The Indians entered 2016 as a long shot to win it all, but they ultimately held a 3-1 lead in the World Series despite not having Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco or a healthy Danny Salazar. They ended up blowing that lead, much to my chagrin (I made a decent sized bet on them before the season at 23/1 odds), but this team is set up well for future success despite the disappointing end to last season. Cleveland added Edwin Encarnacion through free agency, and the return to health of Brantley, Yan Gomes, Carrasco and Salazar should result in another deep run in the playoffs. The Indians have a loaded bullpen and quickly transitioned from a poor defensive team to one of the best in baseball thanks mostly to Francisco Lindor.
Let’s take a look at some pressing questions…
Q: Where should we draft Michael Brantley?
He was the No. 2 fantasy hitter (behind only Mike Trout) as recently as 2014, but injuries have hurt his stock since in a big way. In fact, Brantley’s current ADP is 216, which seems absurdly low for a player with huge upside still just 29 years old. Brantley obviously has some health risk, but that’s clearly factored into his cost at draft tables. The potential sure seems higher than the downside at Brantley’s current rate.
Q: How good is the rotation?
Corey Kluber – He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and worthy of a pick in the top two rounds despite being in the AL. If he didn’t pitch in the American League and in such a hitter’s park, he’d be a top-five pick overall.
Carlos Carrasco – His recent injuries seem fluky. Carrasco is going to be a steal for fantasy owners during the year in which he puts it all together, because the upside here is that of a Cy Young winner. Over the last three years, his K-BB% (21.5%) is the seventh highest in MLB, and his SwStr% (13.2) is the fourth best. He’s commonly still available after 50 picks in drafts, so he’s a steal at that point.
Danny Salazar – There’s obvious risk regarding his arm and improved control is still needed, but Salazar is yet another pitcher in the Indians system with a ton of potential. His 1.36 GB/FB rate last year was a career high, which was especially impressive for someone who misses so many bats (11.7 SwStr%). If you want to wait on starting pitchers, Salazar is someone to target in the middle rounds.
Q: What’s up with the bullpen?
Andrew Miller is without question one of the best pitchers in baseball, but Cleveland utilizes its relievers intelligently, which results in a headache for fantasy owners. The usage hurts both Miller and Cody Allen’s fantasy value, but the latter is still the one to target, as he’s more likely to record saves. Miller will surely help your ratios and record a strong K rate, but Allen is still likelier to amass more fantasy value just based on how the Indians use the back end of their bullpen.
Q: Just how good is Francisco Lindor?
MLB is filled with young stars at shortstop right now, which makes Lindor less of a standout. But this is a 23-year-old who amassed 6.3 WAR last season, as he and Brandon Crawford fight for the title of being the most valuable defensive player in baseball. Lindor also added a .301-99-15-78-19 line that made him extremely valuable to fantasy owners, and there’s every reason to believe he only improves in 2017. He’ll be hitting in the middle of a strong Indians lineup, so Lindor is worth grabbing early in drafts.
Indians Projected Lineup
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Francisco Lindor
1B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Michael Brantley
3B Jose Ramirez
RF Lonnie Chisenhall
C Yan Gomes
CF Tyler Naquin
Indians Projected Rotation
SP Corey Kluber
SP Carlos Carrasco
SP Danny Salazar
SP Trevor Bauer
SP Josh Tomlin
CL Cody Allen
RP Andrew Miller