Chisenhall, Kipnis expected to grow up quickly

BY foxsports • February 15, 2012


The Indians were able to use the 2011 season to transition two of their young infielders to the major leagues.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall made their major league debuts last season and received significant playing time in the second half of the season.

Kipnis hit .272 with seven home runs and 19 RBI in 136 at bats, while Chisenhall hit .255 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 212 at bats. Kipnis had a .507 slugging percentage and .333 on base percentage, while Chisenhall had a .415 slugging percentage and .284 on base percentage.

On the flip side, Kipnis was much better at second than Chisenhall was at third. Kipnis, in 36 games, made six errors and had a .963 fielding percentage.

Chisenhall in 58 games made 10 errors and had a .940 fielding percentage.

Chisenhall's defense was so shaky at times that he was frequently replaced late in games by defensive specialist Jack Hannahan.

Going into spring training this year, Kipnis' situation at second base is more secure than Chisenhall's at third. Indians manager Manny Acta said Chisenhall and Hannahan will get playing time at third base in training camp, and a decision will be made at the end of camp on who the starter will be.

Chisenhall is seen as a slight favorite, but Hannahan's superior defense cannot be dismissed.

Kipnis' situation at second base is more certain.

Barring injury, he should be the Indians' Opening Day starter at that position.

Two factors are at play there. One is that Kipnis looked like a more advanced hitter than Chisenhall last year. The other factor is that the Indians don't have an alternative to Kipnis at second base as accomplished as Hannahan is as a potential alternative to Chisenhall at third.

That said, it's obvious that Indians officials will be rooting for big years from both second-year players. Kipnis and Chisenhall were the two top minor league hitting prospects in the organization last year.

Now that they have graduated to the major leagues, the two players are being counted on by the offensively-challenged Indians to continue to mature as hitters, to the point that they can make significant contributions offensively in their first full seasons in the big leagues.

NOTES, QUOTES

Garland signs minor league deal with Indians

--RHP Jon Garland agreed to a minor league contract with the Indians. The deal includes an invitation to spring training. Garland, who is coming off an injury-shortened 2011 season, when he went 1-5 with a 4.33 earned run average for the Dodgers.

--LHP Kelvin De La Cruz was designated for assignment by the Indians to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for newly signed 1B Casey Kotchman. De La Cruz, 23, went 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 23 games (16 starts) for Class AA Akron last year.

--SS Asdrubal Cabrera agreed to a one-year $4.55 million contract, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. Cabrera filed for arbitration seeking $5.2 million. The Indians had offered $3.75 million. Last year, when Cabrera set an Indians record for home runs by a shortstop with 25, and was the first Indians shortstop in 63 years to start the All-Star game, he made $2.025 million. "Asdrubal has been a key player on our team for the last few years, and we're looking forward to seeing him continue to mature and develop as a player," general manager Chris Antonetti said

--C/1B Carlos Santana last year started 88 games at catcher and 63 games at first base. That ratio seemingly might tilt a little heavier towards catching, now that the Indians have signed free agent 1B Casey Kotchman. However, general manager Chris Antonetti said the club isn't going into spring training with any pre-conceived notions about how many starts Santana will make at first base. "It depends on how (backup catcher) Lou Marson does, and how Casey does against left-handed pitching," Antonetti said. Santana, a switch-hitter, is expected to get most of his starts at first base on days the opposing team starts a left-handed pitcher, which would take the left-handed hitting Kotchman out of the lineup and insert the right-handed hitting Marson.

--OF Michael Brantley will go to training camp as the starter in left field, according to manager Manny Acta. Brantley finished the 2011 season on the disabled list because of a hand injury that resulted in surgery on Aug. 23 to remove a broken hamate bone in his right hand. Acta said Brantley will be ready to resume baseball activities in spring training. In 451 at bats last year, Brantley batted .266 with seven home runs, 46 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

--1B Casey Kotchman, recently signed as a free agent, gives the Indians another left-handed hitter in their starting lineup. Seven of their nine projected position starters are left-handed hitters, and the other two are switch hitters. Manager Manny Acta said he isn't overly concerned by the Indians' lefty-dominant lineup. "Ideally you'd like to have a balanced lineup, but what you want most is guys who can hit, no matter which side they hit from,"  Acta said.

--RHP Jeanmar Gomez could challenge RHP Kevin Slowey for the spot in the  rotation vacated by RHP Fausto Carmona, who is on the restricted list. Gomez finished strong at the end of the 2011 season. In a five-start span from Aug. 30 to Sept. 22, Gomez was 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA.

BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- Number of pitchers that will be in the Indians' spring training camp. Twenty-two of the 29 are right-handers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've accomplished a lot, but we're still looking to improve our team." -- General manager Chris Antonetti, on the Indians' offseason activity.

ROSTER REPORT

The Indians finished the season with a rotation that is much less of a question mark than it was at the start, but they began to address it by acquiring RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves. RHPs Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin both won 12 games, and the midseason acquisition of RHP Ubaldo Jimenez gives the Indians a solid top three to their rotation. However, now they must deal with RHP Fausto Carmona being placed on the restricted list. The bullpen was playoff-caliber all year.

ARRIVALS: OF Aaron Cunningham (trade with Padres), INF Jose Lopez (minor league free agent from Marlins), OF Felix Pie (minor league free agent from Orioles), RHP Derek Lowe (trade with Braves), RHP Kevin Slowey (trade with Rockies), RHP Dan Wheeler (minor league free agent from Red Sox), UT Russ Canzler (trade with Rays), 1B Casey Kotchman (free agent from Rays), RHP Jon Garland (minor league free agent from Dodgers).

DEPARTURES: INF/OF Luis Valbuena (traded to Blue Jays), DH Jim Thome (free agent, signed with Phillies), RHP Chad Durbin (free agent, signed minor league deal with Nationals), OF Kosuke Fukudome (free agent, signed with White Sox).

FREE AGENTS: None.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: SS Asdrubal Cabrera.

The Indians might try to sign Cabrera, their MVP last year, to a multiyear deal, which would buy him out of his last arbitration year and beyond, although the club has of late shied away from such long-term deals.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Justin Masterson (arthroscopic left shoulder surgery in October 2011) should be ready for spring training.

--RHP Carlos Carrasco (Tommy John surgery in September 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing. He is expected to miss the entire 2012 season.

--LF Michael Brantley (right hand surgery in August 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing after having the hamate bone removed. He should be ready for spring training.


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