Cleveland Indians Sleepers & Breakouts - Multiple Pitchers You Need to Watch!

You'll have to set an alarm because the Cleveland Indians are overflowing with sleepers! SI Fantasy expert Shawn Childs runs down who to watch.
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Deep Sleeper: SP Triston McKenzie

The Cleveland Indians drafted McKenzie in the first round (42nd pick) in the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. Cleveland gave him a full workload at High A in 2017, and he responded with a nice season (12-6 with a 3.46 ERA and 186 Ks over 143 innings).

In 2018, he started the year on the minor league injured list with a right forearm injury. His first appearance at AA came in early June with no further setback over the next two months. He finished the year with a 7-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and 87 Ks over 90.2 innings. Over his last 11 starts, McKenzie posted a 2.09 ERA and 65 Ks over 64.2 innings.

Unfortunately, he missed all of last year with an upper back injury.

Over four seasons in the minors, McKenzie went 26-16 with a 2.68 ERA and 394 strikeouts over 329 innings.

In 2018, his strikeout rate (8.6) at AA didn’t match his previous success (10.8). He still needs to add bulk and strength to help him with a full major league workload. His fastball has mid-90s life with more velocity expected as he fills out. McKenzie has a plus curveball with strikeout ability while developing the feel for his changeup.

He was expected to start the year at AAA while flying under the radar due to his lost season. His body could change a lot over 12 months, so keep an open eye as his arm could come quickly. If the Indians need a sixth starter, his arm will be waiting in the wings.

Sleeper: SP Aaron Civale

Civale came into the majors with strength in his command (1.4 walks per nine in the minors), but his strikeout rate (7.5) was unimpressive.

Over four seasons in the minors, he went 25-16 with a 3.12 ERA and 317 strikeouts over 381.1 innings. Civale pitched great at AA and AAA in 2019 (7-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 70 Ks over 72.2 innings), which led to getting his first call-up to the majors.

Over ten starts with the Indians, he allowed two runs or fewer in each of his first nine games (1.82 ERA) before faltering in his final start (four runs, six baserunners, and two home runs over 3.1 innings).

Both right-handed (.203) and left-handed (.235) batters had a tough time hitting him. His AFB (92.1) isn’t an edge in velocity. Civale offered four pitches of value (sinker – .222 BAA, cutter – .234 BAA, curveball – .238 BAA, and slider – .107 BAA).

His mound presence and command will allow him to pitch deep in games while creating an edge in WHIP. Based on his scouting report and the growth of the Indians starting pitchers once they reach the majors in recent years, Civale could add more strikeouts in 2020.

With an ADP of 250, I’d invest in his command while expecting him to push toward 180 innings with a sub 3.50 ERA and about 150 strikeouts (if he pitched a full season). His ability to work both sides of the plate with movement in his pitches creates his success.

Sleeper: SP Zach Plesac

The Indians turned to Plesac in 2019 after placing Carlos Carrasco on the injured list.

He pitched well over his first six starts (2.33 ERA and 28 Ks over 38.2 innings) with Cleveland, but he did serve up seven home runs. After two poor showings (nine runs and 15 baserunners over 6.1 innings), they shipped him back to AAA for the All-Star break.

Over his final 13 starts, Plesac posted a respectable ERA (3.82), but he did allow too many home runs (ten over 70.2 innings).

Overall, his walk rate (3.1) and strikeout rate (6.8) were much lower than his success in the minors in 2019 (1.3 and 9.2).

More of his struggles came against righties (.253 with 12 HRs over 245 at-bats). His AFB (94.1) needs improvement in location (.256 BAA) while all three of his secondary pitches played well (changeup – .217 BAA, slider – .237, and curveball – .200 BAA).

Over his three seasons in the minors, Plesac went 16-10 with a 3.02 ERA and 247 strikeouts over 259.1 innings. I see a buying opportunity (ADP – 486) as his command should improve a lot in his second year in the majors. Draft him with the idea of a 3.75 ERA while understanding his overall game points to more upside.

Breakout: RP James Karinchak

Karinchak posted a massive walk rate (5.5) in the minors, but batters have struggled to hit him over the previous two years (.177 and .150).

In 2019 between AA and AAA, he struck out 22 batters per nine innings. The Indians gave him a September call up, and he responded to the challenge (1.69 ERA and eight Ks over 5.1 innings).

His AFB (97.1) graded well in velocity and success (.214 BAA). Karinchak threw a curveball (.143 BAA) as his second-best pitch.

Fantasy owners priced him to be next to close for the Indians based on his ADP (465), but he needs to prove his command over a more extended period in the majors. If Karinchak pitches for the Indians all season, he’ll have a run at 125-plus Ks.

Sleeper: OF Domingo Santana

After an excellent season in the majors in 2017 (.278 with 88 runs, 30 HRs, 85 RBI, and 15 SBs over 525 at-bats), Santana was squeezed out of the outfield rotation in Milwaukee after a slow start to the year (.249 with three HRs and 17 RBI over 189 at-bats).

The Brewers shipped back to AAA in late June, where he hit .283 with eight home runs and 35 RBI over 187 at-bats. His strikeout rate (32.0) was massive in the majors with no improvement at AAA in 2018 (33.0).

Over nine years in the minors, Santana hit .282 with 118 home runs, 480 RBI, and 47 stolen bases over 2,782 at-bats with weakness in his strikeout rate (29.6).

Last year he battled a right elbow injury that led to minimal playing time after the All-Star break (.128 with three HRs and six RBI over 94 at-bats) and a month on the injured list.

His bat did create an edge for fantasy teams over the first three months (.278 with 48 runs, 18 HRs, and 62 RBI over 335 at-bats).

Santana played better against right-handed pitching (.258 with 13 HRs and 50 RBI over 329 at-bats). He offsets his swing and miss style with a high contact batting average (.397) while owning a high enough average hit rate (1.746) to hit 30-plus home runs. His hard-hit rate (42.1) placed 77th in 2019.

Even with a high HR/FB rate (23.6 – 25.5 in his career), Santana doesn’t hit a high number of fly balls (30.8 percent in 2019 – 28.4 in his career).

Under the radar bat in the early draft season (ADP – 298), he was a free agent until mid-February. The move to Cleveland and a confirmation of a starting job should push him much higher in drafts. With 500 at-bats, he looks like a 25/10 player with batting average risk.

READ MORE: 2020 Cleveland Indians Fantasy Team Preview