While the Cleveland Indians had a disappointing 2012, at least they’re doing what a 94-loss team should be doing: making changes. While the solid up-the middle starters in the Cleveland infield will be sticking around, the team has shuffled their outfield and a good chunk of their infield in the hopes of improving on their dismal previous season. And while the team’s depth chart is still in flux (and may be throughout the season), there’s a lot of room here for an enterprising fantasy owner to squeeze some value out of this team.
Carlos Santana is an upper-tier catcher capable of filling three stats consistently: homers, runs, and RBI. Despite hitting a rough patch in 2012, Santana still put up solidly above-average offensive numbers (including a 120 wRC+), and again offered plenty of plate appearances for a catcher. His batting average is a little bit of a downer (but he rocks in OBP leagues), and you can’t expect more than a handful of steals, but he’s still one of the best bets at catcher in fantasy. His backup, “Tofu” Lou Marson, is wholly un-rosterable despite getting a decent share of plate appearances backing up Santana … even though he did post a sharp walk rate and OBP in ’12.
New addition Nick Swisher, who was originally expected to spend lots of time in the outfield, is probably going to be the regular first baseman to make room for the Indians’ new three-center-fielder defensive alignment. The good news about Swish is that he’s a remarkably consistent performer, able to post 20+ homers and solid R and RBI numbers on a regular basis. Like Santana, Swisher gains even more value in OBP leagues, where his middling batting average is mitigated by a great ability to take a walk. Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds, and Jason Giambi(?!) should see some time at first as well, and Swish should spend some time in right field, so he’ll maintain a bit of positional flexibility while still getting 150-ish starts, barring injury.
One of my favorite players to draft this season is second baseman Jason Kipnis, who has the potential to be a top fantasy performer at the pivot. Kipnis brings a combination of power and speed to any team, bopping 14 homers last season while swiping 31 bags. While I don’t expect that kind of basepath larceny to continue, the power is legit, and I certainly would not be surprised to see him repeat or better than number this year. He’ll probably also score and drive in a few more runs this season, given Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher’s presence in this lineup, so think of him once the top tier of second-sackers goes off the board. New addition Mike Aviles is the backup here, but don’t expect him to get much burn.
Asdrubal Cabrera is the second sure-thing in the Cleveland middle infield. Sure, he didn’t post the gaudy fantasy line that he racked up in 2011, but Cabrera was fairly consistent for the Tribe and for fantasy squads. The power is still there, as Cabrera’s certainly capable of mashing 15 homers for your fantasy squad, and he’s an all-round contributor capable of logging double-digit steals, a batting average somewhere near his .270, and whatever runs and RBI his offensive teammates can muster up for him. There aren’t very many better fantasy options at shortstop, and very few who should be as reliable. Mike Aviles is the first guy off the bench here as well.
Once a highly-touted prospect, Lonnie Chisenhall rose to the majors early. While he’s shown flashes of being a great player, his struggles against left-handed pitching and unspectacular defense are seriously hurting him and his playing time. Nevertheless, going into 2013, it looks like he’s got the keys to the third base position, especially against right-handed pitching. Drafting Chisenhall is almost entirely an upside play: if he sticks, and plays up to his potential, he’ll put up a solid 15-20 homer line with runs, RBI, a decent batting average, and maybe even a few steals. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a waste of a roster spot or worse. He’s the type of player you draft as a reserve at this point, but keep an eye on him in case he can translate a strong spring into a strong season.
Ryan Raburn has torn up the baseball this spring, homering in his first three at-bats. While we know better than to put too much stock into Spring Training performances, Raburn is probably in the catbird seat when it comes to being a platoon caddy for Chisenhall. If Raburn does wind up seeing his share of lefties, then he could be a cheap source of power (and positional flexibility) in deep or AL-only leagues. But after such a dismal 2012, try not to bet the farm on him. Mike Aviles could also be the platoon option here instead, and with regular plate appearances, he could have some value.
New addition Mark Reynolds was born to be a designated hitter. You can always rely on Mark Reynolds to provide your team with copious dingers, with 181 jacks in just six major-league seasons. The bad news? Reynolds doesn’t always post gaudy R and RBI numbers, and he’ll absolutely destroy your team’s batting average. Nevertheless, if the Indians keep his awful, awful glove off the field, he’ll have some value to his team, as well as to power-hungry fantasy players. Just know what you’re getting in Reynolds, in exchange for all those homers.
Expect a number of other players to rotate in at DH as well from time to time, including the left-handed hitting Jason Giambi. Giambi reportedly is on the cusp of making the major-league roster and, while his 2012 season was pretty awful, he’s not that far removed from being a productive part-time player. Still, I wouldn’t expect Giambi to get much burn, or produce enough fantasy-wise to be worth a draft. Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher will probably fill in a bit here too.
Honestly, the infield bench inspires very little hope in me for the season. Mike Aviles is a fine backup infielder, but with Cabrera and Kipnis ensconced in the middle, there may not be much room for him to play. If Ryan Raburn caddies for Lonnie Chisenhall (who is having a pretty decent spring), then he could have value in AL-only leagues, but Raburn burned a lot of people over the last few years, and could just totally implode as well. And Jason Giambi is pretty much a crapshoot at this point. Pass on everyone, unless one of Kipnis or Cabrera gets injured … and then pick up Aviles on the waiver wire.
C: Carlos Santana
1B: Nick Swisher
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3B: Lonnie Chisenhall / Ryan Raburn or Mike Aviles (platoon)
DH: Mark Reynolds
Bench: Lou Marson, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi