John Aurora, Contributor
The Indians shocked much of the baseball world in 2017, going 102-60 and winning the AL Central. Although their playoff run fell short of a Cinderella story, they have a solid foundation to build on for 2018, here’s the fantasy players you need to watch for:
Francisco Lindor, SS (rank 21, ADP 21.0)
2017: .273 AVG, 33 HR, 89 RBI, 99 R, 15 SB
Lindor transformed dramatically from being a high-contact, high-stolen base guy to a power hitter with less-than-expected stolen bases. Although his average went down, his contact rate remained the same, so his average could return closer to .300 than .270. I think there’s potential for stolen bases to go up too. Maybe a realistic projection is .290 AVG, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 100 R, 20 SB. A solid line for a shortstop, who I’ll be targeting early on.
Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B (rank 22, ADP 24.8)
2017: .318 AVG, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 107 R, 17 SB
Ramirez broke out last year hitting .318 with 29 HR, 83 RBI, 107 R, 17 SB. Ramirez has always been a high contact player and at age 25, I think he is just scratching his ceiling. He is a five-category contributor in addition to his dual position eligibility. Feel confident drafting him early.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH (rank 27, ADP 44.9)
2017: .258 AVG, 38 HR, 107 RBI, 96 R, 2 SB
Encarnacion started off slowly last year, but ended with his normal elite power numbers, .258 AVG, 38 HR, 107 RBI, 96 R. He will be 35 years old this season and is coming off a sprained ankle in the playoffs, but will fulfill the everyday DH role this year vacated by Carlos Santana meaning his age-related decline may not affect his production as much. Temper expectations somewhat, but expect his usual 30+ home runs.
Corey Kluber, SP (rank 13, ADP 14.9)
2017: 18 W, 265 K, 2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
I think Kluber can be even better than last year. Remember, he was a workhorse in the 2016 playoffs, so I think the added rest this offseason will do wonders for the reliable Kluber. Plan on anchoring your staff with him.
Carlos Carrasco, SP (rank 43, ADP 37.6)
2017: 18 W, 226 K, 3.29 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
For the first time in his career, Carrasco remained healthy to finish with 200 innings. His injury history cannot be ignored; however, plan on drafting him as your second pitcher with the potential of an ace.
Mike Clevinger, SP (rank 215, ADP 220.3)
2017: 12 W, 137 K, 3.11 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Clevinger was dominant at the end of last year posting a 10.1 K/9 rate before moving to the bullpen. He only pitched 120 innings last year so if he can pitch 180 innings while limiting his walks, enjoy the ride as his wins and strikeouts will surely add up. When I target pitchers, I want strikeout potential. The pitchers that have at least a 10.1 K/9: Chris Sale, Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer, Chris Archer, Jacob deGrom, Luis Severino, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, and Jimmy Nelson. Not a bad list to be on. I think he can be real good if given the chance, so I am BUYING (see position battles).
Bradley Zimmer, OF (rank 308, ADP 221.0)
2017: .241 AVG, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 41 R, 18 SB
If Zimmer can keep his job in center field, he will be a sleeper this year. Zimmer stole 18 bases in 101 games last year, although his season ended prematurely with a broken hand. Zimmer has the speed to steal at least 30 bases to go along with 10-15 HRs. Steals are scarce, notice the theme? At his ADP, I am BUYING.
4th and 5th spot of starting pitcher rotation
Candidates: Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin
My prediction: Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin
I think the days of counting Salazar as a sleeper/breakout are over. His upside is tantalizing but his durability and control are a concern, especially his right shoulder inflammation history. Only once in the last 4 years has he been able to pitch over 180 innings. I would love to see Salazar put it together this season, but my expectations are low. I think he would be a dynamic option in the bullpen to pair with Andrew Miller. That leaves Clevinger and Tomlin to finalize the rotation.