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The Infield looks bright at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

The Infield looks bright at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
February 23, 2013
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The Cleveland Indians began their quest for the playoffs yesterday afternoon during their first spring training game in Goodyear, Arizona. While spring training games mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, the view here from the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario was pretty good, as the Indians beat the Reds 11-10.

This piece was originally slotted in my normal Wednesday position, but with the three part Power Poll this week new Tribe columnist, Jake Dungan's column focusing on the Central as well, we moved it to the weekend. Jake's piece is a nice lead-in to my three-parter, which will look at the infield, outfield and the pitching as they compare to the A.L. Central. I'm not trying to rank players or positions here, but just trying to take a look at how good the Indians could be, if everything works out the way it should.

Of course, we're Indians' fans, so we know how that often ends up. 

Today, starting with the infield, I'm going to take a player-by-player look at just how good they are. Remember, infield line-ups are fluid, and the intricacies of the position battles with other teams in the Central aren't really the focus here. There certainly are some positions that are still up in the air. I decided to choose the player I thought would provide either the best chance at winning for their respective teams, or had the best upside, depending on the scenario.

In the end, the question-mark positions are just that, and actually helped solidify just how good the Indians infield truly is.

Catcher:

Player

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Alex Avila

25

DET

116

42

21

2

9

48

2

0

61

104

0.243

0.352

0.384

0.736

Tyler Flowers

26

CHW

52

19

6

0

7

13

2

1

12

56

0.213

0.296

0.412

0.708

Joe Mauer

29

MIN

147

81

31

4

10

85

8

4

90

88

0.319

0.416

0.446

0.861

Salvador Perez

22

KCR

76

38

16

0

11

39

0

0

12

27

0.301

0.328

0.471

0.798

Carlos Santana

26

CLE

143

72

27

2

18

76

3

5

91

101

0.252

0.365

0.42

0.785

 
There are really only two constants at the catcher position, and that’s Mauer and Santana. The others show a varying degree of ability and potential.
 
Alex Avila will be looking to recover some of his 2011 luster, when he hit .295 and blasted 19 homers with 82 RBI. People forget just how good he was. He clearly fell short last season after injuries and just a struggling bat. Which catcher is he? Is he the silver slugger award winner, or the struggling  stick? He’s likely somewhere in the middle. Don't forget his defense though, as that is his bread-and-butter, at the end of the day.
 
Tyler Flowers is replacing the irritating A.J. Pierzynski, which can’t be an easy thing to do since Pierzynski was a fan favorite in Chicago.  Flowers showcased some power in his limited at bats, and indicators are that he’s a better defensive backstop. Flowers isn’t a potential star, but he could add to the team in some of those tangible ways that Pierzynski just couldn’t do. He can likely call a better game, and his communication may be a step up. The personality is gone, but that may be an addition by subtraction for the Sox.
 
It’s funny how the talk surrounding Joe Mauer over the years had been that he wasn’t going to earn his keep after signing that big deal for the Twins. That may be true, and he’ll have to live that down throughout his whole career, but at the end of the day, the hometown hero had a spectacular year. He’s not getting any younger, but right now, he’s the cream of the crop with regards to catchers in the league, and the only thing that will derail him offensively is health. Is that a question? He’s only had one season in his nine-year career since becoming a regular in which he has played less than 109 games, and in all but three of his nine seasons, he’s played in 131 games or more. He’s a rock.
 
Salvador Perez is huge at 6’3” and 245 pounds, and to say that he doesn’t have star written all over him is the understatement of the century. Over the past two seasons, the youngster of the bunch has 437 at bats. Over that time period, he’s hit 24 doubles, two triples, 14 homers, 60 RBI with a slash of .311/.339/.471. His WAR over his first two seasons is a relatively spectacular 4.2. Did I mention that he’s 22? Like all catchers, the question here is whether or not he can stay healthy, but at 22, that’s an unknown. If he can, he’s going to be special. He could hit .300 in a full season. He could hit 25 homers in a full season. In other words, this is a kid to watch on an extremely talented young group in Kansas City.
 
Where does Santana fit in all of this? His numbers already stack up incredibly well, and his potential is greater than everyone on this list in 2013. He has power, a good eye at the plate, and the ability to raise his average to a much more respectable level. He hasn’t even touched how good he could be. Is he more valuable than Mauer? That’s hard to quantify, but he certainly could be. While this isn’t a ratings list, I certainly could make a case for Santana to be in line to be the best offensive catcher of this bunch next season. Defensively, he’s not there yet, but I’m excited to see what he can do in 2013.
 
