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  • The Indians have one of the game's best rotations and two perennial MVP candidates. The problem is a lot of good players left and none arrived.
March 27, 2019

2018 finish: 91-71, First in AL Central

SI's 2019 prediction: 89-73, Second in AL Central

Key additions: 1B/LF Jake Bauers, 1B Carlos Santana, DH Hanley Ramirez, INF Brad Miller, RP Oliver Perez, OF Carlos Gonzalez

Key departures: OF Michael Brantley, 3B Josh Donaldson, C Yan Gomes, 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, 1B Yonder Alonso, RP Cody Allen, RP Andrew Miller

Projected Lineup

1. SS Francisco Lindor

2. LF Jake Bauers

3. 3B José Ramírez*

4. 1B Carlos Santana

5. DH Hanley Ramirez

6. RF Tyler Naquin

7. C Roberto Perez

8. 2B Brad Miller

9. SS Eric Stamets

*Ramirez is questionable (leg) for Opening Day.

Projected Rotation

RHP Corey Kluber

RHP Trevor Bauer

RHP Carlos Carrasco

RHP Mike Clevinger

RHP Shane Bieber

Bullpen

LHP Brad Hand (closer)

RHP Neil Ramirez

RHP Jon Edwards

RHP Adam Cimber

LHP Oliver Pérez

LHP Tyler Olson

RHP Dan Otero

Bench

C/1B Kevin Plawecki

INF Max Moroff

OF Greg Allen

OF Jordan Luplow

Injured List: SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jason Kipnis, OF Bradley Zimmer, SP Danny Salazar

Movin On Up!  Last year Shane Bieber displayed an excellent slider and decent curveball. (He also flashed a plus sense of humor, with his “Not Justin” Players’ Weekend jersey.) But he lacks elite velocity, so when he missed his spots with his fastball, batters feasted on the mistakes. He reportedly spent the offseason refining his changeup, which should give him more margin for error. If he can repeat last year’s 5.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio—10th best among pitchers with more than 110 innings—while limiting hard contact, he could make this rotation one of the game’s best.

Sell! Jason Kipnis is a franchise icon and clubhouse leader. He’s also, over the last two years, a below-average hitter and below-average defender entering his age-32 season. As his bat speed has declined, he has joined the launch-angle revolution—approximately 44% of the time he hits the ball in the air, after averaging in the low 30s earlier in his career—and his power has mostly held up, but the change has made him much less dangerous from a contact standpoint. Eventually he will stop running into home runs.

Appreciate This Man! No player in baseball is more fun to watch than José Ramírez. He looks like a clubhouse guy with a bizarre, unearned swagger … right until he digs into the batter’s box and laces a double to rightfield. Ramírez made his debut after elbowing aside more graceful—and higher-rated—prospect Francisco Lindor, then stuck around because he learned to play every position on the diamond. Now he is the best third baseman in the game. He has finished third in MVP voting each of the past two years. He was one of two players to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases last season; only 10 players even went 20–20. And he was probably unlucky! He hit only .252 on balls in play; his career rate is .292, so if with a little more good fortune, he should be even more dangerous this year. Plus, he is the clubhouse king of Mario Kart and his helmet flies off nearly every time he takes a step. José Ramírez is the best.

MLB.TV rating: 6.0

They get credit for what should be an exceptional rotation, and Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez are delights to watch—for nearly opposite reasons—but the Indians are disappointing, and it’s hard to put that aside. This team will likely win the division, but that’s not a credit to ownership and the front office, who did virtually nothing this offseason.

Keep an Eye Out for... Triston McKenzie is the Indians’ top arm and prospect, blessed with good command, a hard fastball, and a nice curveball. Built like a skyscraper at 6’5” and just 160 pounds, he dominated Double A last year at 20 years old but threw only 90 2/3 innings. Bradley looks like a potential long-term answer at first base after cracking 27 homers across Double and Triple A last year at 22, though he needs to cut down on the strikeouts. Sandlin, a sidearming righty, represents Cleveland’s best hope for internal bullpen help, flying through the system after being drafted last summer and reaching as high as Double A. Signed out of Taiwan in 2013, Chang has steadily progressed through the minors, reaching Triple A at age 22 last season and holding his own. He’s a solid hitter whose future probably lies at third base or as a utility player.

Scout's Takes

A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Cleveland Indians

What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?

What are they going to do for a bullpen? Where does their position player leadership come from now that they traded Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley? Is it Francisco Lindor’s time to take control of this team? It’s his team and he’s been being groomed for it.

Who is the most overrated player on the team?

Jason Kipnis just because of the money he’s making. He’s a good player, but for a team that operates like a small-market team that’s a big chunk of change they pay him. For that sort of money, he’s overrated.

Who is the most underrated player on the team?

Roberto Perez. He’s got great leadership behind the plate and puts the right fingers down in the right situation. Even when he’s not hitting, he can still pop one out of the yard. I think it says something when you’re willing to trade Gomes and the defensive value that he brings when you can bank of Perez.

What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?

Two guys: Shane Bieber is a mid-rotation starter in the making. He’s up to 97 in spring training and he just doesn’t walk anybody. He has unbelievable command of four pitches. His breaking ball is getting better and better. He’ll be No. 5, but can be No. 3 on almost any other team in the league.

