When the Indians hired Terry Francona two years ago, I suspected they might be back in contention within a couple of years. It wasn’t just because of Francona, but also because of the organization developed some young talent, like Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson among others. Francona, being a good manager, has been able to bring all that talent together and fine tune it into a franchise that is on the verge of unseating the Tigers as the best team in the division. Here’s what they’ll be putting on the field in 2014.
Youth and Experience
The Indians have a very good mix of youth and experience on their offense. Let’s start with the youngster, whom I mentioned in the intro above. While Carlos Santana came up as a catcher, and has played first base as well, he’s been named the Indians’ starting third baseman despite struggling defensively at the position all spring. That’s OK though, because he can hit. He slashed .268/.377/.455 and hit 39 doubles and 20 homers last year. At 28, he should be entering his prime years now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those doubles turned into more home runs.
The real star of this offense, in my humble opinion, is Jason Kipnis. The 27-year old second baseman is quietly becoming one of the better all-around 2B in the league, hitting .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers and 30 stolen bases last year. He looks primed for a true breakout season, and I hope to have him on my fantasy team this year. He’s joined in the middle of the infield by Asdrubal Cabrera, who is 28 and has also showns some pop at the plate, hitting 14 homers in 2013.
Yan Gomes really could be a key to how the offense fairs this season. I would have said the same thing about Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been a top prospect for the Indians over the last few years, but now that Santana’s at 3B, Chisenhall’s role is unknown. Entering his age 25 year, he could be poised to finally break out, after hitting .225 last season. Gomes, meanwhile, is a guy that came out of nowhere and is suddenly, potentially, one of the better hitting catchers in the league. In just 88 games, the then 25 year old hit .294/.345/.481 with 11 homers. If he can maintain that pace over a full season, we’re talking about a guy that might hit .300 and could put up 20 homers. He’s a keeper.
That does it for the kids. As far as veterans go, you’ll see solid contributors like Michael Bourn, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles will provide some speed, pop and defense between them. The two veterans I would most look forward to playing with, however, are Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher. Giambi is a part time DH and pinch hitter at this point in his career, and Swisher is coming off a very down year, but the atmosphere these guys bring to the clubhouse is probably enough to keep them by Francona’s side when the Indians go to battle.
What About the Pitching?
We mentioned Justin Masterson earlier, but we need to talk about him in further detail here. Masterson really established himself as the ace of this staff last year, winning 14 games and putting up a 3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 in what was a true breakout season for the 28 year old. The Indians are also bringing back another couple of young arms from last year, as Corey Kluber (11-5, 3.85) and Zach McAllister (9-9, 3.75) will be in the rotation again in 2014. The Indians need to replace two starters, however, as veterans Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles) and Scott Kazmir (Athletics) both departed via free agency after 2013.
The Indians signed Shawn Marcum, who should step into one of those spots, but the guy everyone’s buzzing about is Danny Salazar. Salazar, who will be 24 years old this season, made ten starts for the big league club last year, winning 2 games with a 3.12 ERA and striking out 11.25 guys per nine innings. The kid can pitch, and he’s going to get a chance to do that for a full season in 2014. I know Indians fans are excited to have him join the rotation, and they should be.
There was some upheaval in the Indians bullpen this offseason as well, as closer, drug smuggler and all-around boner Chris Perez signed with the Dodgers. As of right now, Cody Allen, a 25 year old righty, is expected to jump into the closer role. Allen is another strikeout artist, nabbing 88 guys in just 70.1 innings last year, so it will be interesting to see how he steps into that role. The Indians have plenty of other young and talented arms to fill bullpen roles, and they hope that guys like Bryan Shaw, Vinny Pestano, Nick Hagadone and Mark Rzepczynski (doesn’t he coach Duke basketball?) will continue the good work they did last year.
Look. I hate the Tigers, so I’m all for someone unseating them. I would root for the Royals to do it, but I don’t think they’re quite there yet, and I hate James Shields. Why not the Indians? I already famously helped them win the pennant in 1989 (no, Cerrano didn’t do it himself… I helped), so why not throw them some positive vibes in 2014? I miss the old days, when the Yankees and Indians would battle in October, seemingly every year. The Indians have a couple of question marks on the pitching staff, but I think they’re in good shape to build on last year’s successes (92 wins). I don’t think Jim Leyland will be moonwalking come October in 2014.
The Indians have some guys with plenty of pop in their lineup, but not so many fantasy prospects. Kipnis is a no-brainer at a premium position like second base. Carlos Santana should be very productive, specially if he still has catcher eligibility (I don’t think he does). Nick Swisher is a bounce back candidate, but I wouldn’t bother picking him, unless it’s in the last round. Asdrubal Cabrera could bounce back and be a premium SS again, but it’s looking more and more like 2012 was an abhorration. Chisenhall is another guy that could do well, but he has no track record yet, so it’s hard to advocate picking him.
The Indians should be good, so you can’t go wrong with Cody Allen, or whoever their closer ends up being. On the bump, everyone’s pretty solid. Masterson is a must own, and Danny Salazar is the most intriguing of the group. He has the potential to be very special. I wouldn’t guarantee anyone else a spot on your team, but McAllister and Kluber could be useful in spot starts here and there, if you need a guy in a pinch.
Featured image courtesy of: (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
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