The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

Cleveland Indians Future: Hitters

The Cleveland Indians are currently aiming towards competing in the 2009 season. As an organization, they have many of their most important pieces already in line for Opening Day next year, but there are still many more options necessary in the long-term. With their current position players, the Indians may have very well have a chance of winning the Central Division next year, and competing in the American League. Unfortunately, their current alternatives do not look very good, as illustrated by a weak team in Buffalo filled with old stopgaps. All of the following statistics are as of the games on Sunday, July 20, so please bear with me. The following is a breakdown of all of the positions on the Major League team, and the line of succession for the future:

Catcher – Victor Martinez is set to begin baseball-related activities as early as by the end of this week, and could be on his way to a rehab assignment in Akron by the end of this month. For the time being, however, Kelly Shoppach is filling an absolute need by playing an average all-around game as the Major League catcher. Shoppach’s ceiling appears to be fading fast, and the options in both Triple-A, and Double-A are having difficulties in making the extra leap in their progression. Wyatt Toregas started the year as the catcher in Buffalo, but his line of .219/.292/.310 brought him back down to Akron in late June. Chris Gimenez had a stellar .479 on-base percentage in his time in Akron before getting the call up to replace Toregas. Gimenez has done very little to show that he is higher than Toregas on the organizational depth chart, while Toregas has hit 9 home runs in 81 at bats back in Double-A.

Catcher of the Present: Victor Martinez, currently on Indians disabled list
Back-up: Kelly Shoppach, Indians starter, and Sal Fasano, Indians back-up
The long-term future: Wyatt Toregas, Akron Aeros starter, and Chris Gimenez, Buffalo Bisons starter.

C, 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS

Cleveland Indians Hitters: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS

First Baseman – With Ryan Garko’s yearlong struggle, and the organizations desire to play Andy Marte every day, Casey Blake has ended up as the starting first baseman. Blake has been the second most productive hitter all year in Cleveland, and despite his age (he turns 35 in September), he might just be good enough to make the team again next season. Garko will be on the bench for the time being, but he should be given every possible chance to win the position back by the end of the season, pending the status of Andy Marte. Michael Aubrey has been quite average in his 39 games in Buffalo this season, while Jordan Brown has failed to maintain the offensive dominance that made him the Eastern League Rookie of the Year, and Carolina League MVP over the past two seasons. He made need one more year to fine tune his approach, while Stephen Head has been solidly consistent all season year in Akron, never letting his batting average dip below .300.

First Baseman of the Present: Casey Blake, Indians starter
Back-up: Ryan Garko, Indians situational player
The long-term future: Jordan Brown, Buffalo Bisons starter, Stephen Head, Akron Aeros starter, and Beau Mills, Kinston Indians starter

Second Baseman – Asdrubal Cabrera’s success in Buffalo has landed him back in Cleveland as the everyday second baseman. The only player that this move has directly affected thus far, is Jamey Carroll, who was seemingly right around average during his 253 plate appearances for the Indians. Carroll (turns 35 in the off-season) might very well be out of a job next season, because Josh Barfield (turns 26 in the off-season), and Andy Gonzalez are both in Buffalo (turns 27 in the off-season.) Barfield has been given several opportunities to become an everyday player in the Major Leagues with this organization, but his poor health has prevented that from happening thus far. An infield combination of Barfield, Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta is certainly within the realm of possibility for this organization, but that all hinges upon the health of Barfield. If he is stable enough whereas the Indians can trust him as the everyday second baseman, then I can see the team trying to move Peralta over to third. Until that time, however, Cabrera’s only spot on the Major League roster is at second. Josh Rodriguez has been average as well as the everyday second baseman/shortstop in Akron, but was a second-round pick out of Rice, and still has a good deal of upside.

Second Baseman of the Present: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians situational player
Back-up: Jamey Carroll, Indians back-up
The long-term future: Josh Barfield currently on Bisons disabled list, Andy Gonzalez, Buffalo Bisons starter, and Josh Rodriguez, Akron Aeros starter

Third Baseman – The Indians are giving the Andy Marte experiment one final shot. The 24-year-old third baseman, who was the corner stone of the Coco Crisp trade with Boston, has a career MLB line of .197/.256/.336 in 410 plate appearances. He needs to be on the Major League roster, and needs to play right now in order for the Indians to judge his future with the organization. If he cannot hit over .240 for the rest of the season as of right now, I doubt he will be on the team next year. The Indians do not want to have another Brandon Phillips-type situation, but they may have no choice with Marte. Casey Blake is an average starting player in the Major Leagues, and would certainly service as a nice placeholder under Wes Hodges arrives on the scene in two years. The main concern about Hodges, however, is that he has been unable to complete a full minor league season. He is a below average defensive third baseman as of right now, but should have the starting position lined up in Buffalo for next season. His arrival date in the Major Leagues is late 2009, early 2010. Morgan Ensberg was signed recently to a minor league contract, but his current numbers show that he is nothing more than a stiff.

