In the span of two years, the Indians went from being one win away from the World Series to being a .500 team to being tied with the Royals for last place in the AL Central.
Something had to change, and that change began last year when they traded away Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Garko. Now in full rebuilding mode, the Indians will rely on youngsters like Matt LaPorta, the prize of the CC Sabathia deal, Michael Brantley, a speedster with on-base ability, and eventually catcher Carlos Santana, widely considered the best prospect in the organization, to turn the page to their next title run, however long that takes.
But unlike most rebuilding teams, the Indians have several established hitters to help take the pressure off the youngsters. Former 30-30 man Grady Sizemore is back to full health after missing the end of last season to have elbow and hernia surgeries, and he has a new sidekick in 20-20 man Shin-Soo Choo. In fact, Choo might have just as much value as Sizemore when you consider he has the ability to hit .300. If Travis Hafner can get anywhere close to his former self, the Indians might have a better lineup than most people think.
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Unfortunately, hitting is only one half of the equation. The Indians' pitching staff has serious questions and the same unreliable cast of characters to answer them. Jake Westbrook, with a career 4.31 ERA and only five appearances over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery, will step in as staff ace. Fausto Carmona only looked more lost last year. Justin Masterson has upside, but he also has plenty to prove in his first full year starting.
About the only Indians pitcher worth drafting in mixed leagues is closer Kerry Wood, and even he's a risk pitching for a sub-.500 team.
Breakout: Matt LaPorta, OF
LaPorta didn't blow anybody away in his major-league debut last year, which only makes him more affordable on Draft Day this year. If he had looked feeble and overmatched in his 181 at-bats, you might have reason to worry, but he hit seven home runs. His struggles came from a so-so contact rate, which isn't unusual for a player of his inexperience. Considering his career .941 OPS in the minors, he doesn't have much developing to do. If you draft him, you do so on the blind faith he's ready to explode and without the assurance of any steady or measurable progress. But for prospects on his level, it usually happens that first way anyway. For the cost of a late-round pick, why not take the chance on LaPorta being more Ryan J. Braun than Alex Gordon?
Bust: Jhonny Peralta, 3B
You wouldn't think Peralta would still qualify for this title with the way he underachieved last year, but because the third baseman retains eligibility at the weak shortstop position, he'll again go off the board in the middle rounds, leaving someone to suffer the same disappointment all over again. Look, the guy just isn't as good as his numbers have made him look at times. He has the raw power to hit 20-25 homers if he puts the bat on the ball often enough, but with 125-plus strikeouts each of the last five years, he often doesn't. With such a low contact rate, he pretty much has to hit 20 homers to give you anything worthwhile in Fantasy. More well-rounded types like Yunel Escobar and even Asdrubal Cabrera are far safer and have arguably as much upside.
Sleeper: Travis Hafner, DH
Hafner had a good enough return last year to make him a name to remember this spring. The Indians didn't turn him loose completely, only once playing him more than three days in a row, but he hit 16 homers in 338 at-bats, proving he still has something to offer after a mysteriously weak right shoulder nearly ended his career in 2008. He might not have another 30-homer season in him, not with the abuse his shoulder has taken over the last couple years, but at least now the Indians consider him healthy enough to play him every day. His high walk rate can still make him plenty valuable as a 25-homer guy, especially in Head-to-Head leagues. Don't overlook him as a sneaky late-round pick. He really isn't much of a gamble at that point.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Grady Sizemore||CF||1||Jake Westbrook||RH|
|2||Asdrubal Cabrera||SS||2||Fausto Carmona||RH|
|3||Shin-Soo Choo||RF||3||Justin Masterson||RH|
|4||Russell Branyan||1B||4||Aaron Laffey||LH|
|5||Travis Hafner||DH||5||David Huff||LH|
|6||Jhonny Peralta||3B||Alt||Jeremy Sowers||LH|
|7||Matt LaPorta||LF||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Lou Marson||C||CL||Kerry Wood||RH|
|9||Luis Valbuena||2B||SU||Chris Perez||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Joe Smith||RH|
|R||Andy Marte||1B||RP||Tony Sipp||LH|
|R||Austin Kearns||OF||RP||Jensen Lewis||RH|
|Indians not ready to trust him just yet, but slugging catcher is future early-rounder in Fantasy.|
|Will eventually take over at third base, though not for a year or two. A future 30-homer, 100-RBI guy.|
|Team's eventual leadoff man. Speedster with keen batting eye -- a dangerous combo in Rotisserie play.|
|Early-season slump marred last year's numbers, but has power and walks like crazy. Could arrive this year.|
|Key component in Cliff Lee deal no longer a future ace, but has good stuff and ready to make an impact.|
|Best of the rest: Hector Rondon, SP; Jason Knapp, SP; Nick Hagadone, SP; Alex White, SP; Beau Mills, 1B; Jordan Brown, OF; Jeanmar Gomez, SP; Jason Donald, SS; Wes Hodges, 3B; Lou Marson, C; Wyatt Toregas, C; Kelvin De La Cruz, SP; Scott Lewis, SP; Scott Barnes, SP; Niuman Romero, SS; Carlos Rivero, SS; Jason Kipnis, OF; Jess Todd, RP; Rich Rundles, RP; and Adam Miller, SP.|
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