5 Cleveland Indians to Be Excited About in 2012

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2012

5 Cleveland Indians to Be Excited About in 2012

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    For the first time in a few years, there's reason for Cleveland Indians fans to be optimistic. After overachieving and finishing 80-82 last year, the Tribe is looking to make a push into the playoffs.

    However, for the superstitious fans out there, there is the Indians' dreaded even-year curse. They did well in 2005 and 2007. But fans expected a lot 2006 and 2008, only to be disappointed.

    Despite the curse, most publications have the Indians finishing second in the AL Central.

    That's a far cry from last year when most of those same publications had the Tribe in either fourth or fifth.

    For a team that seems to be in constant rebuild mode, it's hard not to get excited about even the slightest hint of success.

    Here are five players Indians fans should look forward to seeing in 2012.

Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B

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    A lack of offensive production at third base has been a problem over the last couple of years.

    Lonnie Chisenhall looks to be the solution.

    He isn't locked into the starting job, but it's hard to envision an Opening Day lineup without him.

    Chisenhall probably won't hit for a high average, but he does bring some power. He hit 46 home runs and drove in 221 runs over two-and-a-half years in the minor leagues.

    Although he struggled a bit in 66 games in the major leagues last year, that's to be expected for somebody called up in the middle of the season.

    Chisenhall is one of the few first-round picks Cleveland has selected over the last few years who actually looks to be the real deal.

Jason Kipnis, 2B

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    Jason Kipnis only moved to second base in 2010, so fans can count on seeing some defensive gaffes from the 24-year-old. His offense will more than make up for any defensive deficiencies.

    After being called up in July, Kipnis wowed Tribe fans with his offense. He finished with seven HRs, 19 RBI and a .272 average. Kipnis had a home run in four consecutive games, only the second Indians rookie ever to do that.

    If you look at his 162-game averages, they would be good enough to make him one of the best offensive second basemen in the league.

    It's unrealistic to expect those kind of numbers from him immediately, but there's no doubt he is well on his way to reaching that kind of level.

Grady Sizemore, CF

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    Grady Sizemore's talent is undeniable. Unfortunately, just as equally undeniable is the fact he can't stay healthy.

    He played in 106 games in 2009, 33 in 2010 and 71 in 2011.

    There were some who were questioning whether the Indians would re-sign Sizemore in the offseason. After turning down a club option on him, Cleveland did sign him to an incentive-heavy, one-year $5 million deal.

    It's a situation that could benefit both player and team. If Sizemore can produce, he could get an extra $4 million. If he gets hurt again, the Indians are only out $5 million for this season.

    It might be a bit ominous that he is already slated to miss Opening Day.

    But I think Sizemore is going to have the kind of season that made him one of the best outfielders in MLB from 2006-08.

    He's going to be incredibly motivated. At 29 years old, this is Sizemore's last real chance.

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

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    Ubaldo Jimenez is the unquestioned ace of the staff.

    But he really struggled last year, finishing with an ERA of 4.68 and a 10-13 recordl. His ERA actually jumped to 5.10 since his move to Cleveland.

    Indians management is betting that Jimenez can lead the team to the playoffs this season or next, because once his contract expires in 2014, he's pretty much gone.

    With an entire offseason, he was able to better prepare to face American League hitters.

    Plus, if Jimenez was injured at all last year, he has had plenty of time to recover.

    He'll never reach the form he showed during his great 2010 season. But after last year, there's nowhere to go but up.

Michael Brantley, LF

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    Michael Brantley looks to be the only worthwhile piece the Indians acquired in the CC Sabathia trade.

    2011 was a pretty good year for Brantley. He hit .266 and stole 13 bases hitting in the leadoff spot.

    He seems to be fully recovered from the wrist injury that ended his season last year.

    Brantley proved to be a much better leadoff hitter than Grady Sizemore, who always seemed more suited for a spot deeper in the lineup.

    He also has a pretty good glove. With Sizemore's injury history, it would make sense to move Brantley to center field. It's something that manager Manny Acta is thinking about, but he'll only make a decision after spring training.

    At only 24 years old, Brantley has yet to approach his peak.