Sep. 23, 2016
Cleveland Indians Preview
UPDATE: Literally while I was writing this, Cleveland signed OF Austin Jackson as a non-roster invitee. He is likely to push for a roster spot and possibly starting center field.
We are less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp, and approximately a month away from the beginning of Spring Training. Already. It seems like that epic Game 7 was just a few weeks ago, and yet we are already at the end of January. Well, I will be doing my previews on all 30 MLB teams, starting with the defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians (who now have the longest title "drought" in baseball) all the way to the defending champion Chicago Cubs. So now, here is the first team on that list and first in the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians.
Projected Rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer
This is probably the best rotation in the American League at the moment, as this rotation was without Carrasco and Salazar through much of, if not all of, the postseason. Kluber is a true ace, and Tomlin and Bauer have proven to be effective in pressure situations as well. Other guys to keep an eye on are Ryan Merritt, who made his first start in the World Series and Mike Clevinger, who will likely end up in the bullpen. There aren't a lot of young, high level prospects nearing the majors, as the only two in their top eight, Brady Aiken and Triston McKenzie, have yet to reach triple A. That's usually what happens when you trade a good amount of prospects for a setup man.
Bullpen: Cody Allen (CL), Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody, Mike Clevinger
Allen and Miller are at least the best 1-2 punch in the back of the bullpen in the AL Central, and are near the top of the American League. Miller was a late season addition last year by the Indians via the New York Yankees, and now they are lucky enough to have him for a full year. Shaw, Otero and McAllister all also pitched in at least 50 games and held their ERA's under 3.50 for the Indians, so they are quality relievers as well. Clevinger is the long reliever as he is currently listed as a sixth starter, and Nick Goody will get the last spot. Keep an eye on Kyle Crockett, Perci Garner, Joseph Colon and non-roster invitee Steve Delabar to challenge Goody and even possibly get an eighth bullpen spot.
Catchers: Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez
If I'm Cleveland, I'm fine with not trading for Jonathan Lucroy, as he is afraid of having to compete with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. Both had pretty bad years offensively last season, but Perez is a quality defensive backstop and game manager behind the plate, and Gomes still has the offensive potential to be successful. He did battle injuries last season. The name to watch here is Francisco Mejia, who is a top catching prospect and currently resides in Triple-A. Should Gomes and/or Perez struggle, he will be up sooner than later. Also, veteran Erik Kratz is a non-roster invitee, although his chances of making the Opening Day roster are slim. Guillermo Quiroz is the other big league catcher in Spring Training.
Infield: Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Martinez
The starting infield, plus designated hitter, is virtually set both offensively and defensively, and the quintet listed above should provide one of the best infields in baseball. Expect Santana and newcomer Edwin Encarnacion to swap between first base and designated hitter, but the other three positions should be set provided Jose Ramirez is not a one year wonder. As far as a sixth infield spot, Michael Martinez leads the battle in my mind due to his versatility. Keep an eye on high level prospect Erik Gonzalez as well, along with defensive whiz Giovanny Urshela. Non-roster invitee Chris Colabello is a utility power bat and has a shot as well to earn a spot in the infield or the outfield.
Outfield: Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Abraham Almonte
This outfield core lost Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp this offseason, but it still is a quality group with young talent. This group, and lineup, goes from solid to dynamic if Michael Brantley returns to form offensively, and if Naquin and Chisenhall stay on the upswing. Brandon Guyer is a good backup outfielder and can defend at all three positions, and Abraham Almonte has had a bit of an unusual start to his career after that 80 game suspension. His spot is not guaranteed, so keep an eye on Colabello, an extra bullpen arm, or the top prospect in the organization Bradley Zimmer taking his spot. At some point, depending on which of the three starting outfielders struggles first or gets hurt, Zimmer will be in Cleveland.
LINEUP: Ramirez (3B), Kipnis (2B), Lindor (SS), Encarnacion (DH), Santana (1B), Brantley (LF), Chisenhall (RF), Gomes (C), Naquin (CF)
I don't understand why hitting Carlos Santana first with a low batting average is what Terry Francona does, but a flip-flop between Santana and Ramirez is the only real switch that may happen. Overall, a healthy Brantley makes 1-6 in this batting order dangerous with the addition of Encarnacion, and 7-9 aren't that weak either. If two out of the three of Chisenhall, Gomes and Naquin have good years for them, this lineup will be top five in the AL easily.
PREDICTION: With how weird the AL West looks right now, and with the rest of the Central likely to struggle (and a blow to their top contender Kansas City happened with the death of Yordano Ventura), Cleveland is a favorite to win the AL Central, and should be favorites in the American League. The Red Sox and maybe the Blue Jays are the only teams that could stop them, but with the best AL rotation, a quality lineup that has a boost of Edwin Encarnacion, and a dynamic back of the bullpen, Cleveland is the closest thing to a complete team. Since they play so many games against the AL Central, which is baseball's weakest division at this point, 100 wins is not out of the question.