Asdrubal Cabrera has been floated around as a likely trade piece for the Tribe dating back to last season, but general manager Chris Antonetti has delivered on his promise from earlier this winter to keep him as the team’s starting shortstop heading into 2013. The Indians’ big offseason may speak louder than anything Antonetti can say to defend this promise. The Tribe have built a solid lineup around Cabrera, and if the goal is to compete now, he will likely be staying put for the foreseeable future.
At least until the trade deadline.
If the last two seasons are indicative of a trend, Cabrera appears to have reached a plateau in his career as a mid .270′s hitter that’s safe to hit 15-20 homers and drive in around 70 runs annually. At age 27, however, there’s still plenty of baseball left in him, and he proved in 2009 he is capable of an average above .300. Regardless, Cabrera is a cornerstone in the top half of the Indians lineup, and finished 2012 in the top 4 on the team in OPS and slugging. If the Tribe are to make a serious run, Asdrubal will need to keep those production levels up from start to finish.
The other man likely to receive some time at short is Mike Aviles. Last season was tough for Aviles, who was not alone in his struggles during a disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox. He hit .250 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI in 2012 while posting a sub-.300 OBP. Terry Francona will have to hope that a change of scenery may help Aviles re-capture some of the rhythm that led him to a .304 batting average in 110 games with Kansas City in 2010.
Like Cabrera, Aviles has proven that he is capable of being a more than reliable bat in the average department, though maybe not as steadily. That isn’t as great of a concern for his role in Cleveland, as he will be a utility man for the Tribe this season.
Juan Diaz rounds out the group of shortstops currently on the 40-man roster. Diaz made his major league debut last season in late May during a 5-game stint with the Indians. That call-up came from Akron, where he spent the majority of 2012. He did get a late call up to class-AAA Columbus and played well in the 19 games he spent there.
Diaz is a big body at the shortstop position that is presumably the top emergency option should Cleveland need help this season. The rest of the shortstops in the system aren’t quite ready for Major League action yet.
Speaking of the “rest of the shortstops”, Cleveland’s organizational depth at the position is remarkable. It starts with their best prospect (and MLB.com’s #14 prospect in their top 100), 19-year-old Francisco Lindor. Fresh off of his first full season of professional baseball with class-A Lake County, Lindor looks to continue his rapid climb through the ranks in 2013. He only hit .257 in 2012, but posted an impressive .382 OBP and stole 27 bases in 122 games.
The most developed part of Lindor’s game is in the field, where he is already evaluated as an above-average arm and defender. His glove will always be there as he grows into what is expected to be a plus hitter with average power. Don’t let the underwhelming batting average fool you, Francisco Lindor is the real deal.
While Lindor figures to be the top option for the long-term future at shortstop, 20-year-olds Tony Wolters and Ronny Rodriguez have been moving up the ranks of the organization together, spending all of 2012 with advanced-A Carolina. Both figure to be flexible for the Tribe’s future as they also spent plenty of time at second base. Of the pair, Rodriguez posted better numbers overall last season with a .264 average, 19 home runs, and 66 RBI. Like Lindor, he already has an above-average arm, but figures to be able to grow into above-average power as well.
Rounding out the top shortstops in the Indians organization is the Indians 3rd-best overall prospect, 18-year-old Dorssys Paulino. Paulino is the most intriguing prospect at the position besides Lindor, and ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him as the 56th best prospect in baseball in his latest top-100 list (ESPNInsider protected). Paulino’s glove still needs to develop, but the Indians are excited about his ability to hit for average and power. This could ultimately lead to a shift to third base, considering his estimated arrival in MLB is similar to that of Lindor’s.
The gist of the whole thing is that the Indians are loaded in the middle infield, and some of this talent will be begin to reach some of the higher levels of their system by the end of this season. While there are only so many innings to go around at the Major League level, Chris Antonetti and his staff have to be excited with the flexibility that their bevy of talent gives them both internally and in future trade markets.
Third base is up next, where Lonnie Chisenhall finally has the starting job all to himself.
The Tribe’s first game in Goodyear against the Reds is this Friday. The excitement is starting to consume me. Seriously.
*All organizational rankings and skill evaluations referenced are according to MLB.com*