The Cleveland Indians were the definition of average last season as they finished the year 81-81. There were some positives and negatives to come out of the season. It appears that they have an awesome pitching staff that has performed impressively at the big league level now. They also now have confirmation that Francisco Lindor is good enough to be the face of the franchise and Jason Kipnis proved that his 2014 season was an outlier year for him. On the downside of things, they lost Michael Brantley to injury that will extend to the beginning of this year and Abraham Almonte got stuck with an 80 game suspension for PED use, leaving Cleveland in a position to enter the season without two starting outfielders. With a very quiet off-season, the Indians are banking on home grown talent to take them to the next level in 2016.
Juan Uribe, Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Will Venable, Marlon Byrd, Dan Otero, Joe Thatcher, Colin Cowgill, Joey Butler, Anthony Recker, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gorzelanny, Shane Robinson, Felipe Paulino, Robbie Grossman, Tommy Hunter
Mike Aviles, Chris Johnson, Ryan Raburn, Gavin Floyd, Kirby Yates, Jayson Aquino, CC Lee, Nick Hagadone, Ryan Webb, Tony Wolters
Biggest Strength - Starting Pitching
Some are calling this the best pitching rotation in the American League and it's honestly hard to argue for any other team to take that title. The ace of the staff has already won a Cy Young award and the next two guys appear to be on the cusp of breakout seasons which could have them in the same conversation. Of course we are speaking of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. All three of these guys are straight nasty. They are all three amongst the league leaders in strikeout percentage and all three are great at controlling walks. For Carrasco and Salazar, it will just take a small step forward for them to also be considered amongst the best pitchers in the MLB along with their teammate Kluber. The fourth spot in the rotation will probably go to Trevor Bauer, who still looks like he has awesome upside. He too strikes out tons of batters, but he has control issues and walks batters. This causes him to be streaky. When his control is on, he's as good as the other three, when he's not it isn't pretty. The fifth spot is currently up for grabs. It will likely go to either Josh Tomlin, TJ House, or Cody Anderson - all of whom are great fifth options.
Biggest Weakness - Outfield
Let's start with good news - this is likely a temporary problem. The best player on the whole team is Michael Brantley and he will return from injury hopefully within the first month of the regular season, so he will take one of the outfield spots at that time. However, the starting three outfielders on opening day right now are unknown, but they aren't going to impress you. Lonnie Chisenhall seems like a lock to play right field. He was a bit of a surprise last season as he started playing outfield after being a bit of a failure at third base (another problem position for the Indians). He played alright on defense, but still has the same problems with his streaky hitting. Options for center field include 2012 first round draft pick Tyler Naquin and veteran Rajai Davis. There's a good chance the two of them do a righty/lefty platoon at the position for the majority of the season. Naquin hasn't played in the big leagues yet, but he hasn't shown that he's a huge threat with the bat in the minors. Davis has however been somewhat productive at times and is always a good base runner who can steal bases if nothing else. Other options for the remaining outfield spot include, but aren't limited to - Will Venable, Marlon Byrd, Colin Cowgill, Shane Robinson and Robbie Grossman. Luckily, this is probably the starting spot that Michael Brantley will take over as soon as possible. Other good news on this front - the two top prospects for Cleveland are both outfielders and are both fairly close to the MLB. Be on the lookout for Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier to make their case for the big leagues in 2017 with their play this year. Oh yea, there's also Abraham Almonte who's currently serving an 80 game suspension for PED use. He partially caused this mess when his suspension was announced.
Something to keep an eye on - Third Base
If you've been paying attention the Indians the past few years, you know that third base has been a perennial issue for them. For a short term solution to this problem, the team signed veteran Juan Uribe. It looks like he will play every day, at least at first. Cleveland already sent down Giovanny Urshela who played a good portion of the season last year, and he doesn't appear to be a long term solution anyways. Other options include Jose Ramirez, who has gotten some time playing short stop at the big league level for a few years now since he was just 20 years old. Obviously, Francisco Lindor is now the shortstop, which relegates Ramirez to infield depth. Due to lack of other options, he could be the best number 2 guy there now that Mike Aviles is gone. Of course, the player who was supposed to be 'the guy' for the Indians at third is Lonnie Chisenhall, who is now playing outfield. He might get another look towards the end of the season when Almonte and Brantley are back and guys like Zimmer and Frazier could be making their push to play. Overall, this is still a big time problem position if Juan Uribe is removed. It will be interesting to see what happens with the position over the course of the season and it wouldn't be surprising to see some interesting things happen here since options are so scarce for the Indians. Maybe they'll use Yandy Diaz at some point - a guy who wouldn't be a prospect anywhere else but could get lucky because of team need. He actually put up an OBP over .400 in AA last season, so he shouldn't be too far down on the list to be honest.
Projected Lineup… Lefties*… Switch Hitters^
- Francisco Lindor^ - SS
- Jason Kipnis* - 2B
- Carlos Santana^ - DH
- Mike Napoli - 1B
- Lonnie Chisenhall* - RF
- Yan Gomes - C
- Will Venalbe* - LF
- Juan Uribe - 3B
- Tyler Naquin* - CF
Marlon Byrd, Rajai Davis, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez
Projected Rotation… Lefties*
- Corey Kluber
- Carlos Carrasco
- Danny Salazar
- Trevor Bauer
- Josh Tomlin
Cody Allen - Closer, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Crockett*, Jeff Manship
Starting Season on DL
Michael Brantley*, Tommy Hunter
Fantasy Bargain - Michael Brantley
Brantley is for some reason being drafted outside the top 100 in many leagues this year. It's obviously because of injury concerns, but he is making it very clear that he could push it and play opening day, but they're going to be a little moreconservative that that with him. This is a guy who get on base, steals bases and is a perennial 20/20 threat to boot. He has no weakness in his game either. Once healthy, he's probably a top 20 or top 30 fantasy player. There is a little risk due to the whole injury thing, but it sounds like he's close, so he shouldn't fall to 100.
This Indians team might be ready to take a step forward this season. A lot relies on the pitching staff being as dominant as some think they can be, and there are a lot of unknowns with regards to the outfielders to start the season. Cleveland will also get a full season out of Francisco Lindor at the big league level and picked up another nice bat in Mike Napoli. Overall, the team looks like it could improve its win total to around 85, which actually might mean they're competing for a division title in an AL Central with a lot of question marks.