By Alex Hale, @DaSportsGenius7
As Spring Training comes to a close, that means that Opening Day is only a week away and the Indians Opening Day roster is starting to take shape. The Indians going into the season look to be one of the dark horses in the American League and a potential threat to the defending World Champion Royals in defending their AL Central crown. While the Indians have stiff competition from other teams in the division, the Indians certainly look ready for the challenge. But before we talk about this year’s Indians, we need to take a second to look back at last season in order to set our expectations for this year.
Let’s address the Elephant in the room right now. Lindor, along with Carlos Correa are being tabbed by National Media as the next Alex Rodriguez/Derek Jeter rivalry when it comes to the position. Lindor excelled both offensively and defensively in his rookie year, and in my personal opinion was robbed of the Rookie of the Year. As great as Lindor is, I’ll use the comparison former Indians GM Jon Hart said the night the Indians drafted Lindor calling him, “An Omar Vizquel who can hit”. I urge Indians fans not to expect Lindor to win the MVP award this year, but I expect a Gold Glove season and a potential All-Star debut.
We all know the Indians pitching staff is among the best in the bigs, the major question is will the Indians get the emergence of a 4th starter (Bauer, Clevinger, Tomlin, or Anderson) to go with the 3-Headed monster in Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar. While Kluber did have a bad start last year, the numbers didn’t reflect his continued effectiveness. If the Indians can score runs for Kluber, then Kluber could easily win 20 games and get back into Cy Young Award discussions. But a lot of people have talked about Carlos Carrasco as the pitcher who could shock people and emerge as the true ace. Carrasco has improved each of the last 2 years, if he continues this, nothing will shock me. But my money is on Danny Salazar to be the one everyone fears. Salazar hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential, I expect Salazar to tap into his changeup as a bigger weapon and will emerge as one of the top pitchers in the American League.
Well it’s now official, Tyler Naquin after being the Indians 1st Round pick in 2012 will finally debut for the Tribe on Opening Day. Naquin has torn up Spring Training and rightfully won the job, especially after Abraham Almonte was suspended. Naquin was known coming out of Texas A&M to be a very polished hitter who may not stand out in one area, but does everything well. Naquin should be the Indians everyday Center Fielder in 2016. What Indians fans should know is Naquin is a huge upgrade defensively in Center Field and compared to Almonte, an upgrade offensively. I’m gonna be bold here, but my money will be on Tyler Naquin to win Rookie of the Year.
In the offseason, the Indians turned down plenty of opportunities to get offensive help through trade and instead went out and got veterans Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Juan Uribe to help bring not just some extra offense, but clubhouse leadership. Napoli is the one I’d focus on. Napoli although his numbers say he did poorly, Napoli turned things around in September and ended the year strong. He’s shown in Spring Training he was worth the investment, Indians fans better hope he was.
Nobody will discuss this, but I’m putting it out there. If the Indians are in the playoff hunt in July, Indians Owners Larry and Paul Dolan are going to have to make a very tough decision. As we all know, the Dolan's have been very reluctant in past years to invest into the team when we needed to make a big splash. This will be the ultimate test for the Dolan's, and if they were to finally invest in this team, the Dolan's could finally earn the trust of Indians fans everywhere. If not, this fan base will make sure the Dolan's never hear the end of this, especially if it costs the Tribe a playoff run.
Guys, I know we all love Terry Francona and what he’s brought to the Indians, but if Francona can’t get the Indians over the hump this year, questions need to be answered. Is Francona the right guy to push the Indians where they need to go. In my personal opinion, another .500 season isn’t good enough to keep his job. As unpopular it is for me to say this, but Francona is on the hot seat with me and he should be with the Indians.
This season for the Indians does look to be a very promising one, but the Indians fans really should take the time to go see the future of this team in the Minors while they still can. The Indians future is extremely bright and these are a few names the fans should check out.
While Bradley Zimmer is probably the next big hype prospect up on the Indians, Clint Frazier is the “crowned jewel” of the entire Farm System. Frazier struggled at the beginning of last year, but ended extremely well and it extended into the Arizona Fall League. He probably is going to start the year at AA Akron, and I expect him to be there for the entire season with maybe a late season AAA call up. Frazier’s pure hitting ability and love for the game make him a future star when he finally arrives in Cleveland.
When fans talk about the next stars of the Indians, Bobby Bradley might be the best 1B prospect the team has had in years. Reminiscent of a young Ryan Howard, Bradley’s pure power is amazing and if Bradley can cut down on the strikeouts, he could be right up there with the Indians next core of stars with Lindor, Naquin, Zimmer and Frazier. I expect him to start in High-A Lynchberg, but he should arrive in Akron by year’s end.
Before I talk about Aiken, I’d like to thank the first 16 teams that picked before the Indians for passing on Aiken. The former #1 Overall pick in 2014 didn’t sign with the Astros and later would have Tommy John Surgery due to injury. Aiken is the best pitching prospect the Indians have had in quite possibly the past 20 years. While he won’t start the year right away, when he does he’ll probably be in Lake County and every start is MUST WATCH. He has a great fastball that sits in the mid/low 90s, but more importantly already has advanced secondary pitches, especially a devastating curveball. He might not arrive until 2018, but Indians fans need to enjoy him in the minors.
I have to make room for my favorite prospect in the Indians organization. The Indians 2nd pick in the 2015 draft after Brady Aiken, McKenzie was signed to a $2.3 million contract to get him out of his commitment to LSU. McKenzie his tall and extremely lanky, will need to add some bulk as he makes his way up, but his delivery is smooth and consistent. With his current frame, he throws a low/mid 90s fastball, but that could go up as he gains some bulk. His curveball is already advanced for his age to go with a developing changeup. He’s years away from Cleveland, but he might be better than Aiken when its said and done.
Final Record: 88-74, 2nd in AL Central, Wild Card Game