Maybe, just maybe, 2011 is the Tribe's year
It's been a long, hard winter for Cleveland sports fans, but with the coming of spring comes hope. Despite a poor outlook for the 2011 team, the MLB season is a long one. No team is eliminated before July, and any team can get hot at any point.
For cynical Tribe fans, there's no way that this is our year. It's far too early for cynicism now, though. Now is the time for optimism.
With spring training fast approaching, now is the time to hope that things will be different this year, things will finally break our way, and that this is our year. With that, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2011 Cleveland Indians.
(Please note, that these are BOLD predictions, not a season outlook. I've set my sights very high on this, and I'll be lucky if even one of these predictions come to pass. But there is a good feeling in being optimistic with the Indians for once.)
If he's finally healthy, Sizemore could join the 40-40 club this year.
In 2008, the last year he was healthy, Grady Sizemore hit 33 home runs and stole 38 bases. At this point, the sky was the limit for Sizemore. He seemed to be coming into his own as a bona-fide star.
The past two years, however, have brought Sizemore back to Earth. He only played in 139 games in 2009 and 2010, and is coming off microfracture surgery. Now, there is doubt that Sizemore will be able to play at a major league level, let alone at the high level he was at in 2008.
My bold prediction for Grady Sizemore is that he will improve upon his 2008 numbers and become the fifth member of the 40-40 club, joining Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alfonso Soriano. Hungry after missing so much time and finally healthy, I see Sizemore playing with a vengeance this year.
All reports so far are that Sizemore should be ready for Opening Day. He seems to finally be healthy again. Hopefully, we'll be seeing Sizemore pick up where he left off in 2008.
This will be the year that Travis Hafner regains his slugging prowess.
It's been a rough couple of years for Travis Hafner. Since leading the majors in slugging percentage and OPS+ in 2006, Pronk has become a shell of his former self. From 2008 to 2010, he's only hit 34 home runs, 8 fewer than his 2006 total.
This year, however, I see Hafner regaining his elite form, hitting 40 home runs again. Like Sizemore, Hafner has been battling injuries in the past few years. If Manny Acta limits his playing time and keeps him healthy, Pronk should regain his power.
Despite the ridicule directed his way, Hafner has been producing at a decent level the past two years. His OPS+ in 2009 and 2010 were 120 and 131 respectively. Even with his power outage and poor health, Hafner has still found a way to produce.
This year, I see Pronk finally regaining his power and being the middle of the order threat the Indians have so sorely missed these past few years.
This will be the year that Fausto Carmona becomes the ace of the Indians rotation.
It's been a roller coaster career for Fausto Carmona to this point. From the failed closing experiment of 2006, to the fourth place finish in the Cy Young voting in 2007, to the horrendous years of 2008 and 2009, to the return to respectability in 2010, inconsistency is the best word to describe Carmona.
In 2011, I think that we will finally see a more consistent and mature Fausto Carmona emerge. He'll be 27 this year, and finally seems to get it. He grew up a lot in 2010, and in 2011 Carmona and the Indians will reap the benefits.
In 2007, Carmona won 19 games as an immature 23 year old. Last year, he won 13 and made the All-Star game with almost no run support. This year, as he continues his improvement, Carmona will win 20 games and truly become the ace of the Indians pitching staff.
Carlos Santana will make Indians fans forget about Victor Martinez.
In just 46 games last year, Carlos Santana racked up a WAR (wins above replacement) of 2.2, an OPS+ of 144, hit six home runs and drove in 22 runs. Extended over an entire season, Santana would have a 7.75 WAR, 21 home runs, and 77 RBI.
Despite coming off of knee surgery, Carlos Santana will make Tribe fans forget about Victor Martinez this year. In just 46 games last year, Santana absolutely looked like the elite prospect he was hyped up to be. 2011 will see him take the next step.
In his time in Cleveland, Victor Martinez average 20 home runs and 102 RBI per 162 games. My prediction for Carlos Santana's 2011 season is just that: 20 home runs and 100 RBI. He will stay healthy all year and team with Hafner, Choo, and Sizemore to lead the Indians' offensive attack in 2011.
2011 will see Shin Soo Choo win the AL Batting Title.
From 2008 to 2010, Shin Soo Choo has established himself as a top Major League player. He boasts a .302 batting average in that span and an OPS+ of 151, 136, and 148 in each year respectively. At age 28, Choo is primed to take the world by storm in 2011.