You have to really be impressed with the group of catchers that are in the A.L. Central. Overall, Mauer is the oldest, and each possess incredible potential. What’s scary as an Indians fan is that Santana really could have a stretch in which he’s the best of the bunch.

First Base:

 

Player

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Prince Fielder

28

DET

162

83

33

1

30

108

1

0

85

84

0.313

0.412

0.528

0.940

Paul Konerko

36

CHW

144

66

22

0

26

75

0

0

56

83

0.298

0.371

0.486

0.857

Justin Morneau

31

MIN

134

63

26

2

19

77

1

0

49

102

0.267

0.333

0.440

0.773

Eric Hosmer

22

KCR

152

65

22

2

14

60

16

1

56

95

0.232

0.304

0.359

0.663

Nick Swisher

31

NYY

148

75

36

0

24

93

2

3

77

141

0.272

0.364

0.473

0.837

 
It’s hard not to look at this list and ponder what’s to come in 2013, and it’s an interesting look across a cross-section of players at various stages of their careers. Three guys on the list are or were legitimate MVP candidates (or MVP winners). Four guys are legitimate All-Stars, with the fifth having a boatload of potential.
 
There’s nothing to say about Prince Fielder that you don’t already know, and as Indians’ fans, doesn’t make you sick to your stomach. He’s a special player, who had an incredibly special season. He truly is one of the best hitters in the game at this point, and firmly in the prime of his career. He hit .313, with 30 homers, 100 RBI, and struck out less than he walked, and less than 100 times. Oh, yeah…he played in every game last season to top it all off. Cabrera won the MVP, but he doesn’t do it without Fielder in the lineup. You could make a really solid case that the MVP should have gone to Fielder. Can he do it again? Sure. Will he? The Tigers lineup didn’t get worse, but it’s hard to believe that he can be as efficient offensively as he was last year. He’s still the best of the bunch, and it’s a talented bunch.
 
I’m absolutely sick of Paul Konerko. That’s more a compliment to a guy who’s been doing this at his level for as long as he has. This season will be his 17th, and he hasn’t hit less than 18 homers since 1998. He started off 2012 like a man possessed, and was hitting .399 at the end of May before “struggling” to his .298 average. He had some injury issues, was beaned in the face, and elbowed in the head. He had a floating bone chip removed from his wrist, which should help him “rebound” in 2013, and is in a contract year. He’s old at 37, but can you count this guy out? Nope.
 
It’s been seven seasons now since Justin Mourneau won the MVP, and at 31, he really brings a bunch of questions to the table. He didn’t play above 81 games in 2010 and 2011, but stayed relatively healthy in 2012, playing in 134 games, his most since 2009. He had those concussion issues, and had several surgeries over the past three years in a quest to get healthy. The concussion issues continued into last season, but when he finally started to feel normal, his game really started to pick up. He hit .289, with eight homers and 39 RBI in the second half of the season, and started to look like the guy that had been missing. Can he return to MVP form? There are too many questions for that, but it’s reasonable to think that Mourneau, who is finally in game shape after failed workouts over the past three seasons thanks to the concussions, can be a better ballplayer.
 
Eric Hosmer has the potential to be something really special. He showcased that in 2011 with a .293 average, 19 homers and 78 RBI in 128 games. His 2012 seasons wasn’t as special. Was it the typical sophomore slump, or is Hosmer’s season a trend worth worrying about. His talent is unquestioned, but you always worry when you hear rumblings of “going back to basics” with a player that young. Head games can be a terrifying thing. The bet here though is that Hosmer will be a solid if not spectacular youngster heading into 2013.
 
Nick Swisher could actually produce half of what he did last year and be transcendental for the Indians lineup as a power hitting first baseman. While Swish will no doubt find time in the outfield and at DH, it looks as though the Indians are intent at playing him at first, with Mark Reynolds and occasionally Carlos Santana filling in when needed. That said, Swisher’s upgrade offensively is massive, and gives the Indians a legitimate player in the central at the first place position. He’ll never be fielder, but he certainly has the numbers to run with the rest of the players on this list. Add to that the clubhouse presence, and the Indians are markedly improved.
 
