MLB predictions: 10 bold predictions for the 2014 Indians
The Tribe hopes for more surprises and key contributors this season
The future is always a tough thing to predict.
Sure things can become question marks just as quickly as the impossible can turn into reality.
The same could be said for a new baseball season. It’s the fresh start and warmer weather that seems to bring out a heavy dose of optimism in all of us.
No matter what was witnessed on the field several months ago, that’s all in the past. The team and its fans look to build on a more memorable season, asking the same question: “Will this finally be the year?”
In less than two short weeks, we will again be strapped into a roller coaster of yet another six month baseball journey. And together, experience the highs and lows that a new season in the sun will bring. There are many new faces in new places across the big leagues, but for the Indians, the core of the team that played a part in last year’s postseason ride remains intact.
Predictions are predictions, but expectations for the Tribe in 2014 are at their highest since 2008. Believe it or not, it’s a playoff or bust mentality for both the team and the city in 2014.
Who would have thought at the start of last year that a 23-year old Double-A pitcher would start in the biggest game at Progressive Field in six years? Or what about that Brazilian catcher who went from a no name to a quick house hold name and fan favorite? And I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the swing of a 42-year old slugger would ultimately save the entire season.
It’s what makes the game of baseball so special.
This year will be no different, with new surprises and struggles on both sides of the ball.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2014 Cleveland Indians.
1. John Axford saves 40 games
Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery.
Signed to a one year, $4 million deal in January, new Indians closer John Axford is coming off an interesting 2013 campaign. As the former full-time closer for the Milwaukee Brewers since 2010, Axford did not collect a save with the Brew Crew last year, blowing six save opportunities before being dealt to St. Louis in August.
The 30-year old Canadian native thrived after the trade, posting a 1.74 ERA in 13 games with the Cardinals to close out the regular season. Axford didn’t miss a beat on baseball’s biggest stage with the Redbirds either, holding opposing hitters to a .105 batting average in the postseason and tossing another 2 1/3 shutout innings in the World Series.
New to the American League, Axford brings with him a breath of fresh air in the Tribe’s closer role both on the mound and in the clubhouse. The closer noted earlier this offseason that the World Baseball Classic could be the primary reason to blame for his early struggles last year.
From 2010-2012, “The Ax-Man” racked up 15 wins and posted a combined 3.04 ERA while notching 105 saves. With last year behind him, and another new start, he may very well become one of the biggest steals on the free agent market.
Prediction: For the first time since 2007, Axford will become the first Indians closer since Joe Borowski to save 40 games in a season. He’s looked sharp so far this spring, allowing just one run in six innings with a 1.50 ERA.
2. Raburn outplays Murphy in right field
As surprising as it is, the signing of former Texas Rangers outfielder David Murphy was largest free agent contract Cleveland agreed to this offseason.
Despite a dismal 2013 that saw the left-handed hitter set career lows in average, RBI and on-base percentage, Murphy and the Tribe agreed to a 2-year, $12 million deal. Expected to start only against right-handed pitching, Ryan Raburn will platoon with Murphy in right field against left-handers.
In his career, Murphy is a solid .280 hitter against righties, but last year, he hit just .219 against them in 333 at-bats.
Like Axford, Raburn benefited with a change of uniform in 2013, leading the Indians with a .543 slugging percentage and a .901 OPS. Only five American League players with at least 240 at-bats posted a higher OPS than the 32-year old Raburn last season, and all five were All-Stars.
With some contract security for the first time in his career, I don’t think many fans realize just how much of a role and strong impact Raburn will make on this team going forward.
Prediction: Murphy doesn’t bounce back in Cleveland forcing Raburn to play almost every day, leaving him with better numbers than the former Rangers outfielder by season’s end.
3. Carlos Santana belts 30 homers
Back in the summer of 2008, the Indians traded aging third baseman Casey Blake for a young 22-year old catching prospect named Carlos Santana.
Almost six years later, he has become one of the cornerstones and faces of the franchise. In three full seasons in Cleveland, Santana has been pretty consistent at the plate, averaging roughly 22 homers and 76 RBI per year.
Now that he is out as the Tribe’s starting backstop, Santana could be in line for an increase in home runs this year. In 2011, the switch-hitting slugger belted a career-high 27 homers in his first full season with the Tribe. Since then, he hasn’t hit more than 20 in a single year.
What makes Santana even more of a pure hitter is his natural plate discipline. Over the last three years, only former National League MVP Joey Votto has collected more walks than the Indians third baseman. He also has raised his batting average each year over the same time span, from .239, to .252, to .268 in 2013.
Attempting to win a starting job at the hot corner, I think we’ll be seeing Santana more in the DH role in 2014.
Prediction: The switch-hitting Santana reaches the 30 home run plateau, becoming the first Tribe player since Grady Sizemore in 2008 to accomplish the feat.
4. Gomes makes All-Star team with Kipnis
You could say one of the biggest surprises for the Indians last year came when the club traded reliever Esmil Rogers to Toronto for infielder Mike Aviles and a rookie catching prospect last offseason. Catcher Yan Gomes burst onto the scene quickly in his first season in Cleveland, leading the team hitting .294 in 88 games.
As the first Brazilian born ballplayer in baseball history, Gomes quickly became a fan favorite slugging 11 homers and finished behind Raburn with a .453 slugging percentage.
Throwing out 41 percent of runners last year, Gomes was second to only Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer for the best caught stealing percentage in the American League. Playing in just 131 games in his career, the sky is still virtually the limit for the Tribe’s Opening Day starting catcher.
As long as he can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, fans could end up seeing Gomes in his first appearance at the Mid-Summer Classic.
Prediction: Along with Jason Kipnis, Gomes represents the Indians as a reserve in the 2014 All-Star Game.
5. Kluber puts up better numbers than Salazar
We all know Danny Salazar has the makings of being something special, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily translate into this year. The Tribe has already hinted at signs there still may be an innings limit on the 23-year old right-hander, as he will be named Cleveland’s fifth starter in the coming week.
Recently named as the Indians No. 2 starter behind Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber was yet another surprise on the pitching staff in 2013. Notching 11 wins with a 3.85 ERA in 26 games, he went 4-0 in nine starts after the All-Star break.
Kluber’s ability to limit walks per nine (2.02 BB/9) made him one of the most effective starters in the division, walking 33 and striking out 136 in 147 1/3 innings.
Like Gomes, 2014 will only be his first full season in the Tribe starting rotation. Whether he smiles or not, Kluber is someone fans should smile and be excited about.
Prediction: Kluber wins 15 games and posts a sub 3.50 ERA, beating out Salazar in both categories.
6. Bauer takes McAllister’s spot in rotation
Right smack in the middle of the Indians rotation is 26-year old right-hander Zach McAllister. The 6-foot-6 starter fared well in 2013, going 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 24 starts, but a dismal spring so far may end up being a sign of things to come.
In four Cactus League starts, McAllister has allowed eight runs on 14 hits in 10 2/3 innings, walking seven while also striking out seven. His main problem so far has been the long ball, where hitters have already hit four off the righty.
A bad start for the recently named No. 3 starter could spell an early change to the rotation. Enter hard-throwing prospect Trevor Bauer, who will at some point this year make his presence known on the big league mound once again. The Indians got a small taste of Bauer last season, but control issues sent the former third overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft back to Triple-A Columbus.
With a new revamped delievery and nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, the 23-year old will be the first pitcher called up to contribute to the already young Tribe rotation.
Prediction: Bauer takes over McAllister’s spot in the rotation by June.
7. Indians trade for bat at deadline
It seems like for the last few seasons, fans are always waiting for the Tribe to make a deal for a power hitter before the July trade deadline. With key soon-to-be free agents set to hit the trade market this summer, it may be wise for Cleveland to finally grab one in hopes of another playoff ride.
Knowing manager Terry Francona, he will want not only production from a new hitter, but an aspect of veteran leadership as well.
Even if there doesn’t seem to be a huge hole on offense, it always helps to continue to get better.
Prediction: With limited production coming from the DH spot, the Indians swing a deal with Colorado for veteran hitter Michael Cuddyer. A free agent at the end of the 2014 season, the right-handed slugger and reining 2013 N.L. batting champ gives the Cleveland lineup the jolt they need for a second half push toward October.
8. Chisenhall plays more games at third
It arguably became the biggest storyline out of big league camp this spring.
Santana to start at third base over Lonnie Chisenhall? Yes, Santana came up as a former third baseman with the L.A. Dodgers, but to think he has won the job outright already doesn't make sense.
While it gives Francona more versatility, Chisenhall will still be the primary starter at the hot corner to start the season. Both players have made two errors at third base in spring training action, and there's no question they will each see playing time there over the course of 162 games.
If The Chiz Kid continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, then that's when you may see a switch in starting roles at third base.
Prediction: Chisenhall plays more games at the hot corner than Santana, locking down the position for years to come.
9. Prospect Cody Anderson impacts big league club
Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor will make his big league debut in 2014, but will not make as big of an impact as another potential up and coming star in 23-year old flamethrower Cody Anderson.
Selected as the Tribe's 14th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Anderson is on a serious fast track to the big leagues. In two stints between Class-A Carolina and Double-A Akron last year, the 6-foot-4 Anderson went 9-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 26 games, compiling 40 walks and 122 strikeouts.
Awarded the 2013 Bob Feller Award, which is given to the organization's top pitching prospect, Anderson could take the same road to the majors as set-up man Cody Allen, as he looks to make a name for himself in 2014.
Prediction: Anderson is promoted to Cleveland and becomes the best pitcher for the Tribe in September.
It’s the road all 30 teams want, but only 10 will make it.
It was a small dose last year, but both the Tribe and its fans finally experienced what it was like to play October baseball in the City of Cleveland for the first time in six years.
And I have a strong feeling we won’t have to wait long to experience it once again.
Prediction: For the first time since 1999, the Indians will make the postseason in back-to-back seasons. This time it will be for more than one game and yes, more runs as well. How far will they go? That’s the beauty of October baseball, just get into the playoffs and anything can happen.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seems like you've a pipeline for the righteous chronic!
Gotta like a guy who's got the stones to go out there with his predicitons.
#9 is VERY bold. I can buy Anderson making some kind of impact...but the best pitcher on the staff in September? Provided he doesn't do that due to the rest of the staff being God-awful I will take it though.