Cleveland Indians 2021 Season Previewby Daniel Corrigan March 25, 2021 0 comments
One year after a late September collapse knocked them out of the playoffs, the Cleveland Indians returned to the postseason in a COVID-shortened year. They finished the season with a record of 35-25, good for second place in the AL Central. They would go on to host the New York Yankees in an expanded wildcard series where they were swept 2-0 in a best of three.
Obviously, the biggest news about the team heading into the offseason was the status of franchise shortstop, Francisco Lindor. With only one year of club control remaining and no intention of meeting his salary demands, the team dealt him and longtime starter Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets for a package that included Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez, Josh Wolf, and Isaiah Greene.
In typical Cleveland fashion, they did not go out and make a splash in free agency. They were able to sign long-time rival Eddie Rosario to a one-year deal. While they once again parted ways with Carlos Santana, this opens up the first base position to a number of young candidates. With all this being said, let’s take a look at what the 2021 Cleveland Indians will look like.
In what could be Perez’s last season with the club, he entered camp having dropped 25 pounds and in the best shape of his career. The gold glove catcher will be the team’s primary catcher for the third consecutive year. Hedges came over from San Diego in the Mike Clevinger deal. He did not get much playing time but first base coach, and interim manager for the majority of the 2020 season, Sandy Alomar Jr raves about his defensive ability. The question is, can Cleveland get any sort of offensive production out of this unit?
1B: Jake Bauers
This may not be a popular pick for the fans but it makes the most sense to start the season. Bobby Bradley has long caught the eye of many Cleveland fans due to his insane power. Like Perez, Bradley also came into camp much lighter and in the best shape of his career. However, concerns about his fielding and contact hitting have kept him down in the minors. While he is hitting .321 this spring training, he still needs some work. Bauers was once a top-100 prospect in baseball when he was in the Rays organization. With a career slash of .314/.377/.691, it’s officially put up or shut up time. With only one option left in his deal, Cleveland would be wise to kick the tires on Bauers one last time while Bradley continues to work on his game.
2B: Cesar Hernandez
It was a bit of a shock when Hernandez resigned with Cleveland on a cheap one-year deal. The 2020 gold glover almost certainly played his way into a big deal. Hernandez remained interested in staying with the team and making another postseason run and Cleveland was able to dish out a little more cash after freeing up some money. Hernandez was the team’s primary leadoff hitter where he hit .283 and slashed .355/.408/.763. He will most likely go right back into that role especially with the departure of Lindor.
3B: Jose Ramirez, Yu Chang
Not really much to debate here. Ramirez was able to return to his true form after a massively disappointing 2019 season. He finished in the top three of the MVP award and was able to improve his numbers all across the board. Ramirez will once again be vital to the success of this team. With some money to work with, rumors have already started to swirl that Ramirez and the team are talking about an extension. Chang will fill the role that Mike Freeman played before he was dealt to the Reds. With his impressive power numbers over this spring, he has played himself into the utility spot for this team.
SS: Andrés Giménez
Giménez has been very impressive in his first spring with the team. He saw limited playing time in his first year of action last year and didn’t really impress. He does not have one skill that separates him from the rest but he is still very young. The Venezuelan shortstop has shown a little progression in his power this spring and has been holding down the shortstop position since the team decided to try Ahmed Rosario in center field. He may not be the shortstop of the future, but Terry Francona has been very impressed with his play in spring and has all but named him the team’s opening day starter.
The former number one enemy of the team is the clear opening day starter. In his time with Minnesota, Rosario hit 11 home runs and had an OPS of 1.031 in his 177 PA at Progressive Field. If you don’t understand, those are insane numbers. The team has to be salivating at what he can do over 81 games at home. Luplow has done nothing but mash left-handers in his time in Cleveland. Against left-handers in his career, Luplow is hitting .292 with 16 home runs and an OPS of 1.026. While he is quite a liability in the field, his ability to hit against lefties makes him quite valuable.