Again, the Central is loaded at first base from top to bottom. While there are questions with nearly every player not named Fielder, they aren’t major questions. Konerko’s old, but not that old. Hosmer is young, but we all know about the Soph slump. Morneau, when healthy, is a solid player who still could have a big year. Swisher has been the epitome of consistent, above-average play. Fielder? He’s just a freak right now, and far above the rest.

Second Base:

 

Player

Year

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Omar Infante

2012

30

Det/Mia

149

69

30

7

12

53

17

3

21

65

0.274

0.300

0.419

0.719

Gordan Beckham

2012

25

CHW

151

62

24

0

16

60

5

4

40

89

0.234

0.296

0.371

0.668

Jamey Carroll

2012

38

MIN

138

65

18

1

1

40

9

5

52

65

0.268

0.343

0.317

0.66

Chris Getz

2012

28

KCR

64

22

10

3

0

17

9

3

11

17

0.275

0.312

0.36

0.672

Jason Kipnis

2012

25

CLE

152

86

22

4

14

76

31

7

67

109

0.257

0.335

0.379

0.714

 
Omar Infante returned to the Tigers last year after a trade in July, bringing the middle infielder back to the fold after leaving in 2008. He provides a decent stick, solid speed and one of the best gloves in the game, who is your typical defensive-minded player who can add a bit of “pop” and circumstance when he’s playing well.
 
This will be an interesting year for Beckham, and could really be a make-or-break sort of season. The White Sox dealt for Jeff Keppinger to be in a utility role, but some insiders think that he could be a stop gap at the position should Beckham continue to struggle offensively. With Carlos Sanchez, one of their top prospects, ready to roll into the big leagues, Beckham could be history by the summer. Sure, he had the power numbers, but he hit .234 with a .296 OBP. He’s solid defensively though, so he could stick around. This could be a transitional year for the Sox though.
 
Good ole’ Jamey Carroll is the starter in Minnesota, and at 39, seems to be going strong. I’ve got nothing but props for the guy, who I hated to see go when the Indians allowed him to walk back in 2009. With that said, it’s possible that Carroll will be back in his utility role. Prospect Brian Dozier seems to be on the verge of being the regular there, but there could be a lot in play with regards to who gets the starting nod. Dozier struggled in the bigs and in the minors last year, and he may not earn his way on the team. Combine that with youngster Aaron Hicks, a potential starter in center, and Dozier may play second fiddle to the veteran presence of Mr. Carroll. Go figure.
 
Kansas City has a battle on their hands between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella. Getz missed was playing well last year before a broken thumb ended his season. He struggled with injury all year, and should get the first shot at the job. Giavotella has a solid bat in the minors, but is a terrible defensive player. His bat hasn’t translated at the bigs yet, but he hasn’t really gotten a shot long-term. It’s probably a toss-up between the two, and not a good one either.
 
I really believe that Jason Kipnis is going to have a break-out year with the Tribe, both as an offensive player, and defensively as well. He’s actually going to be hidden fairly well in this lineup, and could actually be batting third in a new-look line-up, which will give him a legit shot at 100 RBI with Bourn and Cabrera hitting in front of him. I personally don’t care where he hits, now that the Indians, on paper, have the bats to be solid, Kipnis can’t stop worrying about carrying the club and do what he does best: make things miserable for opposing teams. He’s a worker, and by all indications, his defense is becoming an asset, like I thought it would three years ago when “experts” were saying he needed to improve drastically. It’s easy to say when you don’t see how the kid works on a daily basis. Jason Kipnis is the best of this bunch, and in my opinion, it’s not even close.

Third Base:

 

Player

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

Miguel Cabrera

29

DET

161

109

40

0

44

139

4

1

66

98

0.33

0.393

0.606

Jeff Keppinger

32

TBR

115

46

15

1

9

40

1

0

24

31

0.325

0.367

0.439

Trevor Plouffe

26

MIN

119

56

19

1

24

55

1

3

37

92

0.235

0.301

0.455

Mike Moustakas

23

KCR

149

69

34

1

20

73

5

2

39

124

0.242

0.296

0.412

Lonnie Chisenhall

23

CLE

43

16

6

1

5

16

2

1

8

27

0.268

0.311

0.43

 
I’ve got nothing to say with regards to the reigning MVP other than to say that it’s hard to believe he’s only 30. He’s been around forever, and will continue to hit until they pry the bat from his hands. He is a terrible fielding third baseman, but who really cares. For the Tigers, his is the centrifuge of the team offensively. While I personally believe Fielder is the fulcrum that makes the rest of the team go, Cabrera is the most consistent offensive force in the game today, and WAR-be-damned.
 
