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2021 Indians Predictions: Regaining Power Through Youth

As the start of spring training approaches, I will be providing my 2021 Indians Predictions, a preview of the current state of the team, as well as what may change between now and Opening Day. The organization has been in the hunt for a World Series banner since the Terry Francona Era began in 2013, and once again they fell short in 2020, getting swept by the New York Yankees during the Wild Card Round of the expanded playoff format used during the abbreviated 2020 season.

The Indians front office will make a lot of transactions before and during the 2021 season that will be comparable to ones they made in 2019 and 2020, trading well-known players for MLB ready talent and/or prospects that are a bit far away, along with giving opportunities to accumulate service time to young players(with/without rookie status) that have a chance of contributing to the big league club.

The team will make peripheral moves such as giving veterans looks in spring training and the regular season to provide some depth and a safe floor as well. Since the Indians will not have a different name until after the 2021 season, I will be calling the team by that moniker when writing about the team on the Overtime Heroics platform until a new one is announced.

My 2021 Indians Predictions

I will start my predictions by going over who I think will be apart of the position player group, starting rotation, and the bullpen.

Opening Day Starting Lineup

Francisco Lindor was traded with Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Isaiah Greene, and Josh Wolf. While I am absolutely heartbroken Cleveland cut $40 million of payroll and got rid of two players that I thoroughly enjoyed watching, I am actually content with this deal considering the trade market returns being suppressed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez have not lived up to their potential so far in their MLB careers, but are young, controllable, and could turn things around. Basically, the return was the best the Indians" front office was going to do.

Roberto Perez is a two-time Gold Glove-winning catcher and has been one of the best defensive catchers in the game since he joined the roster in 2014. Josh Naylor"s original position is first base, and I think he is the best option between him, Jake Bauers, and Bobby Bradley.

Amed Rosario was once a top prospect in the game, and while he has not lived up to expectations, he has four years of control and is only 24, so there is room for improvement. Andres Gimenez made his MLB debut last season, showing flashes of his skill but struggling as he was only 20 years old. José Ramírez is one of the best players in baseball and is firmly entrenched at third base for the time being.

Oscar Mercado had an awful 2020, but with the season only being 60 games and the Cleveland front office still remembering the contributions he made during the 2019 season as a rookie, I am sure he will get another opportunity to play full time. The Cleveland Indians really like Jordan Luplow, and they think with more reps versus same-handed pitchers, that he could blossom into more than just a platoon bat.

Daniel Johnson was the centerpiece in the Yan Gomes deal and is a very interesting prospect with a lot of tantalizing tools. 70-grade speed, an 80-grade arm, above-average power (average exit velocity – 89 mph/max exit velocity – 116), and the ability to play all three outfield spots means Johnson has more potential than literally every outfielder that wore a Cleveland uniform in 2020.

Opening Day Starting Rotation

Shane Bieber established himself as an ace during the 2020 season, even with small sample size. It will have to be seen whether he can sustain this level of performance in a full season"s worth of innings. Zach Plesac made a huge leap in the abbreviated 2020 season, and while I do not think he will perform at that level in a full season, he is more than capable of being low tier number two due to his athleticism, strike-throwing capability, and the improvements in his secondary pitches.

Aaron Civale was not impressive during the 2020 season but has above-average command of his kitchen sink arsenal(four-seamer, sinker, slider, 12-6 curveball, and a changeup) and all of his pitches have above average movement grades via Baseball Savant. Civale has displayed the ability to tunnel his pitches effectively to garner swings and misses/weak contact, and also has the ability to throw all of his pitches wherever he wants whenever he wants. Civale"s ceiling is about average to above-average number three in a rotation.

Triston McKenzie made his MLB debut during the 2020 season and he was extremely effective, once again showing the world the insane amount of young starting pitching depth that the Indians organization possesses. Logan Allen is a sleeper due to his below-average performance in the upper minors, but if he can be a competent number 5 then that"s all he needs to do.

Opening Day Bullpen

While bullpens have an extreme amount of volatility from year to year, Cleveland"s bullpen has a group that can perform well if these 2021 Indians predictions come true. Despite not having flamethrowers from top to bottom, Cleveland has had an effective bullpen the past few seasons. With James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase most likely stepping into high leverage situations with Brad Hand"s departure, they have a young and controllable duo that also has the ability to effortlessly rack up strikeouts. Nick Wittgren, Kyle Nelson, and Phil Maton are a good supporting cast, and Quantrill, Stephan, and Plutko provide a good amount of depth.

