Complete Cleveland Indians 2015 Spring Training Preview

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2015

Complete Cleveland Indians 2015 Spring Training Preview

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    It's time for spring training! Pack up your bags, book your flights and head off to Goodyear, Arizona.

    The Indians are gearing up for another run at the playoffs in 2015. And this year, the Tribe is gearing up for a run at the American League Central crown, as well. 

    This year, the Indians look poised to make a serious run, and, depending on how things shake up, they could be in the conversation as one of the league's best teams. There are some small kinks in that plan though, as the Indians' postseason hopes hinge on several players being healthy, a few players taking steps forward (most notably in the starting rotation) and for one or more prospects to come up and make an impact later in the season.

    Got all that? No?

    Well, that's all right. Over the course of this article, I'm going to break down everything, starting with a recap of the offseason, all the way up to a breakdown of the position battles to keep an eye on in spring training.

    Let's get to it.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Offseason Recap

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Key Additions

    Player 2014 Stats
    Gavin Floyd9 G, 9 GS, 2-2, 2.65 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 45 K, 54.1 IP 
    Brandon Moss 147 G, .234/.334/.438, 23 2B, 25 HR, 81 RBI, 70 R 

    Minor League Free-Agent Signings With Spring Training Invites

    LHP Scott Downs, C Brett Hayes, OF Destin Hood, RHP Jeff Manship, RHP Dustin Molleken, C Adam Moore, LHP Michael Roth, IF/OF Jerry Sands, RHP Anthony Swarzak 

    Analysis

    The Indians didn't do much this offseason. The team added a pair of veterans in starter Gavin Floyd and first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss.

    Floyd is my early pick to win the fifth spot in the rotation. At this point in the game, it seems like a bit of a no-brainer given the fact that the team handed him a one-year, $4 million deal back in December.

    Last year, the 32-year-old put up a solid stat line over his nine starts with the Atlanta Braves. Floyd spent time bouncing between Triple-A and Atlanta, but when all was said and done, the Maryland native made 15 starts with a 3.10 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and per-nine ratios including 7.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.

    Moss will also head straight to the big league level after coming to Cleveland via trade.

    Moss was outstanding in the first half of the 2014 season, logging a .268/.349/.530 batting line with 21 home runs, 17 doubles, 66 RBI, 45 runs scored and an 86-35 K/BB ratio. The second half wasn't so generous to Moss, as he managed just a .173/.310/.274 batting line with four home runs, six doubles, 15 RBI, 25 runs scored and a 67-32 K/BB ratio.

    While that steep decline in the second half is certainly a cause for some concern, one could counter with the fact that Moss put up some home-away splits that show he was a significantly better hitter away from the O.co Coliseum. Moving to Progressive Field will definitely benefit him, and the stadium should prove much more friendly toward his being a left-handed hitter.

    Key Losses

    Name2014 Stats
    Jason Giambi  26 G, .133/.257/.267, 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R 

    Analysis

    I toyed with the idea of leaving this space blank. The Indians truly shed their weight last season when they traded both Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, but this offseason they still lost an intriguing piece to their roster in Jason Giambi.

    Giambi was a positive influence in the clubhouse and his presence could be sorely missed. Unless the front office were to offer him a job? Well, that's what they've done, at least according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman when he broke the news last week.

    Whether or not Giambi accepts the position, or whether or not his presence is missed remains to be seen, but based on the fact that he was able to last two seasons with the Tribe while averaging just a .171/.276/.346 batting line speaks volumes to the way he was viewed by management.

Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Jason Kipnis

    Jason Kipnis' 2014 season was completely hampered by injuries.

    The 27-year-old was plagued by an oblique injury for most of the year, and it resulted in what was easily the worst season of his professional career. As if that wasn't enough, Kipnis then underwent offseason surgery to repair what the team called a "damaged tendon" in his left ring finger. 

    The team followed up that report, stating that Kipnis is expected to be ready for the start of the 2015 season.

    Brandon Moss

    Brandon Moss was the big get of the offseason, but the 31-year-old slugger underwent hip surgery this offseason, per Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com (h/t NBC Sports).

