Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Cleveland Indians
"This guy here's dead!"
Sorry, but if you thought I was going to start an Indians preview with anything other than my favorite line from Major League, you were sorely mistaken. No one listed on the Indians roster is actually dead. In fact, I think this team might have some pluck to it this year. The top five in the batting order isn't bad; Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana are each elite players are their respective positions; Nick Swisher's contract may have seemed a bit, um, generous, but Cleveland can bank on 25 homers and a .360 OBP; Asdrubal Cabrera is entering his age-27 season and has been an All-Star each of the last two seasons; and my pal Jeff Erickson over at RotoWire recently broke down how Michael Brantley isn't all that different from B.J. Upton. See? Not bad.
The story of Cleveland's offseason was the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland to Cincinnati and Trevor Bauer from Arizona to Cleveland. Arizona soured on him quickly, but Bauer is only 22 years old and was ranked the No. 9 prospect by Baseball America at the start of last season. If he can start to fulfill some of that promise this year, the Indians might field a decent rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez may never be what he was in Colorado, but the Indians are only asking him to be their No. 3 starter. With Justin Masterson at the top of the rotation and Brett Myers slotting fourth, it could be worse.
1. Michael Brantley, LF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Nick Swisher, RF
6. Mark Reynolds, 1B
7. Mike Aviles, DH
8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
9. Drew Stubbs, CF
1. Justin Masterson
2. Trevor Bauer
3. Ubaldo Jimenez
4. Brett Myers
5. Zach McAllister
Bullpen: Chris Perez (closer), Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Nick Hagadone, Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, Scott Barnes
• How can Carlos Santana's power outage be explained? Santana dipped to 18 homers in 2012 after belting 27 in '11, but all of his other numbers improved. He increased his batting average to .252 from .239 and his OBP to .365 from .351, added two-tenths of a point to his walk rate and slashed four percentage points from his strikeout rate. His wOBA dipped a bit, but remained essentially flat (.351 vs. 344) and his BABIP increased from a mind-bogglingly low .263 to a not-totally-egregious .278. However, he hit nine fewer homers and eight fewer doubles, and his ISO plummeted 50 points to .168. So what happened?
The biggest difference: The diet of pitches Santana saw. Pitchers threw him fewer fastballs and increased the number of curveballs, changeups and split-finger fastballs with Santana at the plate. Most of his peripheral stats stayed in line, but his HR/FB ratio fell off a cliff, dropping all the way to 11.5 percent from 16 percent. While pitchers will likely keep feeding him off-speed stuff, that dramatic of a dive in HR/FB ratio feels fluky. This is Santana's age-27 season, so he should just be entering his prime. Given that he has strong on-base skills, he remains one of the better fantasy catchers. However, for the first time in a long time there's some depth in the catcher pool. I like Santana, but I can't rank him any higher than eighth on my board.
• Forget a power outage -- what about the Bauer outage? We touched on it a bit earlier, but it's shocking that the Diamondbacks were willing to deal a 22-year-old pitcher who was considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball just a season ago. Even though they gave up their best player in Choo, it was a no-brainer for the Indians to swing the deal for Bauer. It's hard to draw any real conclusions on him, given that he only has 117 professional innings under his belt. The Indians will likely keep him on a much longer leash than did the Diamondbacks, and that's a good thing. Arizona was uncomfortable with Bauer's somewhat unorthodox training routine, but it's hard to imagine Cleveland would trade for him, then try to force him to change his ways.
In 82 innings last year with Triple-A Reno of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Bauer went 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 97 strikeouts. The 35 walks were a bit high, but the ability to miss bats with that sort of consistency at that young of an age portends good things in his future. Moreover, Cleveland will be the best environment in which he has pitched in his entire professional career. He's a four-pitch pitcher, substituting a split-finger for the slider, though he will dabble with the latter on occasion. There will be growing pains, but there will also be some serous highlights. Make sure Bauer is on your board.
• Can Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs combine for 400 strikeouts? Just kidding Indians fans. Seriously, though -- they might.
• Can Jason Kipnis avoid a second-half slide? Kipnis was a revelation in the first half of the season last year, hitting .277/.345/.419 with 10 homers and 20 steals, and probably should have been an All-Star. He fell off the map after the break, though, hitting just .233/.322/.328 with three homers and 11 steals the rest of the way. It was just his age-25 season and his first full year in the majors, so there's no reason to hold his swoon against him, especially given that he hit at every level in the minors (he's a career .297/.378/.486 hitter in the minors). Instead, let's try to explain it.
In the second half, all of Kipnis' peripheral stats went in the wrong direction. His line-drive rate fell two percentage points. His ground-ball rate jumped seven percentage points, pushing him north of 50 percent. His infield fly ball rate doubled. All these suggest a young player getting tired during his first taste of the major league grind. Now pushing up against the start of his prime, it would be a huge surprise if Kipnis wasn't better suited to handle the rigors of a 162-game season this year. I think a 20/30 season is in the offing, and I would not be shocked to see Kipnis finish the year ranked higher than Dustin Pedroia.
Drew Stubbs: I know I took a cheap shot at him earlier and I don't usually buy into the "change of scenery" argument, but Stubbs definitely needed to get out of Cincinnati. He'll have essentially zero pressure hitting in the nine-hole for the Indians, and he can still get after it on the basepaths. You'll need to buttress your rates elsewhere, but 15/35 feels like a realistic projection.
Asdrubal Cabrera: I know you want to buy in, especially given the shallowness of the position, but Cabrera needs to be the 25-homer, 92-RBI guy he was in 2011 to justify his draft position, not the 16-homer, 68-RBI guy he was a year ago. Surprisingly, his line-drive rate surged six percentage points from '11 to 23.4 percent last year, and he cut his ground-ball rate to 41.1 percent from 43.8 percent. That tells me the power numbers he put up in '11 were an anomaly. Stay away.
Vinnie Pestano: We know somewhere around 10 relievers who start the year as closers will not end the year in that role, and Chris Perez is as good a bet as any to lose the job. He may have saved 36 games in 2011 and 39 last year, but he hasn't exactly been overwhelming, striking out just 98 batters in 107.1 innings in that stretch. Meanwhile, Pestano fanned 76 batters in 70 innings last year and 84 in 62 innings in '11, while posting WHIPs of 1.10 and 1.05, respectively. He'll be the closer by mid-May.
Lonnie Chisenhall: Is this the year the former top prospect puts it all together? It's hard to believe he's just entering his age-24 season. That's a good enough reason to take a shot on him, especially since the Indians will hand him the reins at third base on Opening Day.
Zach McAllister: The 25-year-old righty fanned 110 batters in 125.1 innings with the Indians last year after going 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA at Triple-A Columbus. He should slot in the rotation right away.
Vinnie Pestano: See above. He's the best reliever on the team and will be closing games within six weeks. You heard it here first.