With Spring Training right around the corner, what better time to start looking at all 30 MLB teams for the upcoming 2014 season? This will go alphabetically through the teams over the next 10 days before wrapping up with my final season preview that will include standings, playoffs, World Series, award picks and top 50 prospects. Next: Colorado Rockies.
2013 Record: 92-70 (Second in AL Central, Wild Card)
Key additions: Signed RHP Jon Axford, RHP Shaun Marcum, RHP Aaron Harang, OF Nyjer Morgan, OF Jeff Francouer, 2B Elliot Johnson; Traded for LHP Josh Outman
Quick winter recap:
The decision to let Jimenez walk was a good one given the price. While he was key down the stretch, there’s a real possibility he regresses sharply in 2014. Without a big splash this year, Cleveland stuck to a series of small signings that are low-risk, high-reward moves. The biggest was internal, moving Carlos Santana to third to make room behind the plate for Yan Gomez.
Farm system outlook:
Francisco Lindor is the headliner of the group. He’s a defense-first shortstop that can knock the ball around the field for average. He projects to debut in late-2014 unless his great approach and quick bat allows him to tear through the minors. Clint Frazier is the other name that catches the eye. He’s still years away and won’t be an invite this year. Cleveland will get a good look at Lindor, Tony Wolters and Tyler Naquin this Spring Training, with neither of the three likely to break camp with the club.
Most intriguing player:
Santana is the sexy pick, but if he takes the Miguel Cabrera approach to changing positions and focuses on hitting, it won’t matter much. Personally, I’m watching Nick Swisher a great deal. The mark of consistency in baseball, Swisher has hit at least 20 home runs every year since 2005. His 2013 numbers weren’t terribly pretty, posting a .242 average with just 63 RBIs and ISO of .177, the lowest since his rookie season. His ISO is probably more of a case of switching parks from Yankee Stadium, but he’s been below the .200 mark plenty of times before and produced the same basic numbers. Swisher will be 34 in November; was last year the start of a decline or just one his typical trends where his average drops hard for a year?
Due for a better year:
Justin Masterson. After an incredible 2011, he flopped in 2012 and made a comeback in 2013. His trends over the past two years suggest he could be better than 2011. His strikeout rate jumped a remarkable amount from 6.94 to 9.09 in 2013. His walk rate dropped but not to his 2011 mark. On the other hand, his FIP and xFIP returned to 2011 levels and he began stranding more runners, while forcing three percent more ground balls than his career norm. All signs point to 2014 being a breakout season for Masterson. If Danny Salazar also progresses, the two can make the Tribe easily forget Jimenez.
Due for a worse year:
Ryan Raburn. This might be an obvious pick as the utility man clubbed 16 home runs and batted .272 in just 87 games, passing some of his career full-season marks. Raburn had a disturbingly low line drive rate of 17.5 percent and that’s been an issue his entire career which has an average rate of just 17.1 percent. His other batted ball stats were just percentage points away from average and his fly ball rate was actually refreshingly lower at 37.9 percent — a career low (league average is 36 percent). With all that, the difference from past years was a .272 ISO, which is a complete anomaly compared to his career average of .187. Unless he’s refocused himself to a power hitter, which his frame doesn’t suggest, that ISO is going to go back down and his home runs will be fly outs.
Cleveland is an exciting team with a lot of young talent and well-placed veterans. There will be a few questions in the pitching staff, mainly if a series of starters can turn the corner. The Indians probably won’t catch up to the Detroit Tigers yet, but they’re an easy No. 2 team in the division.
Prediction: 93-69 (Second in AL Central)