It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.
Projection systems are usually pretty great when it comes to veterans. The players have typically accumulated a fair amount of stats during their career, making it easier to peg their expected value for the upcoming season. The Indians will open the season with three veterans in the outfield. The Indians outfield is incredibly difficult to project.
There are reasons for that, of course. One of their players is coming off what looks to be an exceptional career year, another spent the entire second half injured and the third is hoping to reverse course after two disappointing years. There could be a lot to like in Cleveland’s outfield, but there are also plenty of questions.
For those of you making your own fantasy rankings this season, Brantley likely presents the first major challenge. In many leagues, he was the first or second best outfielder, and easily a top-five asset. That means he’s sure to go in the top-20 in 2015. At the same time, Brantley is the easiest regression candidate of that group of players. Can Brantley still be a top option if that regression takes place?
There are a few things we can confidently say about the 27-year-old. He should hit for a strong average (at worst .285), walks enough and should add close to 20 steals. He’s shown those skills over his entire career. The difference last season was pop. Brantley doubled his previous home run total, and saw his HR/FB double as well. While a 12.7 percent HR/FB rate isn’t even that high, the fact that Brantley doubled his previous high is an issue. Brantley is a big-time line drive hitter, hence the strong averages. While that’s great, it means that he’s not a fly ball guy. Brantley posted a 28.2 percent fly ball rate last year. That figure was actually the lowest fly ball rate of any player to hit 20 homers. Of those 20 home runs, 19 came on pulled balls. That’s not necessarily a dig at Brantley, but it does show that he doesn’t have a ton of power to the opposite field or to center. Few players still have that ability, but it’s slightly more concerning when it comes from a guy who suddenly exploded a season ago.
Alright, so, what to do? Expecting regression in power is a must. The level at which Brantley regresses will likely determine his value. If he drops to 15 homers, he’ll still be incredibly valuable in most leagues. If he falls back to 10, he starts to look more like a 6-7 rounder, not an easy second-round pick. How much can you bet on him retaining the power breakout?
This isn’t what Cleveland expected. Injuries, and age, have limited Bourn’s numbers the past two years. Spring training is always the most optimistic time of year, and there are already articles detailing how Bourn is hoping to get back to his base-stealing ways in 2015. That’s admirable and all, but he’s now 32, and swiped 10 bags last year. Health has been a major issue, as Bourn has dealt with hamstring issues in each of the last two years. Avoiding those nicks would help, but, even then, it’s unclear how much value Bourn will get out of his legs now. He doesn’t do enough in other areas to have a ton of fantasy value if he steals 20 bases. He would need to jump it up to at least 30-40 in order to re-establish himself as a useful outfielder in shallow leagues. He’s probably not going to be selected in mixed leagues, so owners should be able to judge his health before they decide to strike.
A strong first half was derailed by a hip injury. Moss hit a strong .268/.349/.530, with 21 home runs, over his first 364 plate appearance, but saw those numbers fall to .173/.310/.274, with four homers, in the second half. Obviously, Moss’ health is crucial coming into the year. On top of that, Progressive Field plays surprisingly friendly to left-handed pop. O.Co Coliseum, Moss’ old park, had an 82 park factor for left-handed power. Progressive Field has a 112 park factor. That’s pretty significant. Moss has flaws, of course. He’s not going to hit higher than .260, and he’ll strike out a ton. Oh, and he probably won’t hit lefties all that well. Still, his production against right-handers is good enough to make him a useful option later in drafts. He’s one of the few players you can get late who can legitimately hit 30 home runs. Monitor his health during the spring, and strike if things look good.
There’s just not a lot to see here. Murphy is the type of player who looks pretty decent in limited opportunities, but is stretched when asked to play every day. He’s seen an increase in playing time as Bourn has been hurt, and hasn’t run away with those chances.
Raburn fell back to Earth after a fluky 2013. Last year’s numbers should improve, but they were closer to his career-averages. There’s no reason to think he’ll get back to whatever he showed in 2013. He’s not a fantasy target even if he lucks into a full-time job.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.