The 2021 Cleveland Indians will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in, as many baseball fans are eager to see if the moves they made this winter will pay off. According to FanGraphs, Cleveland has a 17.8% chance of the playoffs, and they are projected to finish third in the AL Central, but hey, at least they don’t have a 0.0% chance (sorry Orioles’ fans).
Either way, here are my predictions on how the Cleveland Indians will fair this season.
2021 Cleveland Indians: Team Projections
- Record: 88-74
- Projected Standing: Second Place in the AL Central
- Positives: Lots of young depth, weak division
- Negatives: Lack of star-power
The American League Central ranks fourth out of the six divisions in the MLB, according to MLB.com. The bottom of the division includes the Detroit Tigers and Kansas Royals; two teams who’ve struggled to find their identity in recent years.
Cleveland’s main competition? The reigning AL Central champion Minnesota Twins, and a young, exciting team in the Chicago White Sox. Both teams have made moves this winter to put themselves in title contention, as the Twins acquired J.A. Happ and Andrelton Simmons while the White Sox added veterans Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks to complement their youthful lineup.
But the Twins and White Sox were not the only active teams during free agency.
Cleveland made multiple acquisitions to keep pace with their division rivals. The addition of Andres Gimenez and Ames Rosario strengthens the middle infield. They will now join top-prospects Tyler Freeman and Yu Chang to create a dynamic combo up the middle for years to come.
Along with developing the infield, the Indians addressed outfield issues by signing former Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. With Rosario now part of the lineup, skipper Terry Francona now has the ability to move rising star Josh Naylor to first base to cover the hole from the departure of former first basemen Carlos Santana.
But the great depth comes with a price: The 2021 Cleveland Indians now lack star-power.
Instead of the one-two punch of Jose Ramirez and Lindor, the offense will have to heavily rely on Ramirez to produce on at the plate. Along with J-Ram, Franmile Reyes will see an elevated role in the batting order.
Ultimately, the 2021 Cleveland Indians’ pitching and versatility on offense will allow them to compete for at least one more season in a division that is rapidly growing younger each season.
Team Offensive MVP: Jose Ramirez
- .270 Batting Average
- .358 On Base Percentage
- .511 Slugging Percentage
- 31 Home Runs
Jose Ramirez is coming off an MVP-caliber season, as he finished second in the MVP race behind Jose Abreu. Yes, it may have been a 60-game season, but it was a perfect bounce-back season from 2019, which was haunted by a hand injury.
However, we may never see another .300 season from the all-star third basemen.
At age 28, Ramirez could start to see a slight decline in 2021. The power could start to fade, and nobody knows how he will adjust to a Lindor-less lineup.
But even with a “decline” season, the three-time Silver Slugger will still find success at the plate. Fans will most likely never see the numbers we saw in 2018 and 2019, but he is still capable of producing 30+ home runs in 2021.
Ramirez will have to step into a much bigger role than previous seasons, but he will remain the focal point of the Indians lineup.
Team Pitcher MVP: Shane Bieber
- 15-8 Record
- 31 Appearances
- 3.35 ERA
- 1.06 WHIP
- 199 Innings Pitched
Shane Bieber has become one of the hottest names in pitching, as he’s proven to be one the most consistent and dominate forces in Major League Baseball.
Bieber had a historical 2020 season, as he ended the shortened season with an 8-1 record. His performance made him the clear-cut choice for the Cy-Young award, and he will look to roll his strong 2020 campaign into 2021.
The former all-star could easily replicate or surpass his numbers from 2019, as the young buck from UCSB will continue to flourish in the Indians’ rotation.
Breakout Player of the Year: Daniel Johnson
You want bold? Well here you go.
Only die-hard Indians fans will know about Daniel Johnson. In 2020, he began the year as the 18th ranked prospect in the Indians’ organization. He ended up playing in five games in 2020 but did not find much success at the plate.
2021 will be the year that Daniel “Jet” Johnson makes the jump from an average outfielder to dominate threat at the American League.
This offseason, Johnson trained in Arizona with famous hitting coach J.P. Sportman. The former minor leaguer works with Matt Chapman and many top prospects, and his knowledge has rubbed off onto Johnson.
Johnson will definitively see playing time in 2021, and he will be a must-watch heading into the season.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images