The Cleveland Indians have left us all hungry for baseball, and Factory of Sadness writer is taking a way too early look at the Tribe’s lineup on the day the front office announced the signing of Edwin Encarnacion.
Rajai Davis‘s return to Oakland pretty much signals the end of the Indians moves in free agency this winter. Since there wasn’t room to bring Davis back, any other additions will be minor, at best. That said, it’s not too early to analyze the Cleveland Indians 2017 lineup with more than a month to go before players report for Spring Training.
Projected Batting Order
- Carlos Santana, DH
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Francisco Lindor, SS
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
- Michael Brantley, LF
- Jose Ramirez, 3B
- Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
- Tyler Naquin, CF
- Yan Gomes, C
The Indians might have the best one through six in the American League. Boston and Detroit can compete, but there’s potential at the top of the line up to blitz opposing pitchers right out of the gate. If Brantley is 100% healthy, which has to be believed if Davis was allowed to walk, this puts him in position to have the best protection he’s ever had in a Tribe uniform.
Additionally, there is the same lefty-righty balance that was so successful in 2016. Santana, Lindor, and Ramirez are switch hitters, so at least that helps keep the line up from being to left leaning.
The bench outfield depth is also very solid. Brandon Guyer was a major boost off the bench in addition to getting hit by a lot of pitches. Abe Almonte had a good season, save for being ineligible for the playoffs. As a switch hitter off the bench that has played all three outfield positions, he is likely to be the reserve center fielder and will likely see plenty of action as a platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall the way he was last year.
For all of the good Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes do behind the plate, they are atrocious while standing at it with a bat in their hands. No matter how you look at it, the Indians had the worst group of catchers in the American League. Even marginal improvement would be welcome at this point. There’s a reason why the Indians went after Jonathan Lucroy at the deadline.
As far as reserve infielders go, you can do worse than Michael Martinez. He’ll likely earn the utility spot out of camp due to Terry Francona‘s familiarity with him, but he is not going to be more than a deep reserve for the Tribe. It’s fair to wonder aloud if Gio Urshela or Yandy Diaz would be better in that role.
Who plays third base if something happens to Jose Ramirez? It’s looking more and more like Michael Martinez would be the next man up, but just like before, it could be Urshela or Diaz. If there is a potential nightmare scenario, this might be it.
It’s clear that the organization is investing in two young outfielders. The first is obviously Tyler Naquin. He had great overall numbers his rookie year and now will have the job in center until he shows he cannot handle it at all. The other outfielder? Brad Zimmer. Now that Clint Frazier is playing for the Yankees, he’s the next potential star piece in the outfield. He could easily replace either Chisenhall or Almonte in 2018.
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The Tribe will still trot out the best infield in the American League. Encarncion is an upgrade over Mike Napoli, Jose Ramirez looks like he figured it out, and Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor are a star pair up the middle. Aside from the Orioles, there isn’t a debate.
Don’t be surprised if Chris Colabello makes a little noise in Goodyear. He’s a professional hitter who saw time in the AL Central with Minnesota and hit over .300 in Toronto off the bench two years ago. If the PED issues are behind him, he could be a bounce back candidate. But, we also said that about Marlon Byrd.
Can Encarnacion help Lindor make an MVP-like jump? During his last season in Oakland, Josh Donaldson slashed .255 / .342 / .4256 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI.
Hitting in front of Edwin Encarnacion in Toronto the following year, Donaldson took home the AL MVP with a .297 / .371 / .568 line to go with 41 home runs and 123 RBI. He scored 29 more runs and had 29 more total hits. Could Lindor be the next beneficiary?