2016 Fantasy Baseball: Cleveland Indians Team Preview
The most valuable fantasy players on the Indians are most certainly their pitchers. Competing for the best rotation in baseball, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar headline the high strikeout staff and closer Cody Allen is one of the more underrated closers in baseball – he led the MLB in relief pitcher WAR last season. Let’s dig in to a very intriguing fantasy team.
Catcher: Yan Gomes
First Base: Mike Napoli
Second Base: Jason Kipnis
Third Base: Giovanny Urshela
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor
Left Field: Rajai Davis
Center Field: Abraham Almonte
Right Field: Lonnie Chisenhall
The lineup took a big hit when Michael Brantley underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in November. There are varying reports stating when Brantley might return, as some have said April and potentially even opening day are not out of reach, while others have said he could be out until June. As drafts are starting up, the situation with Brantley is still very fluid and something to keep track of as your draft nears. If healthy, he is one of the better outfielders in the game. The 28-year-old followed up a breakout 2014 with 15-15, a .310 batting average, and a league leading 45 doubles.
Outside of Brantley, the best and most exciting fantasy option will be Francisco Lindor. While Carlos Correa got much of the attention for rookie AL shortstops, Lindor was almost his equal in terms of fantasy stats. Lindor had not previously shown the type of power he produced in the majors, so it may not be wise to expect more home runs than he hit last year, even though he should receive many more plate appearances in a full season. His statcast numbers suggest he is more of a line drive hitter than a home run hitter, so 10-15 home runs seems more realistic than 20. Lindor should be a good bet for more than 20 steals, though. His power/speed combination at shortstop is rare, and he should be drafted as one of the best fantasy shortstops. In keeper leagues, he will be an especially interesting target.
What an exciting starting staff. Each guy possesses quality strikeout potential with Kluber and Carrasco being especially productive with punchouts. With a large difference between their ERA’s and FIP’s, the hope is that you can draft one or both of these two at a discount. Both were plagued by poor defense behind them that should be a bit better with Giovanny Urshela moving to third base and Mike Napoli entering the fold at first.
Danny Salazar is a poor man’s Carrasco and actually recorded the best ERA (3.45) of the Indians’ top four starters last year. If there is one upside grab of this rotation, Salazar may be it. Bauer still struggles with his command and may always be a high strikeout, high walk pitcher. That severely limits his upside, especially as an American League pitcher with a shaky defense behind him. Tomlin is an ever intriguing starter as he combines quality strikeout rates with extremely low walk rates. The issue Tomlin has always faced is home runs, but if he ever gets that straightened out, he could be a very effective middle of the rotation pitcher. Tomlin is not a bad idea to draft as a late round rotation addition or in AL only leagues.
With how good the starters were for Cleveland, it is easy to forget how great Cody Allen was as well with a very impressive 12.85 K/9 rate and a 0.25 HR/9 rate. Allen had a second consecutive dominant year and should be relied upon as one of the game’s top closing options this season. As mentioned, Allen finished first in reliever WAR last season, ahead of Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, and every other relief pitcher in baseball. I reiterate that because of how impressive it is and how little it is talked about. If anything were to happen to Allen, set up men Bryan Shaw or converted starting pitcher Zach McAllister would be in line for saves. With Allen’s choke hold lock on the closer position, neither Shaw nor McAllister should be drafted as handcuffs in standard formats. Keep an eye out for McAllister this year, as he could be this year’s Wade Davis as he found a lot of success, especially in terms of strikeouts, in his move to the bullpen last season.
Given that the outfield currently looks like the weak spot of the Indians, it is helpful that two of their better prospects are in the outfield and also in the upper minors. Tyler Naquin performed well in AA and AAA last year, hitting .300/.381/.446 with seven home runs and 13 steals as he missed a decent chunk of the season with an injury (378 plate appearances). He may get the first shot at an outfield position and could compete with Abraham Almonte for center field playing time right away. The former first round pick is an interesting guy to follow throughout spring.
Bradley Zimmer is the team’s top prospect and crushed high-A pitching last year while he struggled, as most do, in his first dance in the upper minors. Zimmer has much more upside than Naquin but is also likely more of a late-season to potentially 2017 call up.
At third base, as Urshela struggled with the bat in his debut last year, it is not out of the question for Cuban defector Yandy Diaz to get a crack with the big club, and he could be a major sleeper this season.