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2012 MLB Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Prospect to Watch

It’s no secret that the Indians have perhaps the worst minor league system in all of baseball right now. They do have some talent, but much of it comes by way of the 2011 draft. In other words, help is a long ways off.

Canzler headlines the group of players that could see time with the big club in 2012, but, as Joseph Werner of Seedlings to Stars points out, he figures to take a sizable step backward from his IL MVP season of 2011. Canzler posted big minor league numbers in each of the past two seasons, but his 2011 campaign included a BABiP of .396, which was nearly 80 points higher than his career numbers. It would be great for Cleveland if Canzler, a right handed hitter, is the real deal and can find success at the plate in the big leagues, but it’s hard to imagine that at age 26, he’s anything more than a Four-A hitter and the Indians already have one of those in LaPorta.

Apart from Canzler and perhaps Cord Phelps, who would probably only get  shot if Kipnis were to be hurt, there are a pair of relievers in RHP Chen Lee and lefty Nick Hagadone that could have an impact. Lee doesn’t have overwhelming stuff with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, but his low-3/4 arm slot and ability to work the bottom of the zone have resulted in high strikeout and ground ball rates in his minor league career.

Hagadone made his big league debut in September of last year and he features a fastball that can touch 98, but spotty command. Best-case for him is a Matt Thornton-like career, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. Still, when the “prospects” we’re talking about with the best chance to make an impact are ages 25-26 and they are a pair of relievers and a 4A hitter with a high BABiP, the system is thin.

2012 Outlook

The addition of Lowe and a full season of Jimenez should make a big difference in the starting rotation in 2012. Jimenez struggled after coming to the Tribe last year, but his peripherals indicated he should have had a better fate, as his FIP (3.85) was more than a run lower than his actual ERA (5.11). If the former Fausto Carmona is allowed to return to the United States at some point, he could give the Tribe four ground ball oriented starters. Of course, given Carmona’s lack of success overall in his recent career, perhaps the Indians would prefer if this Roberto Hernandez were to stay in the Dominican. Either way, the infield defense should be busy.

Cleveland’s relief corps was outstanding last season, but already have gotten off to an ominous start to 2012, with Chris Perez battling an injury that may force him to miss to opening of the season. Should that happen, expect Pestano to slide into the ninth inning role. Given Pestano’s extreme strikeout ability (12.19/9 last year, 12.36/9 in his career), and that Perez drastically out-performed his peripherals last season, Pestano might not give the job back. The rest of the bullpen is solid and should have another quality season.

The key to stopping the Indians offense appears to be rather simple: start a left handed pitcher. Counting Grady Sizemore, the Tribe figures to run a lineup out there everyday that features as many as seven left handed bats – nine if you count the two switch-hitters. Fortunately for Cleveland, early projections have a total of six southpaw starters among their four division rivals.

If the veteran hitters like Sizemore, Hafner, and Choo can give this club a relatively healthy season and guys like Kipnis and Chisenhall progress as hitters, this club can be significantly better in 2012 than they were a season ago. Carlos Santana is the next superstar catcher and he could challenge for an MVP award in the very near future.

The Indians won a surprising 80 games last year, but the 2012 version has a higher ceiling that that. If they get even a little bit more lucky with injuries, if Choo returns as the offensive force he was in 2010, if Jimenez and Lowe see a bit more luck than they saw last year, and if the bullpen turns in a repeat performance, this team could win 90 or more games. I’m not sure they have enough to dethrone the Tigers for the divisional crown, but Cleveland could easily challenge for a wild card spot. Even in a worst-case scenario situation, the Tribe should be good enough to clear last season’s win total.

There is routinely a lot of talk about the general weakness of the AL Central, but this season, it appears only the White Sox are poised to take a step backward. The Tigers figure to be among the best in the league, the Twins should be better with health, the Royals are young and talented and coming on strong. Even with all the improvements throughout the division, Cleveland is a clear contender.

The Indians might have made noise a year or two earlier than anticipated in 2011, but Manny Acta has more established talent on this club than he’s ever managed. This season, the Indians may very well play into October.

John Parent is the Editorial Director for FanSided MLB. He can be reached at john.parent@fansided.com or via Twitter @JohnJParent.

Find your team’s 2012 season preview or when it will be published here.  You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.  For more on the Indians, check out Wahoo’s on First