Along with bringing his glove to Cleveland, Casey Kotchman (player preview here) will also bring a more consistent bat. Kotchman is coming off what is often mislabeled as a career year; rather, he is coming off a very good year that was only slightly above what he has accomplished when he given the opportunity to play everyday in Anaheim and Atlanta earlier in his career. He should be a good remedy to the many Indians fans who have been frustrated by the number of strikeouts in the lineup ,as he exhibits good plate discipline (career strikeout rate of 10 percent) and generally puts the ball in play.
Despite his undergoing another knee surgery following the 2011 season, the Indians brought back center fielder Grady Sizemore. The Indians were hoping that a season of rehabbing the knee would result in a 100-percent healthy Grady come Opening Day, and that they might see his production return to what it was in 2011 before he jammed his knee in May (.282/.333/.641). Unfortunately for the Indians, Sizemore inured his back prior to the beginning of spring training and required surgery. He is on the shelf for at least the first eight weeks of the season. Nobody is certain as to when he will return or how much production he will provide when he does.
Michael Brantley’s (player profile here) 2011 season ended on August 24 when it was discovered that he had a broken hamate bone in his right hand and needed surgery. Brantley showed flashes of breaking out in 2011, and was hitting .266/.318/.384 through the end of July, but his hand began to really bother him and he hit just .211/.237/.386 in his final 14 games. The Indians hope the Brantley can show the on-base skills he displayed in the minor leagues and show improved power over the course of the season. If he gets on base more, Brantley should be able to showcase his basetealing ability more frequently—therefore increasing the team’s number of plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis’ (player profile here) trip to the DL was an even greater loss to the Indians. Kipnis joined the Indians on July 22 and did nothing but hit from the moment he arrived, hitting .272/.347/.603 with 4 doubles and six homers before straining his oblique during a memorable 5-5 performance against the Tigers; his injury woes continues when he strained his right hamstring during pre-game stretching, August 18. He returned to the lineup September 6 and finished the season with a slash line of .272/.333/ .507, seven home runs, and five stolen bases in 36 games. In Kipnis the Indians hope to have a possible 20/20 player. with the ability to get on base, steal bases, and drive the ball out of the park. Expecting an OPS over .800 from him in 2012 is not out of the question, no matter where in the lineup he ends up hitting.
The good news for Travis Hafner in 2011 was that his ailing shoulder never caused him to spend time on the disabled list. The bad news for Hafner in 2011 was that a sore foot and oblique did. The Indians saw flashes of the old Pronk in 2011 as he posted a slash line of .280/.361/.449 with 16 homers in 94 games. The team is hoping that another year removed from the odd shoulder injury that jeopardized his career will help him stay on the field and increase his power numbers. Although we may never see monster power numbers from Travis Hafner again, he has proven over the past several seasons that he is still an excellent hitter. His ability to hit left handed pitching has been declining, though, and if he continues to struggle early in the year the Indians may have to consider platooning him at DH.
Shin Soo-Choo (season preview here) had a season to forget in 2011. After struggling at the plate for the first month of the season, Choo was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in May; the off-field distraction only exacerbated his slump. It was finally starting to look as though he had rediscovered his stroke when, on June 24, he took a Jonathan Sanchez pitch to his hand and broke his thumb. Choo returned to the Indians on August 12t but strained his oblique later that month. He attempted to come back on September 15 but reaggravated the oblique in his first plate appearance and missed the remainder of the season. The Indians are hoping that whatever issues ailed Choo during the early months of the 2011 season are behind him—he hit .351/448/.554 in his final 21 games last year—and that he will hit the 20/20 mark yet again.
The Indians may get additional contributions as the season moves into the summer from the recently demoted Lonnie Chisenhall (player profile here) and the return of Sizemore. Several other players will have an opportunity to receive more plate appearances in 2012 as well: Jason Donald (player profile here) will try his hand in the outfield and play the role of super utility man and Shelley Duncan (player profile here) may see his first extended opportunity to play everyday in left field while Sizemore is out.
The Indians hope that the addition of Kotchman and the returns of Choo, Kipnis, Hafner, and Brantley will augment Asdrubal Cabrera (player profile here) and Carlos Santana (player profile here) in the lineup to produce more than the 704 runs produced in 2011. Just a modest increase of 5 percent would mean the Indians would score 739 runs in 2012.