    Stiglich also reported in a second tweet that Moss would require crutches for four weeks, and that running would resume in 12 weeks. 

    Most recently, USA Today's Paul White noted that Moss, among other notable injured Indians, is projected to be ready by Opening Day.

    Nick Swisher

    Nick Swisher underwent double knee surgeries back in late August. According to The Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes, Swisher had his menial meniscus repaired in both knees.

    At the time, Hoynes stated that Swisher would need upward of eight to 10 weeks worth of rehab, on top of missing the rest of the 2014 season.

    Back on January 23, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian noted that Swisher had been cleared to resume running, and the switch-hitter dropped 15 pounds.

    Swisher's performance in the second half was well below the standards he's set over the course of his 11-year career, and he managed just a .210/.238/.272 slash line over 21 games played. After surgery to repair both of his knees, Swisher told Bastian that his goal was to be ready for Opening Day.

Lineup Preview

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    Paul Battaglia/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup

    Player2014 Stats
    CF Michael Bourn (L)106 G, .257/.314/.360, 17 2B, 3 HR, 28 RBI, 57 R
    SS Jose Ramirez (S)68 G, .262/.300/.346, 10 2B, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 27 R
    CF Michael Brantley (L)156, .327/.385/.506, 45 2B, 20 HR, 97 RBI, 94 R
    1B Carlos Santana (S)152 G, .231/.365/.427, 25 2B, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 68 R 
    RF Brandon Moss (L)147 G, .234/.334/.438, 23 2B, 25 HR, 81 RBI, 70 R
    C Yan Gomes (R)135 G, .278/.313/.472, 25 2B, 21 HR, 74 RBI, 61 R
    2B Jason Kipnis (L)129 G, .240/.310/.330, 25 2B, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 61 R 
    DH Nick Swisher (S)97 G, .208/.278/.331, 20 2B, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 33 R
    3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L) 142 G, .280/.343/.427, 29 2B, 13 HR, 59 RBI, 62 R 

    Projected Bench

    Player2014 Stats
    Mike Aviles 113 G, .247/.273/.343, 16 2B, 5 HR, 39 RBI, 38 R
    David Murphy129 G, .262/.319/.385, 25 2B, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 40 R 
    Roberto Perez29 G, .271/.311/.365, 5 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 10 R
    Ryan Raburn 74 G, .200/.250/.295, 7 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 18 R

    Analysis

    The Indians' lineup has some bright spots and some question marks.

    The linchpin of the whole offense is Michael Brantley. The 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2014 and posted a .327/.385/.506 batting line with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, 97 RBI, 94 runs scored and 23 stolen bases.

    Brantley's 20-20 season was the Indians' first since Shin-Soo Choo went 22-22 back in 2010, and it garnered a third-place finish in MVP voting, an All-Star nomination and an American League Silver Slugger Award.

    Brantley will carry the load offensively, and the club will hope that Michael Bourn, Moss, Kipnis and Swisher can stay healthy over the course of the year and rebound into form.

    Beyond the injury concerns, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall should provide a solid supporting cast to Brantley. Chisenhall will look to take another step forward in 2015 after putting forth his best effort as a professional, logging a .280/.343/.427 triple slash with 29 doubles, 13 home runs, 59 RBI and 62 runs scored.

    The four players mentioned above are pretty well set going into 2014, and if the other four (Bourn, Moss, Kipnis and Swisher) stay healthy—Bourn is the only one with any sort of lengthy injury history—then the lineup should fare very well.

    The team will also look to rotate players around with relative frequency, as it hopes to get players—specifically Santana, Moss and Swisher—looks at different positions. Expect first base, right field and designated hitter to change on a near game-to-game basis.

    The bench will change slightly from last season, and the team will likely look to keep a third catcher (Roberto Perez) on the big league roster in order to allow for fluid movement of players through different positions (those being DH, first base, catcher and right field).

    The rest of the bench is a familiar group which carries over from the 2014 season.

