Previewing the 2021 Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians are coming off a 2020 season in which they finished second place in the American League Central with a 35-25 record. The Indians did make the postseason last year, squaring off against the New York Yankees, but ended up being swept in that series.

Last season, the biggest storyline was the lack of offense. Collectively as a team, the Indians finished the 2020 campaign with the third lowest OPS (.689) in the American League. On the other hand, the pitching was really effective. The entire pitching staff led the American League with a 3.29 ERA over the 60-game sample. Furthermore, Indians pitchers led all of baseball with 621 strikeouts.

Now, with 2020 in the rearview mirror, the team is focused on 2021. However, the Indians are missing three critical pieces from their team last season in shortstop Francisco Lindor, starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, and closer Brad Hand. All three of those individuals played a role in the team’s success over the last few seasons. With that being said, the focus has shifted to the future for the Indians. This season, they will likely get to see some of those future names play at the big league level.

Here is a complete breakdown of what the big league roster will look like and who the most important players are.

Breaking Down the Components of the 2021 Cleveland Indians Roster

Preview of the Starting Rotation

The biggest hallmark for the Cleveland Indians is still the starting rotation. Over the last few years, it has played a critical role in what the team has been able to do. Once again in 2021, that will be the case.

As discussed previously, the Indians will rely on a four-man starting rotation in the month of April. That set-up could extend before that time frame, but that is what the team is anticipating. Of course, the entire starting rotation will be locked down at the top by reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber.

After Bieber, Zach Plesac will be slotted in the two hole with Aaron Civale following him as the number three starter. After that, it will likely be Triston McKenzie. In addition, the Indians have Logan Allen and Cal Quantrill who can lock down the back end of the rotation.

Preview of the Bullpen

With the loss of the aforementioned Brad Hand, the Indians bullpen doesn’t have the firepower in the closer role that they would have with Hand. However, they do have a very good closer in James Karinchak, who had an excellent rookie season last year. The 25-year-old held opposing batters to a .087 batting average and posted a 2.35 ERA over eight appearances.

Before Karinchak, Cleveland will likely plug Nick Wittgren into the mix to handle the eighth inning. Meanwhile, they will get a big piece back for the seventh inning in Emmanuel Clase. Clase was one of the pieces Cleveland acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Corey Kluber trade. He was suspended last year for PED use. He still has a very high ceiling and that should really benefit the bullpen.

Another notable piece in the bullpen is Oliver Perez. Perez is entering his age-40 season and will be pitching in his 19th big league season overall. The southpaw is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he posted a 2.00 ERA over 18 innings with 14 strikeouts and a 1.056 WHIP.

Beyond that, Phil Maton, Trevor Stephan, and Bryan Shaw are the names rounding out the pitching staff. Shaw turned 33 last November but spent five seasons with the team from 2013-2017 before signing with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent.

Preview of the Lineup

Here is a look at what the expected Opening Day lineup will look like for the Cleveland Indians.

  1. 2B Cesar Hernandez
  2. LF Eddie Rosario
  3. 3B Jose Ramirez
  4. DH Franmil Reyes
  5. RF Josh Naylor
  6. CF Amed Rosario
  7. 1B Jake Bauers
  8. C Roberto Perez
  9. SS Andres Gimenez

The lineup is something that will pretty much stay the same throughout the season. However, it could change depending on the matchup at hand. The top four spots are going to probably always be the same unless someone needs a day off. Last year, Cesar Hernandez was penciled into the leadoff spot and handled that role very well.

Furthermore, having Eddie Rosario, Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes in the middle of the order is where most of the production will likely come from. Josh Naylor has the ability to be productive as illustrated by his .621 OPS between the San Diego Padres and Indians last year.

The remainder of the lineup lacks consistent power but should still provide some sort of production. Amed Rosario gives the Indians a speed threat in the sixth hole, while Jake Bauers has the potential of hitting between 10-15 home runs. However, the most productive batter in this part of the lineup could be Roberto Perez. It was just two years ago that Perez hit 24 home runs and recorded 63 RBI over 119 games or 449 plate appearances.

Meanwhile, Andres Gimenez will likely round out the batting order. The important thing to keep in mind with him is that he is still only 22 years old, so there is more development that will take place at the plate over the coming season.

Preview of the Bench

Here is what the bench should look like for the Cleveland Indians in 2021.

  1. C Austin Hedges
  2. INF Yu Chang
  3. OF Ben Gamel
  4. OF Jordan Luplow

While the bench doesn’t necessarily have star-studded names, there is some valuable depth, most notably in the outfield. The outfield has been a problem for the Indians over the last few seasons. With a starting outfield of Eddie Rosario in left, Amed Rosario in center, and Josh Naylor in right, that will leave Ben Gamel and Jordan Luplow. Gamel provides depth in center should Amed Rosario need a day off or if the center field experiment doesn’t pan out.

Furthermore, Luplow has the ability to play both left and right field. Eddie Rosario can switch over to right field as well when needed and vice-versa with Josh Naylor moving from right to left. Therefore, Terry Francona and the coaching staff should have plenty of options in those three positions.

Moving to the infield, Yu Chang gives the Indians an infielder who has the ability to play second and third base as well as shortstop. Chang was ranked as the organization’s 11th best prospect just two years ago and still has a high ceiling. Depending on how the Amed Rosario experiment goes in center field, there might be some shifting in the position alignment as the season progresses and Chang could be impacted.

Finally, one of the biggest storylines involving the bench is the catching tandem of Roberto Perez and Austin Hedges. Both Perez and Hedges are strong defenders behind the dish. Perez has won two consecutive Gold Glove Awards in 2019 and 2020 due to that defense. In 2019, he recorded a Caught Stealing (CS%) of 41% which was well above the league average of 27%. Fast forward to last year, and his CS% sat at 71% with the league average coming in at 26%.

Last season, before being traded to Cleveland in the Trevor Bauer trade, Austin Hedges had a 46% Caught Stealing value. Therefore, both of those factors alone should heavily benefit the Indians pitching staff in 2021.

Final Thoughts on the 2021 Cleveland Indians

Looking ahead to the 2021 season, the Cleveland Indians will have their work cut out for them. After all, both the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox look like heavy favorites to win the division. In addition, the Kansas City Royals made moves in the offseason to put themselves in a better position to compete this year. The Detroit Tigers should also take another step forward in their development.

However, as is the case with young players on any team, sometimes they surprise and exceed expectations. That could very well be the case for the Indians in 2021, especially if the pitching staff performs at the same level. If that happens, then the Indians could very well find themselves in the mix for a postseason berth come August and September.

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Players Mentioned: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Brad Hand, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill, Adam Plutko, James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren, Emmanuel Clase, Corey Kluber, Oliver Perez, Phil Maton, Trevor Stephan, Bryan Shaw, Cesar Hernandez, Eddie Rosario, Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes, Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Jake Bauers, Roberto Perez, Andres Gimenez, Ben Gamel, Jordan Luplow, Yu Chang, Austin Hedges, Trevor Bauer

Manager Mentioned: Terry Francona


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