Cleveland Indians 2020 Season Preview

Daniel Corrigan | March 10th, 2020

Next up in our 2020 team previews are the Cleveland Indians. There is some optimism around this team after they missed the playoffs for the first time in three years. Before we look ahead to 2020, check out the 2019 season recap below to find out what went wrong.

Cleveland Indians 2019 Season Recap.

Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.

2020 Projected Starters

Catcher: Roberto Perez

The Indians have not had a good offensive-catcher since Victor Martinez. However, Perez really had a surprising year at the plate in 2019. He hit .239 (A career-high since he became a “full time” starter.) He also slashed .321/.452/.774 while hitting 24 bombs, which is more than his previous five years combined. But he is known for his elite skills defensively, as he secured his first Gold Glove of his career. He will be splitting time with newly acquired Sandy Leon, but Perez is the primary catcher for the Indians.

First Base: Carlos Santana

Santana was brought back to Cleveland in the winter prior to last season. He was a fan favorite in Cleveland in his first stint with the team. There was a noticeable hole in this team when he joined the Phillies in 2018. A hole at first base and a hole in leadership. Bringing him back was not the sexiest move, in theory. However, he had a career year that saw him get the all-star game start in Cleveland. He hit a career-high .281, with 34 home runs, a 4.5 WAR and a slash line of .397/.515/.911. While it will be difficult to replicate his production last season, he will have to be one of the biggest threats at the plate for this team to get back to the playoffs.

Second Base: Cesar Hernandez

One of the only big changes this off-season was replacing long-time second basemen, Jason Kipnis with Hernandez. While I won’t get excited over a 2.5 WAR player, it will be refreshing to add a player with the same defensive skills as Kipnis with a little more pop in his bat.

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor

Did you think it would be anyone else? Well, if the Indians have a rough first half of the season he may not be. The biggest question of the off-season with the Indians is if Lindor would be traded. With the news that Lindor and the Indians have suspended contract extension talks, the likelihood that he will be with the team next year continues to go down. But for this season, the Indians will have the best shortstop in the game once again.

Third Base: Jose Ramirez

Once upon a time, Ramirez was among the most feared players in the game. From 2016-2018, Ramirez slashed .375/.533/.908 with 79 home runs and an average of .300. Last season, he slashed .327/.479/.806 with a .255 average. He came into June batting under .200 and was on pace to be a negative WAR player. Obviously, he turned it around in the second half but if he was even a shred of what he was in the second half in the first half of the season, the Indians may have been in the Wild Card game. They will rely on him to continue his hot second half of the season.

Outfield: Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Delino DeShields Jr., Jake Bauers, Domingo Santana,

There will be other names that you see this season. I left Franmil Reyes off the list because he will be the DH. I left Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen off the list because I don’t think they will get significant playing time this year. But I would assume they will both be in Cleveland at some point this season.

The centerfield spot is locked up by Mercado who really was a pleasant surprise last season. Luplow and Santana are right-handed hitters who will most likely play when a lefty is pitching. Naquin (when he is fully healthy from his ACL injury) and Bauers will most likely play when a righty is pitching.

I can see DeShields playing a Rajai Davis role this season. Basically, becoming a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. I’m not expecting him to create a legendary moment like Davis did, but DeShields will play a very underrated role on this team.

Rotation: Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger*, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko

Clevinger is going to start the season on the IL with a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. He likely would have been the opening day starter before his injury. This past week, Bieber, who was the all-star game MVP in Cleveland last season, was named the opening-day starter.

The Indians’ biggest strength in their playoff runs has been their rotation, headlined by now Texas Ranger, Corey Kluber. They still have a good rotation, but it is filled with questions. The biggest being Carrasco and his battle with Leukemia. He had a limited role last season because of his illness. He finished the season with a 5.29 ERA and a WAR of 0.3. He should bounce back this season as he has had a full off-season to rehab and train.

The backend of the rotation is filled with young, promising players. Plesac, Civale, and Plutko all filled a big role on this team and reset the window of this team by a little bit. The Indians still have Tristion McKenzie, their top pitching prospect waiting for his long-awaited debut. However, this young group of pitchers the Indians have now gives the team the opportunity to trade someone like McKenzie for a top player.

Bullpen: Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak, Oliver Pérez, Adam Cimber, Hunter Wood, Phil Maton, James Hoyt

This group should have been the worst group on the team in 2019. But the Indians actually led baseball in bullpen ERA all the way until September. We may see Emmanuel Clase after he returns from injury. He is expected to be out throughout April.

The obvious anchor of the team is Hand, who was brought over to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade in 2018. He was an all-star last season and was very reliable for 99% of the season. He fell off in September which was a big reason for the Indians choking a playoff spot in the last month of the season.

Players To Watch:

Tyler Naquin: Before being lost to a torn ACL, Naquin was coming back to his 2016 form. in 89 games, he hit .288 with 10 home runs and was very reliable in the field. He will play the same role as he did last season before his injury. He will play every other game. If he can replicate what he did last season, without getting injured, he should be a very valuable player for the Indians in 2020.

Zach Plesac: One of the young pitching studs on the Indians, Plesac posted an ERA of 3.81 in 115.2 IP. I expect him to have a big role this season. I don’t think he will set the world on fire with his numbers. But he will be the 3rd-5th starter on this team at any given time and might be tasked at helping this team win a playoff series.

2020 Season Prediction: 95-67, 2nd in AL Central, 1st Wildcard spot

I have the Indians falling just short of the AL Central title to the Twins. I think the Twins will regress but still win 97 games. The Indians were cursed with injuries last season and still won 93 games. But I think the Indians will go back to the playoffs this season. The Indians will host the Rays in the wildcard game where they will be defeated by the Yankees in four games in the ALDS.

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