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Ranking the 2012 Indians’ Opening Day 25-Man Roster

Ranking the 2012 Indians’ Opening Day 25-Man Roster
April 9, 2012
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With spring in the air and baseball finally back in our lives again, let’s take a crack at ranking the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster from 25th to 1st.

Without really think about it, I’m pretty sure that you would say that Shin-Soo Choo is better than Jairo Asencio, Carlos Santana is better than Aaron Cunningham, and Vinnie Pestano is better than Jose Lopez. The more interesting questions to me are toss-up questions like Justin Masterson or Jason Kipnis, Ubaldo Jimenez or Travis Hafner, and who the best and worst players on the roster are. Those are the questions I try to answer when I do these rankings.

I’ll be re-ranking the active roster at various points throughout the season, but for now, here is the Indians’ 25-man roster ranked from bottom to top.

#25 Jairo Asencio, RP

Jairo Asencio was the last man to make the Tribe’s bullpen, has only pitched 13 innings in the big leagues, and has never made the Braves’ Baseball America Top 30 prospects in his time with the club. His minor league numbers look great (1.81 ERA, 1.116 WHIP, 11.5 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9 in 54.7 AAA innings in 2011), but there’s a reason the Indians only had to give up some cash to get him this spring.

#24 Aaron Cunningham, OF

Cunningham, on the other hand, is a player with a prospect pedigree. Back in 2008, Baseball America named Cunningham the 55th best player in baseball. He has struggled mightily in his time in the Majors, but Cunningham looked good in AAA last year and could eventually figure things out. He’s not very good right now (especially judging by his arm in the opener), but there is room for growth.

#23 Dan Wheeler, RP

Signing Dan Wheeler in the offseason wasn’t the big splash fans were hoping for, but that addition will likely bare good dividends throughout the season. Wheeler is a solid pitcher that should be good pitching in the middle innings. He’s not a flashy guy, but every team needs guys to just go out and do their jobs. Wheeler is one of those guys.

#22 Jose Lopez, INF

Like Wheeler, the Jose Lopez signing elicited a negative response out of most Tribe fans. If Lopez can regain his 2008-2009 form (when he was a solid 2 WAR player), he will be a decent option in case someone gets hurt. I don’t like his low OBP and walk rate, but it’s unlikely that Lopez will have much of an impact on the Tribe’s season.

#21 Rafael Perez, RP

This may seem a little low for Rafael Perez, but as a general rule, I’m pretty low on relievers. They rarely pitch 70 innings in a full season and thus don’t have much effect on how a season goes (if you don’t believe me, go look at the bullpen configuration the Cardinals had at the start of last season). Perez is a good guy to have in the bullpen, but his declining strikeout rate has left him good but not great. I wouldn’t want to lose him, but he doesn’t have a ton of value either.

#20 Tony Sipp, RP

The same rules from above apply here too. I love what Sipp can do with his strikeout ability, but he walks too many people and gives up too many home runs. Those things tend to hurt him and the Indians at bad moments, making it hard for me to put Sipp much higher on this list.

#19 Jeanmar Gomez, SP

Gomez likely would be higher on this list if he had more experience. While I thought Kevin Slowey would win the 5th starter spot because of his contract, I was very happy to see Gomez make the team. Gomez is a pretty good pitcher that should be a back-of-the-rotation option for the Indians for the foreseeable future. He’s nowhere near Justin Verlander, but when Gomez is taking the ball, I feel good about the Tribe’s chances.

#18 Joe Smith, RP

Despite Franklin Gutierrez’s struggles in recent years, I’m still not sure I like that the Tribe traded him for Luis Valbuena and Joe Smith as a part of a three-way trade in December 2008. Mostly, I don’t know why the Indians were involved in the first place. But regardless, I like what Joe Smith was able to do last year. He’s another guy that goes out and gets the job done. The Bullpen Mafia wouldn’t be the same without him.

#17 Chris Perez, RP

This ranking is based off of Chris Perez coming into this season. It is independent of his blown save Thursday and his scoreless inning Saturday. When it comes to Perez, I remain very worried about how his strikeout rate declined so suddenly last year and if he’ll ever be able to get it back up again. If he can, then the Indians should be just fine with Perez at closer. If he can’t, well, then more days like Thursday may be on the horizon.

#16 Jason Donald, INF

Jason Donald probably has enough talent to handle being someone’s everyday second baseman; unfortunately for him, he’s blocked on this team. He’s a very useful player who works hard, but circumstances may have ended up costing him a chance at being a Major League regular (he probably would have been the third baseman last year if not for a spring injury). For now, I feel safe knowing that Donald is on the Tribe’s bench.

#15 Shelley Duncan, LF

It is quite possible that Shelley Duncan fails to establish himself as a legitimate Major League outfielder this year – after all, he has yet to do it to this point in his career. Yet, it is also possible that Duncan can play well enough to be a serviceable player. The Indians have quite a few of those average-type players, but there are worse fates to have (see: the Houston Astros).

#14 Lou Marson, C

I really wish Lou Marson had found a way to hit right-handed pitching in his career. With his plus defense and ability to hit left-handed pitching in his young career, Marson would be an above-average catcher in the Majors if he could hit righties. Alas, he has struggled terribly with it so far in his career (.188/.262/.266 slash line, .243 wOBA, 45 wRC+) and is only a serviceable catcher at most.

#13 Michael Brantley, CF

This will be a make-or-break year for Michael Brantley in my opinion. Brantley really needs to prove he can handle center field defensively because his bat does not profile well enough in left field right now. If he could get back to walking like he did in the minors (218:292 SO:BB in 2477 PA) it would help him, but what would be best for Brantley is if he can manage to stick in center field. Too bad he hasn’t been off to a fast start in that quest.

#12 Derek Lowe, SP

Last year was rough for Derek Lowe, but he should bounce back pretty well in 2012. At worst, he’ll absorb 200 innings and be someone to take the ball every fifth day. At best, he’ll be the middle-of-the-rotation veteran that is the bridge between a strong front-half of the rotation to a serviceable back. He won’t always be pretty, but Lowe will help the 2012 Indians.

#11 Josh Tomlin, SP

I think that Josh Tomlin is headed for a bit of a regression from last year’s impressive stats and is best served to be the 4th or 5th starter on a contender, but for now, the Indians will have to do with him as their 3rd starter. Tomlin is a very smart pitcher, but there’s only so much he can do with such a low strikeout rate and such a high home run rate (4.84 SO/9, 1.31 HR/9 in 2012). I love him for his lack of walks, but if the Indians want to win the AL Central and the World Series, I would like to have no possible argument for putting Tomlin at 11th on a list like this.

#10 Jack Hannahan, 3B

The same argument from Tomlin’s write-up applies to Jack Hannahan. Hannahan is a fine player that is an elite defender and so-so on offense, but the Indians need better players around him. Reliable glue players like Hannahan are very important to have, but if a team has too many of them and too few impact players, then they end up wallowing in mediocrity. I worry that the 2012 Indians are getting too close to mediocrity rather than contention.

#9 Casey Kotchman, 1B

Once again, the same argument applies. Kotchman is another guy that will be nice to have on defense, but the Tribe could be in for a long season offensively with Kotchman and Hannahan. Considering the Indians are already struggling to score runs (8 in their first 28 innings), the Tribe will need their players to start stepping up at the plate.

#8 Travis Hafner, DH

Despite all of his injuries, when Travis Hafner gets to the plate, good things happen. Sure he’s not worth $13 million and I hate having the DH spot locked down at all times, but in 2012, Hafner will help the Indians on offense. Now, whether Hafner will be healthy for 40, 80, 120 or 162 games is up for debate, but when Pronk is healthy, he makes the Indians better.

#7 Vinnie Pestano, RP

Last year, Vinnie Pestano burst on the scene and established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Bullpen Mafia. This year, I expect him to come back down to Earth a little bit, but still be a very good reliever. Personally, I would like to see him stay out of the closer role and keep pitching in high-leverage situations throughout a game, but we’ll see how the Indians choose to use him in 2012.

