In 2013, the Cleveland lineup scored 745 runs, fifth-most in baseball, besting the likes of the Rangers and Angels, each of whom spent significantly more on potential run-producers. This year’s Indians lineup looks very similar to last year's. Depending on the outcome of the Carlos Santana experiment at third base and the right field platoon with Ryan Raburn and David Murphy, there may well be many times that the Tribe fields the same exact lineup as they ran out towards the end of last year. Given the success they enjoyed without a truly career or standout year from any single player in 2013 (Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis led the team hitting .284, and Nick Swisher clubbed a team-high 22 home runs), the 2014 Indians still look like a team that will score a lot of runs.
Indians Projected 2014 Lineup:
Michael Bourn – CF
Nick Swisher – 1B
Jason Kipnis – 2B
Carlos Santana – DH
Michael Brantley – LF
Asdrubal Cabrera – SS
David Murphy – RF
Yan Gomes – C
Lonnie Chisenhall – 3B
Don't be surprised if Gomes climbs to sixth behind Brantley, but otherwise it seems as if the top five are nearly cemented as it stands above.
The outfield is anchored by the speedster Bourn in center. He is coming off a miserable year, which saw him steal only 23 bases and hit a paltry .263. His .315 OBP was 25 points lower than any OBP he had posted in the past five seasons, and his K/BB ratio increased to over 3:1. Suffice it to say that Bourn wasn’t very good in 2013. The good news is that he has been a very good player throughout his career-- he’s only 31, and he is going very, very late in most drafts. I am not going to tell you he will be great this year, but I do think he’ll outperform his ADP.
I’ve written previously on the skills and abilities of Michael Brantley, and I love him. He had a good 2013, and he seems to keep taking small, consistent steps forward. After struggling to steal bases in 2012, he swiped 17 in 21 attempts last year, displaying an ability to truly pick his spots on the basepaths. His power is limited (10 HR in 2013), but he drove in 73 and will likely hit fifth for most of 2014. Brantley is a serviceable fourth or fifth outfielder, and I believe he’s a good candidate to hit .300 while driving in 80 to 90 runs.
First base will usually belong to Nick Swisher, though he will play some right field when Santana plays first. Swisher was bad last year, hitting .246 in 145 games and only scoring 74 runs despite batting second almost the entire season. I view Swisher and Bourn very similarly-- both are good players who had bad years that I believe will bounce back. That said, fantasy managers seem to think more highly of Swisher, and he is going relatively high (in my view) in the middle rounds. I do not love Swisher this year.
Third base is still tough to figure out, because it is unclear whether Santana will actually be able to play there every day. From a fantasy perspective, it probably doesn't matter much. I overpaid for Santana in my auction draft, but I still believe he is on his way up. He is always near the league lead in walks (second behind Mike Trout and three more than Miguel Cabrera in 2013), he hits for power and he still qualifies at catcher, regardless of what happens this year. I love Santana, especially if your league credits bases on balls. If Santana can’t play third, he will DH and play first occasionally, meaning Lonnie Chisenhall will be first up at the hot corner. I like Chisenhall. A few untimely injuries have hurt his development, but he was good in the second half of last year following the predictable decline and collapse of Mark Reynolds.
Asdrubal Cabrera is a serviceable shortstop who is in a contract year. I believe he is a bargain at a thin position, and will likely outperform his ADP. He was subpar last year, but he still hit 14 HR. He was one of the best offensive shortstops in 2011, and he could conceivably get back to that form, especially given that he’s only 28 years old. I like Cabrera where he’s going now, and if he does get traded mid-year to make way for young phenom Francisco Lindor, he will still be auditioning for a new deal wherever he plays.
Jason Kipnis is the most complete all-around player on this squad, and likely the best fantasy player in Cleveland. He hit .284, drove in 84, scored 86 and stole 30 bases last year. He is looking for a long-term deal as well, and will be well motivated. Kipnis is going fairly high in most leagues, but I still like him. He plays hard and does not take his recent success for granted, so I doubt that we see much (if any) regression here. I think he’ll have another solid year, and the Tribe would be foolish not to lock him up for the long haul.
Last but not least is the Tribe’s newest full-time backstop, Yan Gomes. Gomes forced Francona’s hand last year, throwing out 44 percent of would-be base stealers and hitting an impressive .294 with 11 HR in less than 300 at bats. He looks to do a majority of the catching, and he is going undrafted in many leagues. If you miss the catcher you’re targeting, I wouldn’t hesitate to snatch up Gomes very late and plug him in every day. Francona likes him so much that the organization essentially forced Santana out of the position to make room for the youngster. Again, I think this is another buy-low candidate that could reap a significant return.
In sum, the Indians lineup scores runs, but isn’t packed with highly-touted fantasy players. I think several guys (Cabrera, Santana, Bourn, Brantley, Gomes) are excellent values at their current ADPs. Stay tuned for the pitching preview coming up next.