By: Trent Pruitt
The Cleveland Indians missed the playoffs in 2019 after winning the American League Central from 2016-2018. In my opinion, this was due to injury issues and it really took a while for their bats to finally heat up. Cleveland fanatics are optimistic heading into 2020 and will be looking to regain control of the AL Central in what we anticipate to be a thrilling three-team race!
2019 Team MVP: Carlos Santana
2019 Most Improved: Tyler Naquin
2019 Team Cy Young: Both Mike Clevinger & Shane Beiber
As I mentioned, the injuries played a large role in the lack of success for the 2019 Indians. Hard to use the phrase “lack of success” when talking about a 93 win season. Mike Clevinger went on the 60-Day IL with an upper back issue, Francisco Lindor started the season on the IL with a sprained ankle, and Jose Ramirez did a stint on the IL with a broken hand.
Nonetheless, the Indians were in the mix for both the Wild Card and AL Central until midway through September.
D+. I’m not very intrigued by the moves that the Indians front office made this off-season. For starters, Cleveland and long time second baseman, Jason Kipnis parted ways. I have no feelings either way on this move, I think that the two parties time together was moving towards this anyways as Kipnis moves later into his career. The Tribe will replace the veteran middle-infielder with free agent signing, Cesar Hernandez who started seeing steady playing time with the Phillies back in 2014. I would say this is a slight upgrade at 2nd over the aging Kipnis.
Additionally, Cleveland went out and grabbed Domingo Santana, who will likely fill the LF spot and push Greg Allen or Jared Luplow over to RF to fill the void of Yasiel Puig. Santana has bounced around over the last few years, spending time in Houston, Milwaukee, and most recently in Seattle where he slashed .253/.329/.441 with 21 longballs and 69 RBI’s.
Overall, I feel as if the Indians essentially stood pat with their team. Starting with their rotation, I am confident saying they didn’t need to bring anyone in; this is one of the best rotations in all of baseball. As for hitting, I would’ve liked to see them in the running for Mike Moustakas to fill the 2B hole or maybe go out and get Nicholas Castellanos to play a corner outfield spot. Cleveland still boasts a competitive roster and their Championship window remains open so I would’ve liked to see more.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
C- Roberto Perez
1st- Carlos Santana
2nd- Cesar Hernandez
3rd- Jose Ramirez
SS- Francisco Lindor
LF- Domingo Santana
CF- Oscar Mercado
RF- Greg Allen
DH- Franmil Reyes
1- Mike Clevinger (6-8 weeks meniscus surgery recovery from Feb 14th)
2- Shane Beiber
3- Carlos Carrasco
4- Zach Plesac
5- Aaron Civale
6- Adam Plutko/Logan Allen (Slide in for Clevinger)
Brad Hand (Closer)
Logan Allen/Adam Plutko
Roster Analysis & Key Players to Watch
As I finished up the off-season grade section, I stated that the Indians Championship window is still open. I 100% believe that considering they are returning a healthy Lindor, JoRam at 3rd, and Carlos Santana at 1st. They’ll also have a full season of Franmil Reyes, a power slugger who came over in a trade with the Padres last July in order to get some offensive production.
Cleveland, your rotation is set. I don’t even think I need to get into too much analysis on how good this combo of starters can (and will) be. It’s obviously worth mentioning that Mike Clevinger had knee surgery a few weeks ago and will likely miss a few starts as he recovers. The time table was set at 6-8 weeks from mid-February. I always like to use this section to highlight a couple of players that may be flying under the radar or aren’t a staple of the organization, yet, like Lindor or Ramirez.
Zach Plesac: Once the rotation is fully healthy, the 2nd year righty should slot into the 4th spot. In his rookie year, Plesac started 21 games, going 8-6 with a 3.81 ERA. His WHIP was 1.23 while boasting a 6.8k/9IP. Plesac showed serious signs of potential in his rookie campaign and I believe he will follow it up with a big season. Having a full off-season to learn from veterans Clevinger and Carrasco, I think he takes a huge leap forward in 2020.
Oscar Mercado: Mercado escalated quickly through the Cardinals farm system before he was eventually traded to Cleveland in what I would say was a steal for the Tribe (CF Connor Capel, RF Jhon Torres). He made his MLB debut with the Indians in 2019 and played in 115 games slashing .269/.318/.443. Additionally, he mashed 15 homers, stole 15 bases, and collected 54 RBI’s. Basically, I think Mercado is going to go off this season. Terry Francona typically has the CF hitting 2nd so he is going to be in a lot of RBI opportunities and be surrounded by excellent hitteres. I have a great feeling about this kid.
The Farm System
Before we get into my prediction for the 2020 Indians, I want to talk about the future. Cleveland is still in Championship mode but let’s look forward to a few of the prospects that will slot in for the future!
#42 Nolan Jones (3B): Nolan Jones ranks #42 in the MLB prospect rankings entering the 2020 season, and for good reason. From the tape I’ve watched, this guy has huge homerun potential, both pull and oppo. Jones opted out of college ball when he was selected out of Holy Ghost Prep in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. Originally he committed to UVA but a $2.25 million signing bonus swayed his opinion in a different direction. The 21-year-old left-handed bat will be a force in years to come as he slashed .253/.370/.466 and was selected to the All-Star Futures Game in 2019.
#96 Tyler Freeman (SS): Freeman was drafted 71st overall in 2017 out of Etiwanda High School in California. He committed to TCU after hitting .526 in his senior year with 5 bombs but opted for the big leagues when he was selected in the 4th round. Highlight-wise, there isn’t much to be found on the interweb of Tyler. But… What I did notice from the videos I could find was that he is full of hustle. He’s an excellent fielder that is going to make 99% of the ordinary plays and some of the ones that are 50/50. As a hitter, he was a .319/.354/.397 slash hitter in High A and it’s worth mentioning that he doesn’t have the homerun power that you would want to see. He hit zero homeruns in 62 High A games but that slash line is very respectable. I can see him slotting into an 8/9 spot in the future with his speed and plate discipline.
Season Projection & Prediction
Projected Wins: 91.5
My Prediction: 93-69 but miss playoffs
Simply put, the Cleveland Indians are going to be good this season. They have the most well-rounded starting rotation in all of baseball to go along with a really solid lineup. And although I would’ve liked to see them do a little better than Domingo Santana in the off-season, he will provide a nice power bat in the bottom half of the lineup. Additionally, they’re healthy entering the year, minus Mike Clevinger and Tyler Naquin. Clevinger won’t miss very much time as he recovers from meniscus surgery while the Tribe expects Naquin back around midseason since he’s recovering from a torn ACL that occured back in September.
The AL Central will be no joke this season. The Twins are primed for another run and the White Sox are finally looking to compete. Nonetheless, I like the Indians to rattle off about 93 wins although I believe they will miss the playoffs. It’s kind of insane that 93 wins won’t be enough to get the job done but I expect the Rays and either the Angels/Athletics/Astros take the Wild Card positions.