#6 Jason Kipnis, 2B

First off, I love Jason Kipnis. I attached to him in the same way I attached to Omar Vizquel while watching him in Akron in 2010. So I hope no one will take it the wrong way when I say that I think everyone is overrating Kipnis just a little bit. He is a very good 3-4 WAR player, but I’m not sure he’ll make an All-Star game in his career. I love Kipnis, but he’s a complementary piece on a contender, not a star.

#5 Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

Ubaldo Jimenez absolutely has the talent and ability to be #1 on this list. The question right now is if he can put it all back together like he did for the first half of 2010. Personally, I think he can and that Jimenez will end up even closer to the top of this list as the season goes on, but until he puts together a few good starts (Saturday was a great beginning), he’ll stay lower on this list.

#4 Shin-Soo Choo, RF

The same argument applies here for Shin-Soo Choo too. Choo is one of the most talented players on this team and should really be higher on this list, but a rough 2011 makes that hard. If 2011 ends up being just a perfect storm of bad situations for Choo and he rebounds into the Choo we all know and love in 2012, he will also make a strong push for the top spot on this list throughout the season.

#3 Justin Masterson, SP

Justin Masterson really broke out in 2011 and looked even better on Opening Day this year, but I still think he is best served as a #2 starter on a contender. Now, if he is consistently striking out 10 batters in 8 innings, my opinion on that will change. Since I don’t see that happening, I think the 2012 Indians will be best served by Jimenez pitching like the ace he was in 2010 as opposed to slotting behind Masterson. It’s not that way for now, but it could happen very soon.

#2 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

I love the extension that the Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Indians this spring because it wasn’t the Indians buying high on his 2011 season. It is quite likely that Cabrera will regress in the power department and will be a very good, non All-Star player in 2012. He will probably slide down these rankings as the year goes on, but Cabrera is still a key piece to the Tribe’s success in 2012.

#1 Carlos Santana, C

Last but certainly not least here is Carlos Santana, whom Grantland’s Jonah Keri named his deep sleeper for AL MVP this year. While I’m not expecting an MVP for Santana this year, there is no doubt that he is the best player on the Indians right now. He knows how to take a walk, hit for power, and should continue to get better and better. It would not be a surprise to anyone if 2012 ended up being Santana’s big breakout year a la Matt Kemp 2011.

Looking at this list, there are a few decent players (Hannahan, Kotchman, Tomlin, Lowe) that I wish were lower, but with so many questions about so many players on this team, I feel like they need to be that high for now. For the Indians to be successful in 2012, they will need quite a few things to go right with those lower people. Like if Michael Brantley breaks out in 2012, or if Chris Perez can get back to his 2010 form, then they can move up in these rankings easily and help the team. The 2012 Indians could be something special, but they will all need to play (at least) a bit better as the season rolls on.

If you want to follow Jim, he's @DarkestDiamond.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

April 12, 2012 - 8:19 AM EDT
Yeah, you obviously want a bounty in return for top end talent. Sometimes it doesn't happen because of things out of your control (injuries), something we have seen with the Lee trade. The Sabathia trade has been a disaster though because of LaPorta. That said, the Indians made up for the Sabathia blunder by getting Santana for Blake. Those kind of trades are even harder to make as you try to find undervalued guys with ML potential....and boy did they find one.
April 11, 2012 - 11:24 AM EDT
I agree that the Tribe received a few C range players. However, for CY Young pitchers I would have expected B+ personnel, at a minimum.
April 10, 2012 - 5:25 PM EDT
LaPorta, Brantley, and Carrasco were those impact guys. Carrasco was on his way to being one until the elbow injury, and if he comes back 100% probably will be a solid MOR pitcher. LaPorta has not lived up to expectations and Brantley has been on and off. Also doesnt help that Knapp has not been healthy almost his entire time in the org. The Indians did also get two valuable ML role players in Donald and Marson, which cannot be understated. The Lee trade was not nearly as bad as the Sabathia trade is looking right now. In fact, I'd grade the Lee trade as a C+ right now and the Sabathia trade a D-.
April 10, 2012 - 3:36 PM EDT
Shortly after the trades of CC and C. Lee the ESPN commentators stated the tribe should be the recipient of 2 or 3 "impact" prospects who should be contributors within 2 years. Mark Shapiro indicated he was pleased with their selections. What happened?
April 10, 2012 - 10:43 AM EDT
CIP, I think you are overvaluing Guttierez. He is a terrific defender and will run into some home runs, but look at his OPS and OPS+ in Seattle:

2009: .764 OPS, 105 OPS+ (nice year)
2010: ..666 OPS, 87 OPS+ (below average)
2011: .534 OPS, 53 OPS+

Scouts love his defense, but most consider him a fourth outfielder on a championship caliber club. I'd love to have him as the Indians 4th OF right now instead of Cunningham, though that is a very fair trade netting Joe Smith who has been more vital to the Indians success the last three years than Gutierrez would have been. A good trade for both teams, though I'd say to date the Indians have gotten the slight better end of the it.
April 9, 2012 - 10:09 PM EDT
Gutierrez struggling? 4th Outfielder? Look at the stats:

He hit .289 with 18 HR in 2009. He hit 12 HR and stole 25 bases while winning a gold glove in 2010.

I mean, support your team but don't LIE about your team. Joe Smith is a gimmick pitcher. He has had success here but he is a 6th/7th inning guy and we have already established as people dissed Putnam and Judy when we gave them away that 6th/7th innings guys are not that valuable and easily replacable. And wouldn't a healthy Gutierrez look good instead of seeing a TRUE 4th outfielder, Michael Brantley, play every day. The difference between Gutierrez and Brantley? Brantley was, at best, a 4th outfielder at the time of his trade.
April 9, 2012 - 5:57 PM EDT
Gutierrez struggles in recent years? You mean, like, his whole career?
Joe Smith is no star but gives the Indians credit - they saw Gutierrez was a fourth OF.
April 9, 2012 - 5:27 PM EDT
Good read but I would rank a few differently. First of all it would be hard for me to choose between Masterson and Santana for the top spot. Secondly Donald would be much higher in my rankings. He is a well rounded player that would be a starting 2b for alot of teams. Kipnis is definately an all-star in the making. When his defense matures he will be in the top 5 second basemen in the league. I also think that there is an argument for Gomez being better and more valuable than Tomlin. Personally I would have Tomlin along with Smith/R. Perez/Sipp and Donald on the blocks for a power bat. I think it's unfortunate that Canzler did not make the team. He would rank in the middle of the pack to start the season, but could climb quickly. I like his discipline and short, powerful swing. Trying to find a place for him defensively is the challenge. A healthy and productive Hafner changes the offensive dimension of this team dramatically and thus his ranking. He could easily be number 3 if healthy.
April 9, 2012 - 11:51 AM EDT
A more correct ranking would look like this:

25. Cunningham - Stinks
24. Asencio - - Should be Judy or Putnam on the roster
23. Wheeler - See Asencio
22. Duncan - Stinks
21. Kotchman - One year wonder
20. Jose Lopez - Valuable reserve
19. Jason Donald - Valuable reserve
18. Hannahan - Only this high because we have GB pitchers
17. Marson - Valuable reserve
16. Hafner - Taking up space and limping along to end of contract
15. Gomez - If healthy could be higher
14. Sipp - So up and down but could be a couple of slots higher with consistency
13. Joe Smith - This high only because he remains effective. Is STILL more of a gimmick guy than a true talent and should be traded at the first opportunity to get good value.
12. Lowe - We got what we paid for
11. Tomlin - If healthy, he is good for any team as the 4th starter
10. Brantley - Only this high because he is in Cleveland. On most contending teams he would be lower.
9. R. Perez - Solid
8. C. Perez - Solid and valuable.
7. Kipnis - Solid
6. Choo - Solid but not as spectacular as before
5. Jimenez - Solid
4. Pestano - Bordering on spectacular sometimes
3. Cabrera - All-star
2. Santana - All-star
1. Masterson - All-star

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