Indians Team Preview: Rolling Tribe Gathers Moss

Indians Team Preview: Rolling Tribe Gathers Moss

This article is part of our MLB Team Previews series.

2015 Cleveland Indians preview

The Indians were unable to repeat their 92-70 season from 2013 when the team lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the wildcard game as they finished the 2014 campaign with an 85-77 record, good for a third place finish in the AL Central. The Indians got some surprise performances in 2014 including a Cy Young award for Cory Kluber and a third-place showing from Michael Brantley in the AL MVP race but it wasn't enough as the Tribe saw their postseason hopes dashed by injuries and ineffectiveness from some key veterans on offense.

The Indians have put a renewed focus on improving the team's defense, which was one of the worst in the majors, this offseason though there appears to be very little improvement on paper. The team didn't make many impact moves this winter, bringing in Brandon Moss to help the offense and veteran Gavin Floyd to help round out what figures to be a very strong starting rotation. The Indians will need some bounce back performances from some key veterans on offense and for a young starting rotation to solidify the gains made in the second half of the season in order to contend in a suddenly competitive AL Central.

Offseason Moves

Acquired Brandon Moss from the A's

The Indians landed Moss on the cheap thanks to a second-half slump, a hip injury and a hefty arbitration-induced raise. Moss, who is expected to be back to full health for the bulk of spring training, enters into a crowded DH/1B/RF picture in Cleveland but shouldn't have a problem cracking the lineup on a nightly basis if he can put least year's second half fade behind him (four homers, .584 OPS in 179 at-bats). Moss is the only real augmentation to the team's offense in 2015 and they need him healthy in a bad way. A move out of Oakland should help as well if he's able to get back to full health.

Signed RHP Gavin Floyd

The Indians got some encouraging performances from some youngsters in the second half but inked Floyd to an incentive-laden deal that reportedly included a guaranteed spot in the starting rotation. If Floyd can replicate his numbers from a year ago he'll have no problem holding down a spot in the starting rotation. Floyd returned from Tommy John surgery in early May and went on to post a 2.37 ERA and 27:8 K:BB in his first five starts. The success continued on into June, but Floyd suffered a fractured right elbow in his ninth outing, necessitating another season-ending surgery. Although the sample size is small, Floyd did post the second-best walk rate of his career in 2014 (2.1 BB/9), and his 11.4% swinging-strike rate was his best mark in 11 major league seasons. His groundball rate was up at 49.4%, and health permitting, Floyd should hold a regular spot in the back of the Cleveland rotation.

Signed Shaun Marcum, Bruce Chen, Dustin Molleken, Jeff Manship, Casey Weathers, Scott Downs, Michael Roth and Anthony Swarzak to minor league deals with an invitation to spring training

Marcum and Chen are the most recognizable names that will be in camp to try and earn a spot at the backend of the rotation but that's going to be an uphill battle for both veterans as the team is well-positioned in four of the five rotation spots already. Downs and Weathers are the most recognizable names among a group of arms looking to land one of the last spots in the bullpen but neither figure to make much of an impact.

Signed Ryan Rohlinger and Michael Martinez to minor league deals with an invite to spring training

Both veterans can handle a couple of different infield positions but with Zach Walters and Mike Aviles still in the fold there's virtually no chance that either land a roster spot this spring.

Signed Destin Hood and Jerry Sands to minor league deals with an invite to spring training

The Indians enter spring training with a logjam in the corner outfield spots which is further compounded by Walters and Aviles ability to handle a corner outfield spot in addition to their infield duties. Both figure to be organizational soldiers or an early roster casualty.

Projected Lineup (vs RHP/LHP)

1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Michael Brantley, LF
4. Carlos Santana, 1B
5. Brandon Moss, RF/DH
6. Yan Gomes, C
7. David Murphy, RF/Nick Swisher DH/RF
8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
9. Jose Ramirez, SS

The Indians lineup in 2015 will look very similar to the names they trotted out in 2014 with the only addition being Moss into the 1B/RF/DH mix. David Murphy figures to see action against right handers and Lonnie Chisenhall will face some pressure this spring to improve both his offense and his defense. Zach Walters could factor into the mix at shortstop if Ramirez struggles or against southpaws in place of Chisenhall.