What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?

Bobby Bradley. He’s had serious swing-and-miss issues coming up through the minor leagues and the pitching only gets better in the big leagues. He’s an all or nothing type guy. If he’s hitting 20 or 25 homers then fine, but these days some guys are getting DFAd with 40. Plus, he doesn’t defend very well. He needs to hit 35 or 40 homers a year to have value.

Who gets the most out of his talent?

José Ramirez. He’s such a gifted hitter from both sides, and it’s even more incredible when you hear stories about him being turned out from workouts in the Dominican Republic because of his size. He carries that chip on his shoulder and he plays like it. He’s not some Adonis or brilliant defender, he’s a self-made player who works hard. I had a good number on him in the minors but I didn’t have him as this.

Who gets the least out of his talent?

Bradley Zimmer is just never healthy. He’s got a really high ceiling but can’t find his way onto the field consistently. They do have a lot of grinders who get a lot of their talent.

Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?

Carlos Carrasco. It’s a hell of a thing when this guy is your No. 3. You can grade his stuff as sevens across the board. I love the right-on-right changeup he throws. It’s hard to pick just one because all of his pitches are so good. With that said, his changeup is just unfair.

Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?

Ramirez. He has a knack for doing all the little things right. He can bunt and he can hit a three-run homer. He can play anywhere on the field if you ask him to. The blessing and curse for them is that he’s so good at so many positions that he’d be the best second baseman and third baseman on the field and the best shortstop for about 22 other teams. It’s not that he’s the most skilled athlete, he just does everything you’d want him to do the right way. And he can steal bases!

Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?

Bradley. He has such huge raw power, high majestic fly balls into the second deck when taking BP. He just crushes some balls over the berm, over the bullpen. There’s not a spot where he can’t hit it.

Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.

Lindor and Ramirez. I had Bauer down originally because I’d love to have Bauer, Kluber and Carrasco. But you have to take the middle-of-the-lineup position player guys. Their effort, their love for the game,  they just bring so much to a team clubhouse. They’re two young guys that you want.

Name the guy (or guys) on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.

Maybe Bauer because he’s such a distraction with the drone and the antics. That said, I’ve heard he is extremely well-liked by his teammates. I kinda like the guy. He’s kooky as hell but I’d take him on my team. I could see him becoming a distraction, but there is nobody more prepared. This is a really good clubhouse.

Whose effort could use a jolt?

Kipnis a bit. If he gets off to a good start then you’ll see an energetic go-getter. He got off to such a slow start last year that he was fighting out of a black hole. I picked him, but he’s not bat at all because Terry Francona gets so much out of his players.

Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?

At the plate, it’s Lindor. He’s probably played those scenarios in his head a million times, he plays with so much passion and so much love. On the mound, I’d take Bauer. He’s a stone-cold killer. He has a perfect combo of competitiveness and definitely not caring about what people say.

Who don’t you want in that situation?

Perez has a 30% strikeout rate. He’s either a punchout or homer. It’s probably going to be a strikeout, though. I guess they don’t have many impact guys in the bullpen, but I’m pretty comfortable with most of their guys out there.

Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?

Eric Haase has a chance to sneak up on some people. He’ll compete to be the backup catcher. He has pretty big raw power, has hit some homers in the minors and guys enjoy throwing to him. If Perez is scuffling with the bat, then they’ll give him a chance. He’s not a slouch behind the plate even if he doesn’t have Perez’s pedigree and he has some thump in his bat.

Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?

Absolutely yes. If you were to draw up a manager, it’s Tito. He embraces analytics, he’s open minded, he communicates, he keeps it loose and free all while keeping structure. He’s the best at combining old school and new school and Brad Mills does an awesome job as his bench coach. He surrounds himself with really good people. For me, Terry is the best in the big leagues.

What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?

They’re the favorite in the AL Central this year despite the bullpen question marks. You can’t match up every day with those starters when you have three aces as starters. That and now Clevinger is emerging. He’s not quite the same caliber, but he’s not far off. And Bieber is No. 5? He’s a middle, upper half of the rotation guy anywhere else. Their No. 5 is a legit No. 3. Brad Hand is a legit closer even if the bullpen has a few question marks. They’ll benefit from having Carlos Santana back too just because of his at-bat quality. He’ll get on base a lot and see a lot of pitches. They have to be in consideration for competing for the pennant.

Emptying the notebook:

Triston McKenzie is the ultimate wild card coming out of the bullpen late in the year. He could be used the way the Rays used David Price during their World Series run. Ultimately he’ll be a starter and staple in the rotation, but he has immediate bullpen value for them right now. … They’re going to start losing some people to free agency. Bauer will be coming off and Kluber is not too long after that. The long-term goal is Carrasco, Clevinger, McKenzie, Bauer. But Bauer may not be around. The window isn’t closing, but there are a ton of question marks … It was surprising because I thought when they lost Cody Allen that they’d address the bullpen in free agency. My thought was that Danny Salazar must have been further along than he was, but there’s no sign of that in spring training. … They lost Brantley and replaced him with Jordan Luplow, who can only hit lefties. I still don’t get it.

 

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