The Cleveland Indians: 2014 (85-77, 3rd Place) – 2015 Prediction (87-75, 2nd Place Tie):
The Indians had back-to-back winning seasons in 2013 and 2014 for the first time since they were a powerhouse between 1995-2001. As I have stated above, I expect 2015 to be another winning season for them. If not for a dreadful month of April, the Indians would have qualified for a postseason berth last year and they have their sights set on getting back there in 2015. If not for vast improvements by other teams in the division, I would consider having them second by themselves or even ahead of the Tigers. One of my favorite baseball experts, Jon Morosi, has the Indians in his top 5 teams in MLB, which may be a little high. However, if everything falls into place, they may be a force to be reckoned with.
Offense: Lead by 2014 MVP candidate Michael Brantley, the Indians have a talented lineup that has a great mix of power and speed. Brantley hit for a .327 BA last year while hitting 20 HR and stealing 23 bases. Their leadoff man, Michael Bourn, has the ability to hit for a .300 BA and steal more than 50 bases. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Jose Ramirez have the ability to each steal 30 or more bases, however, Ramirez lacks power like most SS do while Kipnis has 20 HR potential and is only one year removed from being an AL All-Star.
First baseman Carlos Santana and RF Brandon Moss provide most of the power in the Indians lineup. Both have the ability to hit over 30 HR with 80 or more RBI. If Nick Swisher can bounce back and young 3B Lonnie Chisenhall can build off his solid 2014 season, both are capable of 20 or more HR and 75 or more RBI. Catcher Yan Gomes had a breakout season in 2014 and is probably the most underrated player on the Indians roster. He batted .278 with 21 HR and 74 RBI. All three of those stats were well above the league averages for starting catchers, making Gomes one of the better options at the position. Everyone in this lineup has fantasy value and should be taken in most fantasy formats. If they stay healthy, the Indians quietly have one of the best lineups 1-9 in all of baseball.
Starting Pitching: Corey Kluber is the anchor and ace of this young, talented but inexperienced Indians starting rotation. He won the 2014 AL Cy Young award, posting a 2.44 ERA, 18 wins, 235.2 innings pitched, 1.09 WHIP and 269 strikeouts. MLB Network analyst and HOF pitcher John Smoltz is the reason why I am keeping Kluber in my fantasy league this year. He believes that Kluber has only just found himself as a starter at the MLB level and his best years are yet to come, so who am I to argue with Smoltz?
Following Kluber in the rotation are three young RHP, all with very high ceilings. Carlos Carrasco may be the most interesting of the bunch after posting a 2.55 ERA in 134 innings last year while racking up 140 strikeouts while also posting a WHIP of only 0.99. The next two pitchers on the list are Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar, neither of which were very impressive in 2014, their first full seasons as starting pitchers in the MLB. They both got stronger as the season went along, consistently posting high strikeout totals. The biggest downside to these two guys is their extremely high WHIPs, something that will have to change if they want their ERAs to drop below 4.00 and if people want to consider them as fantasy options.
The projected fifth starter in the rotation is LHP T.J. House. Like Bauer and Salazar, 2014 was House’s first season as a starter in the MLB and he had an alarmingly high WHIP as well. His strikeout totals are well below the other four guys in the rotation, but, unlike Bauer and Salazar, House was able to limit the damage and post an ERA of 3.35. There is certainly a lot that has to go right for this pitching staff in 2015, but should these guys reach their potentials, American League batting orders will have a tough time no matter who takes the mound for the Indians.
Bullpen: The Indians have a solid bullpen, one I’d say ranks second in the division behind the Royals. There are three players who I believe bring fantasy value for different reasons, the closer Cody Allen, setup man Bryan Shaw and lefty-specialist Marc Rzepczynski (man that’s hard to spell). Rzepczynski will average a strike out per inning with a sub 3.00 ERA, so in some formats he won’t be of much value. Where his value really lies is in the leagues that reward holds and inherited runners stranded. Of course, in the MLB, all good bullpens have that shut down left-handed pitcher and that’s exactly what Rzepczynski brings. Many of his outings are only for one or two batters and usually in high pressure, late-inning situations. Bryan Shaw established himself as a very reliable arm out of the bullpen, leading the AL in appearances. Not only was he a workhorse for the Indians, but he will provide you with strikeouts, a sub 3.00 ERA, a WHIP of under 1.20 and a lot of holds. Shaw performed so well in 2014 that he will be relied upon to pitch the 8th inning this year and get the ball to Cody Allen with the lead. Cody Allen may be the next big superstar at the closer position. He reminds me a lot of David Robertson, an incredible strikeout per 9 inning rate due to his electric stuff, coupled with an impressive ERA and WHIP. He was 24 for 28 in save opportunities last year, and that’s after only taking over mid-season from John Axford. If the Indians offense and starting pitching live up to the hype, you may be looking at a guy in Allen who has over 50 save opportunities.
Prospects: The Indians have two prospects with a chance to make an impact on the 2015 MLB roster. Their young SS, Francisco Lindor, has been their top prospect since 2011 as an 18-year-old and was ranked 9th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects following the 2014 season. If he gets off to a hot start in the minor leagues, do not be surprised if the Indians find at bats for him at the big league level. Of course, if there is any significant injury to Chisenhall, Ramirez or Kipnis, his chances of making his big league debut this season only go up. The second noteworthy Indians prospect with a chance to make his big league debut this season is Bradley Zimmer. The talented outfielder was drafted in first round by the Indians in 2014. Experts around baseball suggest Zimmer possesses the skill set to move through the Indians minor league system quickly. If injuries strike the Indians outfield as they did last year, Zimmer could get the call to the MLB and would be worth picking up off the waiver wire. He is currently ranked as the Indians #2 offensive prospect.
Next week I will be covering the Chicago White Sox. I encourage all Indians and AL Central fans to weigh in on my predictions, good, bad or in different. If you have any questions you want personally answered, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday March 22nd from 7pm-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio network. We will be taking live callers at 646.915.8596. This week we will be discussing Starting Pitchers.
Bryan Luhrs the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports, Kyle Amore, and Lou Landers will be joining us this week whom are all writers with MLFS. Be sure to check out Bryan’s N.L. West articles every Saturday, Kyle’s N.L. Central articles every Tuesday, and Lou’s A.L. Central articles every Wednesday.