Oscar Mercado has already been informed that he will start the season in AAA-Columbus, opening the door for Zimmer to retake the spot that he injured-himself out of. He will more than likely be the opening day starter as Rosario still gets the hang of the outfield. If Zimmer can stay healthy and can develop his bat more, he should be a fine player in this outfield. If not, Cleveland likes the progression of Rosario.
RF: Josh Naylor
Naylor practically carried Cleveland in their series against the Yankees. He was the prize token in the Clevinger deal and will be the team’s primary right fielder. He still needs to develop his glove more and his .230 BA with the team last year is a bit concerning. But his potential flashed in the postseason and with a full year of reps, he should develop into the player that the team sees him as.
DH: Franmil Reyes
No surprise here, Reyes has the most pop in this lineup and is very limited in the field. The idea was floated around to try him at first base, but he has a certain role, and that is to hit moonballs.
Starting Rotation Projections:
1. Shane Bieber
I know, shocking right? When you have the reigning Cy Young winner, he is a lock to be the team’s ace. He led the league in ERA (1.63), he led the league in SO (122) and he was second in all of baseball in rWAR (3.2). There is no debate here.
2. Zach Plesac
It was a very up-and-down season for Plesac. The down was that he was sent to the alternate training site as punishment for breaking league COVID rules after a game in Chicago with Clevinger. The up was he pitched better than expected. With a 2.21 ERA and an rWAR of 2.1 in only 55.1 IP, he has clearly locked himself up as the team’s second starter.
3. Aaron Civale
Civale practically came up at the same time as Plesac in 2019 and has shown some very impressive stuff. However, last season his ERA ballooned to 4.74, and his rWAR was a measly 0.4. He does have some great movement and swing and miss stuff. With 69 SOs in 74 IP last year, there is some obvious excitement about his potential.
Cleveland fans could finally rejoice as the long-time top prospect finally made his major league debut in 2020. He dealt with some injuries, due to his incredibly small frame (seriously, he is the skinniest human alive) and many fans began to think he would never get right. However, with a 3.21 ERA and 42 SOs in only 33.1 IP, he has clearly locked up a spot in this very young, but very talented rotation.
Yet another player in the Clevinger trade will be getting the nod to be on the team’s opening day roster. In just 14.2 IP with Cleveland last year, Quantrill had an ERA of 1.84. The battle for the final spot in the rotation will come down to Quantrill and Allen, but Quantrill showed promise last season in Cleveland, so he will get the spot while Allen gets more reps in AAA-Columbus.
Karinchak will be the team’s closer as he practically took over for a struggling Brad Hand last year. After practically being untouchable at the beginning of the season, he fell off a touch towards the end but was still very effective. Cleveland will also have another promising youngster coming out of the pen in Clase. He was the headline of the Corey Kluber trade to Texas. However, a positive PED test lost any hope of him playing last season. Wittgren is the longest consecutive tenured player out of this pen and will take on that role of the setup man. With Shaw back, he will bring back a veteran presence similar to that of Perez and Maton. Plutko has never really found a role on this team and his future is very much in doubt.
Players to Watch For:
With Hand gone and this bullpen not having a true star, Clase can take control of this pen and set himself up as the next great reliever in Cleveland. His cutter will reach triple-digits and has some serious movement. Francona also raves about that rare combination of velocity and movement on his 2-seam fastball. Clase has a bad reputation heading into the season due to a failed PED test, but with a solid first year, he can put all that noise to rest.
It is very hard to really predict how this team will finish. On one hand, losing Lindor, Santana, and Hand is brutal. On the other, they are playing with a lot of young, but talented players. One thing is for sure, their rotation will be the backbone of this team. A one-two punch of Bieber and Plesac has the potential to be among the best in baseball. While they will most likely not be able to keep up with Minnesota and Chicago this year, they will not regress into a laugher. They will fight for that wildcard game, but I can’t give it to them now just because we don’t know enough about these players.
Record: 86-76, 3rd Place AL Central, Miss Playoffs.