Greetings, baseball and fantasy fans! In this edition of DO’s And DON’Ts, we will cast a spotlight on the AL Central’s Cleveland Indians. Breaking camp on the 20th, the Tribe is looking for a good run; hopefully a more sustained effort of the 30-15 start of the 2011 campaign. A lot of known names have been invited to get a chance with the Indians (and even some new names for known faces, but more on that later), and there are some intriguing notables to look out for.
So let us delve into the 40-man and NRIs for this year’s “Cleveland Indians: Spring Training” edition, and give you some insight on who to look to for help on your own fantasy team… And who to avoid like a fastball to the head (or a freight-training Travis Hafner, shown above):
- DON’T expect anything out of Roberto Hernandez Heredia this season (but DO expect him back on the roster by the ASB).
If the name does not seem familiar, it’s not. But the number on the back of the jersey is. Heredia, also known as the pitcher currently wearing number 55 and formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is currently on the Indians’ restricted list: meaning he doesn’t count against the team’s payroll, or their 25- and 40-man rosters. He will be there until he returns to the States after going through the due legal process in his native Dominican Republic. Indians GM Chris Antonetti has stated he would like #55 back. Agent Jorge Brito says #55 has been throwing and keeping in-shape. So while you should expect him back, he would NOT be a good investment. Last year was his worst season in six for several major pitching categories: H (205), ER (110), HR (22), and Hit By Pitch (14). His GO/AO has dropped precipitously from 2008 to 2009, and is at its lowest point (1.78) in his career. To me, this only more damningly points to his pitches being much less in his control, much higher in the zone, thus more hittable. Given that he will not break camp on time, probably won’t be in Spring Training at all, and will be dealing with the backlash from this entire off-season ruckus, it is easy to say that Faustberto’s return to baseball will not be very productive.
- DO count on Asdrubal Cabrera to bring the same talent and fire to the team this year as he did last year.
While I would not expect the same power numbers from ACab as last year (25 HR from a player that, to that point, had only 18 in his career), his aggregate numbers suggest that his performance was not a fluke. His OPS (.792) was the second highest in his career and his average OPS in five seasons sits at .756, a very respectable number. His BA (.273) was also well in-line with his career average (.281). The “shocking” number from his stats last year, 119 Ks, isn’t so shocking. His K/AB ratio from last year (19.7%) is not that increased from his previous 4 seasons combined (18.0%). The decreased GO/AO ratio of 1.13 shows that either ACab is finding a power stroke that has been missing in his career, or he was trying to make up for the lack of power on the Tribe roster… And did well with it. I would expect ACab to be good for about 15-20 HRs this year, and an overall solid campaign. Of course, this could all be just because of the one-year deal he managed to sign with the Indians; a try-out and break-out two years before a stint at free agency. More on this as the season progresses, of course.
- DO anticipate Casey Kotchman to break camp (and hit the Opening Day roster) as the Indians’ starting first baseman.
The signing of Casey Kotchman was one of those unexpected surprises that you wind up finding out about through the Twitter grapevine. Considering the nearly-unanimous fan traffic about the play of Matt LaPorta, any move was surely a good move to shore up that disaster. Russ Canzler was the first move to get LaPorta some help / some competition / the Hell out the door, but Canzler has had exactly three ABs in the Majors. Kotchman has several (eight) years in the Majors, and will only turn 29 on the 22nd; he is starting to hit the peak part of his career. Last year’s numbers were relatively impressive, and would (do?) have any Indians fans falling over themselves: A .306 BA, an OPS of .800 on the dot, and the ability to find holes in a defense and place the ball in play. Those are key ingredients to a player that will give you solid contact and produce runs aplenty. Kotchman himself attributes a procedure to fix up his eyesight as a huge factor in getting his hitting back where he wants it. The bigger key with Kotchman is his defense. While this will not factor into most standard fantasy leagues, it’s important to note a solid defense is crucial to a pitching staff that pitches to contact, like the Indians do. With several sinker-style arms in the rotation, their defense will get them out of jams early and often. A glove like Kotchman’s over at first only brings hurlers joy, and will affect anyone drafting any pitchers out of the Tribe’s staff. Kotchman is the man to beat at first, and I do not see anyone truly coming out and taking it from him. All of that being said…
- DON’T expect the Matt LaPorta ‘experiment’ to last much past June with Kotchman in the fold.
LaPorta was highly-touted coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers; the Indians shuffled him over to first from the outfield, and were counting on him being a powerhouse. But sadly, sometimes expectations do not quite pan out. While LaPorta’s numbers last season weren’t completely terrible, that is in comparison to the numbers he put up his prior two seasons. His looked-for power numbers have not come along at all (7, 12, 11 HR over his first three seasons), his strikeouts are high (37, 82, 87 Ks), and it seems like he has the distinct inability to drive in baserunners (21, 41, 53 RBIs). It’s statistically easy to see that he has an uppercuting swing: His GO/AO was 0.62 last year, and he carries a GO/AO of 0.80 overall, so one would think the power would be present. But the truth is this: The time for Matt LaPorta to show what he had was last season, when the first base job was his to lose. The Indians will say that they want to see what he does in Spring Training, but take it from me: The writing was on LaPorta’s locker when Canzler and Kotchman were signed. The future of the Tribe will not include LaPorta wearing #7.
- DO look for some help in the outfield from the NRI list.
With the entire Indians starting outfield on the DL at some point or another last season, it’s easy to say that was the area needing the most work done. The Kosuke Fukudome trade was a needed late-season boost, but unfortunately that didn’t stick as Kos-Fu was let go of at season’s end. Once again, the Tribe and their fans stood staring at uncertain times of who would patrol the warning track. There are some folks I expect to get back on track: Shin-Soo Choo one year removed from his off-the-field shenanigans, Michael Brantley who showed some promise with full-time play, and the flashy and likable ex-rookie Ezequiel Carrera. There are some I’m not expecting much from; including a gent I’ll talk about in-depth in my next point. However, I believe someone on the non-roster invitee list, and quite possibly two someones, will break camp with a good chance to at least get some time from the bench. My money is on Trevor Crowe, a familiar name in Cleveland, to be back on the roster with the big club out of Spring Training. A fan favorite, Crowe has been with the Indians for three years now. The Tribe is pretty big on Crowe; he hasn’t had the numbers to back it up yet, but his last two seasons have been shortened by some pretty decent injuries. He does not have much pop in his bat, with only 3 career HR. He has shown some slap power and can find holes. He also has a dose of speed (20/27 SB in 2010) that could be useful for the small-ball-style hitting that this team might have to use to win games. The other “X-Factor”, in my opinion, is Fred Lewis. I managed to follow his exploits in San Francisco before I moved back east, and the Giants were pretty high on him. Another speedster (53/76 SB in six seasons), he finds his way on-base with nice regularity (.345 career OBP). He also displays some extra-base power as well (.406 SLG and 139 XBH career). The only problem with Lewis is that he is transitioning back from the NL to the AL; he did play with the Blue Jays in the ’10 season, but the rest of his career has been in the NL. That usually means an adjustment period to learn the pitchers in the new league, but coming into the fold before Spring Training might give him a chance to study tape and lessen that adjustment. My edge would go to Crowe, but don’t be surprised if Lewis’ name is right there as well.
- DON’T think Grady Sizemore is making a miraculous return.
As sad as it is to say, the time of Grady Sizemore as the poster-boy of the Tribe is at an end. I think this is in the minds of the Indians front office, even as they inked Sizemore for an incentive-laden, one-year, $5 million contract. What was once a very promising, very aggressive, and showy career seems to have taken a turn towards struggling to regain any part of what was to be. Ongoing knee injuries have robbed Sizemore of some of his major tools (B+ / A- speed and aggressive, flashy fielding), and I think have thrown his batting into a tizzy. He was on a tear first when he first came back in 2011, showing little ill-effect from microfracture surgery on his left knee; his stat line was 378/4/9 in April. The bad news was he could not sustain the effort; this can probably be blamed on a lack of full-blown conditioning. But all sorts of things seem to have changed with that injury; maybe the drive to push himself back to where he was, maybe mechanics. But Sizemore continued to be injured, and continued to not get back in season form. Maybe with a full Spring Training will we see an edging back to the norm for Grady. Considering the last couple of campaigns, however, it’s hard to see Sizemore making a full-blown comeback to the man of old. With any luck, the Indians will have a serviceable outfielder in Sizemore that might wind up trade bait come July. That would be the best outcome out of all of this, and that’s an Indians fan of many, many years saying that.
- DO look to the Indians bullpen for some late-inning pitching help.
If there were two things that the Indians excelled at last season, it was comebacks and solid late-inning pitching. The mainstays of the “Bullpen Mafia” (Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, and the baller ‘brothers’ of Rafael Perez and Chris Perez) all had solid years last year. The worst ERA out of the bunch belonged to the “Pure Rage” closer at 3.32, but he ended up sporting a BAA of less than .220 at .215, and was successful on 36/40 SV, solidifying himself as one of the league’s better closers. Vinnie Pestano was a pure beast, sporting miniscule numbers in important categories: 2.32 ERA, .184 BAA, 1.05 WHIP. He did this while hitting big in the good categories with 84 Ks and 23 holds. Smith and Sipp were solid in their short-relief and set-up roles. Even Raffy Perez, arguably the ‘worst’ of the bunch, was more than serviceable: 3.00 ERA, 33 K, .253 BAA, 1.24 WHIP. Plus, his 2.11 GO/AO promises good things with a good defense behind him. The only catch to these gents is that the starting pitching of the Tribe was not nearly effective enough to keep the ‘pen out of being used in a lot of games; they averaged just under six innings a game with only TWO complete games as a starting staff! The result was the bullpen being worn down near season’s end, and being less-than-effective compared to their earlier work. If you do draft anyone out of the Tribe ‘pen, you would be well-served to keep an eye on the Tribe starters as well. If the starters start exiting early in games like they did last season, you may want to have late-season plans prepared.
This article is not the end-all to how to run your fantasy team, of course. Our other writers have been putting together fantastic DO’s And DON’Ts for the other MLB clubs. Like the other articles, however, this one is here to help, and here for comment and debate.
Are there Indians players that I missed that would have impacts on fantasy baseball teams, either for the good or bad? Anything about the players I mentioned I neglected, or just flat got wrong? Go ahead and hit the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.