BY JUSTIN LADA
1) Grady Sizemore- Who were you expecting, Jeremy Sowers? No one has any idea how Sizemore’s knees will hold up, even the Indians. GM Chris Antonetti even said they are taking a big risk. A healthy Sizemore was better than the alternative center fielder’s on the free agent market this winter. It will be interesting to see how much Manny Acta uses Sizemore and how many days in a row this spring. The Indians need Sizemore to play 120 games for them to have a shot at October.
2) Josh Tomlin- Travis Hafner would have been a likely choice for this spot as well, but Sizemore was obvious, so I’ll go out on a limb here. Antonetti said if the Indians were in the race in late September that Tomlin could have gone back on the mound. Either way the Indians need him to be healthy too. After not being able to finalize the Jon Garland deal and not knowing when Roberto Hernandez (aka Carmona) will show up (if that’s even a good idea) the Indians need their main guys to be out there every fifth day. If Tomlin’s elbow is not 100%, the Indians staff could take a hit.
3) Dan Wheeler- Again, Wheeler is the obvious choice. He struggled in Boston last season but has a very strong track record. With the bullpen throwing a lot of innings last season and one (possibly two) spots in the pen open, Wheeler’s veteran presence and success would be a nice addition if he has a good spring.
4) Chun-Hsiu Chen- I thought about putting Felix Pie or Fred Lewis here because if Sizemore goes down again (and shudder the thought) one of those two are likely to be called up. However, the Indians will need a DH next year and may use Carlos Santana there this year to give him some rest, and they will need another catcher eventually. Chen may not have all of the defensive tools to be a catcher, but he should be able to hit. He average and plate discipline took a big hit at Akron last season (.262 down from .320 and 122 up from 36) but his power numbers spiked (16 home runs, 24 doubles). If you don’t know who Chen is now, by season’s end you will have heard about him.
5) Nick Hagadone- As I mentioned with Wheeler above, the Indians have room for one or two more mafia members. His name alone seems like a perfect fit for the mafia family. His power arm makes him an even better fit. It would not be any surprise if Hagadone breaks camp in a wahoo hat.
6) Scott Barnes- Barnes was acquired in 2009 when the Indians traded Ryan Garko to San Francisco. He was 14-5 in 2009. In 2010 he struggled in his first year with Akron in the Eastern League but finally put it all together last season. Barnes posted a career best 9.7 K/9 innings rate and had a 2.97 K/BB ratio in 17 starts. His home run rate (12 in 99 IP) is a little alarming, but had he not suffered a knee injury in September he would have made an appearance in Cleveland at the end of the season. Barnes will be in big league camp and although it seems that he won’t be competing for the 5th starter’s job, but with a stellar spring he could be the first or second starter in line called up.
Note: I really wanted to put Jesus Aguilar in the spot, and I would have if he was going to be in big league camp or the fact that Tim (Sports Editor Timothy W. Shirer) might kill me for continuing to gush over his development in 2011. He would be the player not invited to Spring Training to keep an ear and eye out for.
Poised for breakout
7) Jason Kipnis- Well it certainly wasn’t going to be David Huff (who fell back to earth hard after a hot start when he was called up last season). Kipnis his home runs in four straight games and ultimately after missing some time with an oblique injury, he hit .272 with seven home runs in 136 at bats. Unfortunately he reached 150 plate appearances (the cut off for rookie status) so the ‘sophomore slump’ could be an issue, but he has hit at every level throughout his career. At AAA Columbus and Cleveland he hit a combined 19 home runs which the Indians would love to have over a full season from him. His defense must improve, but with each promotion he has proved he will hit.
Newcomer to watch
8) Casey Kotchman- This again, was an obvious choice. Kotchman will improve the Indians infield defense and their on base percentage more dramatically. He’s always been able to walk and hit for gap power and play stellar defense, so watching how he approaches camp with the first base job basically handed to him should be interesting. Interestingly enough Kotchman (a left handed hitter) hit .289 against lefties last year.
Most to prove
9) Nick Weglarz- Derek Lowe or Hafner would be good candidates for this spot (but given their age, 34 and 40 respectively, who knows if they would get a contract next year regardless). Injury after injury has robbed him of playing a full season since 2010 at Akron and Columbus. He has a lot of power (two 20 home run season in the minors) and would be a good fit in a corner outfield spot or at DH next season. Weglarz needs to prove he can stay healthy this season and have a productive camp or he could be out the door soon.
Speaking of out the door
10) Trevor Crowe- Given the Indians injuries in the outfield last season, keeping Crowe, a former first round pick, around might be beneficial. However because they signed Lewis, Pie and Ryan Spilbourghs as insurance, it doesn’t appear as if the Indians are counting on him to provide any depth. The fact that he wasn’t invited to big league camp until two weeks ago may also be a telling sign. Crowe could showcase himself in camp for another team in need of a switch hitting outfielder with some speed. The 2005 first round pick may be in his last season with the Indians, one way or another.
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UPDATED 02/23/2012 01:16