A Look to the Future: Your 2013 Cleveland Indians

Well, I hope that everyone had a good holiday weekend. I don't know about you guys, but the weather here in Chicago has been nothing short of beautiful the past couple days. And frankly, that's kind of weird for Chicago, so it's been a pleasant surprise. 

There's been a whole lot of focus lately here on the LeBron James sweepstakes and whether he'll come over to Chicago along with Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, but I'm guessing that fans in Cleveland don't share nearly the same excitement. LeBron seems like almost a lock to leave now, and that's something that will probably set the Cavaliers back for a couple years. Oh, and the Cleveland Indians? Maybe they didn't want to take any attention away from LeBron or anything, because they went into the tank almost immediately, and currently sit 11.5 games back of the Twins with a 32-48 record. 

They have the second-worst run differential and winning percentage marks in the AL. They have baseball's sixth-worst offensive according to wOBA, only the Orioles have a worse xFIP as a team, and while DRS grades out their defense as above-average, UZR is in complete disagreement, calling them by worse the worst defensive team in the game so far. So yeah, the Indians haven't exactly been anything to get excited about this year. But what about 2013? Me thinks that we should give it a look.

As a healthy reminder, I'd just like to mention that these lineups DO NOT include any sort of speculated free agent, trade or draft acquisitions that could happen before the 2013 season, and one could almost be guaranteed that by the time that 2013 comes, each team will have acquired some new players through free agency, trades and/or the draft. That being said, these are still exceptionally useful looks at how the teams will look by 2013, so we can have a better idea of what kind of players each organization is lacking in, and which players they'll be more likely to target through free agency. Like, as commenter backtocali noted on Baltimore's post, the Orioles could possibly look to sign a Prince Fielder-type to make the 1B/DH situation a bit easier to deal with, as he'd be an obvious upgrade on Snyder/Reimold and with so many young players presumably there should be a good amount of payroll flexibility, too. But for this exercise, we're sticking purely with players that are either in the organization already or have been drafted this year with a reasonable likeliness of signing (so yeah, there's no Zach Lee for the Dodgers. Sorry). Additionally, after the trade deadline I'll probably do a few posts covering how trades changed these outlooks, particularly on teams where impact prospects could be dealt or acquired.

Here are links to the previous installments on the 2013 Orioles and the 2013 Pirates, if you missed 'em. Otherwise, let's take a look at what Chris Antonetti could have to work with in 2013.

The Starting Lineup.

Catcher: Carlos Santana, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB

Partially overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg and Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana has been everything that we expected from Matt Wieters upon reaching the majors...   and more.

A prodigious switch-hitter that combines a patient, selective approach with huge raw power and impressive hitting ability, Santana has been nothing short of a monster in his debut this season, already accumulating 1.4 wins in value in his first 21 games. After coming over to Cleveland during his breakout season in the maligned Casey Blake trade, Santana established himself as one of the best prospects in baseball: a potential impact hitter at a premium defensive position. 

He's done nothing to disappoint so far, flashing his big-time power (4 HR, 9 2B, .313 ISO) and an impressive approach (17/13 BB/K ratio) as the Indians' No. 3 hitter, a role that he'll presumably fill for a long time. I don't know about you guys, but it looks like Joe Mauer might actually have some worthy competition for the title of baseball's best catcher pretty soon.

First Base: Matt LaPorta, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: MLB

Another major piece acquired through trade, LaPorta needed one more trade, that of veteran Russell Branyan, in order to free up an everyday job for him at the major league level. The 25-year-old University of Florida product has underwhelmed in his MLB career thus far, but his continued dominance of Double-A and Triple-A pitchers offers many reasons to be optimistic about the slugger's future. 

After putting up an essentially league average line in 198 plate appearances with the club last season, LaPorta struggled in the early portion of this season before losing his job to Branyan altogether, which led to his demotion to Triple-A Columbus. He promptly went on a tear, forcing Cleveland's hand as they dealt Branyan to free up a spot for LaPorta.

A right-handed power hitter with a solid approach, the likeliness that LaPorta becomes an impact slugger like once projected decreases every day, but there are still a whole of things to like about LaPorta's game. Maybe he's disappointed a little since coming over as the centerpiece of the Sabathia deal, but there's still reason to believe that the Indians have found a good everyday first baseman for the foreseeable future.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Double-A

Cleveland's second-round pick from the 2009 draft, Kipnis started his career in the outfield after spending most of his time there at Arizona State, but began a transition to second base this season. 

After excelling offensively in just over 50 games with Advanced Single-A Kinston, Kipnis was promoted to Double-A last month, and he's actually improved upon his numbers during his stint with Akron. Known as a good contact hitter with a patient approach and fantastic on-base skills, that's been reflected well in his minor league numbers, given his .304/.388/.484 combined line for this year. 

