Today’s Fan Projection Targets focus on a division that sometimes gets a bit less press because of its geographical location and relative weakness. Within that division, it takes a look at a position on the diamond that is itself garners scant attention relative to others on the diamond. The projected starting second basemen of the American League Central are not simply a neglected group in fan projections, however, but are interesting in their own right. Scattered in the debris we have a platoon situation, a couple of interesting not-quite-rookies, and a once-promising prospect trying to get his career back on track. Won’t you share your thoughts on how these players will fare in 2012?
Although prior to the end of the season they did not always look all that impressive, the Detroit Tigers won their division rather handily in 2011. Although they still have some holes in their lineup, that is not exceptional in this division, and their starting rotation is quite strong. One area in which the Tigers have found a potentially cost-efficient solution is at second base, where the current plan seems to be to platoon switch-hitter Ramon Santiago and right-handed hitting Ryan Raburn. If the platoon goes as planned, the weak-hitting, good-fielding Santiago will get the majority of the plate appearances, with Raburn (whose defensive reputation is not good) hoping to recapture some consistency. However, this is the sort of place where the observant, informed fan can really improve on projections. It is not simply your own “scouting” acumen with regard to the player’s hitting and fielding (although that is very important to these projections, obviously). In cases like these, those who watch the teams carefully and follow them an add their insight into how the playing time distribution will actually come off for each player. In Raburn’s case in particular — how much time will he actually see at second? Will he spend time in the outfield as well? If he slumps to start the year, will the Tigers keep marching him out there or jerk him around again?
The rest of the division is in varying states of disrepair, but if any team so far looks like it is in a position to make a run at the Tigers, it is Cleveland. Trading multiple prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez last summer certainly indicates they are going to try. One area of hope for Cleveland are a couple of new arrivals in their infield from the farm, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and the player who is part of the subject of this post: second baseman Jason Kipnis. Kipnis got enough playing time last season (136 at-bats) that he will not qualify for Rookie of the Year consideration in 2012. While he hit well in 2011, the sample is small enough that it provides less of a reason for hope than his good hitting throughout his minor-league career. Just how will Kipnis, who will be 25 in April, hit in 2012? Perhaps of more interest is how he will be in the field, as he is a converted outfielder whose glove has always been a question. This is a big issue for Cleveland, as they have a ground-ball-heavy pitching staff.
Some Minnesota Twins fans are probably unhappy with the above implication that only Cleveland really has a shot at the Tigers in 2012. Fair enough — the Twins have won the division plenty of times when they were not expected to do so, and they are in a position where they sort of have to go for it. In some ways, they have the most “stable” second base situation in the division with Alexi Casilla. And by “stable,” I mean “they really have no other choices.” That may be unfair, depending on what you think of, say Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s role in 2012, but Casilla seems to be the plan so far. I must admit that I thought Casilla had neither the bat nor the glove to be more than an end-of-the-bench utility guy, but in playing time somewhat limited by injury last season, he actually did alright — a .311 wOBA is acceptable for a middle infielder in this recent run environment. The question remains as to whether his bat is adequate to play second full-time, and whether or not his glove work at second is enough of an improvement over his fielding at shortstop to give the Twins one less hole to worry about.
If Casilla is a second-base question mark for Minnesota, Gordon Beckham may be an even bigger one for the “we’re rebuilding… sort of” Chicago White Sox. After an extremely impressive rookie debut in 2009, the last two seasons at the plate have been mostly disastrous for Beckham, who turned 25 in September. After showing good power and plate discipline in 2009, both aspects of his game have declined in successive seasons. Beckham is obviously still fairly young, but the recent signs have not been good. Beyond simply the question of his true talent going into 2012, there is another question of how long the White Sox are willing to stick with him if he struggles again to start the season. At what point to they start giving Beckham’s plate appearances to 2011 surprise Brent Lillibridge?
Finally, the Kansas City Royals go into 2012 with a feeling of optimism about improvement (if not necessarily contention) on the major-league level for the first time in years due to many recent arrivals for the farm system. While the pitching is still a question mark, the position players look mostly solid. Probably the biggest question is at second base, where 2012 -not-quite-a-rookie Johnny Giavotella looks like he has the inside track for the starting job. While Giavotella always showed the ability to hit (at least numbers-wise) in the minors, he probably only has 2012 to show what he can do. For one thing, there have always been major questions about his glove at second (which limits his chances to be much of a utility player), and his bat (which was underwhelming in his 2012 major-league sojourn, to say the least) probably will not play anywhere else full-time. For another, the Royals seem pretty set on 2010 first-round draft pick Christian Colon as their second baseman of the future, despite his failure to hit so far in the minors. During Giavotella’s brief 2011 sojourn in the majors, manager Ned Yost was already replacing him for defensive reasons late in some games, so it is not as if there are signs of the organization brimming with confidence about him (although Yost has said that Giavotella will likely hit second). With Colon needing at least another full season in the minors, the main question beyond projecting Giavotella’s true hitting and fielding talent is whether he can play well enough to avoid being supplanted by Kansas City fan “favorites” like Chris Getz, He Who Must Not Be Named, or a terrifying platoon of the two.