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2016 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Cleveland Indians

Mar 15, 2016

francisco_lindor_indians (1)

Francisco Lindor can establish himself as one of the best shortstops in baseball

The Sports Illustrated cover team failed to live up to their 2015 billing as potential World Series champions. They lost twice as many games as they won in April (7 wins to 14 losses) and were unable to get back above .500 until the end of September.

At times, they had some of the best players in the league. Jason Kipnis’ May (51 hits with a slash line of .429/.511/.706), Carlos Carrasco’s 14-game stretch from July 1 (11.15 SO/9, 0.89 WHIP, 2.60 FIP) and Francisco Lindor’s 2.0 fWAR September (only four hitters were ahead of him, two of those were Mike Trout and Bryce Harper).

They also had some under-performing stars. Catcher Yan Gomes never recaptured his 2014 Silver Slugger form after being badly injured in a collision at the plate. Michael Brantley was also affected by injuries and despite an acceptable 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a .310 AVG season, he was unable to reproduce the MVP-caliber production of 2014. Carlos Santana continued to take his walks (no-one has walked more over the last two years) and he led the Indians with 19 home runs, but it was still a disappointing season for the first baseman with a .231 AVG and 110 wRC+. The Indians failed to provide more than two runs of support in 18 of Corey Kluber’s starts. The former Cy Young Award winner lost 16 games, a seemingly impossible feat while posting a 9.93 SO/9 and 2.97 FIP.

The 2016 campaign will start with possibly the worst outfield in the league and a big question mark over Michael Brantley’s health. The Indians will rely heavily on their stellar rotation to keep them in playoff contention.

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Projected Lineup:

NOTES: Michael Brantley is recovering from shoulder surgery. He is targeting an Opening Day return but if he misses the start of the season, the batting order could change dramatically. Indians’ manager Terry Francona has discussed moving Carlos Santana and his career .365 OBP to the top of the order, with Jason Kipnis dropping down to the cleanup spot. Over the last four years, only Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon have stolen more bases than Rajai Davis. A fact not ignored when looking for potential leadoff hitters. The 80-game suspension handed down to center fielder Abraham Almonte will open up playing time opportunities. Non-roster invitee, Will Venable, could be one of the main beneficiaries. Newly acquired third baseman, Juan Uribe, is likely to share playing time with 23-year-old, Jose Ramirez, who will operate as a super-utility player from the bench. Expect Ramirez to obtain 2B, 3B, SS and OF eligibility. Outfielders, Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler, are right-handed bats off the bench and will likely steal starts from Lonnie Chisenhall vs. left-handed pitchers.

Projected Rotation:

Projected Bullpen:

NOTES: The front three starters combined to throw 656 strikeouts last year at a convenient rate of 10 SO/9. Both Kluber and Carrasco posted an ERA more than half a run above their FIP. Both are also being taken outside of the top 10 starting pitchers, yet it would not be a surprise if either or both received Cy Young Award consideration. Salazar tired down the stretch after putting together an impressive 2.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP with 9.68 SO/9 over his 10 starts in July and August. Bauer remains an enigma who possesses the talent to be elite but continues to frustrate with his inconsistency. Cody Allen led all closers with a 1.82 FIP. He racked up 99 strikeouts last year with 34 saves and has better job security than most closers.

Stud: Francisco Lindor (SS)
The Indians’ fortunes transformed after Francisco Lindor was promoted to the big leagues. He boosted the defense with his elite glove work and stimulated a lackluster offense with his contact skills, patience and speed. The power was surprising. Nothing in his minor league track record suggested 12 home runs in 99 games. It is unlikely that he will keep slugging .482 but he showed the potential to go 20-20 with a .300 batting average. In the second half, Lindor hit 10 home runs with 11 stolen bases and a .930 OPS. By comparison, Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, hit 15 home runs with 9 stolen bases and a .875 OPS. One of these two is being drafted in the first round.

Bounce-Back Candidate: Mike Napoli (1B)
The acquisition of Mike Napoli gives the Indians some much-needed power against left-handed pitching. As a team, they had a .735 OPS vs. left-handers in 2015. Napoli has a career .917 OPS vs. southpaws. Currently, the 34-year-old is the 50th first baseman off the board. His days of 30 home runs are probably in the past but he has hit 17 and 18 over the last two years and, judging by his .513 SLG when he moved to Texas last season, he still has much to offer. You wouldn’t want Napoli as your starting first baseman but his power, patience and on-base ability would make him a solid corner infielder.

Sleeper: Trevor Bauer (SP)
It is unlikely that there is a more perplexing pitcher in the big leagues. The former first-round pick led the Indians with 27 2/3 innings in Spring Training last year. Spring Training numbers don’t always mean that much but Bauer only walked one batter. As issuing free passes had been an Achilles heel for the 25-year-old, the prospects for a career season in 2015 looked good. Unfortunately, when the games mattered, the walks piled up (4.00 BB/9) and he finished the season with only Tyson Ross and James Shields allowing more walks. Apart from his pedigree, what makes Trevor Bauer continually intriguing is his cerebral approach to improving every aspect of his game. Overthinking is a criticism that is leveled at him but it could be the key element that pushes him from frustratingly league-average to stud starter.

Bust: Jason Kipnis (2B)
Over his five years in the majors, Jason Kipnis has hit 52 home runs and stolen 100 bases. A 10 home runs, 20 stolen bases season in 2016 along with a .290 batting average would be more than adequate to justify his seventh or eighth round draft position. In 2015, he failed to hit double-digit home runs for the second straight year and his stolen bases have dropped from 30 to 22 to a career-low 12. Second base is deep with 24 players projected to reach a combination of 20 home runs and stolen bases. Jason Kipnis has the potential to go 20-20 or even 20-30 but his downward trend suggests he is a candidate to fail to meet draft day expectations.

Late-Round Flier: Rajai Davis (OF)
No-one has stolen more bases over the last six years than Rajai Davis. Yes, he might be slowing down now that he is 35-years-old, but the Indians’ outfield woes (Michael Brantley’s unclear return date and Abraham Almonte’s suspension) should give Davis plenty of playing time opportunities. Stolen bases were down by about 10% last year so picking up a player who could nab 20 to 40 bags with your last pick looks like a shrewd move. Davis has above-average on-base skills, should chip in with a fair amount runs and won’t hurt your batting average.

Prospect To Watch: Mike Clevinger (SP)
Bradley Zimmer is the Indians’ top prospect but is unlikely to reach the big leagues in 2015. Mike Clevinger however, is expected to make an impact in the rotation this season. The 25-year-old is three years removed from Tommy John surgery and is ranked as the Indians’ No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com. He threw 158 innings in Double-A last year with an 8.26 SO/9 and just 1.06 WHIP. Clevinger utilizes four pitches and has excellent control. He is currently behind Cody Anderson and T.J. House as the next-in-line to be called to the rotation but many believe Clevinger could be the fourth best pitcher in the Indians’ system.

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Gavin Tramps is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Gavin, check out his archive or find him @_tramps.

Correspondent, MLB