Third Baseman of the Present: Andy Marte, Indians starter
Back-up: Morgan Ensberg, Buffalo Bisons starter
The long-term future: Wes Hodges, Akron Aeros starter, and Jared Goedert, Kinston Indians starter

Shortstop – Say all you want about Jhonny Peralta. I know that he has below average fielding range at shortstop, especially compared to former Indians defensive wizards Omar Vizquel, and John McDonald. I know that he is unlikely to hit .292/.366/.520 as he did in his first full year in the Major Leagues in 2005. I know that as a 26-year-old shortstop with over 600 games of experience, he has relatively little upside anymore. I am quite content with all of those features of the Indians shortstop, because he can be incredibly valuable to the team by just hitting. He was the 2004 International League MVP with Buffalo, and has great power from the shortstop position. Compared to most shortstops in baseball in general, he is a nice guy to have. Stop hating on him please, and just live with the fact he is not a great wizard in the field. Jorge Velandia is nothing but a utility back-up player, and besides Asdrubal Cabrera, the only other feasible long-term option as of right now is Josh Rodriguez. J-Rod has been playing every day in Akron, and switches consistently between second base, and short so as to have enough experience at both positions in case he has to a be a utility player in the Majors. He should be in Buffalo next year, with an outside chance to make the 25-man roster in 2010.

Shortstop of the Present: Jhonny Peralta, Indians starter
Back-up: Jorge Velandia, Buffalo Bisons starter
The long-term future: Josh Rodriguez, Akron Aeros starter, and Carlos Rivero, Kinston Indians situational player

Left Field – Ben Francisco will turn 27 this off-season, and just like Andy Marte, deserves extended playing time in the Major Leagues as the everyday starter in order to judge his long-term position with the franchise. He has been quite good in his somewhat limited plate appearances thus far this season in Cleveland, and should be given all of the opportunities in the world to win out the LF spot for the Indians team in 2009. Unfortunately for Francisco, however, the Indians made a trade recently for an incredible form of a hitter, without a true position. Considering the fact that left field is the easiest position to play, and holds the least liability to the defensive unit, Matt LaPorta will be a left fielder for the indefinite future. Due to his incredible upside, and pressure from the Sabathia trade, I expect LaPorta to compete for a position on the Major League roster in Spring Training 2009. He will be leaving the Akron Aeros at the end of this week to join the USA Olympic team. This experience should serve him very well for many years to come, and the tough competition should be appreciated by everyone in the organization. Johnny Drennen, most famous for hitting a home run off of Roger Clemens during his rehab assignment in June 2006, should be up in Akron next year. He will only be 22-years-old, meaning he still has a lot of potential to grow as a complete Major League-type player.

RF, CF, LF, and DH

Cleveland Indians Hitters: RF, CF, LF, and DH

Left Fielder of the Present: Ben Francisco, Indians starter
Back-up: David Dellucci, Indians situational player
The long-term future: Matt LaPorta, Akron Aeros starter, and John Drennen, Kinston Indians starter

Center Field – This is the one position in the organization that really does not matter one bit. Grady Sizemore is one of the most indispensable players in the Major Leagues right now, and has clearly been the only offensive star on the Indians this season. He is practically a guarantee to have a line of .270/.360/.480, 25 home runs, and 25 stolen bases every single season. Brad Snyder, and Trevor Crowe used to be very important prospects in the organization, but assuredly Sizemore’s presence on the Indians has stunted their combined growth. Snyder is currently in his second full season in Buffalo, but at age 26, and with a career minor league strikeout to walk ratio of 2.48/1, he seems to have very limited Major League upside. Crowe, is a former first-rounder, who is just started to recover from the devastating effects of a temporary switch to second base during the 2006 season. He is currently hitting .315 with a .397 on-base percentage, and 12 stolen bases in 44 games with Akron this season. His first-round label, and impressive numbers this year make him a favorite among all of these players to be dealt within the next week or two for more starting pitching. The Indians look a lot weaker in the pitching department than they do in terms of offense, and could definitely use some big-time starting pitchers in the minor leagues.