This year, Choo will fulfill his full hitting potential and win the batting title. Choo is just now hitting his prime, and will make the final jump to being a star this year. His on-base percentages have been hovering around .400 in the past three years, indicating that he controls the strike zone. Controlling the strike zone is vitally important to a hitter's success, and Choo has that critical trait.
After finishing second in on-base percentage in the AL last year and 12th in batting average, Choo will move up into first this year, becoming the first Indian to win the batting title since Bobby Avila in 1954.
2011 will see Justin Masterson take a huge step forward in his development.
No matter how bold my previous predictions were, this one might be the boldest yet. In 39 starts (45 appearances) with Cleveland, Masterson is 7-20 with a 4.66 ERA. The key piece of the Victor Martinez trade, Masterson has been a major disappointment.
Instead of seeing failure here, I'm choosing to be bold with my predictions here. Masterson has struggled, but all is not lost. From August 26 on, Masterson was 2-1 with a mere 2.08 ERA in 4 starts (9 appearances).
2010 was Masterson's first year as a full-time starter, and the adjustment was obviously a rough one. By the end of the year, however, Masterson seemed to finally have things click. In 2011, Justin Masterson will be used to the idea of starting and take the next step in his development.
If Justin Masterson pitches like he did at the end of the 2010 season, he will be a great complement to the Indians rotation. My bold prediction for him is a 15 win season.
Matt LaPorta will fulfill his potential in 2011.
Being the key part of the CC Sabathia trade, Indians fans have had high hopes for Matt LaPorta. So far, he has not come close to fulfilling those hopes. In his first 162 major league games, LaPorta only has 19 home runs and an OPS+ 91, far from an elite level of production.
Despite the doom and gloom feeling from these numbers, Matt LaPorta is primed for a huge breakout. In the minor leagues, LaPorta averaged 37.5 home runs and 121 RBI per 162 games. While minor league statistics don't necessarily indicate future success, LaPorta never struggled before reaching the majors with the Tribe.
All we've seen from LaPorta so far has been growing pains. In 2011, those growing pains will begin to pay off. I believe that a 30 home run season is in the cards for Matt LaPorta, and that he will begin to fulfill the expectations placed on him from the CC Sabathia trade.
While he's struggled so far in his young career, Michael Brantley will find his stride in 2011.
Michael Brantley has experienced the same growing pains that Matt LaPorta has in his young major league career. With an OPS+ of only 80 and a WAR of -0.9, Brantley is far from playing at a major league level.
In 2011, however, Michael Brantley will find his stride. In the minors, Brantley stole just over 46 bases per 162 games with a .388 on-base percentage. Having only played in 100 games so far, his early struggles are stemming from adjusting to major league pitching.
Brantley is a speedster whose main offensive weapon is stealing bases. So far, he hasn't gotten on base enough to make an impact with his speed. That'll change this year. Not only will he get on base much more consistently this year, I boldly predict that he will steal 40 bases this year.
Closing for the Indians, Chris Perez will lead the league in saves in 2011.
Last year, after the Kerry Wood trade, Chris Perez took over as the full-time closer for the Cleveland Indians. He took full advantage of the role, saving 13 games in 14 chances. On the year, Perez accumulated an ERA+ of 226 and a WHIP of 1.079.
Now that he has been successful in the role of closer, it's time for Chris Perez to take the next step into the category of elite closers. My bold prediction for Perez this year is that he'll lead the AL in saves.
The way I see it, there will be many close games for the Tribe this year. Even if I'm being bold and say they'll win more games than last year, I still don't see many blowout victories. With that, Perez will have many opportunities to rack up saves. He's already shown that he has the talent and ability to save games; in 2011, the Indians will give him more opportunities.
Why can't 2011 be the Indians year?
If even two or three of these bold predictions hit, this prediction won't be so bold. But now, coming off of a 69-93 record in 2010, it's a reach to expect the Tribe to basically flip their wins and losses in 2011.
I'm going to say that it's possible, though. If there's one division in baseball that can be labeled as the weakest, it's the AL Central. The Tigers and White Sox are inconsistent and the Royals just traded their best player. The Twins may be consistently good, but they're not consistently great.
Every year, the division is up for grabs; there's no reason that it can't be the Tribe's year.
I wish I could be bold enough to predict a World Series, but that's too much. I will say that, as of right now, I've got enough confidence in the season to say that the AL Central is in reach if the Indians are bold enough to reach for it.