Rotation Preview

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation 

    Player2014 Stats
    Corey Kluber 34 GS, 18-9, 2.44 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 269 K, 235.2 IP
    Carlos Carrasco 40 G, 14 GS, 8-7, 2.55 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 140 K, 134 IP 
    Trevor Bauer26 GS, 5-8, 4.18 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 143 K, 153 IP
    Gavin Floyd9 GS, 2-2, 2.65 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 45 K, 54.1 IP
    Danny Salazar20 GS, 6-8, 4.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 120 K, 110 IP

    Other Rotation Options

    Player2014 Stats
    T.J. House19 G, 18 GS, 5-3, 3.35 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 80 K, 102 IP
    Josh Tomlin25 G, 16 GS, 6-9, 4.76 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 94 K, 104 IP 
    Shaun Marcum *9 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 13 K, 17.1 IP

    Analysis

    Barring a total breakdown from one of Trevor Bauer, Floyd or Danny Salazar, the Indians rotation is nearly set in stone.

    Corey Kluber will return to anchor the rotation after a Cy Young Award-winning campaign in which he logged a league-high 18 wins with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, with a whopping 265 strikeouts to just 51 walks.

    Kluber's league-best 2.35 FIP in 2014 suggests that he'll pitch to a similar form in 2015.

    Whether the rest of the rotation proves up to task is the big question surrounding this group, as it has some of the best potential in the bigs.

    Carlos Carrasco struggled early on in 2014 and was moved to the bullpen, where he looks to have reinvented himself. Through his work in the bullpen, Carrasco earned a second shot in the rotation, where was outstanding. According to Steamer (via FanGraphs), Carrasco is projected for a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 2015. 

    Bauer, despite his 4.18 ERA, looks to have figured out a thing or two about pitching. The former top prospect logged career-best numbers in percentage of strikes thrown, opponents contact rate, strikeout percentage and walk percentage.

    The numbers didn't exactly translate into the season Bauer was hoping for, though, and he still allowed a career-worst 65 percent in-play percentage, as well as a career-high line drive rate (27 percent), per Baseball-Reference.com.

    There are definite reasons for concern regarding Bauer, as his Steamer projections forecast a disappointing 0.4 WAR season. However, the California native could also continue to progress and help solidify the Tribe's rotation.

    Floyd is the newcomer, and he's arguably the second-easiest pitcher in this rotation to figure out. His track record suggests that an ERA in the high-3.00 to low 4.00 range is the best projection for the 32-year-old righty.

    Salazar projects to be the team's fifth starter, but he has the potential to pitch to the form of a No. 2 or 3 starter. In his 2013 debut, Salazar was electric, allowing just a 3.12 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP while striking out over a batter per inning (11.3 K/9) and walking just 2.6 per nine.

    Last year, Salazar regressed to a 4.25 ERA over 20 starts, but the strikeout and walk numbers remained respectable, clocking in at 11.3 and 2.6 per nine, respectively.

    Salazar threw fewer strikes than he did in 2014, and, like Bauer, his in-play (64 percent) and line drive (29 percent) were career worst marks, per Baseball-Reference.com. What Salazar does have working for him, though, is the fact that even in a season where his strike percentage was down, it was still slightly better than the MLB average over his two-year career.

    All-in-all, Salazar should rebound from a disappointing 2014 campaign, and Steamer's early projections show him pitching to a 3.62 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and a respectable 2.1 WAR.

    There are lots of variables in the rotation, and while it's possible the group could fall flat, there is also potential for a 15+ WAR rotation.

Bullpen Preview

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Projected Bullpen

    RolePlayer2014 Stats
    CloserCody Allen76 G, 24 SV, 6-4, 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 91 K, 69.2 IP 
    SUScott Atchison 70 G, 2 SV, 6-0, 2.75 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 49 K, 72 IP
    SUBryan Shaw80 G, 2 SV, 5-5, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 64, 76.1 IP
    MIDKyle Crockett43 G, 0 SV, 4-1, 1.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 28 K, 30 IP
    MIDNick Hagadone 35 G, 0 SV, 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 27 K, 23.1 IP
    MIDMarc Rzepczynski 73 G, 1 SV, 0-3, 2.74 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 46 K, 46 IP
    LRZach McAllister22 G, 15 GS, 4-7, 5.23 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 74 K, 86 IP

