Overall - It will be interesting to see if the Indians can sustain their success from last year. They went from 68 wins to 92, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Some caution flags to throw out there. The Indians were the Orioles of 2013 with their 30-17 record in one run games and 10-2 record in extra inning games. As the Orioles found out last year those one run victories and extra inning wins are tough to repeat. The Orioles were possibly a better team in 2013 than they were in 2012 but a 20-31 record in one run games put them out of the playoffs. Another caution flag is the Indians had to finish the month of September 21-6, winning their last ten games to make the playoffs. They also played better against teams with losing records than those teams with winning records, teams they will have to play if they make the playoffs. They also appear to have lost Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency, two pitchers who combined for 23 of the Indians victories. The good news is Ubaldo still has not signed with anyone and could come back to the Indians and the team will have a full season from Danny Salazar.
Key Additions - They have lacked any big transactions. David Murphy was signed as a free agent but he hit only .220 with 13 homeruns last year. The Indians hope he matches his 2012 season when he hit .304. They acquired lefthanded pitcher Josh Outman in an attempt to improve their bullpen. His numbers were not good (4.33 ERA) but he pitched in Colorado and lefthanders only hit .197 off him. The downside is righthanders hit .347. John Axford was signed as a free agent. He was once the closer for the Brewers but wore out his welcome. He pitched well in his (1.74) 13 appearances in St. Louis. A change of scenery could do him well. The outfield is all punch and judy hitters so the signing of Jeff Francouer and Nyer Morgan to minor league contracts could add depth there. Nyjer came from Japan, usually performs well his first year on a team and after that disappoints.
Key Subtractions: They traded for Ubaldo Jimenez a couple years ago to get them into the playoffs. He didn’t pitch well and the Indians lost a couple prospects and a lot of games with his inconsistent pitching. Finally, in the last year of his contract he pitched them into the playoffs with a Ubaldo season of the past (13-9, 3.30). He is a free agent and is trying to capitalize on his one year wonder with a multi year contract but teams see too many bad performances on his resume. His best bet may be to return to Cleveland on the one year contract to prove last year was not a fluke. They tired of Chris Perez, who once was their closer and will substitute him with another washed out closer John Axford. Drew Stubbs was traded to the Rockies for Outman. He gave the Rockies a lot of whiffs with very little production (.233, 10, 45). The biggest loss could be Joe Smith who appeared in 70 games with a 2.29 ERA. He left via free agency.
Catcher - They have two catchers on the 40 man roster. Yan Gomes is their best defensive option and he surprised with the bat (.294, 11, 38). He is noted as the first Brazillian ever to play in the major leagues. The other catcher is Carlos Santana, who is weak defensively, but has a strong bat (.268, 20, 74). He is playing third base in winter ball and may move around the diamond between first, third and DH. This could leave room for a third catcher on the roster. Matt Treanor is a non-roster spring training invite that has considerable major league playing time on his resume. Roberto Perez is considered their best defensive catcher in the minors, but his bat was abysmal in AAA (.176). A catcher to watch in the minors is Francisco Mejia, who hit .305 with a .524 slugging in the rookie league. He also drove in more runs (24) than strikeouts (18). He has a real strong arm.
First Base - Nick Swisher will see the majority of time here. He can also fit in the outfield when they want to move Carlos Santana to first base. Nick needs to do a better job of hitting against righthanders (.220) if he doesn’t want to be forced into a platoon situation. Carlos defense at catching is not good so he could see a lot of time at first base to get his bat in the lineup. Sometimes getting away from the grind of catching will improve the bat. They also have former Blue Jays first round pick David Cooper on the 40 man roster, but he has never lived up to expectations. Back surgery last year limited him to 13 games. The big bat that could make an appearance for the Indians is that of Jesus Aguilar. He hit 16 homeruns in AA last year driving in 105. His defense is a little suspect. At 250 pounds he carries some girth that sacrifices quickness. Expect him to make his debut in 2014.
Second Base - The Indians have a grinder in Jason Kipnis. He doesn’t project tremendous tools but his effort produces results. He is developing into the heart and soul of the team. He hit 17 homeruns and stole 30 bases with tools that do not scream out power or speed. Utility man Mike Aviles will play the handful of games Kipnis may miss at second. Aviles is a solid player who has been a starter in his younger years. Ryan Raburn also played second with the Tigers but is not a very good defensive option. Down on the farm Jose Ramirez got some major league playing time. He had a .342 career minor league average entering the 2013 season peeking at Low A. The Indians moved him to AA where he held his own with a .272 average and 38 stolen bases. He also played some shortstop last year so he could fit himself into a utility role. Ronny Rodriguez is another player who can play here. Like Ramirez he can play short and second but he carries more pop than Ramirez. He also played in AA as the two switched between short and second.
