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A Look Ahead: The 2015 Cleveland Indians

February 19, 2011
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Blades of grass are starting to peak from mounds of snow.  The pop of a fastball into a catcher’s mitt can be heard all around Arizona and Florida.  The crack of bats will soon follow.

Spring Training has arrived for Major League Baseball.  It is a time when hope springs eternal for each and every team.  It is a mantra that holds truer in some cities more than in others.

Cleveland is one of the others.  Of course they absolutely can contend this year.  If the San Diego Padres could do it in 2010, the Cleveland Indians can do it 2011.  But let’s be honest, Indian contention will require a minor miracle from the baseball gods.  More than likely, this is going to be a development year for the Indians.  And that is OK.  Development is fun as long as there is progression.

The story lines for most fans are already well known.  Can Fausto Carmona avoid a Bret Saberhagen-like yo-yo career and string together two solid years?  Will this year prove Justin Masterson is better suited as a starter or reliever?  Can Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana make complete recoveries from their injuries?  Will Matt LaPorta take a step forward to become the hitter he was expected to be?  Can Michael Brantley prove to be consistent?  When will Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis crack the lineup?

These story lines and a whole lot more will be covered over the course of spring training and the coming 162 games.   But for something a little different, and in keeping with the hope springs eternal theme of this time of year, lets take a look at organizational development.

What will the Indians everyday lineup and pitching staff look like in 2015?

Of course this is purely speculative and a lot can change.  Injuries affect the equation.  As do trades and developmental surprises.  So too could a, ahem, free agent signing or two.  But for such a young organization, looking ahead to see how the team is going to develop is eminently possible.  Such a practice could even help point out potential weaknesses that will need to be fortified.

So without further ado, the 2015 Cleveland Indians:

Starting Pitchers: Carlos Carrasco, RHP; Drew Pomeranz, LHP; Alex White, RHP; Matt Packer, LHP; Jason Knapp, RHP; Closer: Chris Perez, RHP

Pitching in this type of exercise contains more speculation than positional players.  Injuries strike pitchers much harder.  For the Indians, speculation is even more difficult based on the outstanding depth they have in the system.  In 2015, Carmona will be long gone, probably by selling his soul to the devil in pinstripes.  So too should everyone else in the rotation this year with the exception of Carrasco.  He’ll still be a year away from free agency.  If he pitches to the potential he showed in September of 2010, he’ll be a very good starting pitcher in 2015.

Pomeranz and White are on this list based on their draft position.  Packer is here based on his performance last year in the minors when Jonathan Mayo of named him the organizational pitcher of the year.  Knapp is the big wild card.  He is on this list based on his pre-injury projection.   He is one of the few pitchers in the organization with the potential to be an elite number one starter at this point in their development.  For the Indians to be successful in the years to come, Knapp will need to reach that pre-injury projection, or someone will need to match that projection.

Picking through the relievers is an almost impossible proposition at this point.  The closer may still be Chris Perez.  2015 is his free agent year, if arbitration hasn’t made him too expensive for the Tribe to keep around by then.  Perez should be one of the most dominant closers in baseball.  If Perez is gone, perhaps White will be given the chance to close or, even better, Nick Hagadone, providing a quality return from the Victor Martinez trade.

Santana, C; LaPorta, 1B; Kipnis, 2B; Tony Wolters, SS; Chisenhall, 3B; Brantley, OF; LeVon Washington, OF; Nick Weglarz, OF; Chen-Hsui Chen, DH

Santana may be moved to designated hitter or first base because, like Martinez before him, the Indians may decide to protect his body from significant wear and tear.  However, at this point he is too valuable as a catcher to move to another position.  Chen is a catcher who has a nice bat but projects as a defensive liability at this point in his development.  Conceivably Santana or Chen could be moved to first base, but here’s hoping the slow start to LaPorta’s career is due to injuries and not an inability to transition his talents to the Major Leagues.  Kipnis and Chisenhall look to be well established in the infield by 2015.  Wolters looks to be a solid shortstop prospect that should be ready to replace Asdrubal Cabrera at the start of the year.  Brantley and Washington should make up 2/3 of a very athletic outfield with Werglarz rounding out the trio.

Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  But the Indians future does look bright, particularly if Knapp or someone else develops into a dominant rotation ace and LaPorta and Weglarz provide the power that looks to be a little short at this point in the projection.  At any rate, it should be fun to watch over the coming years all the twists and turns that await the Tribe.

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