    Other Bullpen Options

    Player2014 Stats
    Josh Tomlin25 G, 16 GS, 6-9, 4.76 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 94 K, 104 IP
    C.C. Lee37 G, 0 SV, 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 26 K, 28 IP
    Austin Adams6 G, 0 SV, 0-0, 9.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 4 K, 7 IP
    Shawn Armstrong*49 G, 15 SV, 6-2, 2.41 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 72 K, 56 IP 
    Scott Downs55 G, 1 SV, 0-4, 4.97 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 25 K, 38 IP

    * Denotes minor league statistics from 2014

    Analysis

    Last year, the Indians bullpen vied with the starting lineup for the title of best unit on the team's roster. As a group, Indians relief pitchers led the American League in wins, while also mustering up top-five finishes in ERA, K/9, LOB% (left on base) and xFIP, per FanGraphs.

    All-in-all, it was a very successful year for the bullpen, and the team will return a group of pitchers who all worked with the team at some point in the 2014 season.

    This year, the unit should begin with a little more stability than last. Cody Allen will reprise his role as closer, and he will look to improve on a 24-save season in which he didn't even log a save attempt until mid-May.

    Other players of note include Kyle Crockett and Zach McAllister.

    McAllister began the 2014 season in the starting rotation, but he lost his job due to underperformance. The righty was markedly better in the bullpen though, logging a 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while striking out 9.9 batters per nine and walking just 1.39 per nine.

    Crockett was a breakout star last year for the Indians. Over 44 appearances, the then-22-year-old allowed just a 1.80 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with solid per-nine ratios including 8.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 7.8 H/9.

    Crockett's presence helps create one of the more dominant left-handed trios in any big-league bullpen, and he has the arsenal to be a dominant left-handed reliever despite his modest velocity.

    Look for this to be one of the best bullpens in the American League over the course of the 2015 regular season.

Prospects to Watch

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Francisco Lindor (ETA: Mid 2015)

    By now, the book is out on Francisco Lindor. The 21-year-old has been one of the more highly touted prospects in all of Major League Baseball over the past three seasons, and he's just about ready to break in with the big league club.

    Lindor is a plus-plus defender and has speed to steal 20-plus bases from the get-go.

    There is some question about Lindor's hitting ability and how well it will transfer to the big league level. Lindor has hit for a .278 career average in the minors, but his lack of power could be an issue against more advanced pitchers.

    Even if he struggles at the plate, Lindor's glove will keep him in the lineup on a consistent basis. Expect him to be up with the team at or around the All-Star break. 

    Tyler Naquin (ETA: Mid 2015)

    Tyler Naquin comes into the 2015 season ranked as the Indians' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com. The 23-year-old is a medium-ceiling, high-floor player that, at worst, works as a fourth outfield option on a contending team.

    A best-case scenario for Naquin is a starting job in center field. With the downward spiral that Bourn's game has been stuck in, as well as constant injury concerns swirling around the 32-year-old, it's possible that Naquin could get a look sooner rather than later.

    James Ramsey (ETA: Late 2015)

    James Ramsey is my favorite prospect in the Indians' camp.

    The former Florida State University standout has produced a career .267/.369/.438 minor league batting line, with solid power (18 and 16 home runs in 2013 and 2014, respectively) and above-average pitch-recognition skills (career 12.8 percent walk rate).

    Ramsey is a bit of a free-swinger, however, and has averaged a whopping 24.3 percent strikeout rate over the course of his minor league career.

    If he's able to reel in his strikeout percentage, then Ramsey has the ability to be at least a modest source of production in all five facets of the game.

    Giovanny Urshela (ETA: Mid-Late 2015)

    The Indians signed Giovanny Urshela all the way back in 2008, and, since then, the Colombia native has provided outstanding production from the hot corner.

    The 23-year-old had his best season to date working with the Tribe's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2014, posting a .280/.334/.491 batting line with 18 home runs, 36 doubles, 84 RBI, 78 runs scored and a 67-36 K/BB ratio.

