Each year, when the analysts at Baseball America post their top prospect lists for every MLB team, they also give their readers a glimpse into the future by making projections about how every club’s starting lineup will look three years down the road. It’s just done as a simple list with no explanation about their choices, but it’s a fun exercise nonetheless.
But when Baseball America released its projected 2015 lineup for the Tribe this winter, I thought some of their picks were very far off. With my Indians top prospect list now complete, I decided to take matters into my own hands and offer my own projected lineup for Cleveland looking three years down the road.
First, here’s Baseball America‘s take:
- Catcher: Carlos Santana
- First Base: Matt LaPorta
- Second Base: Asdrubal Cabrera
- Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall
- Shortstop: Francisco Lindor
- Left Field: Michael Brantley
- Center Field: Grady Sizemore
- Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo
- Designated Hitter: Jason Kipnis
- No. 1 Starter: Ubaldo Jimenez
- No. 2 Starter: Justin Masterson
- No. 3 Starter: Carlos Carrasco
- No. 4 Starter: Dillon Howard
- No. 5 Starter: Josh Tomlin
- Closer: Chris Perez
As you can see, it’s pretty much the same as Cleveland’s current lineup, plus LaPorta, who is currently in Triple-A, and the injured Carrasco. Lindor and Howard, the Indians’ two best prospects, are thrown into the mix, but they’re the only fresh faces. The odds that the entire team will stick together and go virtually unchanged over the next three years aren’t very good. Especially because Baseball America is projecting the Indians to re-sign Choo, Jimenez, Masterson and Perez—at least two of those four will be in a new uniform by then.
With that in mind, I present my own projected lineup:
Catcher: Carlos Santana. I mean, who else? His recent extension will keep him in Cleveland through the 2016 season, and he’s quickly becoming one of the top catchers in the game.
First Base: Matt LaPorta. This is less a vote of confidence for LaPorta than a reflection of the lack of any other options—the Indians’ minor league system is devoid of first base prospects. One possible alternative is Jake Lowery, the Indians’ fourth-round pick in the 2011 MLB amateur draft. He was a catcher in college and he’ll be groomed as a potential backup to Santana, but he could see significant time at first down the road.
Lowery looks like he’ll develop into a solid hitter with good power and a great eye. I still went with LaPorta since (barring an extension) this will be his last year of team control. A platoon between the right-handed LaPorta and the left-handed Lowery is also a possibility.
Second Base: Jason Kipnis. Kipnis has the potential to be great second basemen for the Tribe, and he’ll still be under team control in 2015.
Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall. Another obvious choice. Chisenhall will be given every chance to establish himself as the team’s third basemen of the future, and by 2015 he should be a solid Major League player.
Shortstop: Tony Wolters. Baseball America went with Francisco Lindor here, but I went with Wolters since he’s further along the pipeline and Lindor will be only 21 in 2015. With Cabrera holding down this position until 2014 and Wolters ahead of him the Indians can afford to not push Lindor along too fast. It’s likely that Cleveland fans get a look at Lindor in 2015, and he’ll probably be the every day shortstop by 2016.
As for Cabrera, I don’t see the use in extending him past his current deal. As a power bat at a premium position, Cabrera will cost way too much on the open market to make it worth resigning him, especially with two great middle infield prospects in Tony Wolters and Francisco Lindor waiting in the wings.
Left Field: Michael Brantley Brantley will still be around, and he’ll likely still have his corner outfield position since there are no big-time outfield prospects in the system right now.
Center Field: LeVon Washington. I am in the minority of analysts who still have hope in Washington, but it’s also likely that the Indians will sign or trade for a center fielder or use Ezequiel Carrera here as a stopgap. I’ll take the optimistic side and say Washington will rebound.
Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo. I still think that, since Choo is so underrated the Indians will be able to retain him despite the fact Scott Boras is his agent. If Choo isn’t re-signed this spot could belong to Bryson Myles, who has lots of speed and developing power.
Designated Hitter: Chun-Hsiu Chen. Chen is currently playing first base in Double-A Akron after having played catcher most of his career. His defense isn’t really great at either, so he’ll most likely be a DH in the majors. Chen has good power, but he strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk enough. Lowery, who has a much better eye, is also another option here.
No. 1 Starter: Justin Masterson. Once again, I’ll hope and pray that Masterson is re-signed. He’s quickly becoming one of the top pitchers in the league despite his low strikeout totals. Working on an extension right now should be the front office’s top priority now that Santana is locked up.
No. 2 Starter: Carlos Carrasco. Assuming all goes well when he returns from Tommy John Surgery, Carrasco will be a solid starting option for Cleveland down the road.
No. 3 Starter: Scott Barnes. Barnes will probably make his debut later this year, and when he does he’ll give the Tribe a strong southpaw presence in the rotation. I expect him to be a solid third or fourth starter in the big leagues.
No. 4 Starter: Dillon Howard. Howard will be 22 in 2015, so he could be pitching in the big leagues. It depends on how quickly the Indians want to move him through the system. Without another top starter behind Masterson, I think pushing him will be a must.
No. 5 Starter: Josh Tomlin. I expect Tomlin to continue being one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, being quietly effective because of his ability to throw strikes. He’s a great option to round out any rotation.
Closer: Nick Hagadone. With so many great relief options currently in the minors, the Indians won’t need to re-sign Perez. Any one of Hagadone, Vinnie Pestano or Chen Lee could take over the closing role, but I think Hagadone has the most potential.