I have no clue who is going to start at third base for the Chicago White Sox, so I through Keppinger in there since I have to believe he’s going to play somewhere. Last year’s opening day starter, Brent Morel, will also be in the mix after he suffered through an injury-riddled season in which he played in only 35 ballgames. Keppinger really isn’t anything special either, but had a season for the Rays that makes him a player this year. In a best case scenario, I could see Keppinger start the year off at third, then move to second should Morel force the issue at Triple A, and should Beckham continue to struggle at second.
 
Trevor Plouffe is a guy that not a lot of folks are talking about, but he had some solid looking numbers last season, especially in the power department. He is a shortstop by trade, but the Twins plopped him at third base last year, and he’s clearly established himself as a player with potential. Offensively, he’ll have to show more than just power though, and he’ll need to show some growth defensively as well. The Twins were shopping for a third baseman though, so you have to wonder if the Twins think he’s already at his ceiling.
 
It feels like we’ve been talking about Mike Moustakas for years, and he’s 23-years old. He struck out 124 times last year, and couldn’t draw a walk if he had a crayon. It was his first full big league season though, so you could project the power-hitting third baseman to bigger and better things in 2013. He hit 20 homers, but the .296 OBP is a concern. He hasn’t scratched the surface yet though.
 
Lonnie Chisenhall is the starting third baseman for the Cleveland Indians, and there isn’t anyone knocking on the door. The 24-year old has been at the top of the prospect lists since they drafted him, but freak injuries have curbed him from breaking out in each of the last couple of seasons. It’s distinctly possible that he’ll share some time at third with utility infielder Mike Aviles, but I have to believe that Terry Francona is going to give Chisenhall some opportunity to prove he can play everyday, especially against lefties. Chisenhall celebrated his starting gig with a two-run blast in the spring training opener against the Reds.

Shortstop:

 

Player

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

Jhonny Peralta

30

DET

150

58

32

3

13

63

1

2

49

105

0.239

0.305

0.384

Alexei Ramirez

30

CHW

158

59

24

4

9

73

20

7

16

77

0.265

0.287

0.364

Pedro Florimon

25

MIN

43

16

5

2

1

10

3

1

10

30

0.219

0.272

0.307

Alcides Escobar

25

KCR

155

68

30

7

5

52

35

5

27

100

0.293

0.331

0.39

Asdrubal Cabrera

26

CLE

143

70

35

1

16

68

9

4

52

99

0.27

0.338

0.423

 
Jhonny Peralta has been getting a lot of press over the past couple of weeks because of his link to PEDs in a recent discovery, which actually took over the press that he may be traded. Peralta reported to spring training 20 pounds lighter, and seems to be in the best shape of his life regardless. With Peralta though, he really is what he is. He struggled last season, but has some upside, even at 31. His best days are likely behind him though, and while you can expect an uptick, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s just a .240 hitter going forward.
 
Ramirez rolled out a career high 20 steals last year, he began to show signs of wear in his game. His OBP dropped to below .287, and his slugging dropped as well. His OPS was a terribe .651, and he really became a hole in that offense. I believe he is on the back-end of a decent-but-short career, but there just isn’t anyone in Chicago ready to take over.
 
Florimon is just terrible offensively, but is a spectacular glove. If he can be patient, and get on base in the .300-plus range, he could have some value, but I just don’t see it right now. If Florimon could find a way to hit .250 in the nine-hole, with a .300 OPS, he becomes a factor. If not, you’ll see the Twinkies rolling out a slew of players there as the season progresses.
 
Every time I think of Alcides Escobar, I think of that CC Sabathia trade. Mark Shapiro wanted him in the worst way, but the Brewers wouldn’t budge. It’s a good thing, as the Indians ultimately got Michael Brantley, but Escobar is special talent, especially with the glove. He’ll never be a power guy, and I just don’t ever see him hitting .290 with any regularity. He stole 35 bases though, and really is a solid overall shortstop. Just don’t expect the offense.
 
How good is Asdrubal Cabrera? He’s easily the cream of the crop here. It’s not even close. At 27, he’s young, has the best power, the most potential for average, is good defensively and hasn’t had his best year yet. Next year is Cabrera’s contract year, and I have to believe the Yankees will be eye-balling Cabrera as the heir-apparent to Derek Jeter. What scares me is that I actually believe that Cabrera could step into his shoes without missing a beat. Cabrera’s going to have a big year this season, and perhaps even his best.
 
