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Cleveland Indians Season Preview 2020

Cleveland Indians

2020 in Focus for the Cleveland Indians

The 2020 season is going to be one like the Cleveland Indians have never played in before. Regardless of the current schedule, Cleveland is focused and committed to putting a winning team on the field. Internally, the Indians feel as though they possess the tools necessary to give both the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox a run for their money over the coming 60-game season.

When you look at the American League Central, it’s a mediocre division overall. However, the 60-game schedule could allow either the Detroit Tigers or Kansas City Royals, once viewed as rebuilding teams, to surprise. Furthermore, the Indians will get a run for their money from the Minnesota Twins and likely the Chicago White Sox.

For Cleveland, Minnesota and Chicago, the focus is on winning this season, but for the Tigers and Royals the focus is more on the bigger, long-term picture. For Cleveland, the focus is primarily on this year in a window that could be close to closing. After all, the current window has been open since 2016. The current window peaked with an appearance in the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs.

Surveying the Roster

1. Starting Rotation

One area where the Cleveland Indians should continue to shine is in their starting rotation. Cleveland has boasted a lot of starting pitching depth recently, and the two biggest names at the moment are Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco. While they might not necessarily be household names, Cleveland has plenty of effective pitching options on its big league roster.

While both Clevinger and Carrasco figure to impact the rotation, the name to watch is Shane Bieber. The 24-year-old right-hander made a name for himself last year and could potentially be in the conversation for the American League Cy Young Award this season. Bieber made 34 starts last season in which he posted a 3.28 ERA. In that span, Bieber posted a .230 Opponent Batting Average Against and a K/9 Rate of 10.88.

Furthermore, one name that might emerge more this season is 25-year-old right-hander Zach Plesac. Plesac, who is the nephew of former big-league pitcher Dan Plesac, made his big league debut last May. Plesac made 21 starts with the big league team last year and posted a 3.81 ERA over that span with 88 strikeouts.

2. Bullpen

Besides the starting rotation, the Cleveland Indians have a lot of depth in their bullpen. On their depth chart, Cleveland possesses about 10 or 11 individuals who could all be legitimate options to make the big league roster. For the Indians, having that much bullpen depth is critical especially with how much skipper Terry Francona likes to use it.

Although Francona will no longer be able to use matchups as often given the new three-batter minimum rule, it’s still vital to have depth and various looks. The name to watch in the bullpen mix is closer Brad Hand. The left-hander was acquired by Cleveland halfway through the 2018 season and has been effective since. Dating back to the time he was acquired by the Indians, Hand has a 2.96 ERA over 85 innings. In that span, Hand has locked down 42 saves and a 2.94 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP).

Another potential under-the-radar name to watch this year is sidewinder Adam Cimber. He was acquired by Cleveland in the same trade as Brad Hand. Cimber, who is 29 years old, has yet to put together a league-average season, but this year may very well be the season where everything clicks. Adam Cimber relies heavily on his sinkerball, which he threw 50.8% of the time last season, according to Baseball Savant. However, his most effective pitch is his slider, which he threw 32.2% of the time last year and induced a 28.7% Whiff Rate with.

The loss of Emmanuel Clase due to PED suspension does certainly hurt depth. However, there are other options for Cleveland to utilize because it was so deep to begin with.

3. Batting Order

At various points last season, the Cleveland Indians struggled at the plate. For Cleveland to put up the numbers that it wants to offensively, then the Indians need both Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to be themselves this year. When Lindor and Ramirez are healthy and performing at their best, the Indians lineup is a lot stronger. Both Lindor and Ramirez form a nasty combo in the middle of the batting order that other teams fear.

Over this past offseason, Cleveland signed free agent second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Hernandez gives the Indians a nice option at the leadoff spot and someone that has the potential to do damage at the plate and on the base paths. Last year, Hernandez hit .279/.333/.408 over 667 plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies. Although Hernandez only had nine stolen bases in 2019, he recorded 19 the year before.

Furthermore, the Indians have some power in their lineup besides the aforementioned Lindor and Ramirez. In addition to Lindor and Ramirez, Cleveland has outfielder Franmil Reyes, first baseman Carlos Santana, and designated hitter Domingo Santana. All three of those guys have the potential to do damage at the plate and hit the ball out of the ballpark.

However, the one name to watch among those three is Franmil Reyes. Reyes, who was acquired by the Cleveland Indians in the three-team blockbuster last summer involving Trevor Bauer, is still only 24 years old. Between the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians last year, Reyes hit .249/.310/.512 over 548 plate appearances. In that span, Reyes recorded 37 home runs, 81 RBI, 47 walks, and 156 strikeouts.

Sorting through the Outfield

One of the more intriguing storylines surrounding the Indians is the outfield. Cleveland possesses a lot of different options and players that can plug into various positions around the field. Both the aforementioned Reyes and Santana present two names in the outfield mix for Cleveland.

Another name to watch is the 25-year-old center fielder, Oscar Mercado. Mercado had a very good season defensively last year and really shines with the glove. According to FanGraphs, Mercado recorded eight Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield in 2019. Furthermore, Mercado has some sneaky pop as indicated by his .300 Batting Average on Balls In Play and .443 slugging percentage over 482 plate appearances.

Other potential names to watch in the Indians outfield include offseason addition Delino DeShields Jr and Jordan Luplow. DeShields Jr. was acquired from the Texas Rangers along with the aforementioned Clase. In many regards, DeShields Jr. should have the inside track to the fourth outfielder job. However, it’s important to note that he was added to the 10-Day Injured List on Monday. DeShields Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19 heading into Summer Camp. In addition, Luplow should be the favorite to win the starting left field job.

No matter what, though, depth is the key in Cleveland’s outfield. With a 60-game season, it will be interesting to see how that depth is utilized.

Prospects to Watch in 2020

If there was one prospect you should circle to watch this season, it would be third baseman Nolan Jones. Jones is a part of the Indians 60-player pool and if an injury happens to someone like Jose Ramirez, then he is a more than capable replacement. Besides being the Indians top prospect, Jones is currently the 42nd top prospect in all of baseball.

Last season alone, Jones led the minor leagues with 96 walks over the span of 535 plate appearances. In that span, Jones hit .272/.409/.442 with 15 home runs, 63 RBI, 96 walks, and 148 strikeouts. According to scouts, Jones rates high in both the Power and Arm categories with a grade of 60 in both categories on the scouting scale.

Other potential prospects to watch this season for Cleveland include right-hander Triston McKenzie and left-hander Logan Allen. McKenzie currently ranks as the Indians ninth-best prospect, while Allen is the Indians 11th-best prospect. For McKenzie, there is a chance he could be in the starting rotation later on this coming season. Meanwhile, Allen stands a chance of potentially breaking camp as a member of the team’s 26-man roster.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Cleveland Indians possess a plethora of talented players on their roster. This coming season, the focus is going to be on winning the American League Central even if the season is only 60 games long. However, it won’t be easy. Regardless, the Indians believe they are a contender, and it could be one of the final competitive seasons for the team in its current window.

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