He's still a work-in-progress at second base, but he's giving the team some reasons to believe that he'll be good enough to stick there given his offensive abilities. Kipnis likely have to move to an outfield corner if he can't stick at second base, which should dim his rising star a good deal as his bat may not play there, but he has a ton of upside as an offense-first second baseman.

Other possibilities here could be Kipnis' double-play partner in Akron, shortstop Carlos Rivero, and current Indians 2B options like Luis Valbuena, Jayson Nix and Jason Donald

Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

Considered by most to be Cleveland's best prospect outside of Santana coming into the season, Chisenhall has had an underwhelming 2010 but still came in at No. 18 on Keith Law's most recent Updated Top-25. A lot of people considered Chisenhall an overdraft when the Indians took him 29th overall in the 2008 draft, but he quickly quieted most of the concerns with an impressive full-season debut last year.

Regarded as having one of the best pure swings in the minor leagues, the former shortstop still has work to do with his approach and he hasn't fully tapped into his raw power yet, but he could emerge as a legitimate impact hitter once everything comes together. You'd like to see more walks (7.8% BB%), but it's not nearly as worrisome when his strikeout rate is just under 15%. He started to heat up in June after missing a couple weeks with a sore shoulder, and a big second-half from the JuCo product wouldn't be all that surprising.

Chisenhall is probably one of the most difficult prospects to gauge in the game right now, as you'd like to see more results from someone who keeps turning in solid scouting reports, but right now he's pretty clearly Cleveland's third baseman of the future. Sorry, Andy Marte.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: MLB

One of the more established players in the lineup, Cabrera's 2013 season could be his last with the club as he'll be a free agent after its completion. Cabrera emerged with the club as a second baseman a couple years ago after coming over in the pathetically lopsided Eduardo Perez-for-Cabrera deal of 2006, and he forced incumbent Jhonny Peralta off of shortstop permanently last season. 

A near-average defender at shorstop, Cabrera provides most of his value with his defensive adequacy and quality offensive efforts. A good contact hitter with an approach that's improved over the years, Cabrera offers a good deal of value through a solid OBP and decent gap power. He batted .308 in 2009 on the heels of an unsustainable .360 BABIP, but he offered a glimpse of some power potential with 42 doubles.

Cabrera will likely always be limited by his defense and lack of power, but a solid defensive shortstop that can get on base and hit a few doubles is always going to be a quality player, so Cabrera shouldn't have a tough time finding a job over the next few years. 

Realistically, guys like Rivero and Donald probably aren't going to take Cabrera's job from him.

Left field: Trevor Crowe, Opening Day 2013 Age: 29, Current level: MLB

We might as well put "external acquisition" here, because frankly there just aren't any obvious options for this spot. Maybe you put one of Valbuena/Nix/Rivero/Donald at second base and move Kipnis to left field, but I think that the Indians are pretty committed to seeing if Kipnis can stick at second base right now.

Of the options at my disposal, essentially guys like Crowe, Wes Hodges, Beau Mills, and Jordan Brown assuming that Nick Weglarz is used at DH, I thought that Crowe's OBP/defense combination outweighed the superior power potential of the latter three players. A center fielder by trade, Crowe has played the position on-and-off the past couple years due to the presence of Grady Sizemore, but there's little reason to believe that his glove wouldn't play out as plus if moved to left field full-time. 

His power is minimal at best, but he's a high-contact hitter with a willingness to take pitches. He's got a career OBP of .360 in the minor leagues, including a .354 mark in Triple-A. He's also a solid baserunner capable of stealing 20+ bases a year, he's already 16-for-18 on stolen base opportunities so far as an Indian. Crowe is probably the most underwhelming guy on this list, though, and I think that most Cleveland fans would probably be disappointed to see Crowe in their 2013 lineup barring an unforeseen breakout from the team's first-round pick from 2005.

Center field: Michael Brantley, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: MLB

Brantley is presumably celebrating his Fourth of July in style, as the Indians announced today that they're calling him up to replace Shin-Soo Choo on the roster as the star right fielder takes a trip to the disabled list with a sprained right thumb. 

Brantley was another key cog in the Sabathia/LaPorta trade, and frankly he could end up being the best player that the Indians receive. A decent defender in center field, Brantley is a prototypical leadoff hitter with good contact skills, a willingness to take walks, and exceptional base-stealing ability. Brantley comes to Cleveland after putting up a .315/.391/.407 line in Triple-A that was actually far better a few days ago, as he's struggled in July after killing the ball in the minors for the first three months. 

A former seventh-round pick out of a Florida high school, Brantley actually started this year with Cleveland but was sent down after putting up a .156/.229/.188 line in 9 games, a far cry from the .313/.358/.348 line he put up in 121 PA with the big league club in his debut last season. 

