting what the batting order would be.

This lineup goes Left to Right all the way through. Has speed at the top, bottom and middle. Almost everyone is protected and Reynolds has 3 great on base guys hitting in front of him.
Ed
March 27, 2013 - 8:12 PM EDT
What I like about the offense is no one has to have career years, they just play up to their capabilities and stay healthy and the offense will be light years better than it has been with to many games having too many virtual "automatic outs" in the lineup. I saw Bourn a lot on TV with the Astros and he is such a fun player to watch. I think the fans will love him. The season will hinge on the SP and there are a lot of "ifs" there so we shall see. Can't wait for the live action to start.
shy
March 27, 2013 - 7:32 PM EDT
Whoa, I just noticed the copyright mark on the " bullpen blitzkrieg". Dude, yer gonna be rich, although you may have to deal with some unhappy guys with yomulkes in Cleveland Heights, perhaps you can throw them the exclusive t shirt rights. To continue along the creative line Joe Smith- the Telefunken Torpedo, Chris Perez- the Dnieper Sniper- Vinnie Pestano - Hamburg w Hi Cheese. It's a good thing Tony Sipp is gone. He would have been Berlin Over the Wall. Sorry Tony, hope u do well this year.
jwahoo
March 27, 2013 - 6:38 PM EDT
Does anyone know if that is the "official" lineup for open day?
Jwahoo
March 27, 2013 - 5:19 PM EDT
Is that lineup what you think it should be or what Tito has said it will be?

Interesting that Santana will be hitting 6th but I am a huge Brantley fan so I am fine with it. But still I would like to know will that be the "official" lineup on Opening Day?
Canadian Joe
March 27, 2013 - 3:53 PM EDT
Nice synopsis Jim. Brings everything together nicely. A side note, Sports Illustrated not totally sold on all the changes, especially pitching. Not all that surprising. But they predict a 75-87 record. Then their last sentence says they should finish above .500. Huh ???? They have to start reading IBI. They would never make a statement like that !!!
shy
March 27, 2013 - 3:28 PM EDT
Good stuff Jim. Comprehensive appraisal of the possibilities and the things still to do to get there. It's going to be a fun season. The TribeTown videos are awesome. If you have any doubts about chemistry, character, and love of the game after watching those, you don't have a heart.

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