Contention Windows and Depth Charts: Analyzing the Cleveland Indians’ Future

Red Sox Indians Baseball

The youth movement is underway in Cleveland, or so we think. With the Indians now 52-61 and out of playoff contention here in 2012, the focus of the organization and fans has turned to the future.

The WFNY crew was debating recently about how bright that future looks. As the resident minor league guru, I took it upon myself to analyze the organizational depth chart, from Akron through Cleveland, along with all guys listed on the 40-man roster and 60-day disabled list.

This experiment should provide some basic knowledge about how competitive the Indians might be in 2013 and possibly 2014, and what some areas of need are in the upcoming offseason. Share your comments below about what’s on your mind concerning the Tribe’s future.

All ages listed are those as of December 31, 2012.

Right-handed starters
Justin Masterson, Cleveland, 27
Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland, 28
Zach McAllister, Cleveland, 25
Jeanmar Gomez Columbus, 24
Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland’s 60-Day Disabled List, 25
Roberto Hernandez, Cleveland’s Inactive List/Columbus, 32
Corey Kluber, Cleveland, 26
Kevin Slowey, Columbus’ Disabled List, 28
Hector Rondon, Columbus’ Disabled List, 24
Paolo Espino, Akron, 25
Brett Brach, Akron, 24
Danny Salazar, Akron, 22

Analysis: You’d have to think that Masterson, Jimenez and McAllister are locked in to the first three rotation spots. From there, Gomez, Carrasco, Hernandez and Kluber will battle for the final two spots. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kluber eventually transitions to the bullpen. Slowey is likely done with the organization as he’s been hurt since May. It’s unclear what Rondon’s status is, but he’ll still need more time in Columbus once he returns. Salazar is surprisingly on the 40-man, but he just got promoted to Akron. Espino and Brach are not considered major prospects. The top three righty starting prospects are Dillon Howard (20), Mitch Brown (18) and Jake Sisco (21), but all three have yet to make it to even Lake County.

Left-handed starters
David Huff, Columbus, 28
Chris Seddon, Cleveland, 27
Eric Berger, Columbus, 26
T.J. McFarland, Columbus, 23
Matt Packer, Columbus, 25
T.J. House, Akron, 23

Analysis: Huff and Seddon will likely get shots to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, but both should be considered long-shots compared to the four righties. Berger is a versatile arm who also has pitched in relief since 2011. I really like McFarland, Packer and House, but all three need more minor league time before possibly competing for an Indians roster spot. None of these final four guys are on the 40-man. Lake County’s Elvis Araujo (21) is the best lefty starting prospect in the system, but has struggled mightily since May.

Right-handed relievers
Chris Perez, Cleveland, 27
Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland, 27
Cody Allen, Cleveland, 24
Joe Smith, Cleveland, 28
Esmil Rogers, Cleveland, 27
Josh Tomlin, Cleveland, 28
Frank Herrmann, Cleveland, 28
Chen Lee, Columbus’ Disabled List, 26
Matt Langwell, Columbus, 26
Bryan Price, Columbus, 26
Tyler Sturdevant, Columbus, 27
Dan Wheeler, Columbus, 35
Preston Guilmet, Akron, 25
Rob Bryson, Akron, 25
Shawn Armstrong, Akron, 22
Loek Van Mil, Akron, 28
Bryce Stowell, Akron, 26
Kyle Landis, Akron, 26
Jose Flores, Akron, 23
Trey Haley, Akron, 22
Toru Murata, Akron, 27
Fabio Martinez, Carolina, 22

Analysis: Wow, that’s a lot of names. For now, Perez, Pestano, Allen, Smith and Rogers should be locks for five of the team’s seven bullpen slots in 2013. Who knows if Tomlin and Herrmann will still be around by then. Lee is a top-10 prospect, but is out for the rest of the year following Tommy John surgery. As can be seen here, there are many more intriguing bullpen arms in Columbus and Akron too, but barring injury or trades, none will likely factor into the equation until September 2013.

