Nick Swisher never said this, but you have to wonder if he welcomed the move from right field to first base, if for no other reason than there are more people to talk to at first. Fortunately for the Indians, Swisher does more than talk. He has been remarkably consistent at the plate, hitting between 21-29 home runs and amassing between 69-95 RBI the past eight seasons. His relentless enthusiasm is even more consistent.
It’s easy to forget that Jason Kipnis has spent only one full season in the big leagues. He went from minor-league outfielder to polished second baseman and accomplished hitter and base-runner in what seems like an instant. But Kipnis wasn’t happy with the way he finished the season and vowed to do better. If you’re talking numbers, that means hitting more than 14 homers and 22 doubles, driving in more than 76 runs and stealing more than 31 bases. Hitting in the middle of a more balanced and potent lineup than last year’s, Kipnis’ evolution as a hitter should continue.
Two second-half slumps in a row have taken some of the gloss off Asdrubal Cabrera’s reputation. Whether he becomes fatigued after the All-Star break (as former manager Manny Acta said) or he loses interest when the Tribe falls out of contention, Cabrera has not been the same over the final three months of the schedule. Cabrera came to camp looking to be in the best shape of his career, and he remains a dangerous hitter who can steal a base. Some people complain about his range at short, but if Cabrera gets to the ball, he will throw the runner out, and he is adept at making the double play.
After a couple of false starts — owing to the defensive prowess of Jack Hannahan — Lonnie Chisenhall can finally call third base his own. The question is whether he is the long-term answer at the position. Nobody hit the ball harder and with more consistency in spring training than Chisenhall. Whether he can carry that through the season remains to be seen. But this is what he’s been waiting for, and he seems determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Northeast Ohio fans (and Tribe officials) have been waiting for Carlos Santana’s breakout season at the plate. Last year, he struggled when Acta and the coaching staff tried to simplify his swing and cut out much of the movement. They might have been correct in theory, but Santana couldn’t adapt to the changes. This year, he basically will be permitted to use a swing that is most comfortable for him. It’s unfair to expect Santana to ever be a .300 hitter, but this is the season he needs to fulfill that 20-plus home run potential.
Michael Brantley looked bigger and stronger when he came to camp. He denied being bigger, other than to say he hasn’t lost weight yet, like he does every season. Regardless, he has hit the ball like a bigger, stronger guy. Does that mean he is on the verge of becoming a home run threat? Even if he’s not, Brantley has become a consistently good hitter, and he is part of the Tribe’s group of speeders.
Michael Bourn has the reputation of being one of the major league’s best center fielders if not the very best. He also is a threat to steal 40-50 bases and can score runs in bunches as the leadoff batter. He represents the focal point of an outfield that should allow very few fly balls to touch grass. Bourn also can be a compelling personality in the clubhouse.
Drew Stubbs, like Brantley and Bourn, can run like the wind. Stubbs might even be the fastest member of what must be the quickest outfield in the big leagues. He is new to right field, but that won’t last long. Stolen Bases R’ Stubbs probably should be painted on his shoes, and he also can power balls out of the yard. But there is a downside: Stubbs will strike out frequently, so get used to it.
Mark Reynolds also strikes out a ton. He and Stubbs conceivably could amass 400 between them. But there is more to Reynolds (and Stubbs) than swings and misses. The trade-off with Reynolds is that in three of the past four seasons, he has hit 30 or more home runs. He also can play a mean first base, just in case Swisher needs a day off or gets hurt.
You had to ask. If the Indians’ rotation included Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, fans could order their World Series tickets right now. It’s not inevitable that the rotation will fail, it’s just that most of the starters have had lousy track records the past year or more. That includes Justin Masterson, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Brett Myers wasn’t even in a rotation last year, having spent all season in the bullpen. But as the Tribe’s deep thinkers like to say, he’s been a starter for most of his career. At least Zach McAllister showed significant improvement in his first full big-league season last year. The hopeful thing is that despite their struggles, Masterson, Jimenez and Kazmir have live arms and have the skill to turn their seasons around. In addition, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be prepping in Columbus for a chance to return to the majors.
It might be the best in the game. Closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith could not reasonably have been expected to do more than they did in 2012. Can they do it again? No reason why not, barring injury. Moreover, Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone could develop into major contributors.
Lou Marson is solid as the backup catcher; Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles both are versatile defenders with the potential to help the offense; Jason Giambi is 42 and might or might not have something left at the plate. But he will be THE MAN in the clubhouse.