So what does this all mean in the end? Honestly, the Indians don’t have much weakness at all in the infield, and you can argue that they have the best overall potential of all the teams, top-to-bottom.
 
Now, the Tigers have Fielder and Cabrera who alone can carry that infield offensively to numbers that other teams can’t compete with. With that said, the Indians could have something special on their hands.
 
You can make a legitimate case that they have the best or close-to-best players in the division at second, short and at catcher. Chisenhall isn’t close to Cabrera at third, but if his numbers come out second in the division to Cabrera’s, I wouldn’t be surprised.
 
First base is a bit different, as it really is a stacked slot in the Central, but Swisher/Reynolds/Santana should more than compensate the massive numbers that Fielder should slot into.
 
It’s a positive sign overall for the Tribe heading into 2013, since their infield was ripe with questions at first base, third base and catcher last year, once Santana went down with the concussion.
 
Tomorrow, my weekend Corner series will continue with a much shorter look at the outfield. How do the speedy trio of Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn compare to the rest of the league?

 

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

dick
February 24, 2013 - 4:03 AM EST
I think JP is telling us Terry is going to let Chiz have a fair shot at hitting lefties.

The new outfield has gotten a lot of publicity but the tribe infield looks pretty darned solid, especially with quality utility depth.
Jwahoo
February 23, 2013 - 4:30 PM EST
I think it really shows how much better the Central Division is then people think it will be. I mean Detriot has a nice infield obviously but the Indians and KC have have guys with loads of potential. Chicago has a couple solid guys and even KC has a couple of the better players in the game.

Detroit has the best infield on paper, but also probably the worst defense. KC has loads of potential but no one has quite what the Indians have which is no real weak spot. Every team has one spot where they either have a below average guy who a young guy whos upisde is not as high as the Indians.

A little more in depth:

1B. Tigers and Twins are the cream of the crop but Swisher can hang with everyone and actually had the second base numbers last year only to the Prince.

2B: Indians have the best potential here and its even close. Omar Infinte is a solid good player and I think Beckham is underrated (if he can get on base better than last season he will be fine still has power and glove). Twins also have an underrated guy and Getz is decent but none have the ability of KIpnis. If Kipnis can be a tick above average at second he should be an all star at some point. I see him hitting 19 homers, 40 doubles, 30 steals and hitting around .290.


SS: This one goes to the Tribe as well. Escobar has the potential to give him a run for his money but Asdrubal is only ONE YEAR older then he is. Imagine if we would have gotten Escobar and Brantley instead of Laporta for CC? Man, would that have been nice. Tribe could have traded Asdrubal for a young starter or moved im to 1B and had Swisher/Reynolds/Stubbs/Giambi form a sort of platoon of DH and Right Field with some time at 1B as well. Or we could have passed on Reynolds and signed another pitcher like Marcum. The rest of the guys cannot really compare if you ask me. Peralta is about as solid as SS come if your looking for offense but still its The Tribe here as well.

Catcher: This is a tough one. Lots of potential here with Mauer coming out on top at the end. The good thing for The Tribe and KC is that our two guys can be just as good as Mauer this season if they realize their potential. Santana has a much better chance of doing so. Lets say 24 homers and .286 average would sound just about right if he is ready to break out. I would say with Marson and Santana the Indians have the best potential out of the C position in the league. Lou Marson could still be a solid back if he can add some power, keep the walks up like last season and throw like 2011.

3B: Its obvious Miggy wins here but KC and our Tribe again have young players who could be very good and more complete players. Which one breaks out this year is anybodys guess. I could see both guys have break out years. I really think batting out of the 8th spot in the lineup Chiz will have a break out season hitting about .275 with 17 homers and alot of doubles.

Utility: I believe if you would have listed this position as well The Tribe would have come out on top, With Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn the Indians have two guys that can play all over, have experience and have been starters before this season. Aviles in particular brings alot ot the table and Raburn should help protect Kipnis and Chiz against Lefty pitching.

So, there you go we are bascally right there in every single position if you accept that Detroit has Miggy and Prince. The thing is Detroit is very very reliant on these two players along with Verlander. If one goes down they will have an uphill battle. If they have horrible horrible luck and two go down they are done. The Tribe has overall the most complete and infield although KC has the potential to be just as good.

One thing, you said Chiz would start alot vs Lefties and I think you meant Righties.

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