Left-handed relievers
Nick Hagadone, Columbus’ Inactive List, 26
Scott Barnes, Columbus, 25
Tony Sipp, Cleveland, 29
Rafael Perez, Cleveland’s 60-Day Disabled List/Columbus, 30
J.C. Romero, Columbus, 36

Analysis: Assuming Hagadone can get out of the organization’s doghouse, he should be the top bullpen lefty in 2013. I really like Barnes to get the final spot in the ‘pen, but I’m not certain if the team is ready to cut ties just yet with veterans Sipp and Perez. There are very few left-handed relievers in the rest of the organization. Don’t be surprised if at least two of Berger, McFarland, Packer and House are converted to relieving full-time in order to fill this void.

Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland, 30
Michael Brantley, Cleveland, 25
Ezequiel Carrera, Cleveland, 25
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland’s 60-Day Disabled List, 30
Shelley Duncan, Cleveland, 33
Brent Lillibridge, Cleveland, 29
Russ Canzler, Columbus, 26
Tim Fedroff, Columbus, 25
Jared Goedert, Columbus, 27
Aaron Cunningham, Columbus, 26
Vinny Rottino, Columbus, 32
Chad Huffman, Columbus’ Disabled List, 27
Thomas Neal, Akron, 25
Jeremie Tice, Akron, 26
Tyler Holt, Akron, 23
Nick Weglarz, Akron, 25
Jordan Henry, Akron, 24

Analysis: This is where the organization needs to make a move. Choo and Brantley are penciled in as starters, but the team still desperately needs a legitimate left fielder. Carrera is best as a No. 4 outfielder, while Sizemore, Duncan and Lillibridge all could be elsewhere in 2013. Canzler and Rottino are currently on the 40-man, and don’t be surprised to see Fedroff and Goedert join that list by next April. Neal is an intriguing multi-tool guy in Akron, despite not being a major prospect anymore. Holt is fast and with good contact abilities, but still needs much more time. Mahoning Valley’s Tyler Naquin (21) along with Lake County’s Luigi Rodriguez (20) and Levon Washington (21) are the top three outfield prospects in the system, but all are at least two years away.

First basemen/Designated Hitter
Casey Kotchman, Cleveland 29
Travis Hafner, Cleveland, 35
Matt LaPorta, Columbus, 27
Lars Anderson, Columbus, 25
Chun Chen, Akron, 24
Adam Abraham, Akron’s Disabled List, 25

Analysis: Kotchman could leave next year as a free agent, so it’s possible the Indians begin 2013 with a platoon of LaPorta and Anderson at first base. As reported earlier today, Hafner may be done in Cleveland, too. Chen sure can hit, but he lacks power and was a much better prospect previously as a catcher. Abraham isn’t a prospect, but Carolina’s Jesus Aguilar (22) is. Expect Aguilar to be starting everyday for Akron in 2013 with the possibility for a late Columbus call-up.

Second basemen
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland, 25
Cord Phelps, Columbus, 25
Matt Lawson, Akron, 27
Davis Stoneburner, Akron, 27
Justin Toole, Akron, 26

Analysis: Kipnis is here to stay, there’s no doubt about that. The pickings are slim after that, however, although Phelps could be a serviceable utility guy next season and is already on the 40-man. Lawson, Stoneburner and Toole all are not major prospects for Akron, as evidenced by their age. Watch out for Carolina’s Tony Wolters (20) and Ronny Rodriguez (20) as both are top-10 prospects likely to end up at second base.

Third basemen
Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland’s 60-Day Disabled List, 24
Jack Hannahan, Cleveland, 32
Gregorio Petit, Columbus, 28
Kyle Bellows, Akron, 24
Ryan Rohlinger, Akron, 29

Analysis: Chisenhall will be the man once he returns from injury in 2013. Hannahan could likely leave a la Kotchman, with Phelps potentially being the backup at this position. Petit has some MLB experience, but likely won’t factor into Cleveland’s equation. Bellows plays great defense, but is hitting just .233 in 182 career games for the Aeros.

Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland, 27
Jason Donald, Cleveland, 28
Juan Diaz, Akron, 24

Analysis: Again, Cabrera is the undoubted starter in 2013, although the Indians must be worried about his possible free agency after that season. Donald has struggled in the field lately and Diaz still needs much more experience at the plate, even though he looked pretty intriguing in his short stint with the Tribe earlier this year. Obviously, Lake County’s Francisco Lindor (19) is the top prospect in the system, but he probably won’t arrive in Cleveland until September 2014 at the earliest.

Carlos Santana, Cleveland, 26
Lou Marson, Cleveland, 26
Luke Carlin, Columbus, 32
Matt Pagnozzi, Columbus, 30
Roberto Perez, Akron, 24
Michel Hernandez, Akron, 34

Analysis: This is worrisome. If Santana doesn’t return to his 2010 form, the Indians could be in serious trouble for the long-term. Among these guys, only Perez has potential, but he’s much better behind the plate than he is as a hitter. Carlin, Pagnozzi and Hernandez all are possibly replaceable minor league veterans. The next best catching prospects in the system are Lake County’s Jake Lowery (22) and Alex Lavisky (21), but both are at least two years away and haven’t been consistent at the plate this season.

So looking one final time at what the Indians have and don’t have in 2013, I still see this team as a .500 ball club, at best. The weaknesses are obvious: starting pitching and left field. Besides that, Santana, Chisenhall and whoever ends up at first base must play up to their lofty potential in order for this offense to be successful.

Long-term, my guess is that the Indians’ supposed contention window of 2012-14 is all but gone. Barring some unlikely acquisitions or improvements, I don’t see how this currently-constructed club will win more than 90 games or be a top six team in the American League during the next two years. The Yankees, Rays, Tigers, White Sox, Rangers and Angels all have better short-term potential than the Indians, with the Orioles and A’s possibly on that list as well.

The bright future of the organization now rests in the hands of Francisco Lindor in 2015. By that time, several other of the recent starting pitching draft picks could be in Cleveland. Choo and Cabrera likely would be gone, but Santana (29), Brantley (28), Kipnis (28) and Chisenhall (27) would all be in their prime. But if this is the case and 2015 is the next logical contention year, sad days in Wahoo town could be ahead and several front-office leaders could be out of work.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  • David W. Elbrecht

    As presently constituted, I don’t see the 2013 Tribe breaking the 85-win mark (my benchmark for true contention). However, the $30M+ worth of dead weight coming off the payroll (Hafner, Sizemore, Lowe, etc) following this season gives me some room for hope. Assuming the Dolans are willing to keep the payroll at the 2012 level, $30M can get you a very good pitcher and two solid position players.

    However, even if all that money is available to spend, I have serious doubts as to the ability of our front office to spend it right.

  • Kildawg

    Lillibridge could be back next year, as he provides speed and can play all infield and outfield positions. Jason Donald is a younger option, but hasn’t played 1B or RF yet. And this team should consider having a guy that can also back up the C position other than Lou Marson. This would allow Santana to have more DH/1B ABs.

  • Impostor10

    Predicting success is such a fickle game. There are counter arguments to every pessimistic comment on the team’s makeup – the team has 7/9 good young lineup pieces and can fill 1B/LF with available money and one of several prospects (if you collect enough MiLB 1B, one will pan out, right?); a return to form from Masterson/Ubaldo and the return of Carrasco/Hernandez is a solid core rotation, especially if you add a FA arm; the bullpen is already good.

    Of course, “return to form” is something the front office has banked on for years – at some point under-performance is just performance – but it’s not hard to imagine this core roster, plus a FA RH bat and starter, being good enough to win the Central.