    Urshela's plate discipline is outstanding, and his defense is beyond adequate for a big league third baseman. So long as he's able to produce a consistent batting average and continue putting the ball in play at an above-average rate, Urshela could be the team's starting third baseman in the not-so-distant future.

    Other Notable Prospects in Camp

    1B Jesus Aguilar, IF Erik Gonzalez, RHP Cody Anderson, RHP Shawn Armstrong, OF Carlos Moncrief, C Jake Lowery, C Tony Wolters, OF Destin Hood

Breakout Candidates

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Trevor Bauer

    I wrote this piece last year, as well. In this space, I correctly penned Lonnie Chisenhall as a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2014.

    Humble brag out of the way, I also wrote Bauer in as a breakout candidate, and while the then-23-year-old was certainly better than he had been in years past, he didn't really take the step forward that I was expecting him to. This year though, I'm sticking with that same projection and saying that Bauer is going to be the breakout star of the Indians' 2015 season.

    Bauer showed some impressive growth in 2014. The former top prospect has always struggled with throwing strikes, but last year, Bauer logged a much-improved strike percentage—62.9 percent compared to his pre-2014 average of 57.1 percent.

    On top of that, Bauer lowered his walk rate to 9.1 percent, down from 19.8 percent in 2014. Bauer also saw his fastball velocity jump back up to levels he hasn't seen since UCLA (95.1 mph in 2014), and he's done a better job of locating his pitches, as well.

    Last year, Bauer located 12.19 percent of his pitches in the bottom-third of the strike zone and 13.06 percent in the top third of the strike zone, per BrooksBaseball.net.

    It's a little troubling to see the ball that far up in the zone that often, but it is encouraging to see that he placed just 21.43 percent of breaking balls and off-speed pitches in the upper-two-thirds of the strike zone.

    As a point of comparison, last year's Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Kluber placed 21.97 percent (Kershaw) and 16.31 percent (Kluber) of their breaking balls and off-speed pitches in that same zone.

    Bauer's impressive movement toward throwing more strikes has given me, and others (namely Terry Francona), renewed confidence in his abilities. 

    Bauer is my lone pick for a breakout season in 2015.

Position Battle Predictions

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Left-Handed Relief Spot

    Though there isn't an overwhelming case to be made for Scott Downs' inclusion over Crockett on the 25-man roster, the idea warrants a look.

    Crockett, as mentioned in the bullpen preview, had an outstanding debut season in 2014, logging a minuscule 1.80 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while walking just eight batters over 30 innings pitched.

    Downs had a less successful season last year, allowing a combined 4.97 ERA between stints with the White Sox and Royals. Downs was more successful in Kansas City, pitching to a 3.14 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 17 appearances with the club.

    Crockett, at just 23 years old, offers significantly more upside than Downs, but Downs does offer experience, and a track record of success as a serviceable left-handed relief option.

    Downs proved capable last year on a contending team, and given the fact that Crockett has options, and can pitch again in the minors, the team will be at least willing to look at him as an option in their bullpen.

    Prediction: Kyle Crockett

    Shortstop

    If I'm picking the roster, Francisco Lindor starts the season in Triple-A Columbus. As discussed in the prospects to watch slide, Lindor has some work to do in refining his hitting, and there's concern that his lack of power (a la Billy Hamilton) could cause some issues at the MLB level.

    Meanwhile, the current favorite for the starting shortstop position, Jose Ramirez, had a solid showing last season over 68 games with the Tribe. In 266 plate appearances, Ramirez, managed a .262/.300/.346 batting line with 14 extra-base hits, 17 RBI, 27 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and a 35-13 K/BB ratio.

    Ramirez, in just his second taste of big league action, struggled slightly with getting on base, and that could be a bit of a concern moving forward as he'll rely heavily on his batting average to drive up his on-base percentage. The 22-year-old gathered just 117 walks during time spent in the minors, good for a 7.2 percent walk rate.

    Ramirez has great plate discipline and outstanding bat-on-ball skills, and he'll certainly hold his own in a position battle this spring. Given the fact that the Indians can save money long term by keeping Lindor in the minors, and the fact that his hitting isn't quite ready, should make the decision that much easier.

    Prediction: Jose Ramirez

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