2011 Cleveland Indians: Breaking Down the Potential Opening Day Batting Order

Alex PainterContributor IIMarch 25, 2011

2011 Cleveland Indians: Breaking Down the Potential Opening Day Batting Order

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    ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 28:  Shin-Soo Choo #17 of  the Cleveland Indians bats against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on April 28, 2010 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    It has been announced that outfielder Grady Sizemore will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. Although this was somewhat expected, it will shake up the batting order come Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians.

    Manager Manny Acta has been quiet about where Sizemore will hit when he returns to the lineup, not wanting it to affect how the other players ready themselves for the season. 

    This batting order is just speculation, based on the author's projections. It has been put together using precedent from the past, as well as how some of the Spring Training games have played out. 

    While on paper the team may lack starting pitching, it is clear that the Indians will be more than capable of scoring runs this season. The team possesses a good amount of power in combination with plenty of team speed. 

    Without further ado, the projected 2011 Cleveland Indians Opening Day batting order. An update on how Spring Training has gone for each hitter will also be included and assessed.   

No. 1: CF Michael Brantley

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Michael Brantley #23 of the Cleveland Indian bats against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 8, 2010 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.   The Angels won 4-3 in 16 innings.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    With Sizemore out, Michael Brantley will most likely take over his position in both the field and batting order. Brantley is the most affected by Sizemore's opening trip to the DL, as he spent most of his time last year at the bottom of the batting order. 

    Brantley has been billed a sleeper for this season. While not performing up to his expectations last season, hitting .246 with three home runs and 22 RBIs in 72 games last year, he did flash some of his speed with three triples and 10 stolen bases.  In his rookie campaign, he hit .313 over limited time. His glove is certainly not a liability, and his speed gives him pretty good range.

    So far this spring, Brantley has hit .279 over 43 at-bats. He has 12 hits, with three going for extra bases. He also has swiped two bases. 

    Look for a breakout season for this young player. The Indians have given him a vote of confidence by handing him an outfield job once again this season. He has claimed the pressure is off him this season, and he will be able to focus on strictly baseball without dwelling on his expectations.

No. 2: SS Asdrubal Cabrera

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - MARCH 11:  Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the Cleveland Indians gets ready in the batters box against the Seattle Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark on March 11, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Cabrera will almost certainly start the season as the everyday shortstop and take his normal spot as second on the batting order.

    Cabrera is a career .284 hitter, with his finest season coming in 2009 when he hit .308 with 42 doubles, four triples, six home runs, with 17 stolen bases. Injuries limited him to just over half a season in 2010. 

    Flashing the leather has always been a strong suit for Cabrera, and his glove is certainly one of the finest on the team. He boasts a career .983 fielding percentage and has helped turn 311 double plays in 385 games. And who could forget that unassisted triple play?

    Cabrera, who has struggled his entire career with injuries, will be looking to put together his fullest season in 2011. He played in 131 games in 2009, easily the most in his career (as mentioned before, this was also his best season). So the key for him—and the Indians—is to stay off the disabled list.

    He has turned in a fine spring training thus far, hitting .400 with a .700 slugging percentage over his 14 games. This includes three doubles and three home runs. 

No. 3: RF Shin-Soo Choo

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - MARCH 11:  Shin-Soo Choo #17 of the Cleveland Indians follows through on a swing against the Seattle Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark on March 11, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    When the Indians traded away first basemen Ben Broussard to the Seattle Mariners in 2006, they got a relative no-name Korean prospect who had only played in 14 games—and hitting only .069—for the Mariners. That player has evolved into the five-tool phenom Shin-Soo Choo, who has anchored the batting order for the last two seasons.

    Choo will continue to hit third in the lineup, and he will also continue to propel himself as one of the best all-around players in the league.

    In 2010, Choo hit .300 with 22 home runs, 90 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases. What's more impressive, he led the American League in assists for right fielders with 14.

    Choo started the spring slowly, but he has since found his stroke. He is currently hitting .311 with a .415 OBP. He has also stolen four bases in 15 games of action.

No. 4: C Carlos Santana

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians gets ready in the batters box against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on February 27, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Similar to his like-named guitar legend, catcher Carlos Santana indeed displayed some "black magic" at the plate during his rookie campaign. 

    Limited to only 46 games due to an injury suffered during a home plate collision with Boston Red Sox Ryan Kalish, Santana has already earned the billing of one of the top-hitting catchers in the game.

    The rookie sensation hit .260 with 13 doubles, six home runs and 22 RBIs. Even more impressive, the backstop used his keen eye to draw 37 walks, bumping his OBP up to .401. 

    This season, Santana is projected to hit clean-up for the Tribe. Cabrera and Choo should give him plenty of RBI opportunities as he looks to create an even bigger buzz during his sophomore campaign.

    Like Choo, Santana also struggled at the plate early in Spring Training. Also like Choo, he has since caught fire and is now hitting .308 in 14 games. Showing that his injured knee is ready for the season, he stole a base and legged out a triple in a recent game.

No. 5: DH Travis Hafner

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Travis Hafner #48 of the Cleveland Indians hits a solo home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on September 7, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Once the toast of the franchise, Travis Hafner has fallen from the grace of his 2004-2007 seasons.

    Awarded with a huge contract extension, "Pronk" simply has not lived up to the expectations of the enormous price tag next to his name. Manager Manny Acta says that designated hitters like Hafner are a "dying breed," but Hafner will use the 2011 season as proving ground to show this simply is not true.

    Despite Hafner being a disappointment for how much he is paid, I will say I think his 2010 season may have him on the right track coming into this season.  He played in 118 games, which was more than his previous two seasons, and he posted a .278/13/50 line. He also knocked 29 doubles and drew 51 walks, inflating his OBP to .374. 

    This spring, Hafner is hitting a more-than-respectable .326 over 43 plate appearances. Although he only has three extra-base hits in that time, look for a power surge from the veteran in the 2011 season.

No. 6: 1B Matt LaPorta

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Matt LaPorta #7 of the Cleveland Indians at bat against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the game at Angel Stadium on September 7, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    This is certainly a make-or-break year for LaPorta. Once a highly-touted piece of the C.C. Sabathia trade in 2008, the 26-year-old has only made a minor splash with the Cleveland Indians.

    LaPorta will once again be given the everyday first basemen duties this season, where the Tribe brass will hope he can improve on his .221 batting average last season. Although he has proven ultra-reliable with his mitt (third in the AL for range factor and fielding percentage for first basemen), the Indians did not acquire him with his defense in mind but rather with the lumber in his hands.

    LaPorta has struggled mightily during spring training, hitting only .163 in the second most at-bats on the team (49). Manager Manny Acta has said that catcher Carlos Santana may also see time first base this season. Depending on how LaPorta performs, backup catcher Lou Marson may get more starts if Santana is spelling a struggling LaPorta at first base.

No. 7: LF Travis Buck

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 13: Travis Buck #28 of the Cleveland Indians grounds out against the San Diego Padres during the first inning of the spring training baseball game at Peoria Stadium on March 13, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Gett
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    This is also a spot in the order which is subject to change, as there has been no official word how the outfield will look come Opening Day. Due to his strong Spring Training performance, I would give the left field spot to Travis Buck today.

    This spring, Buck has put up monster numbers. His 50 at-bats are most on the team, which he has reached base 21 times on hits for a .420 batting average. This includes five doubles and four home runs with a team-leading 12 RBIs for good measure.

    Where Buck may have a leg up on the competition is the fact that he can comfortably man all three outfield positions. Austin Kearns still may score the Opening Day starting slot, with Shelley Duncan in the mix as well. Trevor Crowe has been taken out of contention due to injuries.

    Buck may prove to be an absolute steal this offseason if he takes this momentum into the regular season.

No. 8: 3B Jayson Nix

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 8:  Pinch hitterJayson Nix #12 of the Cleveland Indians singles in the tying run in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 8, 2010 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Ge
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    With Jason Donald injured, Jayson Nix seems to be the starting third basemen by default at this point. The hot corner is currently the team's greatest weakness.

    To make matters worse, Nix certainly has not set the world on fire with his spring showing—a paltry .167 batting average which includes nine strikeouts in 30 at-bats.

    There is a possibility that new acquisition Jack Hannahan may still beat out Nix, which he certainly has done in spring training to this point (.386 batting average, five doubles, four RBIs). Luis Valbuena may also have a shot at starting on Opening Day as well. Time will tell.

No. 9: 2B Orlando Cabrera

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - MARCH 05: Orlando Cabrera #2 of the Cincinnati Reds bats against the Cleveland Indians during a spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark on March 5, 2010 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    The Indians' marquee free agent signing this offseason will most likely hold down the bottom of the lineup.

    The 14-year veteran is certainly an asset to the young team in the clubhouse, but it remains to be seen how much he will contribute on the field.

    Do not count out this savvy veteran who may have just enough gas in the tank to surprise some folks this season before retirement calls his name. While his Spring Training numbers have been average (.265 batting average over 34 at-bats), he should help anchor a young infield with his veteran presence.