In 2011, it was the Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana show when the Indians pulled the lumber out of the old bat rack. Hopefully this season, they will have some insurance around them to help carry the season's workload.
A lot of the Indian's success will depend on how well second basemen Jason Kipnis and third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall progress. Kipnis, a 2009 draft choice out of Arizona State, made an immediate impact to the Tribe's lineup once he joined them in July. It only took him a week to hit his first big league homerun. In the following month, he put five big flies over the fence. The question is but can he adjust to big league pitching as they adjust to him?
Chisenhall, a well groomed 2008 first round pick, may have a higher ceiling than Kipnis. He recorded six multi-hit games in September, which raised his batting average fifteen points. Scouts raved about his hitting at the minor league level, and that success is slowing coming along in the major leagues, but will his meager defense at the hot corner negate his productive at bats?
When the Eric Wedge era players are gone (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, etc) Kipnis and Chisenhall will inherit the offensive accountability. In fact, they have their fair share of expectations already.
The future is coming on. Chisenhall is 23, and Kipnis will turn 25 in April.
Manager Manny Acta put Kipnis all over the Indians lineup, mostly in the two hole in between Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera. Kipnis will be penciled in as the starter at second base, but once Shin Soo Choo comes back healthy, Kipnis may be bumped down in the lineup to make room. Chisenhall, on the other hand, should win the third base job for Opening Day over travelsman Jack Hannahan.
Kipnis has a great eye at the plate, and generally does not chase anything out of the zone. His selectiveness makes opposing pitchers work harder to get outs. Patient hitters, like Kipnis, use the entire field, which keeps the defense guessing.
After not even his first full season with the Tribe, Chisenhall showed what he can do, but did not start out as quickly as Kipnis did. But over time, assuming he develops his hitting talents, he will be a very good big league hitter for years to come. He has been more of an all or nothing kind of hitter, but when he gets ahold of one, watch out.
But what both of these young hitters have in common is that they have raw ability, the tangibles, which are getting harder and harder to come by. They both are surrounded by a lineup that, while battling injuries last year, should be very well rounded this season. With Choo, Cabrera, and Brantley being ready to begin the season in good form, Kipnis and Chisenhall expect to be a part of an Indians lineup that could pack a punch and score some runs this coming summer.