MLB Preview: Cleveland Won’t Rock

csantanaCarlos Santana looks to make a smooth transition to third base.

by Alli Baker

Key DeparturesMatt Albers, Scott Kazmir, Jason Kubel, Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Drew Stubbs

Key ArrivalsDavid Adams, Scott Atchison, Jeff Francoeur, Elliot Johnson, Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy, Josh Outman, David Aardsman, John Axford, Shaun Marcum

Prospects to Watch: Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier

2013 was a year of improvement for the Cleveland Indians. Although they didn’t make it far into the post-season, they took a huge step in the right direction by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  In their first year under new manager Terry Francona, the Indians went 92-70, a 24-win improvement from the 2012 season. This impressive turnaround can largely be accredited to the Indian’s pitching. However, with the departures of Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez, the Indians had quite a bit of work to do this offseason. 1 Unfortunately, it appears, at least on paper, that they didn’t do enough.

Currently, the team has a four-man rotation of Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Justin Masterson.  Only one of the four pitchers, Justin Masterson, has spent a full year in the majors. It would’ve been smart for Cleveland’s general manager Chris Antonetti to acquire a big-name pitcher via a trade or free agency to help continue the team’s success. That hasn’t been the case, though.

The Indians acquired John Axford to replace departed closer Chris Perez, but Axford is likely not going to be the impact player that the team needs. Although there is still time left in the offseason, the days are winding down for Antonetti to make a major move. If a veteran pitcher isn’t signed, the team could rely on prospect Trevor Bauer or allow newly acquired Sean Marcum a chance at making the rotation. Bauer is still going through growing pains and Marcum has suffered a number of injuries the last few years that have derailed his career.

ROTATION

SP:  Justin Masterson
SP:  Zach McAllister
SP:  Danny Salazar
SP:  Corey Kluber
SP:  Shaun Marcum

The Indians do still have a solid offense thanks to players like Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis.   Swisher and Santana are expected to be the main sources of power after slugging 22 and 20 home runs, respectively, last season. In a move to preserve his body and his offensive output, Santana has primarily played third base during Spring Training and could beat out one-time prospect Lonnie Chisenhall for the job. He’ll also give Swisher a rest at first base now and then.

Brantley, arguably, had the best season of his career. He set new highs for home runs (10), RBI (73), stolen bases (17) and runs scored (66). Fancona is counting on Brantley to continue developing his power. Kipnis built off his 2012 season with a 100 point jump in OPS and led the team with 84 RBI and 160 hits. He and center fielder also disrupt the opposition with their speed. Kipnis stole 30 bases in 37 attempts, while Bourn, despite an off-year, nabbed 23 bases. Bourne has topped the 60-stolen base mark twice in his career.

The Tribe signed free agent David Murphy away from Texas to add a solid left-handed bat to the order. Though his OPS dipped under .700 in 2013, Murphy’s career mark of .778 will be a boost to the lineup against right-handed pitchers.

LINEUP

C: Yan Gomes
1B: Nick Swisher
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubel Cabrera
3B: Carlos Santana
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: David Murphy
DH: Jason Giambi

BENCH

Francona will also use Ryan Rabun in the corner outfield positions and second base to add more punch to the starting nine. Jason Giambi should see a good amount of time as the DH against right-handers once the rib he broke in Spring Training heals.

The Indians also seem to have some hope for the distant future with prospects like Francisco Lindor and Clint Frazier.

Frazier, an outfielder taken fifth overall by the Indians in last year’s amateur draft, is known to have raw power at the plate. He slugged an impressive .510 in rookie ball last year and had 21 extra base hits in 44 games. Though a long way off from playing in the big leagues, the 18-year old’s promise gives Indians fans something to look forward to.

With shortsop Asdrubal Cabrera in the final year of his contract, Lindor could make a push for the starting job next season with a stellar year in the minors. Ranked the 13th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, the 20-year old has a reputation as a solid hitter and base stealer Last year with the Carolina Mudcats, Lindor hit .306, slugged .410, and swiped 20 bases.3 His defense will determine how quickly he arrives in the Major Leagues.

BULLPEN

John Axford
Cody Allen
Mike Rzpeczynski
Vinnie Pestano
Bryan Shaw
Josh Outman

OUTLOOK

Although this extra offense is good for the Indians, it’s not what they need the most right now. Unfortunately, neither of these top prospects are pitchers that could solve Cleveland’s pitching troubles this year. If the team is looking to have a season similar to 2013, something must be done about their lack of experience in the starting rotation. In 2014, the Tribe needs to prove that last season wasn’t just a fluke and that they’re back to compete.

1 –  si.com

2 – espn.com

3 – baseballamerica.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

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