Cleveland Indians ranked fourth in preseason ESPN rankings


Over the course of the past two seasons, the Cleveland Indians have quietly won 177 games – finishing within five games of the first-place Detroit Tigers in both 2013 and 2014. And for their accomplishments, at least one national baseball writer is a believer in the Tribe.

Led by American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the Indians received the number four overall ranking by ESPN columnist David Schoenfield last week – trailing only the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates in the rankings.

And, to be blunt, it’s about time Terry Francona‘s club got some recognition.

The Indians’ depth goes a lot further than Kluber, who broke out in a big way last season, compiling an 18-9 record across 34 starts spanning 235 2/3 innings of work. In that large workload, the right-hander posted a 2.44 earned run average, 2.35 FIP and 1.095 WHIP – all career-bests. Behind him, Cleveland has plenty of other quality options in the starting rotation that should not be overlooked.

The likes of Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer – a former top prospect – and Carlos Carrasco are among the top options to line up behind Kluber in 2015. Last season, the Indians’ pitching staff had a 3.56 earned run average – which ranked near the middle of the pack amongst the 30 big league clubs – while also putting together 15 shutouts, which came in as the fourth-best tally in the American League.

Not only does the team have plenty of promise in the pitching ranks, but Cleveland boasts the man who finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in outfielder Michael Brantley.

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The 27-year-old Brantley played in all but six games for the Indians last year, hitting a career-high 20 home runs and driving in 97 runs. He also eclipsed 200 base hits for the first time in his big league career, while driving a staggering 45 doubles, as well. Schoenfield lists Brantley as the team’s top candidate to take a step backwards this season, offering this explanation:

"Michael Brantley hit .317/.385/.506 and finished third in the MVP voting. While I’m believing in most of the power uptick, he was a .277 hitter entering the season. He should be good again, but I would expect something closer to a 5-WAR season than a 7-WAR one."

Even a 5-WAR campaign would be a solid contribution from Brantley and Brandon Moss Ready To Put Oakland, Injury Behind Him” href=””>with new addition Brandon Moss in the mix, it’s not hard to imagine the team’s offense picking up a bit from recent years, when it was a major concern at times.

With the likes of Francisco Lindor nearing the big leagues and an already loaded, albeit underrated, crop of talent in the clubhouse in Cleveland, the Indians are poised to make a lot of noise in 2015. The team may not have made the most noise this offseason, but don’t be surprised if it’s the Cleveland Indians, not the rebuilt Chicago White Sox, that knock Detroit from atop the American League Central.

Next: Indians considering former White Sox Dayan Viciedo