Shortstop - The Indians currently have Asdrubal Cabrera here. He had a disappointing year (.242, 14, 64) and is said to have lost some range defensively. If the Indians find themselves out of the playoff chase he would be one of the first players traded since he becomes a free agent after 2014. This may motivate him to bounce back from his career low year. Mike Aviles will act as the backup. A player the Indians would like to give the position to is potential gold glover Francisco Lindor, who may be the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues. Some question his bat but he hit .306 in high A. He won’t hit for much power or steal a lot of bases, but his glove will prevent a lot of runs. Dorssys Paulino is behind Lindor. He hit .355 in the rookie league in 2012 but fell back to earth last year at Low A with a .246 average. He also committed 39 errors. Jose Ramirez and Ronny Rodriguez can also play here.
Third Base - Lonnie Chisenhall has not taken over this position as everyone expected. He only hit .225 last year and had to share the job with Mark Reynolds. If his struggles continue he may have to share the playing time with Carlos Santana, especially against lefthanders. Lonnie only hit .111 against lefthanders last year and .184 in 2012. If Carlos Santana proves he is not adequate here defensively Mike Aviles could see a lot of playing time. Jose Ramirez has little power so it would be a surprise to see him move here on a permanent basis. Ronnie Rodriguez would be a more likely candidate. Yan Gomez played some third base with the Blue Jays, but the Indians seem to be happy with him behind the plate. The Indians also signed David Adams. He was one of 11 players the Yankees tried at third base but his bat (.193) and his defense were lacking.
Left Field - Michael Brantley is a good defensive player forced to play here because of Bourn in center. He hits for a decent average (.284) but lacks the power you want to see from the position (10 hrs, .396 slugging). Teams normally want a little sock from their left fielder, sacrificing a little defense to improve offensive production. Brantley can also shift to center if they want to get the bat of Ryan Raburn in the lineup. With the Tigers in 2012 Raburn only hit .176 with one homerun. The Indians signed him as a free agent and he hit .272 with 16 homeruns and a .543 slugging percentage. Both numbers seem to be outliers to the extreme and Raburn falls somewhere in the middle of those outliers. If Raburn is limited to hitting just lefthanded pitching his numbers will be better. If Nyjer Morgan makes the team he will not see a lot of time in center if Bourn is healthy so to get his bat and defense in the lineup left field could be where he spot starts. He doesn’t have the arm to fit in right. Carlos Moncrief is on the 40 man roster and has the arm to play right field. He had a nice year at AA (.284, 17, 75) leading all Indian minor leaguers in total bases (230) but he is 25 years old. If he can’t show he can make the major league roster he could be designated to allow a non-roster invitee to make the team.
Center Field - Michael Bourn has the speed for center. Despite that speed he had a rough time stealing bases. His OBA (.316) was also a disappointment for a player asked to be a leadoff hitter. He also struck out 132 times, something he has had a problem with his whole career. Michael Brantley could slide over to center to rest Bourn. Both are lefthanded bats that do not seem to have problems hitting lefthanded pitching. Brantley had a better OBA (.332) and stolen base percentage. He doesn’t cover as much ground as Bourn but he has centerfield tools. The Indians signed Nyjer Morgan as a minor league free agent out of Japan. He usually has one good year with a team before he wears out his welcome. The future at this position may be their number one 2013 pick Clint Frazier. He is still a couple years away, hitting .297 with a .506 slugging in the rookie league. He also has the arm for right field and if he outgrows this position the Indians can call on Tyler Naquin, their 2012 first round pick. Tyler was drafted out of college so is ahead of Clint on the depth chart. He struggled a bit in AA (.225) after hitting .277 at High A. Tyler lacks power so centerfield would be a better fit for him. He shined in the Arizona Fall League hitting .339.
Right Field - The Indians hope David Murphy repeats his 2012 numbers (.304 with 15 homeruns) rather than his 2013 numbers (.220, 13 homeruns). If he achieves the latter you may see a lot more of Ryan Raburn or even Nick Swisher here if the Indians want to use the bat of Carlos Santana at first base. The Indians also signed Jeff Francoeur to a minor league contract and gave him a spring invite. He bombed with the Royals (.208) and was released early in the season. He has always had trouble taking a walk, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. The future at this position could be Clint Frazier if he outgrows centerfield.
