CLEVELAND -- The Indians ended last season with the youngest roster in baseball, and not much will have changed when Opening Day arrives this year. As far as manager Manny Acta is concerned, though, that is no reason to have low expectations.
"Youth is not an excuse to not get better," Acta said.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in the American League Central, Cleveland heads into 2011 with plenty of questions. The club hopes to find some answers by giving its young roster a chance to show what it can do over the course of a full season.
The Indians undoubtedly anticipate some growing pains, but the team also believes it has the talent in place to surprise people. It will also help if center fielder Grady Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana return to the lineup at full strength after missing considerable time with injuries a year ago.
Having those two players back in the fold, combined with what is expected to be a solid bullpen behind a developing rotation, provide reasons to hope that 2011 will be better than predicted by baseball's prognosticators.
Acta sees plenty of reasons for fans to be excited, too.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Reds, Feb. 27 at 3:05 p.m. ET
Home vs. White Sox, April 1 at 3:05 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1.Will Sizemore and Santana be ready for Opening Day?
Heading into Spring Training, the Indians' goal is to have Sizemore and Santana healthy and in the lineup come Opening Day. Both players are making their way back from left knee surgery. Sizemore's recovery process is more complicated than Santana's rehab, so there is a chance the center fielder might not be ready for the start of the season. Barring any setbacks, Santana should be fine for Opening Day.
This is an issue that could take all of Spring Training to solve. As things currently stand, Jayson Nix and Jason Donald appear to be the leading candidates for both spots. Which player would play where is not clear right now. Behind them, the Indians have a wide variety of players, including a handful of prospects, who will be competing for the infield vacancies this spring. 3. Can the Indians be a surprise team in the AL?
Acta and Indians general manager Chris Antonetti are optimistic that the team will be better than it was in 2010. A main reason for that is the hope that the Tribe will have the likes of Sizemore and Santana healthy and in the lineup. A lot would need to go right for Cleveland if it wanted to make noise in the AL Central this season, though. The young rotation needs to show considerable progress and the team must avoid frequent use of the disabled list.
2010 record69-93, fourth place in the AL Central
Projected batting order1. CF Grady Sizemore:
.211 BA, .271 OBP, .289 SLG, 0 HR, 13 RBI in 2010
2. SS Asdrubal Cabrera:
.276 BA, .326 OBP, .346 SLG, 3 HR, 29 RBI in 2010
3. RF Shin-Soo Choo:
.300 BA, .401 OBP, .484 SLG, 22 HR, 90 RBI in 2010
4. C Carlos Santana:
.260 BA, .401 OBP, .467 SLG, 6 HR, 22 RBI in 2010
5. DH Travis Hafner:
.278 BA, .374 OBP, .449 SLG, 13 HR, 50 RBI in 2010
6. 1B Matt LaPorta:
.221 BA, .306 OBP, .362 SLG, 12 HR, 41 RBI in 2010
7. 3B Jayson Nix:
.224 BA, .281 OBP, .396 SLG, 14 HR, 34 RBI in 2010
8. 2B Jason Donald:
.253 BA, .312 OBP, .378 SLG, 4 HR, 24 RBI in 2010
9. LF Michael Brantley:
.246 BA, .296 OBP, .327 SLG, 3 HR, 22 RBI in 2010
Projected rotation1. Fausto Carmona, 13-14, 3.77 ERA in 2010
2. Justin Masterson, 6-13, 4.70 ERA in 2010
3. Mitch Talbot, 10-13, 4.41 ERA in 2010
4. Carlos Carrasco, 2-2, 3.83 ERA in 2010
5. Josh Tomlin, 6-4, 4.56 ERA in 2010
6. Jeanmar Gomez, 4-5, 4.68 ERA in 2010
7. David Huff, 2-11, 6.21 ERA in 2010
Projected bullpenCloser: Chris Perez, 23/27 saves, 1.71 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Joe Smith, 3.83 ERA in 2010
LH setup man: Rafael Perez, 3.25 ERA in 2010
The new guysOF Travis Buck: Following an up-and-down tenure with the A's, Buck heads into camp with Cleveland on a Minor League contract. He will compete for a reserve outfielder role. INF Adam Everett: With so many question marks around the Indians' infield, adding a veteran to the mix helps the club's depth. Everett signed a Minor League deal with the Tribe and will compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster. 3B Jack Hannahan: The sure-handed Hannahan heads into camp on a Minor League contract with a chance to compete for the opening at third base. If Cleveland feels its prospects aren't ready, Hannahan could make a push for the job. OF Austin Kearns: The Indians traded Kearns to the Yankees last season and brought him back this winter with a one-year, $1.3 million deal. Kearns provides a right-handed option to help offset the all-lefty outfield of Brantley, Sizemore and Choo. RHP Joe Martinez: The Indians acquired Martinez from the Pirates in a January trade. He has experience as a starter and reliever, but Martinez's best chance of making the Opening Day roster is in the bullpen. RHP Doug Mathis: Mathis heads into camp on a Minor League contract with a chance to compete for one of the vacant bullpen jobs with the Indians. He adds experienced depth to Cleveland's considerable cast of young relievers. C Paul Phillips: Phillips signed a Minor League contract with the Indians in December. He adds experienced depth behind the plate and will head into camp with the Tribe as a candidate for the backup catching role.
