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Cleveland Indians: 2017 Fantasy MLB Team Preview and Outlooks

Welcome back to our ongoing series of MLB team previews. As part of RotoBaller's ongoing effort to help you win your leagues, we're previewing all 30 MLB teams. For each team, we will take a look at their hitters, pitchers, prospects and offseason moves. Today we dive into the 2017 Cleveland Indians Team Outlook, and preview their potential fantasy baseball contributions.

Even with the difficult World Series loss, Indians fans have a ton to be excited about for the upcoming season. Though they lost clubhouse favorite Mike Napoli (they’ll be partying at Napoli’s for years to come), they were able to improve by signing Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal. With their rotation back to full health after a bevy of injuries last season, it’s not farfetched to think they can improve on their 94-win 2016 season.

The end goal is to get back to the World Series, and finish what they started last season. This team will be a force to be reckoned with again this season, and they’ll have plenty of noteworthy fantasy players to boot.

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Offseason Moves

Mike Napoli’s departure created a void that could only be filled by a big, power hitting first baseman. Clevaland responded by making a rare huge free-agency splash, signing Encarnacion to a three-year $60 million contract. Napoli will be missed by Indians fans, but the second Edwin brings Edwing around the bases everything will be fine in tribe land. They also made several small moves, including signing Austin Jackson as their Michael Brantley insurance. Cleveland traded the infamous ‘player to be named later’ in two separate trades; one to the Yankees for reliever Nick Goody, and the other to the Dodgers for reliever Carlos Frias. Neither of those pitchers offer much in terms of fantasy value, but if anything happens to Brantley, Jackson could have nice value if he takes over in CF. Obviously Encarnacion is the most exciting name; his RBI potential is huge in this offense.

 

Hitting Overview 

The league’s fifth-highest scoring offense won’t look much different in 2017. Unconventional lead-off man Carlos Santana will still sit atop the order, looking to build off of his career-high 34 HR last season. Following him is the double-play combo of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lindor is one of the best upcoming shortstops in the league, and will be the cornerstone of this franchise moving forward. The team’s newest addition, Encarnacion, will likely hit cleanup. Santana, Kipnis, and Lindor have a combined OBP of .356, so if that trio hits in front of E5 he’s going to drive in runs like nobody’s business this season. Jose Ramirez will look to prove that last season was no fluke; he went from hitting .219/.291/.340 in 2015 to .312/.363/.462 last season. Cleveland will always work to be on the right side of a platoon, shifting their outfielders in and out as needed. In the mix this season you’ll see Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, and impressive rookie Tyler Naquin. Austin Jackson was also signed in the offseason.  The wild card here is Michael Brantley, whose return could pay dividends for Cleveland if he can finally get healthy. His return would bring an all-star caliber hitter back to an already potent offense. Yan Gomes provides some power from behind the plate, but his sub-.230 average keeps him off the fantasy radar.

 

Pitching Overview

The Indians boast one of the best pitching staff’s in the league. They didn’t make many changes to their staff this offseason, all they really needed was some time to get back to full strength. Corey Kluber leads a trio of stud pitchers, along with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Kluber settled in after a slow start to 2016, and was the only one of these three arms not to miss significant time. Carrasco hit the DL with a hamstring issue, before breaking his hand on a comebacker which ended his season early. Salazar had a Cy Young caliber first half, before fading in the second half due to elbow issues. All three players are expected to be fully healthy coming into the season, but Salazar’s injury is one to keep an eye on this season. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin round out the rotation, two players who proved to be useful fantasy contributors last season (at least for stretches of time). Their bullpen was elite last season thanks to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Miller will get the majority of the saves, but Terry Francona has shown us he will go with the matchups, meaning both guys will get their shots in the ninth inning. Bryan Shaw struggled a bit last season, but has value in holds leagues.

 

Prospects Overview

The Indians dealt some of their top prospects in the Andrew Miller trade, but still have a nice farm to look forward to in the future. One of the most enticing fantasy player has to be Bradley Zimmer, who offers 20/20 upside in the outfield. He is still a ways away from the majors thanks to his plate discipline, but he could be someone who comes up for a cup of tea towards the end of the year. Catcher Francisco Mejia generated a ton of buzz last season with his 50-game hitting streak, and was the centerpiece of the fallen Jonathan Lucroy deal. Owners in redraft leagues need not concern themselves with these hitters, they are still a few years away from making a big impact at the major league level.

 

Conclusion

The Cleveland Indians are flush with talent in ways they haven’t been for years. They should be contending for a championship once again this season thanks to fantasy studs up and down the roster. If their starters can stay healthy this season and the offense does what it is capable of, this small market team will be able to contend with anyone. Cleveland will be one of the best teams to watch and follow in 2017.




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