That being said, Brantley likely won't become Cleveland's center fielder until 2013 anyways, as the Indians still have Grady Sizemore (remember him?) under contract through 2011 with a 2012 club option. But he'll likely find a spot in their lineup long before then, as his combination of defense, speed and on-base skills should make him a very valuable asset before long.

Right field: Shin-Soo Choo, Opening Day 2013 Age: 30, Current level: MLB

Like with Andrew McCutchen, it might be more useful to use this space solely to show the world how good Choo is.

Choo came over to the Indians from Seattle in exchange for, uh, Ben Broussard, back in 2006, and immediately established himself as a star-quality outfielder upon receiving everyday playing time in 2008. In just 370 PA covering 94 games, Choo put up a 2.9 WAR that was good for fifth-best among AL right fielders. He managed to build on that with a 5-win season in 2009, the best mark for any AL right fielder and a top-15 mark among AL position players. 

The Korean slugger is a truly special hitter, one who's capable of hitting .300 with loads of walks and extra-base hits, which is how he ended last season as the AL's best offensive outfielder and sixth-best hitter in general. Factor in that he's a very good baserunner (33-for-39 on steals in 2009/2010) and a solid defender in right field (+2.2 career UZR/150), and you have arguably the most underrated player in the American League.

With the emergence of Carlos Santana, the Indians found themselves a cornerstone. But it's not like they didn't already have one in Choo.

Designated hitter: Nick Weglarz, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Triple-A

A former third-round pick from 2005 selected right after Baltimore pitching prospect Brandon Erbe, Weglarz is a classic three-true-outcomes slugger. Given his size, left-handed swing and skill set, Weglarz has received some Jim Thome comparisons over the years, but constant injuries have somewhat hampered his development.

Despite the injuries, Weglarz has already made his way up to Triple-A Columbus and at age 22, he's still pretty young as far as being a prospect goes. Weglarz started this season repeating Double-A, but after a few weeks with a .285/.383/.511 line, he was called up to Columbus, where he's still got a high walk rate but he's seen a solid decline in his batting average and power production.

Like Thome, defense is similarly going to be an issue with Weglarz, as he'll likely be relegated to being a left fielder or first baseman, and he's not likely to be an asset defensively at either position. But lucky for him, and the Indians, he could be a perfect long-term fit as Travis Hafner's replacement, where he wouldn't be able to offset his huge offensive potential with some ugly defensive efforts. 

If the bat doesn't come through, Weglarz is essentially a non-prospect. But his combination of power and patience is pretty unique, and there are reasons to believe that Weglarz could become an impact hitter if he can stay healthy. 

The Starting Rotation.

No. 1: LHP Drew Pomeranz, Opening Day 2013 Age: 23, Current level: Unsigned first-round pick

No. 2: RHP Alex White, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

No. 3: RHP Carlos Carrasco, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Triple-A

No. 4: RHP Justin Masterson, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: MLB

No. 5: RHP Hector Rondon, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Triple-A

First off, I'd like to say that choosing five guys to slot into Cleveland's 2013 rotation was really, really hard.

Not because there were no options, but because of the nature of the options. The Indians have guys with ace-upside, like Nick Hagadone and Jason Knapp, but they're both battling durability and injury issues that put their entire status as starting pitchers in question. In the end, I just couldn't include either one, as I felt that there are just too many question marks surrounding their abilities to remain in the starting rotation long-term.

Let's look at who I did include, though, starting with Cleveland's first-round pick from this year's draft, lefty Drew Pomeranz. Regarded as the best college pitcher in the draft, and considered a possible option at No. 2 behind Bryce Harper before some injury concerns cropped up, the Indians snapped up the Ole Miss product with the fifth overall pick. He has yet to sign with the club but is expected to before the August deadline passes, and will immediately become one of the better prospects in Cleveland's farm system. Armed with a low-90's fastball, a power curve and a developing change-up, Pomeranz flashed impressive poise and polish to go along with three pitches that have the potential to be above-average. With the build of a workhorse, at least two pitches that project as plus, and enough command to make it all work, Pomeranz has the look of a truly high-quality left-handed starter.

Like Pomeranz, White was a college pitcher selected in the first-round by the Indians, although he was taken ten picks later, with the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft. After some early reports came out that the Indians would try using White in the bullpen, he made his full-season debut in the starting rotation this year and has already made it to Double-A, where he's currently showing off a 1.72 ERA in his first 8 starts. His peripherals aren't nearly as impressive, though, as his 4.48 FIP in Double-A shows. He's still clearly a work-in-progress, but one good sign would have to be his groundball rate, which sat at 52.8% with Advanced Single-A Kinston and sits at 57.8% so far in Double-A. With all of that said, though, White still has top-of-the-rotation upside if he can develop more consistency. And that's certainly nice to see from an organization that took the likes of Adam Miller, Brad Snyder, Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, John Drennan, Trevor Crowe, David Huff and Beau Mills with eight consecutive first-round picks.

