Friday 5: MVP candidates for the Cleveland Indians in 2015

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Although Corey Kluber won the Cy Young Award and Michael Brantley was an MVP candidate, the Cleveland Indians’ offense and defense were shockingly average in 2014.

The Tribe was dealt a handful of injuries to key players, including Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, and received underwhelming efforts from Michael Bourn and Carlos Santana. Cleveland was two games under .500 on Aug. 8 before finishing the season on a 28-18 run, posting 85 wins in their second straight winning season.

If the Indians have any chance to fulfill their potential in 2015, they will need quality efforts from a number of key players. Below is a list of players who could become the team’s MVP to help manager Terry Francona and the Indians win their first division title since 2007:

Michael Brantley

Michael Brantley is certainly the most obvious choice here, as he put together one of the best seasons by any player in the American League last season.

Dr. Smooth was remarkably consistent, hitting .327 and doubling his career-best home run total. Brantley clubbed 45 doubles and drove home 97 RBIs on the season, all while becoming one of the most feared hitters in the league with runners on base. Despite putting up career numbers, Brantley’s season should not be considered a fluke. While starting the season with a .245 average in April, the Tribe’s quiet outfielder never hit below .286 in any month and put together his most impressive month in the last 26 games of the season.

His 2014 season may be difficult to repeat, but Brantley is certainly primed for another steady campaign this season. Expect another .300-plus season with the potential to approach the 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases mark.

Jason Kipnis

Which Jason Kipnis will manager Terry Francona get this season?

If it is the 2013 version of his scrappy second baseman, the Tribe could be in for another wild ride in 2015.

Fighting through a sore oblique for much of last season, Kipnis lost ground in his progression. He hit just .240 with only six homeruns and 41 RBIs. He stole 22 bases, but was not nearly the same threat as he was in each of the previous two seasons.

But much of that regression has been attributed to the early-season oblique injury.

Now completely healthy – except the back injury that kept him out of Thursday’s lineup – Kipnis says he looks and feels like his old self:

"I’m finally healthy again. My whole body is in better shape right now and you’re slowly getting your timing back, the more ABs you get. So you’re starting to see better swings."

A staple of his offensive approach, Kipnis has been driving the ball to opposite field this spring. He is due for significant improvement from rather pedestrian 2014 numbers and, when healthy, is always a candidate to reach the 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases mark.

Should he reach that plateau, Cleveland could be looking at both its Most Improved Player and its team MVP.

Carlos Santana

Mar 10, 2015; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Santana has the type of power that can change the Indians’ entire season.

Making the move from catcher to third base – and then to first base – in 2015, Santana’s offensive game took a major hit in the first half of last season. He hit just .207 in the first 84 games, striking out 84 times in 299 at-bats. Put simply, Santana was abysmal to watch out of the four-hole through the first half of last season.

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Then something clicked just before the All-Star break.

Santana came out on fire, hitting .308 and .313 with a combined 14 of his 27 home runs in June and July. He cut his second-half strikeout total in half and improved his post-All-Star break average by more than 50 points.

By season’s end, Santana had improved his average to .231 and drove in 85 RBIs. He led the league in walks (113) while posting a .365 on-base percentage – all despite having little protection behind him in the batting order.

With Moss slated to hit behind Santana, the switch-hitting Dominican should see more pitches to hit this season. If that holds true, Santana could be on deck for a monstrous season.

Corey Kluber

As the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber certainly deserves a spot on this list. He will lead a youthful group of arms in 2015, serving as the staff ace for what is projected to be one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball.

Pitchers really have to be exceptional to earn MVP honors, as their impact is only felt every five days. That is the sole reason Kluber doesn’t rank higher on this list.

Kluber was an unstoppable force during his breakout 2014 campaign. The Alabama native tallied 18 wins in 34 starts for the Tribe, including three complete games, over 235.2 innings pitched. It was, by far, the most active season of Kluber’s career, but his 28-year-old arm should be mature enough to handle another big load this season.

Like Brantley, Kluber’s season will be tough to replicate. Still, expect him to lead the Indians’ young staff with 17-19 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA again in 2015.

Yan Gomes

Once the throw-in piece to the trade that brought Mike Aviles to Cleveland, Yan Gomes has quickly morphed into one of the best young catchers in the league.

Jul 13, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Nick Swisher (left) watches as catcher Yan Gomes (10) celebrates his two-run home run in the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout half-season campaign in 2013, Gomes earned himself a promotion from the “Goon Squad” last season. The Brazil-native responded by hitting .278 over 135 games. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 74 RBIs hitting in various spots in Francona’s lineup.

Now slated to hit behind Santana and Moss, Gomes should have a great opportunity with runners on base, where he excelled last season. While his strikeout numbers (120) are a little alarming compared to his walks (24), Gomes has a knack for hitting balls hard.

Defensively, Gomes uncharacteristically struggled behind the dish. Though he threw out 31 of 66 potential base stealers, Gomes committed 14 errors after committing just three the season prior.

If Gomes continues to hit the ball hard and reignites his defensive prowess, Cleveland could be trotting out the league’s most dynamic catcher. A Gold Glove is certainly in sight.

Could he double up and become the Tribe’s MVP?

Use the comments section below to tell us who your MVP selection is this season.

Next: 5 Prospects to Watch in 2015

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