Starting Rotation

1. Corey Kluber
2. Carlos Carrasco
3. Trevor Bauer
4. Gavin Floyd
5. Danny Salazar/T.J. House/Zach McAllister/Josh Tomlin

With the veteran Floyd reportedly guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation the only real mystery remains the battle for the fifth starter spot. There's a chance Trevor Bauer completely implodes but it appears he may be finally turning the corner and should be able to hold onto a spot barring a complete disaster this spring.

Closer: Tribe fans will want to forget the early-season dalliance with John Axford before turning the reigns over to Cody Allen. Allen finally wrestled the job away in late-May and never looked back. In fact, in his final 50 appearances, he had a 1.49 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 35.0% strikeout rate as well as 23 of his 24 saves for the season. Now with back-to-back big years under his belt, Allen is on the cusp of joining the tier of elite closers. There are only a handful of guys who can deliver huge save totals, minuscule ratios and push toward 100 strikeouts and Allen has all the makings of becoming one of those.

Key Bullpen Members: Cleveland enters the season with a clear-cut closer for the first time since the halcyon days of Chris Perez and the bullpen still figures to be a strength despite some late-game matchup issues for skipper Terry Francona.

Bryan Shaw will serve as Allen's primary setup man from the right side. Shaw led baseball with 80 appearances and he acquitted himself quite well with a 2.59 ERA, but he has essentially morphed into a ROOGY with a 283-point OPS platoon split. Righties managed just a .493 OPS thanks to a cutter/slider combination but he'll need to neutralize lefties better to be a fantasy factor in a setup role. He has always been good for a strong ERA, but without dominant strikeout rates or chances at saves, he doesn't really hold much attention in fantasy circles, especially since ERAs are remarkably volatile out of the bullpen.

The Indians will turn to Mark Rzepczynski as the team's primary late-game option from the left side. Rzepczynski has stabilized as a quality left-handed reliever but he continues to give up a significant number of free passes. Fortunately, he's able to minimize the damage of the walks by getting a lot of outs on the ground (59.7% GB% last season, career 56.6%). He's death on lefties, after he fanned them at a 28.7% rate and held them to a combined .180/.241/.200 line last season, but Francona will need to walk a fine line to keep him away from righties (.944 OPS last year, .807 OPS in his career).

Notes of import, fantasy or otherwise

Jason Kipnis – bounce back or decline?

Everyone loved the Jay Hey Kid coming into 2014, so much so that he was taken in the end of the second round of many drafts. Kipnis lost nearly all of May to an oblique injury and then ended the season with leg issues. The time lost cost him nearly 120 plate appearances compared to 2013 and his extra-base hit total dropped from 57 to just 32. He still managed to steal at least 20 bases for a third consecutive season and his plate discipline held mostly in line to where it was with a tad more aggressiveness. The glaring issue was Kipnis simply did not drive the ball as he had the previous season, and the injuries certainly were a factor there. In hindsight, taking Kipnis as a top-25 pick in 2014 was a bit aggressive, but he should be drafted as a top-50 player in 2015 as a strong rebound candidate. Keep a close eye on him during spring training, however, as Kipnis needed surgery on his left ring finger in December after suffering an injury during offseason workouts.

Will Lonnie Chisenhall's defense and second half slump cost him his job?

The Indians made a lot of noise this winter about improving the team's defense and it mainly centered on Chisenhall. The entire infield defense was a mess but the team isn't going to move Kipnis anywhere so expect most of the gnashing of teeth to be directed squarely at Chisenhall. Add his woeful second half at the plate (.332/.396/.519 first half, .218/.277/.315 second half) and there's going to be lots of attention thrown his way this spring.

Was Yan Gomes' breakout for real?

Expectations were high for Gomes entering 2014, as he was coming off a strong showing in a limited role in 2013 and had taken over primary catching duties in Cleveland from Carlos Santana. He easily surpassed those expectations by posting impressive numbers in all but one roto category, finishing fourth among catchers in 5x5 rotisserie value, only behind Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Devin Mesoraco. The 27-year-old was outstanding down the stretch, with an .847 OPS, nine homers and 38 RBI after the All-Star break, en route to being named the Silver Slugger at the position in the AL. Some skepticism is understandable, as Gomes drew just 24 walks last season (4.6% BB%) while striking out at a 23.2% clip, and he still swings at too many pitches out of the zone, but the power is real and the Indians figure to continue relying on him as a key run producer, likely batting him fifth or sixth in the order.

How likely is a follow-up season from Michael Brantley?

Arguably the biggest breakout player of 2014, Brantley doubled his power output and was a 20-20 player for the Indians en route to finishing third in the AL MVP voting. Prior to last season, Brantley had never slugged above .402 as a big league player, which will undoubtedly lead to questions about his ability to sustain his new level of production. Handling fastballs better than he did in the past, Brantley's HR/FB rate climbed from 6.8% in 2013 to 12.7% last season. That he was able to significantly increase his home-run production without selling out in his approach bodes well for his chances of another strong season in 2015 (his strikeout rate was a career-best 8.3%). Even if he's more likely to hit .300 with 15 homers and 15 steals than repeat the .327 average with another 20-20 effort, Brantley has all of the tools necessary to remain a steady five category player in the heart of the Cleveland lineup.

Does Corey Kluber have any chance of repeating last year's Cy Young season?

Kluber showed devastating secondary stuff throughout 2013 which hinted at a breakout, but his fastball command lagged behind meaning he was no sure thing. Understanding that, Kluber shifted from a four-seamer to a two-seamer and actually gained velocity, giving him a reasonable fastball offering to set up the elite secondaries, the best of which was an incredible curveball that was arguably baseball's best pitch in 2014. The .241 OPS-against was the best for any single pitch with 150 batters faced and the .091 AVG was second to only Dellin Betances' breaking ball (.075). It's hard to believe that Kluber could get better, but if he began commanding his two-seamer like the breaking pitches, then his 2.35 FIP might be in reach. Batters still hit .304 on the two-seamer, but hitting .172 on the rest of his pitches mitigates that damage. He has improved his fastball OPS yearly, down to .821 last year. Another jump could stifle an ERA dip. Even with a backslide in ERA, he's still a Tier-1 asset.


This is a team built around a strong starting rotation, led by Corey Kluber and a pair of upside arms in Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. A core of Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes gives the Indians a heck of a start to build a lineup around.


This is a team that could certainly improve on last year's middle of the pack offense but it'll need to get healthy seasons from both Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn at the top of the order in addition to Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes holding onto the large gains they showed last year. The team's biggest Achilles heel is their ability to turn batted balls into outs.

On the Rise:Carlos Carrasco - Carrasco had a 5.29 ERA in 238 major league innings along with a Tommy John surgery under his belt before last year's breakout. He kicked off 2014 with a 6.95 ERA in his first four starts, which only further suggested that it just wasn't going to work. He spent the next three-plus months cultivating a slider in the bullpen before returning to the rotation and pitching as arguably the best arm in baseball. His 1.30 ERA upon returning to the rotation was baseball's best while his 0.81 WHIP was third-best. Elite velocity and three bankable secondary pitches fueled the success and leave many encouraged for a full season in the rotation in 2015. There's still risk betting on a 69-inning sample, but there is a lot to love here and Carrasco could be Cleveland's next stud.

Decline: Nick Swisher - Dude, bro...Swisher was awful in 2014. The chillaxing outfielder had a horrendous season across the board as most of his numbers fell into a three-year decline with 2014 being best described as an accelerated fall into the statistical abyss. Pitchers threw him more strikes than ever because they simply were not that worried because Swisher was not driving the ball. In 2012, Yankee Stadium hid those ills, but when they came back in 2014, Progressive Field could not hide them. Thus, it was the first time Swishalicious failed to hit at least 20 homers since he was called up in 2004. The other unfortunate outcome of 2014 is that Swisher is no longer eligible in the outfield and can only be used at first base. His skill set is not too tough to replace at first base and there is no upside to his production. That's a real bummer, man.

Sleeper:Jose Ramirez - When Asdrubal Cabrera was traded away, many were surprised that Cleveland did not call up uber-prospect Francisco Lindor to see what he could do at the big league level. Ramirez quickly showed why that was not necessary. At the plate, he held his own despite his youth and swiped 10 bases in 11 tries, but Ramirez really shined in the field. Lindor's presence may scare some away but this looks like Ramirez's job to lose as spring starts.

Super Sleeper:Zach Walters - He has spent the past two seasons between Triple-A and the big leagues, splitting time for the Nationals and Indians. In that time, he has smacked 124 extra-base hits, but has struck out 249 times. That 2:1 ratio of strikeouts to extra-base hits has held true at the major league level where he has an unusual slash line of .193/.253/.452 over 146 plate appearances. He is outfield only on draft day in most formats but has a chance to earn some playing time at third base as part of a platoon if Lonnie Chisehall struggles and the power upside make him an intriguing endgame option in AL-only leagues.

Top Prospects

Francisco Lindor - Cleveland chose to keep Lindor in the minor leagues for the entire 2014 season, despite a trade deadline deal that shipped Asdrubal Cabrera out of town. The move made sense, even if it may have disappointed baseball fans who have been waiting three-plus years to see the slick-fielding shortstop. Lindor has just 180 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt, and his .273/.307/.388 line may look underwhelming. However, the "better in reality than fantasy" label that seems to stick to Lindor because of his elite defense does not do him justice. He hit 11 home runs with 28 steals in 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and he will debut in the big leagues this season as a 21-year-old. There is plenty of projection left in his bat, and his plus hit tool and speed combination should place him at the top of a big league lineup. He projects as an above-average offensive shortstop in his prime but figures to spend most of 2015 at Triple-A, unless Jose Ramirez falls apart.

Clint Frazier - After struggling in his first couple months of pro ball, Frazier slashed .282/.367/.448 with nine home runs and five steals in 65 games in the second half for Low-A Lake County. The biggest concern with the 20-year-old center fielder is the 29.7% strikeout rate that he posted in his first year as a professional. Fortunately, Frazier also showed some patience at the plate, taking a walk in 10.3% of his plate appearances at Low-A. There is a lot of risk here, and Frazier is at least two years away from the big leagues, but few minor leaguers can match his upside, which is why he remains a top-50 prospect in dynasty leagues.

Bradley Zimmer - Zimmer was the 21st pick in the 2014 draft, and finished the year with a three-game stint at Low-A Lake County after playing 45 games with short-season Mahoning Valley. The 21-year-old outfielder figures to move fast through the Indians' system, as is typical of college bats drafted in the first round. His short-season numbers were pretty ridiculous (four home runs, 11 steals, .401 OBP), but it's hard to put much stock into those given the small sample and the quality of competition. At 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, he has some filling out to do, and with that, he should go from being a 30-plus steal threat to a 15-25 steal option over a full season in the majors. With a solid approach at the plate and present gap-to-gap doubles power, there's room for projection in the bat, with an outside shot that Zimmer develops into a 20/20 threat by the time he reaches the big leagues, possibly by late 2016.

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Darin Brown
Darin has been a RotoWire contributor since the early 1998 "RotoNews" days. He is a diehard Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars fan who spent his college days working for the Rangers as a clubhouse attendant making little money but having a blast.
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