Center Fielder of the Present: Grady Sizemore, Indians starter
The other people that don’t matter: Brad Snyder, Buffalo Bisons starter, and Trevor Crowe, Akron Aeros starter

Right Field – Between Franklin Gutierrez (25-years-old), and Shin-Soo Choo (26-years-old), the Cleveland Indians hope to have a consistent everyday Major League right fielder. Gutierrez has failed to accomplish much in his year, and a half as the Indians right fielder, and currently ranks among the least productive players in the Major Leagues in 2008. Shin-Soo Choo returned last month from elbow surgery he had performed in September of 2007, and has been much more productive in his time with the Indians this season. Many fans want to believe that Choo could be a #1 or #2 hitter for the team in the long-term future, as an everyday right fielder. Time will tell if the South Korean can live the strenuous life of an everyday player in the Major Leagues, but he should be the favorite as of right now to emerge with the job going into Opening Day 2009. An intriguing spot in the organizational report comes in the form of 2001 first-round pick, and Hawaiian native Bronson Sardinha. The 25-year-old right fielder was actually on the New York Yankees post-season roster last season, but was then released by the Triple-A affiliate in the Seattle Mariners organization earlier this year. He has been very good in his time as an everyday outfielder with Akron, and should be given a chance to at least compete with Gutierrez, and Choo in spring training. At the very least, he will provide those two with a little more incentive to train harder in March, and will occupy the starting right fielder spot in Buffalo next season.

Right Fielder of the Present: Franklin Gutierrez, Indians starter
Back-up: Shin-Soo Choo, Indians situational player
The long-term future: Bronson Sardinha, Akron Aeros starter, and Cirilo Cumberbatch, Kinston Indians starter

Designated Hitter – In addition to all of the players already identified in this organizational report, there are a handful of players within the Indians system that are truly better suited to being a designated hitter for a Major League team. Travis Hafner leads this bunch, but it is currently unknown when/if he will return to the Cleveland Indians. More likely than not, Hafner will be unable to repeat the success he had with the Indians from 2004-2006, and will be somewhat disappointing for all fans expecting “Pronk” to be a cornerstone of this franchise’s future. David Dellucci has certainly been no better than Hafner for the Indians, but I would love to see the Indians dispose of him the off-season to make room for Gutierrez, Choo, Francisco, and possibly another outfielder to join the Major League club. Michael Aubrey has been average in time split between Akron, Buffalo, and Cleveland this season. Although it is very warming to see the former first-round pick remain healthy for a full baseball season, his numbers certainly are not stellar enough to consider him as an everyday Major League player. The bright star in this group of players is Nicholas Weglarz, another defensively-limited offensive power who has been the most valuable player for Kinston this season as a 20-year-old designated hitter/left fielder with a line of .280/.404/.455. Expect Weglarz to take the ‘I can hit, but not do anything else’ role away from Matt LaPorta in Akron next season, and because of his age, don’t be surprised to hear his name on the Major League radar for 2010, and beyond.

Designated Hitter of the Present: Travis Hafner, currently on Indians disabled list
Back-up: David Dellucci, Indians situational player
Long-term future: Michael Aubrey, Buffalo Bisons starter, Matt Whitney, Akron Aeros starter, Nicholas Weglarz, Kinston Indians starter, and Roman Pena, Lake County starter

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July 24, 2008 - Posted by | Cleveland Indians Future | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Add Michael Brantley to the list! But where will he play? LaPorta will be in left, Sizemore in center, maybe we’ll just have to wait for Shin-Soo to play a full-season as a major league starter. If Choo can’t do put up the numbers Brantley has throughout his minor league career (.370/3/55/38), then I say give Brantley a chance. He has every tool necessary to be a successful top-of-the-order player. The only problem is that Choo hit 14 homers in only 317 at-bats this year, so Brantley sure as heck get on base an awful lot in Columbus next year, and ultimately Cleveland. A pretty problem to have, though.

    Comment by Aaron | October 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. I would not say that it is a guarantee for LaPorta to even make the roster in Spring Training next year. Sure, expectations will be insanely high and the organization will be an immense amount of pressure to push him up to the team, but with the success of Shoppach, Choo and everyone late at the end of the year, I just do not see where they will put him on the roster. All of that, I believe, depends upon Hafner’s health. If he can swing a bat come March, he will find his way on to the 25-man roster over LaPorta because of his track record, even if he is only hitting around .200. That is just the way it will work with Pronk..

    Absolutely this is a great problem to have. Watch out for some new commentary on this predicament coming soon.

    Comment by Jacob Rosen | October 13, 2008 | Reply


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