Cleveland Indians 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 94-67, 1st in the AL Central. Lost the World Series to Chicago. The Land is back!! After the Cavs won their first title, the Indians won the American League and played in one of the most epic World Series in recent memory (yeah they blew a 3-1 lead, but we’re not talking about that right now). And to top it off the Browns just pulled off one of the best trades in the recent history of the NFL. Everything’s coming up Cleveland. This offseason saw the Indians get even stronger when the brought in free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to bolster an already solid lineup. As an Orioles fan, I am glad to see E5 out of my division and only ruining my night 10 times a year instead of 19 times a year. With the rest of the team’s in the AL Central filled with question marks or in the middle of a rebuilding effort, the Indians should cruise to October once again. Everything’s coming up Cleveland.

Offseason Moves:

Significant additions: 1B Edwin Encarnacion, LHP Boone Logan, OF Austin Jackson

Significant subtractions: 1B Mike Napoli

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. 2B Jose Ramirez
  2. SS Francisco Lindor
  3. LF Michael Brantley
  4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
  5. 1B Carlos Santana
  6. RF Lonnie Chisenhall
  7. C Yan Gomes
  8. CF Tyler Naquin
  9. 3B Giovanny Urshela

Ok maybe not everything is coming up Cleveland as we just learned All Star second baseman Jason Kipnis will miss the start of the regular season due to a shoulder injury. It doesn’t sound that serious, but after what happened with Michael Brantley last season Indians fans have learned to not take situations like this lightly. Speaking of Brantley, he was limited to 11 games in 2016 and the same shoulder injury that ruined his season last year still isn’t quite right as his 2017 Opening Day status is currently up in the air. When Brantley’s healthy, he is one of the best all around players in the league and would be a huge boost to a team that scored the second most runs in the A.L. last season. Encarnacion brings his .498 career slugging percentage to a lineup that had four players slugg over .460 last season (Santana, Kipnis, Ramirez, Naquin). If the Indians can get a little injury luck with Brantley and Kipnis they’ll be near the top of the league in runs scored once again.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation-

  • RHP Corey Kluber
  • RHP Carlos Carrasco
  • RHP Trevor Bauer
  • RHP Josh Tomlin
  • RHP Danny Salazar

Bullpen-

  • RHP Cody Allen – Closer
  • LHP Andrew Miller
  • RHP Bryan Shaw
  • LHP Boone Logan
  • RHP Dan Otero

As good as the Cleveland rotation is, in a weird way they have underachieved and there is potential for them to be even better as a group.  Corey Kluber has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons, but even the KluBot wasn’t perfect in 2016 as he had four starts where he gave up 5 earned runs or more.  We’ve been waiting on Carlos Carrasco since what feels like the Bush Administration. The brilliance of Carrasco is clear, but we’ve seen more than 150 innings in a season from the right hander just once in his career due to injuries. This may seem impossible, but depending on when you are reading this Carrasco may already be 30 (turns 30 on 3/21) the upside just might not be what we’ve all been hoping for. Trevor Bauer was the third overall pick in the draft back in 2011 and the hype train got rolling almost instantly. The train was stopped dead in its tracks once Bauer reached the big leagues and has never really picked back up. Bauer has become a walk machine giving up almost four (3.88) free passes per nine innings throughout his career. If Bauer cannot fix that his hype train will stay off the tracks and Indians may have to eventually look for his replacement. Danny Salazar continues the underachieving trend with this staff as injuries and inconsistent performance have never allowed him to fully flourish. Salazar is a huge strikeout guy fanning 10 batters per 9 innings pitched throughout his career. In 2016 Salazar was injured again, but he also started walking nearly double the amount from 2015, maybe it was caused by the injury but that is not an encouraging sign that Salazar will finally figure it all out anytime soon. Josh Tomlin is the exact opposite of a lot of his teammates as the 19th round pick was never expected to amount to anything, but the righty has used pinpoint control to become a reliable mid rotation starter for The Tribe. Tomlin’s issue is he should probably give up a little of his control in an effort to keep the ball in the park. Tomlin has given up an obscene 1.5 homers per 9 innings in his career including a 1.86 rate in 2016. Tomlin needs to get that under control if he wants to take his game to the next level. In the bullpen, you won’t find a better duo than Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Both are big strikeout pitchers who can pitch multiple innings getting both righties and lefties out in the process. It’s basically a 7 inning game when you play Cleveland just because of these two studs relievers.

Fantasy Analysis

Stud: SP Corey Kluber. As I mentioned earlier, Kluber has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons, but he has also been one of the best fantasy pitchers over the last three seasons. Kluber’s three year average is a 3.23 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, a 4.63 K/BB rate and 200+ innings pitched a year of those numbers. That is a bonafide fantasy ace ladies and gentlemen. Kluber is currently going as the fifth starting pitcher off the board in drafts as he should be. Take The KluBot every chance you get to anchor your staff in 2017.

Sleeper: OF Tyler Naquin. The Indians have a lot of their players priced right this season so this is more of an endorsement of fantasy players valuing Indians’ players properly heading into 2017 than it is of Naquin. Naquin had a huge power breakout in his rookie year with Cleveland last season popping 14 homers and the underlying numbers show the power was legit (.218 ISO, .514 Slugg). Naquin had never shown this type of power in the minors so I do not necessarily see a 30+ homer player here, but with Naquin being the Indians second best outfielder and another Michael Brantley injury away from being their best outfielder playing time should be there for Naquin to drive his counting numbers even if the power outburst from 2016 was a fluke. Naquin’s draft price is basically free right now going outside the top 300 at pick 317, grab him for your bench knowing there is a chance he becomes an everyday starter for you quickly.

Bust: 2B Jason Kipnis. I’m never a fan of spring training injuries that carry over into the regular season. Kipnis’ teammate Michael Brantley is the extreme example of that from 2016 and although I’m not predicting just 11 games played for Kipnis this season, I am avoiding him in most formats now. Kipnis was always slightly overrated to me due to his lack of power pre-2016, but still with just one year of real power and stolen base numbers that are slowly declining, I’ll pass on Kipnis this year in what is a surprisingly deep second base pool.

2017 Record Prediction: I have my concerns about the health of a lot Indians’ players, but their division might be the worst in all of baseball and they should cruise to another playoff berth.  90-72. First in the AL Central.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/14

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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