Prospects to watch3B Lonnie Chisenhall: Considered Cleveland's top prospect, Chisenhall is viewed as the club's third baseman of the future. Chisenhall will likely open the season with Triple-A Columbus, but he could join the Indians later this summer. INF Jared Goedert: The Indians will take a look at Goedert this spring as a possibility for third base. He has shown solid power potential in the Minor Leagues, but he needs to display strong defense this spring to make a push for a big league job. RHP Josh Judy: Judy shined as a reliever with Triple-A Columbus last season and could make a run at a bullpen job with the Tribe this spring. If he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he could still see time in Cleveland later this summer. 2B Jason Kipnis: Kipnis moved from the outfield to second base last season and showed rapid progress. He will compete for the opening at second this spring, but he will most likely open the year at Triple-A with the goal of a promotion later this summer. RHP Vinnie Pestano: Pestano blazed through Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and then enjoyed a brief tour with the Tribe. He will head into camp with a chance to earn one of the available bullpen jobs. INF Cord Phelps: Phelps is in the mix as an option at second and third base for the Indians. He will compete for both jobs this spring and his versatility could also put him in the mix as a utility man off Cleveland's bench. RHP Bryce Stowell: Like Judy and Pestano, Stowell excelled as a reliever in the Indians' system in 2010. He will head to Spring Training as a candidate for a bullpen job with the Tribe. RHP Alex White: The Indians will likely send White to Triple-A Columbus to open this season, but the right-hander could join the Tribe at some point later this summer. Cleveland hopes he can develop into a rotation fixture for years to come.
On the reboundCabrera: Cabrera missed roughly two months of 2010 with a broken left forearm. The shortstop heads to Spring Training fully recovered, and the Indians hope that will amount to a strong comeback campaign. Hafner: A right shoulder issue sent Hafner to the disabled list for the third consecutive year last season. The further removed Hafner is from his 2008 shoulder surgery, the more likely he will regain power at the plate. LaPorta: LaPorta spent much of last offseason on crutches and then was forced to rehab from hip and turf toe operations. This winter, LaPorta was able to focus solely on baseball training, giving both him and the Indians hope that the first baseman can bounce back with a strong showing. Sizemore: The Indians will stick with a conservative approach when it comes to Sizemore's rehab from left knee surgery. That said, the club is optimistic that he will be able to rejoin the lineup by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. Santana: Santana showed his star potential after being promoted to Cleveland in June last season, but a knee injury ended his season prematurely in August. Santana should be healthy and ready for Opening Day, giving the Indians a promising weapon in the heart of the lineup.
Long goneC Chris Gimenez: After seven seasons in the organization, Gimenez parted ways with Cleveland, which selected him in the 19th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners. 3B Andy Marte: Once considered one of the game's top prospects, Marte never reached his perceived potential in parts of five seasons with the Tribe. He elected for free agency this winter and signed with the Pirates. INF Drew Sutton: The Indians claimed Sutton off waivers from the Reds in August, and he appeared in 11 games with the Tribe. This winter, he opted to become a free agent and signed with the Red Sox.