We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2014 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2014 Indians Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Ed Carroll from Wahoos on First and co-host of the Wahoo’s on the Mic podcast.
1) I was able to to see Corey Kluber outduel Stephen Strasburg at Progressive Field last June. Kluber put up some nice numbers in 2013 (11 W, 8.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9) which made both fantasy owners and Tribe fans alike very happy. What should we expect from the right-hander in 2014?
I’m glad you mentioned Kluber, as he was a bit of a surprise for the Indians in 2013; he wasn’t on the opening day roster, and hasn’t shown much to make anyone believe he wasn’t just SP depth fodder. I was honestly down on him too, mostly due to his age (he will pitch most of 2014 at age 28). I’m quite bullish on Kluber for 2014, at least for the Indians. I’m not sure most Indians fans, let alone causal baseball fans, realize how good Kluber was at points in the 2013 season. From May 15 until he injured his right middle finger on August 5, he was third in the AL in K/BB ratio (4.80), fourth in FIP (3.08), sixth in IP (99.2), eleventh in WHIP (1.12) and boasted an ERA of 3.07. He’s added a few notches on his fastball since he was drafted (87-92 MPH then, averages 92-93 MPH now and can get it up to 96 MPH), and has always been a bit of a strikeout pitcher in his pro-career. It looks like Kluber has blossomed late, which is great for the cost-conscious Tribe as he won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2016, making him a cheap innings-eater with the potential to occasionally be a little more. He will never be mistaken for an ace-type, but he should at least be league-average for a few years. Unfortunately, this isn’t that sexy for fantasy owners, as most of the Kluber-love comes from advanced metrics not used in a lot of leagues. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at his 2013 numbers and expect similar results (and assuming good health, even a slight improvement).
2) Carlos Santana should be able to get out from behind the plate even more in 2014 now that Yan Gomes is in the mix. Do you think that Santana will see an increase in his offensive production as he gets further away from the rigors of catching and starts seeing more and more at-bats as a DH/1B/3B?
Carlos Santana is the reason why I ask any fantasy league commissioner if they use OBP or batting average in their league before I join. I didn’t need for Carlos Santana to post a (so-far) career-high .377 OBP to convince me that is an offensive monster already, and hands down the best offensive player on the Indians. When he was called up in 2010, I was drinking the Kool-Aid and believing he would eventually mash 40 home runs (in my defense, it wasn’t like that 2010 Tribe season offered any other hopes), but I still think 30 is possible going forward. His defense isn’t great at catcher, at least by the metrics we know of right now, but this honestly wouldn’t even be discussed if not for the surprise emergence of Yan Gomes in 2013. Gomes is likely still a better defensive player than Santana in 2014, but I’m a tad skeptical of Gomes repeating or besting his 2013 offensive numbers (.294/.345/826, 11 HR). Including last year, Gomes has played in all of 131 games at the major league level, and has fewer than 400 at-bats (391). He was considered a throw-in when the Tribe acquired Mike Aviles from the Toronto Blue Jays (in return for Esmil Rogers), and while it’s certainly possible Cleveland may have gotten lucky, I need another season to be convinced. All of this said, Santana will almost assuredly catch fewer games in 2014 than he has in any other full year of his career, but I still expect him to don the mask at least once or twice a week. I honestly think he will continue to improve offensively regardless of where he plays defensively.
3) Danny Salazar is obviously an exciting, talented young pitcher and Razzball has him pegged as a fantasy sleeper for 2014. What obstacles (if any) will he have to overcome to take the next step forward in 2014?
Salazar had long been a sleeper prospect for the Indians, but it was somewhat surprising to see how aggressive the team was with him in 2013 as he had a full year back from Tommy John surgery. The team’s aggression was warranted, despite a strict usage limitations on the young right hander as he recovered from the surgery. The gloves will be off and Salazar will pitch 2014 without any restrictions, so this is good news for both the Indians and fantasy owners. The Indians haven’t done a ton to upgrade their starting pitching this offseason, outside of a gamble on Shaun Marcum (as I write this, there’s still a slight chance RHP Ubaldo Jimenez returns to the Tribe), which also bodes will for Salazar opening the season in Cleveland. My main worries with Salazar in 2014 will be his health (TJ surgery isn’t a kiss of death anymore, but another elbow injury could relegate him to the pen) and if his slider, a relatively new pitch for him, can remain as effective going forward as it was in 2013. For now, there’s no reason to believe the slider isn’t legit, so hopefully his health keeps up as well. Unless you’re in a keeper league, I wouldn’t fall in love with Salazar quite yet, but he’s certainly a guy to keep an eye on in late rounds.
4) Deep league/keeper league players always have one eye on a team’s prospects. Which prospect(s) from the Indians’ system do you see coming up and having the biggest impact this season?
The hot Indians prospect is appropriately 20-year-old SS Francisco Lindor, the team’s top pick in the 2011 draft, and a player who will likely be a consensus top-10 prospect in all of MLB entering 2014 (if not a top-5 prospect). He made his AA debut in 2013, playing in 21 games in Akron (19 doubles, six triples, one home run and 20-25 in SB attempts). A back injury ended his season in mid-August, but it isn’t believed to be a serious injury (Akron’s season ended a couple weeks after the injury anyways). He’s a true shortstop, and is expected to be able to be an elite defender at the Major League level, and should be well above-average offensively. All this being said, I’m not sure Lindor makes the jump to the big-league level at any point in 2014. As stated earlier, he only played in 21 games in AA and while he may end up skipping AAA Columbus completely, the Indians can leave Lindor in the minors all season and he’d still be ahead of the age-curve.
Another player who won’t see Cleveland in 2014 but whose name you should know is OF Clint Frazier. He was drafted out of high school as the team’s top pick last year at #5, and though he’s still quite far away, he could eventually be an impact major-league bat (with a decent shot to be a great Major-League hitter).
For 2014, your best bets are likely INF Jose Ramirez (who got a surprising September call-up in 2013, and could see some action at some point next season), and RHP Trevor Bauer. Bauer is a personal favorite of mine, so anything I say about him should probably be chased with a grain of salt (assuming whiskey isn’t around), but I’m still a firm believer in the potential there. He will pitch all of 2014 at age 23, which is not old by any standard (and younger with fewer professional innings than Salazar). Don’t be shocked if he turns things around next season.
5) Chief Wahoo takes a lot of heat for not being “PC”, yet it was the Tribe’s Double-A affiliate that changed their logo this year. While the Akron Rubber Ducks are certainly menacing, I bet you can do better. What’s your name for the Akron squad if you had it your way?
The Rubber Ducks name has kind of grown on me. Like most people, I thought it was kind of silly at first, but the logo is kinda cool and there’s some potential for awesome uniforms there. Part of me would love to call the team the “Akron Clevelanders” because it would drive my Akron friends crazy (though the two cities are only about 40 minutes apart, Akron is certainly not a suburb of Cleveland). I also would instantly buy a jersey if the team was known as the “Akron Replacement Players.” But for a realistic answer, I’m gonna go with a name I hope could eventually replace the “Indians” nickname in Cleveland: the Fellers. It could mean hanging with a bunch of rednecks (“I’m gonna go play cards with the fellers!”) or, more appropriately for the area, pay homage to the greatest baseball player to ever grace Cleveland or its farm system: Hall of Famer Bob Feller. The Indians certainly still honor Feller to this day (he passed away in late-2010), but the ultimate honor would be to take Cleveland’s MLB nickname from one of racism and shame into paying tribute to a man who was truly larger than life.