Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Cleveland Indians


The Cleveland Indians surprised everyone in 2016 by making a deep postseason run, coming so very close to ending their long championship drought.  Will 2017 provide a repeat performance?

My 2016 Predictions
4th in AL Central
Trevor Bauer will need Tommy John surgery by the end of the season.

2016 Results
94-67, 1st in AL Central, lost World Series
One of my worst predictions of all time was the 2016 Cleveland Indians.  The only consolation I have is I was not alone in doubting the potential of the Tribe.  The Indians rode solid starting pitching, timely hitting, and a dominant bullpen all the way to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series before their run came to an end by the hand of the Chicago Cubs and a rain delay.  As for my Fearless Prediction, Trevor Bauer did not go down with Tommy John, however he did hurt his team in the playoffs when he had a run-in with a drone.  I'll call that prediction a push.

Additions / Subtractions
The Indians made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by bringing in veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion.  The biggest weakness of the Indians has been their offense, however Encarnacion will definitely improve that aspect as he replaces Mike Napoli as the DH.  Other than that, the Indians are bringing back a very similar roster to last season.

Most Important Hitter
Michael Brantley
Although the Indians didn't make any other big offseason moves, getting Michael Brantley back healthy is like making another big free agent signing.  Brantley was one of the best hitters in baseball for a three or four year stretch.  However, he only played 11 games in 2016 as injuries have really disrupted his career.  Now, he is trying to come back and resume what was becoming a superstar career.  The Indians made their run last season without their best hitter.  It is really remarkable.  If Brantley can come back and be dominant again, the combination of Brantley, Encarnacion, Kipnis, and Lindor will completely change the face of this offense.

Most Important Pitcher
Danny Salazar
I'll be honest with you ... I can't tell the difference between Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.  With Corey Kluber emerging as an ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball, these two young arms have been slotted as the second and third starters on the staff.  Their 2016 numbers are almost identical even!  Carrasco started 25 games, and went 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 150 strikeouts over 146.1 innings.  Salazar stared 25 games, and went 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA and 161 strikeouts over 137.1 innings.  By the way, both were also hurt for the playoff run and weren't in the rotation.  They are both quality starters that have the potential to be All Stars.  They both need to take a step forward in 2017 for this pitching staff to improve.  Why am I going with Salazar over Carrasco?  He is three years younger so he has more opportunity to grow.

Player to Watch
Bradley Zimmer
Tyler Naquin is a second year player patrolling centerfield.  Michael Brantley's health is a question mark heading into the season in leftfield.  Journeyman Abraham Almonte is on his third team before the age of 28 and starting in rightfield.  The outfield has some potential holes.  Enter the Indians' top prospect Bradley Zimmer.  This 24 year old prospect has all the makings of a future star in the big leagues.  If one of these question marks fall through during the 2017 season, look for Zimmer to emerge as a future mainstay in their outfield.

2017 Predictions
1st in AL Central, lose in ALDS
It is so hard to repeat the success of a surprise season like the Indians in 2016.  However, if the Kansas City Royals are any indicator on how to do it, it starts with a dominant bullpen.  That is one thing no one is questioning about the Indians in 2017.  They have too much talent and too good of a manger in Terry Francona to miss the playoffs.  I don't see the magic repeating itself from last year though.  They will be back there soon though.

Fearless Prediction
The Indians will trade for a starting catcher mid-season.
Yan Gomes has been the starting catcher for the Indians in recent years.  However, his 2016 season was terrible.  If he struggles again this year, the Indians will have no choice but to find someone else to be their backstop.  They have a catching prospect in Francisco Mejia that will be ready in the next year or two, but that won't help them this season.  Look for a move to be made for a veteran catcher and for the Indians to give up on Gomes.

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