The Indians’ outfield underperformed last season, posting a combined .315 wOBA and only hitting 44 home runs. Such a lack of production led to a major overhaul. Shin-Soo Choo was shipped to in-state foe Cincinnati in a three-team trade that brought Drew Stubbs (amongst others) to Cleveland, the club chose to part ways with Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan, and the Indians also dipped into the free agent market by signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to multi-year deals.
The flurry of transactions should result in an improved offense for the Indians for fantasy owners.
Perhaps the most surprising move for the Indians this offseason was signing Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48M contract in mid-February. The move will allow Michael Brantley to transition to left field, and Bourn will become the everyday center fielder. He has logged 600+ plate appearances in each of the last four seasons. Barring injury, that trend will continue with Cleveland.
For fantasy owners, Bourn should still serve as an elite source of stolen bases, as he has not swiped fewer than 40 bases since the 2007 season. The 30-year-old often becomes more valuable in fantasy circles because he is one of the rare elite sources of stolen bases that does not cause owners to sacrifice numerous other categories. Last season, that became even more true because he connected with a career-high nine home runs. If he can flirt with double-digit home runs and steal 40+ bases (very little difference between the home run park factors of Progressive and Turner Fields), Bourn will be very valuable in all fantasy formats.
Some has been written about the increase in strikeout rate for Bourn, but that could be a bit overstated. His O-Swing% decreased from 27.5% in 2011 to 23.9% last season, and his swinging-strike rate remained below-average at 8.7%. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be too worried about his strikeout rate ballooning until his peripheral statistics show significant plate discipline issues.
As mentioned earlier, the addition of Michael Bourn will allow Michael Brantley to transition to left field, which suits him much better defensively. He saw 609 plate appearances last year and should receive similar playing time in 2013 — especially since his walk rate finally increased and his OBP approached .350. Unfortunately, for fantasy owners, he doesn’t project to hit for enough power or steal enough bases to be anything other than a fringe bench option in most mixed fantasy formats. If Brantley begins to approach his minor-league stolen base numbers, however, he will become much more valuable. He stole 46 bases in Triple-A in 2009, but has never stolen more than 13 bases in the big leagues. It will be interesting to see if he gets the green light more on the base paths in 2013.
Finally, in right field, the Cleveland Indians will likely feature the newly-acquired Drew Stubbs. He’s always intriguing due to his power-speed combination — three-consecutive seasons of 30+ SBs and 14+ HRs — but his lofty strikeout totals will keep him from posting even a mediocre batting average. And now that he likely won’t be batting in the top half of a batting order, his run totals don’t project to approach the century mark, either. He’s worth drafting the the late rounds. Just don’t get overly enamored due to the stolen bases and home runs.
It will be interesting to see how many plate appearances Stubbs sees in right field, though, because the Indians also plan on playing Nick Swisher in the outfield on occasion. Swisher will mostly wear a first base glove, but he could see ample playing time in right field against right-handed pitching because Drew Stubbs only hit .186/.259/.282 against righties last year.
Swisher is remarkably consistent. He has eight-consecutive 20+ home run seasons and has seen his batting average become much more competitive in the last three years. Although his production may dip a bit due to the switch from Yankee Stadium to Progressive Field, fantasy owners should remain confident that his core value will remain constant. He will still provide 20+ home runs, score 80-90 runs, and hit between .260 and .290. His RBI total could also be reasonably expected to increase this season, too, as he moves to the middle of the batting order for the Indians.
Speedster Ezequiel Carrera will serve as the primary reserve outfielder in both left and center fields, but he won’t warrant much fantasy consideration on draft day. He could provide double-digit stolen bases with enough playing time. The remainder of fantasy categories will suffer, though. He hits for no power and only hit .272 last season with a lofty .342 BABIP. Don’t even worry about plucking Carrera on draft day, and he will only become relevant if the Indians suffer a significant injury to one of their starters.
Down on the farm, Tim Fedroff is the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster. He compiled a .405 wOBA in Triple-A last season and was rated the 19th-best prospect in the Indians’ farm system by Baseball America. Though he could potentially see some time as a reserve outfielder, the 26-year-old doesn’t project to be more than a fringe outfield prospect due to his lack of power. His ISO jumped to .192 in Triple-A — which is significant as the International League is notoriously tough on hitters — but it hovered anywhere between .089 and .109 prior to this season. Fantasy owners shouldn’t invest in Fedroff at this point, even in dynasty leagues.
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