After winning 92 and 85 games in 2013 and 2014, respectively, expectations are high for the 2015 Cleveland Indians. Entering his third season as manager, Terry Francona has changed the culture surrounding the Indians. Francona has the uncanny ability to motivate his players and get the most out of his roster. Playing in a division with Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, Cleveland will need to win 88-90 games in order to make the playoffs. Despite winning 85 games last season, Cleveland finished three games behind the Oakland A’s for the second Wild Card spot. Cleveland’s offense is led by outfielder Michael Brantley, who finished third in American League MVP voting. Brantley will be joined by Michael Bourne and Brandon Moss in the outfield. Cleveland’s infield will be comprised of catcher Yan Gomes, first baseman Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Jose Ramirez, and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Nick Swisher will serve as Cleveland’s designated hitter. Cleveland’s rotation will be anchored by Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Here are five storylines to watch during Spring Training.
Storyline #1: Is Carrasco For Real?
During the second half of the season, Carlos Carrasco stepped up and became Cleveland’s second best starting pitcher. In ten starts, Carrasco went 6-4 with a 1.72 ERA. In 78 innings, Carrasco struck out 86 hitters. Carrasco will be asked to build upon his impressive second half performance. Carrasco, who has just 54 career starts in five seasons, has never thrown more than 134 innings in a single season, so Cleveland’s success will be tied to Carrasco. Keep an eye on Carrasco’s performances during Spring Training to see if he continues to strike out hitters at an above average rate.
Storyline #2: Can Brantley Build Upon His Success?
Outfielder Michael Brantley, who was once billed as a top prospect, finally broke out last season. During his age-27 season, Brantley hit 20 home runs, stole 23 bases, and posted a .327 batting average. Prior to last season, Brantley never hit more than 10 home runs or posted a batting average above .288. Brantley finished third in American League MVP voting. Due to the drastic increase in his statistics, fans are expecting some regression during 2015. Brantley, however, will have a lot of lineup protection and RBI opportunities. Brantley will have opportunities to produce. All eyes will be on Brantley during Spring Training, who has been billed as Cleveland’s top player.
Storyline #3: More Power From Yan
In his first full season, Yan Gomes clubbed 21 home runs and drove in 74 runs. More impressively, Gomes notched 50 extra base hits in just 485 at-bats. After winning his first career Silver Slugger award, hopes are high for his second full season. Gomes will hit in the middle of Cleveland’s batting order and should receive ample RBI opportunities. Watch his power output during Spring Training to see whether he continue hitting for power.
Storyline #4: Bounce Back from Kipnis?
Second baseman, Jason Kipnis had the worst season of his career in 2014. After hitting at least 14 home runs and stealing at least 30 bases in 2012 and 2013, Kipnis hit just six home runs and only stole 22 bases during 2014. Kipnis posted career lows in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.310), and slugging percentage (.330) in 2014. Prior to 2014, Kipnis was placed in the same breath as top second baseman such as Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia. While Kipnis is not nearly as talented as those players, a strong 2015 campaign will improve his standing among American League second basemen. A strong Spring Training performance should carry over into the regular season.
Storyline #5: More K’s for Kluber
Corey Kluber has always possessed average-to-above-average strikeout potential, but put it all together last season. In 34 starts, Kluber posted an 18-9 record with 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts over 235 innings in en-route to winning the American League Cy Young award. All of these statistics were career-bests for the 28-year-old Kluber, who will look to build upon this career year. Monitor Kluber’s velocity and strikeout totals during Spring Training to see whether he’s suffering from any fatigue from last season’s heavy workload.