Carrasco is an absolute enigma, an exceptionally talented pitcher that's so erratic and inconsistent that it's really difficult to gauge what kind of pitcher he'll become in the near-future. He was a key piece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and has the raw stuff to be a No. 3 starter or better, but there have been legitimate questions about his poise and inconsistency. It's not surprising to see why Cleveland wanted him, the guy was ranked No. 41, No. 54 and No. 52 in three consecutive years on BA's Top 100 as evaluators hoped that he'd get past those issues. The thing is, despite those issues, Carrasco has actually pitched pretty well in the minors. In 2008, split between Double-A and Triple-A, Carrasco put up a 9.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 47% GB rate and a 3.59 FIP in 155 innings. In 2009, split between the Triple-A affiliates for Philadelphia and Cleveland, he put up an 8.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 41% GB rate and a 3.71 FIP in 160 innings. Carrasco has continued to pitch well in Triple-A this season, he's had a pretty unlucky HR/FB so far which has hurt his numbers, but the Indians have yet to give Carrasco another opportunity after four ugly starts in his MLB debut last season. If Carrasco can get things figured out, he could end up being one of the best pitchers on the team. It's just that people have been wondering when Carrasco would figure it out for years.

Masterson will be the grizzled veteran in Cleveland's projected 2013 rotation, as he's been in the majors since early in the 2008 season. A sinkerballer with a very, very pronounced platoon split, many evaluators have projected the bullpen as Masterson's eventual destination given his struggles with left-handed hitters. But here we are in mid-June, and Masterson is sitting pretty with respective FIP and xFIP marks of 3.86 and 3.91 in his first 16 starts on the season. His command continues to be underwhelming, as he's walking roughly 4 guys per 9 innings, but he's shown the ability to miss bats and, more importantly, he's been churning out grounders like nobody's business. On the season, Masterson is one of just two qualified starting pitchers with a groundball rate over 60% right now, with his 64.2% trailing only Tim Hudson's crazy 67.8% rate. Even with his struggles against lefties, Masterson has the looks of an effective starter with his abilities to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground.

If one of those high-upside guys actually comes close to his potential by 2013, Rondon would probably be the first casualty in the rotation. The Venezuelan native's upside is fairly limited by inconsistent offspeed stuff, but he's got enough fastball and command to make it work in the starting rotation. It also helps to have a track record of success like Rondon's, as he's never put up an FIP mark over 3.9 in any full season thanks to consistently good strikeout and walk numbers. But things really peaked for Rondon last season, as he put up a 3.11 FIP in 150 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A to emerge as one of the team's best young pitchers. He struggled early this season with home runs, I suppose that happens when you have a HR/FB over 25%, but it's likely that he wasn't totally healthy then as he's been on the DL since mid-May with forearm pain. At this point, the injury might be a bigger concern than the performance, because Rondon definitely had the looks of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter coming into this season.

Closer: LHP Nick Hagadone, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: Double-A

I'm certainly not suggesting that the Indians should give up on Hagadone as a starter now, but realistically this is probably his most likely destination. The questions have never been about Hagadone's stuff, his fastball/slider combination is absolutely devastating when he has any command of it. Rather, it's a combination of durability questions, a track record of injury issues, inconsistent command and the lack of a quality third offering. The durability issues are pretty obvious, the guy has a fairly violent delivery and he threw just 57 innings in his first two professional seasons combined. And of course, those durability issues stem from obvious injury concerns, as Hagadone had Tommy John surgery in early 2008 and has taken a fairly long time to return to 100%. Inconsistent command is always a symptom of pitchers returning from TJS, but Hagadone's clearly having a tough time getting past it. He's walked 69 batters in 107 innings since returning from TJS, including 45 walks in 60 innings split between Advanced Single-A and Double-A in 2010. Factor in that his change-up is still mostly a show-me pitch at this point, and Hagadone would seem to be pretty far away from making a big league rotation, especially when you consider that he's already 24. In April, after seeing him pitch, Frankie Piliere mentioned that Hagadone has the look of "a potentially dominant reliever at the back of a bullpen" given his raw stuff and the lengthy strides he would need to take to take on a starter's role. It might not be what the Indians had in mind when they made him a key piece of the Victor Martinez deal, but it's presumably something they'd take, as Hagadone could become an elite closer down the line.

All statistical information is courtesy of FanGraphs.com and MinorLeagueSplits.com, and all of the contract information is courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

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