2017 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Cleveland Indians
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2016 Record: 94-67 (1st in AL Central - World Series Runner Up)
The Cleveland Indians had the World Series title within their grasp last season, until they ultimately lost to the Chicago Cubs in one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory. Hoping to get them over the hump this year, the Indians added slugger, Edwin Encarnacion to their lineup and that should definitely give them the pop they are looking for. The top end of their pitching rotation is also very strong, and if they can stay healthy, there is no reason why they can't contend in the American League once again in 2017.
Projected Batting Order
- Carlos Santana - DH/1B
- Jason Kipnis - 2B
- Francisco Lindor - SS
- Edwin Encarnacion - 1B/DH
- Jose Ramirez - 3B
- Michael Brantley - OF
- Tyler Naquin - OF
- Lonnie Chisenhall - OF
- Yan Gomez - C
With the Indians so close to a championship, they felt that if they added a piece or two during the offseason, maybe they could bring home the bacon in 2017.
The big piece they decided to add, was first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. EE brings a big bat to the Indians lineup and he should immediately be thrust into the cleanup position. Per Fangraphs, he is moving from a ballpark in Toronto with a Home Run Park Factor of 107 for right-handed hitters, to one in Cleveland with a 95. He could very well see a slight reduction in the 42 bombs he hit last season, but 35+ is still very attainable. He will still be hitting in a potent lineup, so I don't expect much of a drop off in his other counting stats. He's a top eight, fantasy first baseman and could even work his way into the top five.
While he's still first base eligible, Carlos Santana will most likely see quite a bit of time as the Indians designated hitter this year. The 30 year-old had one of his best seasons in 2016 as he hit .259, had 34 home runs with over 80 RBIs and runs. Considering it was a career year for him in home runs, runs and RBIs, I see a slight regression as a possibility. However, he had a career best strikeout rate and when you pair that with rising "Hard Hit" and "Fly Ball" percentages, he should be in store for another very good year. He's a top 12-15 fantasy first baseman.
At second base, the Indians will be fielding Jason Kipnis. Kipnis may not be a flashy pick, but he can help you out in several categories. He should hit around .270, get you 18-20 homers, 90 or so runs, 70 RBIs and double-digit stolen bases. He's not going to win a category for you per se, but he won't hurt you at all either and that puts him as a top ten, fantasy second baseman.
While Jason Kipnis may not be flashy, Indians' shortstop Francisco Lindor fits that bill, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He was a Gold Glove winner last season and at 23 years old, has a bright future ahead of him. He may not have the power of a Corey Seager or Carlos Correa, but he can hit over .300, be a great source of runs and has the potential to get you 20+ stolen bases. He's a top five, fantasy shortstop and should go in roughly the third round of most drafts.
If you want a good sleeper candidate, take a look at Indians' third-baseman, Jose Ramirez. He won't get you the power that some look for in a corner infielder, but he led all third basemen in batting average last season (.312) and was third in stolen bases with 22. He can also get you double digit home runs and 75 RBIs and runs, making him a nice fantasy asset. Currently he's being drafted as the 18th third baseman off the board in Yahoo leagues and as the 11th off the board in the NFBC. That shows me that the "sharps" are in on Ramirez and he might be a good guy you may be able to get cheap if you are in a casual league.
It wasn't long ago, two years to be exact, that Yan Gomes was looked at as a potential breakout star at the catcher position. Since then, he hasn't hit better than .231 and has struck out almost nine times for every walk he's had. He's someone to keep an eye on at the beginning of the season in case he gets off to a hot start, but he's nothing better than a lower end catcher in two catcher leagues.
As of today, Cleveland does not have an outfielder getting drafted among the top 50 at the position, or even in the top 200 picks for that matter. Quite honestly, the only Indians' outfielder I would try and target would be Michael Brantley.
Brantley missed all but 11 games last season with a torn labrum which required two surgeries to correct, but he's looking to bounce back this year. There is still a question as to whether or not he will be ready for the start of the season, but when healthy, he can be a five category producer in fantasy baseball. Normally, I try to stay away from the injury risk-guys, but considering he's being drafted outside of the top 200 picks, there isn't a huge penalty if he doesn't pan out and he has the potential to produce as an OF2 for your fantasy squad. While I don't recommend taking him if you have taken several risks before that point in your draft, if you have a relatively safe team, feel free to take a shot at Brantley and hope he is able to return to pre-injury form.
Tyler Naquin played well in his rookie season, but considering he performed better for the Indians last season than he did in the minor leagues, I'm not expecting much from him in 2017, as regression looms over his head. At best, he's a late round flier to fill out your outfield position. You can safely pass on Lonnie Chisenhall.
There are flashy names atop the starting pitcher rankings like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, but don't sleep on Corey Kluber.
In 2016, Kluber was tied for fifth in wins (18), struck out over a batter an inning (9.50) and had a 3.14 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP. He's pitched at least 215 innings in each of the last three seasons and during that time, has never had over a 3.49 ERA or struck out less than 9.5 batters per nine innings. He plays on a really good team and is about as safe as they come. After the top three pitchers (Kershaw, Scherzer and Bumgarner) come off the board, Kluber enters the discussion for the number four fantasy, starting pitcher.
Last season was a rough one for the Indians' number two, Carlos Carrasco. He suffered a hamstring injury early in the year which caused him to miss five weeks, and then he broke his hand in September, which ended his season. If healthy, Carrasco has the ability to be a SP1 for your fantasy team. He strikes out over a batter an inning, should have an ERA around 3.30 with a WHIP around 1.10. Playing for the Indians should put him in line for a good amount of wins as well. He has yet to pitch over 200 innings, and that holds me back from ranking Carrasco a little higher. As is, Carrasco is a borderling SP1 or low-end, SP2.
While Kluber and Carrasco are each good strikeout pitchers, they may not even be the best on their team. That title arguable belongs to Danny Salazar, who struck out 10.55 batters per nine innings in 2016. However, the injury bug also plagued him as well, as he dealt with shoulder, elbow and forearm injuries last year. While she strikeouts a lot of batters, he also walks more than he should and he has yet to put it all together. He's a SP3 in drafts this year and is currently being drafted around the 130th pick in NFBC leagues. While he's more of a boom or bust-type player, I love his upside and won't be afraid to select him this year in drafts.
Rounding out the rotation will likely be Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin and they are nothing more than in-season streaming options.
The Indians added big name reliever, Andrew Miller last season, but the ninth inning still belongs to Cody Allen. Allen has an excellent curve ball, has struck out over 11 batters per nine innings in four straight seasons and has averaged 33 saves over his last two. He's a RP1 despite the presence of Miller.
Despite being a set-up guy, Miller himself is also a borderline RP1. He is an elite strikeout guy and being in the setup role, he may also see multiple innings on occasion, which should help his stats. To fill you in on just how good he was last year, he had a 1.45 ERA, a 0.69 WHIP and struck out almost 15 batters per nine innings. You don't get the saves with him, but he can still help out your fantasy team in a big way. In addition, if he ever assumes the closer role, he immediately will become one of the best fantasy, relief pitchers in the game. Don't be afraid to select Andrew Miller on draft day.
Sleeper: Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley