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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

 Wild on Sports
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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Cleveland Indians
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Doorman

2013 Overview:
The Indians were seemingly rewarded for spending heavily on an offensive makeover last winter, but their wild card berth came on the back of some surprising sources. Jason Kipnis emerged as a star at second base, Ubaldo Jimenez learned to succeed with diminished velocity, and catcher/first basemen Yan Gomes hit .294 with 11 Home Runs, allowing Carlos Santana to stay fresh all year. But it was lefty Scott Kazmir who drew attention for his feel-good story comeback, who arrived as a spring training invitee, rediscovered his velocity, which, when combined with the best control numbers of his career, led to his first successful season in five years.

Winter Grade: C
Coming: David Murphy, Sean Marcum, John Axford
Going: Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Chris Perez
The Indians had spent most of their money last year on outfielders and with their offensive relatively stable, and Danny Salazar set to replace Ubaldo Jimenez, standing pat seems reasonable, but teams that make a 20+-win jump from the previous year, as the Indians did, are prone to some kind of regression either due to bad luck or player performances adjusting.

Wild Card(s): Lonnie Chisenhall 
He was supposed to be a league-average third basemen by now, but he hasn’t gotten on base enough, and now Carlos Santana is expected to play some games at third base this year. But if Chisenhall can emerge as an everyday player, Cleveland has more options, which might mean more Santana at DH, which might mean less Jason Giambi, which is a good thing going forward.

Key Contract Years:
Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera Losing Masterson would definitely hurt, but Asdrubal Cabrera is probably gone after this season, and Cleveland can easily weather his loss with Mike Aviles and top prospect Francisco Lindor. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cabrera dealt in-season, either for prospects or, if Cleveland is contending, for more pitching help.

Rookies:
Trevor Bauer was a top ten pitching prospect last year, but he struggled with his delivery all year and his velocity fell sharply; he was ineffective between AAA and the majors, bouncing between the two. However, unless he was hiding an underlying injury, Bauer is a reasonable bounce-back candidate, and even a slightly above-average rookie season would mitigate the loss of Scott Kazmir.

Key Questions:
What kind of pitchers can Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber be long (or even mid)-term?
Are they durable enough to last for a full season?
How much longer can Nick Swisher continue to be a viable offensive threat?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
The Indians have some intriguing middle infielders, highlighted by blue chipper Francisco Lindor (probably a year away), and Clint Frazier is a highly regarded outfielder taken in the first round last year. After that, the talent level tails off considerably. The top heavy system will need some breakouts from toolsy international signings like Dorssys Paulino or Luigi Rodriguez.

2014 Prognosis: Possible Contenders
The Indians lack star talent, but they are very strong up the middle and their roster has few obvious holes. They will need health and durability from their starters, however, as their bullpen is mediocre and they have very little starting pitching depth to pull from if things don’t go as planned.

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