Designated Hitter - Carlos Santana will see most of the time here. The Indians may move him around to first base, third base and catcher in which case they can call on the ageless Jason Giambi to get some at bats. Giambi hit only .183 but he still showed some pop with nine homeruns. Ryan Raburn is not as strong defensively as Brantley, Bourn or Murphy in the outfield so to get his bat in the lineup and not sacrifice the defense he could play here against lefthanders. Jesus Aguilar is not a nimble first baseman but he does have a productive bat (.275, 16, 105 in AA).
Starting Pitching - The Indians would like to see Justin Masterson be their ace this year. He had a good year in 2011 followed by a bad year in 2012. The Indians hope his good year in 2013 (14-10, 3.45) won’t be followed by a bad year in 2014. He made the All Star team for the first time in his career last year. Danny Salazar has better stuff than Masterson but lacks the experience. He will eventually be their ace with his mid-90s fastball that can hit triple digits. He and Nathan Eovaldi had the highest average speed on their fastball according to Fangraphs (96.2 mph) for starters who threw 50 or more innings. Corey Kluber does not throw quite as hard as Salazar but had a solid year (11-5, 3.85) to deserve a spot in the rotation. Zach McAllister is another pitcher who put up good numbers (9-9, 3.75) but because he doesn’t throw hard he needs his command to have success. That wasn’t always there last year. There will be a battle for the fifth spot with the hard throwing Carlos Carrasco who has yet to have success despite a blazing fastball. Injuries, lack of command and confidence problems are his biggest issues. Trevor Bauer is a pitcher with some big character issues. At 22 he thinks he has pitching all figured out and is hesitant to heed advice from veterans who don’t follow his pitching philosophy. The fact that he has yet to achieve any major league success may force him to listen more. Shaun Marcum was signed to a minor league contract and needs a huge spring to bump one of the names above from making the roster after his poor showing with the Mets last year. Cody Anderson reached AA last year and could see a mid-season call up. He had a 2.34 ERA in 23 starts at Carolina.
Relief Pitching - The Indians let go of Chris Perez after his struggles. They will turn the closer job to John Axford, who also showed his struggles in Milwaukee (4.45) but seemed to find himself after being picked up by St. Louis (1.74). As Brewer fans will attest he has not shown a lot of consistency in closing out games the last couple years. Vinnie Pestano picked up some saves but he also had a year of struggle (4.08) and was troubled by injuries. Cody Allen (2.43) was their most consistent reliever last year and could slip into the closer role if Axford can’t get the job done. Allen struck out 11.2 hitters per nine innings, so he has some stuff. Bryan Shaw (3.24) is another arm from the right side who will fill a set up role. The left side will be handled by Marc Rzepczynski (0.89) who limited lefties to a .128 average in 27 appearances and Josh Outman (4.33) who allowed lefties to hit .198 off him. Josh tended to be toast against righthanders (.347). Spring training will sort out the remaining pen among Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone and C.C. Lee. Matt Capps and David Aardsma are two experienced non-roster arms that should be added to that mix.
Potential Rookie Candidates - The rookie with the chance to make the most impact if he makes the roster is Trevor Bauer. He has failed in his two previous major league opportunities. C.C. Lee is a pitcher from Taiwan who could work himself into a bullpen role. Jose Ramirez could end up a utility player. Tyler Naquin could see a mid-season callup based on his Arizona Fall League performance if injuries create an opening in the outfield. The biggest mid-season callup could be Francisco Lindor, but the Indians will have to be struggling or Cabrera injured for that to happen. He probably needs one full year in the minors before getting his September callup this year.
2008 Draft - There is some question whether number one pick Lonnie Chisenhall will be their third baseman of the future. He has struggled against major league pitching, especially lefthanders. Third round pick Cord Phelps was recently designated for assignment but he had lost the second base job to Jason Kipnis. Carlos Moncrief was drafted in the 14th round and he appears on the 40-man roster though he appears better suited as a fourth outfielder.
Expected Finish - They can’t expect the same success in one run games and extra inning games as they did last year. They also lost a lot of wins in their rotation to free agency. Myworld sees them missing out on the playoffs and finishing third in this division behind the Royals and Tigers.