A Bright Future Comes From Within

The Indians are in the midst of a long-awaited solid stretch of play, yet still remain at 63-66 and sit third in the AL Central. This has been an exceptionally disappointing season, especially for a ball club that most notably was predicted by Sports Illustrated to be a possible World Series contender.

The team’s offense has been dismal at best (although relatively better lately), and the bullpen began the season looking tired and relatively poor (again, much improved as of late). The team looked at one point as if it could easily lose 100 games, which is amazing considering the solid core of the Indians roster.

There have been many reasons for the Indians’ poor play. The defense to start was sub-par, with Lonnie Chisenhall (currently doing well in right field) and Jose Ramirez both playing quite poorly and holding back the rest of the defense. Michael Bourn played a decent center field, yet injuries hampered his performance. Brandon Moss, before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, patrolled right field and failed to make the grade both offensively and defensively.

The offense was severely held back by Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, and Brandon Moss performing far below potential. Gomes, who was hobbled by injuries, has improved his offense in the second half. Michael Bourn, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Jose Ramirez were not hitting, and held back the team from any sort of dominance at the plate. The biggest bright spot on the team was and has been resurgent play by Jason Kipnis, as well as continued excellent play by Michael Brantley.

The bullpen struggled heavily as well. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, expected to be the core of the pen, both struggled. Having impressed in a breakout 2014 season, Scott Atchison could not get batters out, and was eventually DFA’d. The bullpen as a whole appeared to be overworked and simply exhausted.

The team truly appeared to be in shambles. So why is there any reason for optimism in this ball-club going forward? The answer to that question rests within the Indians organization.

The defense has been completely turned around following the call ups of top prospects Francisco Lindor (SS) and Giovanny Urshela (3B). They helped to provide a spark to this team, as well as appearing to be the left side of the Indians infield defense for the foreseeable future. Lindor has played very well, especially since the All-Star break, and is without a doubt in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Lindor’s play is one of the chief reasons why there is serious optimism for the Tribe going forward. Lindor and Urshela have both been spectacular defensively as well: Lindor- 6 Defensive Runs Saved; Urshela- 3 Defensive Runs Saved, and it is hard to foresee anyone taking their places.

The Indians also possess two legitimate superstar bats alongside these young guns in Michael Brantley as well as Jason Kipnis. The top of the Tribe’s order now looks like this:

  1. Kipnis– (.319 BA/.393 OBP/.472 SLG)
  2. Lindor– (.312 BA/.352 OBP/.440 SLG)
  3. Brantley– (.325 BA/.398 OBP/.488 SLG)

Baseball statisticians, experts, and just plain fans all can clearly see the dominance in this trio, and considering the fact that they are all collectively under contract for the next few years, there is much optimism to be had from this unique starting trio alone.

There is another major source of optimism and it rests within the core of the starting rotation. The rotation is all relatively young and all under contract for a considerable amount of time, all on team-friendly deals as a whole. Even with this, the real optimism stretches onto the field more than anything. The Indians definitely need to be in the market for a 5th starter (assuming Cody Anderson, as of right now, is not the guy), yet the 4 starters at the top of their rotation do indeed appear to be set for the future, if not just for next season.

The Indians are led by Cy Young Award-winning ace Corey Kluber, who despite the W-L record still has the stats of a top 10 pitcher. Carlos Carrasco, despite his current temporary DL stint, is having an excellent year as well. The Indians follow with Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer who are both having very good seasons of their own. The Indians top 4 statistically looks like this:

  1. Corey Kluber: W- 13 L/200.1 IP/3.44 ERA/1.033 WHIP/2.86 FIP/219 SO/38 BB/ 9.8 K/9
  2. Carlos Carrasco: 12 W – 9 L/ 158.0 IP/ 3.53 ERA/ 1.057 WHIP/ 2.79 FIP/ 173 SO/ 32 BB/ 9.9 K/9
  3. Danny Salazar11 W – 7 L/ 144.1 IP/ 3.30 ERA/ 1.081 WHIP/ 3.53 FIP/ 162 SO/ 41 BB/ 10.2 K/9
  4. Trevor Bauer10 W –10 L/ 156.2 IP/ 4.31 ERA/ 1.283 WHIP/ 4.45 FIP/ 152 SO/ 67 BB/ 8.7 K/9

The Indians have a formidable top four in their starting rotation, and it is hard for any time to score lots of runs against any of the Tribe’s top four starters. The Indians pitching as a whole, bullpen included, is just as much of a reason to be optimistic for the Indians going forward as well. The Indians have a few legitimately dominant bullpen arms, that have consistently shown their dominance overall. Those pitchers statistically are as followed.

Closer: Cody AllenW –L/ 54.2 IP/ 3.62 ERA/ 1.244 WHIP/1.97 FIP/ 82 SO/ 23 BB/ 27 Saves/ 13.5 K/9

RP: Bryan Shaw: 3 W – L/ 48.2 IP/ 2.40 ERA/ 1.192 WHIP/ 4.07 FIP/ 40 SO/ 15 BB/ 17 Holds/ 7.4 K/9

RP: Zach McAllister: W –L/ 58.2 IP/ 3.07 ERA/ 1.364 WHIP/ 2.90 FIP/ 74 SO/ 17 BB/ 10 Holds/ 11.4 K/9

The unique part about the bullpen is there seem to be many other strong young guns on the rise in Kyle Crockett, Austin Adams, and Shawn Armstrong as well. The bullpen looks quite formidable going forward, with many other prospects waiting in the fold.

The majority of the optimism regarding the Indians going forward rests in the youth of this team as a whole.

Many people are not fans of Chris Antonetti, the current Indians GM, for a variety of reasons. Those people have not yet looked at the core of the Indians farm system, their top 20 prospects. Slowly and steadily, Antonetti has turned the Indians dismal farm system into an exceptional and solid player development base. He turned a lack of pitching depth, into a solid all-around core of young pitching prospects. The overall top 25 Indians prospects looks like this;

  1. OF: Bradley Zimmer (ETA: 2017)
  2. OF: Clint Frazier (ETA: 2017)
  3. LHP: Rob Kaminsky (ETA: 2017)
  4. LHP: Brady Aiken (ETA: 2018)
  5. OF: Tyler Naquin (ETA: 2016)
  6. LHP: Justus Sheffield (ETA: 2018)
  7. 1B: Bobby Bradley (ETA: 2018)
  8. RHP: Triston Mckenzie (ETA: 2019)
  9. LHP: Juan Hillman (ETA: 2019)
  10. SS:  Erik Gonzalez (ETA: 2016)
  11. C: Francisco Meija (ETA: 2018)
  12. OF: James Ramsey (ETA: 2015)
  13. 1B/OF: Mike Papi (ETA: 2017)
  14. RHP: Adam Plutko (ETA: 2016)
  15. RHP: Mike Clevenger (ETA: 2016)
  16. LHP: Shawn Morimando (ETA: 2016)
  17. SS: Luke Wakamatsu (ETA: 2019)
  18. LHP: Luis Lugo (ETA: 2017)
  19. LHP: Sean Brady (ETA: 2018)
  20. SS: Tyler Krieger (ETA: 2018)
  21. 2B: Mark Mathias (ETA: 2018)
  22. OF: Luigi Rodriguez (ETA: 2017)
  23. 1B: Nellie Rodriguez (ETA: 2017)
  24. 2B: Claudio Bautista (ETA: 2018) 
  25. 1B: Jesus Aguilar (ETA: Already Made Debut)

The Indians have an excellent farm system, one that will only get better as the drafts go along.

The biggest reason for optimism is management. The Indians have a top 5 manager in Terry Francona, who is arguably the best in the game behind the Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs. The Indians also have a severely underrated General Manager in Chris Antonetti, who, with the departure of Mark Shapiro, should have his name finally enter the spotlight as an excellent GM. Antonetti has done an excellent job building up the farm system, as well as utilizing his unique eye for talent in trades collectively. Francona and Antonetti both are excellent at what they do, and will be instrumental in the Indians future success.

The Indians are set up to succeed, whether the pessimistic fans agree or not. The Indians have an excellent young and solid core, and positioned to continue to potentially build a dynasty through the draft. They actually do not need to spend big to potentially win and win big quick, if the pieces set in place do indeed fall as they should, this team should be really good, soon.

This season may or may not be lost. A lot will depend on this upcoming Toronto series. Regardless, the team grew and grew a lot. The team had to go through the growing pains of living with and without Nick Swisher as well as even the often rarely talked about loss of leadership in Jason Giambi leaving, but the team grew and grew up fast.

It is yet to be seen if this team can truly make a run, but for now- enjoy the ride, because once this team truly takes off, there will be no looking back.

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