By TJ Zuppe
With the Indians' spring training under way in Goodyear, Az., a number of questions are starting to take shape. The answers to those uncertainties will determine the ultimate destination for the Tribe in 2012.
5. Who's on third?
Without thinking much, it seems Lonnie Chisenhall would have the inside track at the hot corner. Not so fast. Infielder Jack Hannahan could make a strong case for the position this spring. Who earns that starting job will help mold the rest of the roster.
Hannahan will remain on the team, regardless of who plays third. He really impressed the club with his glove and surprised some with his bat. The question is -- in what capacity will he be involved? In a scenario in which Hannahan starts, Chisenhall would be seasoned a bit more in Class AAA Columbus. That would open the door for the Tribe to keep another right-handed infielder on their bench, providing an opportunity for Jason Donald, Cristian Guzman, Cord Phelps, Jose Lopez, Matt LaPorta or Russ Canzler.
While there is no doubt Chisenhall is the future, do not rule out the possibility of the clock reading, "Hannahan Time," for just a bit longer.
4. And on the fifth day...
That is a good question. Who will enter the starting rotation in place of Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona? With Jon Garland now ruled out, Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes are prepared to duke it out this spring. Slowey figures to have the inside track.
There is no lack of options, but there are no guarantees any of them will run away with the opportunity. Slowey had his issues in 2011, struggling with a bullpen role. Gomez and Huff both had moments of brilliance balanced by innings of madness. But without Hernandez's innings at the back-end of the rotation, someone will need to step it up.
3. 2011: Choo and Cabrera - Fluke or Reality?
2011 was certainly two very different seasons for two key members of the Tribe. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had the best offensive year of his career, being named an All-Star and a Silver Slugger last year. On the other end of the spectrum, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo endured embarrassment, disappointing play and constant nagging injuries.
So which player has the best chance at returning to their form from last season? It would stand to reason Cabrera's power numbers (25 HR's in 2011) would decline in 2012. A decline in the long ball may not be alarming if he is able to remain consistent throughout the upcoming year.
There is no doubt Cleveland will need Choo to return to all-star caliber. His talent, which was relatively untapped, could help push the Indians lineup into dangerous territory.
2. Would the real Ubaldo Jimenez please stand up?
Exactly what pitcher did the Indians acquire last season? Is it the Rockies’ ace hurler, who pitched through the thin air in Colorado and won 19 games in 2010? Or is Jimenez destined to remain the right-hander who posted an earned run average over 5.00 in his brief stint with the Tribe last year?
The 28-year old has worked hard this off-season and believes a lack of nagging injuries heading into spring will make all the difference. If his stuff returns to form, so might his confidence level. The overall performance of the starting rotation really hinges on who we see this year.
1. How will health impact the club?
Health nearly always shapes how a campaign plays out. It’s safe to place your chips on teams that avoid the injury bug. However, bumps and bruises are no excuse for any club. General manager Chris Antonetti has learned his lesson.
This off-season, he has been out adding major league talent to the upper levels of the minor leagues. That depth will provide a security blanket for manager Manny Acta. Even with those internal options now in play, keeping outfielder Grady Sizemore and designated hitter Travis Hafner in the lineup still remains crucial to success.
Anytime the health of either Sizemore or Hafner comes into play, it becomes the biggest question mark of all.
TJ Zuppe covers the Cleveland Indians for ESPN 850 WKNR. Catch TJ on Munch in the Morning weekdays from 4:30a.m.-6a.m. on ESPN 850 WKNR and 8:00a.m.-9:00a.m. on ESPN 1540 KNR2.
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