Key Additions + Departures

Carlos Santana departed in free agency, signing a two-year deal with the Kansas City Royals for $17.5 million. The team could not find a trade partner for Brad Hand, so they declined his option for $10 million, and placed him on outright waivers which he cleared. Cleveland also let go of Delino DeShields Jr., Tyler Naquin, and Mike Freeman. Cesar Hernandez and Oliver Pérez elected for free agency, and they have yet to be signed by a team or even show up in the rumor mill.

The front office acquired three players in the Mike Clevinger deal that can contribute to the twenty-five roster immediately in Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, and Austin Hedges. The other three players the Indians received in the trade were Gabriel Arias, Owen Miller, and Joey Cantillo, all interesting prospects with the potential to contribute and very talented even though they were not top five prospects. The San Diego Padres have an elite farm system with a lot of depth, so while the return for Mike Clevinger seems a little light automatically making that assumption based on prospect rankings and name recognition is a bit of a mistake.

Austin Hedges is seen as a backup catcher due to an extremely limited ability to make contact but is also the best defensive catcher in professional baseball. Cleveland places a high value on competent to above-average defensive capabilities in their catchers, and the organization has been willing to put up with well below average offensive performance from their backstops if they can handle the pitching staff and keep opponents from running amok on the basepaths.

Cal Quantrill is a former top draft pick out of Stanford University and was also once a top 100 prospect by reputed sources such as Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. While Quantrill has not lived up to expectations during his development in Minor League Baseball and has not been that impressive in his 135 innings pitched in the big leagues, he still has some potential.

San Diego put Quantrill in a multi-inning relief role after he displayed ineffectiveness as a starter, and also was deployed in that fashion in his appearances with the Indians during the 2020 season. Cleveland believes that he can still be an effective starting pitcher based on comments made by Chris Antonetti, president of the Cleveland Indians front office. The Cleveland Indians player development group is one of the best in Major League Baseball at developing pitchers, especially starters, and have “fixed"/"tweaked" numerous individuals that have been cast away by other organizations throughout the 2010s.

Do not be surprised if Cal Quantrill is amongst the plethora of young pitchers competing for a back of the rotation spot during Spring Training, or turn your head at the idea of Quantrill being apart of the Triple-A(AAA) starting rotation in Columbus to continue his development as a starting pitcher

Josh Naylor, the other position player in the trio of MLB-ready individuals packaged in the Mike Clevinger trade, is the most interesting of the three in my opinion for a few reasons. Once a top prospect, Naylor lost his luster after a subpar performance in 279 plate appearances during the 2019 season for the Padres, and 104 plate appearances between San Diego and Cleveland during the shortened 2020 season.

Naylor still has a chance to be an everyday MLB player, whether it be at first base (his original position) or in left field, where he has shown a strong work ethic trying to improve at the position. He has also shown the ability to be coached, as he made some changes to his stance in the batter"s box and swing when he was traded to Cleveland, and this could be a reason for the drop in performance from league average bat to below league average bat during the shortened 2020 season.

With the season only being 60 games, there was not enough time to see if the changes actually worked, although the torrid stretch he went on in the two playoff games he started in was extremely encouraging. The majority of Naylor"s value lies in the offensive production he can produce for a malnourished Indians lineup as an everyday player, and with left field and first base wide open heading into the 2021 season Josh Naylor has a great opportunity to supplant himself in the Indians lineup, and he has the tools to become an above-average hitter.

2021 Indians Predictions: Chance to Contend

I expect the Cleveland Indians to compete for a playoff spot next season, especially if the playoffs are expanded again. With one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, the team will view their competitive window to still be open, with or without Francisco Lindor.

Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, the President and General Manager of the Cleveland Indians front office have repeatedly stated that they are “rebuilding on the fly", and so far they have successfully traded well-known players and brought up young talent to keep the twenty-five man roster in a state where it can still win enough games to make it to the playoffs. While many people will write the Indians off due to the departure of Lindor and Carrasco, the pitching depth gives the team a tangible chance to compete in the AL Central.

With a ridiculous amount of starting pitching depth and the trade/free-agent market for starters being so thin, the Indians could be trading other starting pitchers from their prodigious stash. Chris Antonetti also stated that the front office would reinvest the forty million dollars they got back in the Lindor/Carrasco deal into other resources. The Cleveland Indians front office is one of the best, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt as they toe the line between competing and rebuilding, and trying to avoid a full-blown tear down over the next few seasons while waiting for their top prospects to reach the big leagues.

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