Cleveland Indians: five players to watch in 2019

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits a one run double off Kyle Gibson #44 of the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning at Progressive Field on August 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Twins 10-0. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits a one run double off Kyle Gibson #44 of the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning at Progressive Field on August 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Twins 10-0. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians season begins Thursday night and there are plenty of new faces. The team is filled with players to watch develop and grow in 2019 from game one to game 162.

The Cleveland Indians have many doubters after two swift first round exits in a row in 2017 and 2018. This 2019 team has a whole new look but the same expectations under Terry Francona and that is to win the central division yet again.

The issues the team will have doing so are few and far between. They have a top rotation on all of baseball, multiple stars like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez and a veteran manager who has been to three and won two world series titles.

The players on this team are all looking to prove the doubters wrong and everyone has something to showcase in 2019. These next five players are the ones that have the most to watch for headed into the new season.

Shane Bieber

Bieber had an excellent rookie year in 2018 after getting consistent work around the middle of June and he did not look back. He put up some great starts for the tribe after taking over as the fifth arm in the rotation.

Bieber posted an 11-5 record in 19 starts with 118 strikeouts, 23 walks, 1.33 WHIP and a 4.55 ERA in 114 2/3 innings. He displayed great poise for only being 24 in his first major league action.

Fans shouldn’t load Bieber up with expectations as a fellow pitcher on the roster had a great start to his career only to fizzle out since then. Cody Anderson had a great 2015 and while his innings were less, he tallied a lower ERA and WHIP.

Bieber possesses more tools than Anderson does, however, and I believe he will prove that in 2019 while helping one of the best rotations in baseball keep the Indians competitive all season.

Jake Bauers

Bauers is a young guy the Indians gave up a bit to get in the offseason. In a three-team deal, the Indians parted with Edwin Encarnacion and Yandy Diaz to gain Bauers and Carlos Santana.

Yandy Diaz looked poised for a good bit of playing time in 2019 after proving he belonged in 2018. That will happen in Tampa now and the Indians are hoping Bauers show of promise in Tampa can only continue in Cleveland.

Bauers was brought to the majors in June and remained with the club the rest of the season. In Tampa, he started off hot in June slashing .267/409/.493 with a .902 OPS. He hit 11 extra base hits (seven 2B, two 3B, two HR) and knocked in seven runs.

His hot start cooled off and by the end of the year, he slashed just .201/.316/.384 with a .700 OPS. These numbers are not great at all as he was just above the Mendoza line but he did show some pop.

He hit 11 home runs in 388 at-bats and drove in 48 runs in that span. Per Baseball-Reference, his 48 RBIs in 388 plate appearances is higher than the average of MLB player with 388 plate appearances (43).

He also hit .262/.324/.492 with four homers and 19 RBIs in high leverage situations. This shows he has a good bat when it matters and he has the ability to drive in runs.

Bauers could be moved all around the field from first to the outfield to designated hitter this season. It will be worth watching if he grows into a reliable player for the tribe in 2019 and beyond.

Greg Allen

Greg Allen is a speed demon with the ability to affect the base path when he reaches. He displayed that in 2018 tallying 21 stolen bases on the year which ranked 10th best in the American League.

Allen slashed .257/.310/.343 with a .654 OPS in 2018. Not great but not downright awful either. He is still a young developmental outfielder but he now has major league experience and needs to start showing good progression.

With Zimmer on the injured list for the time being, Allen needs to take advantage of the opportunities he is given. He had a great spring hitting .354/.404/.563 with .966 OPs in just 48 at-bats.

Leonys Martin will be the center fielder most nights but Allen can sneak in and when he does he needs to capitalize and show he belongs as a permanent fixture in the outfield. When a player is very good, they have to find a way to keep them on the field and make them a spot in the lineup.

Allen’s defense is not as good as Zimmer’s but he is still a good defensive player. He has an arm and the speed to patrol center. 2019 will be a big test for him as he will have every chance to capitalize and force the club’s hand by making him an everyday player.

Jason Kipnis

Kipnis has earned a lot of undue hate from the fan base recently and it shouldn’t be that way. He has battled injuries the last two seasons and his numbers suffered mightily.

Kipnis has likely only 2019 left with the Indians as he is set to make $14.5 million this season. His contract has a $16.5 million club option that will, almost certainly, be declined next offseason.

Kipnis blew up in 2015 and 2016 before his ugly play began. Everyone remembers his 51 hit month of May during the 2015 season where he hit .429. Everyone thought he was blossoming into a perennial all-star player and rightfully so.

He has been anything but an all-star since the start of 2017 but injuries played a big part. Sadly he will start 2019 on the injured list with a calf problem.

His 2018 was ugly, although less ugly than his 2017 season. He did shine in one category though which was RISP where he hit .292/.367/.538 with eight homers and 59 RBIs.

If Kipnis can put the injury behind him when he comes of the IL, he can build on a strong finish to 2018 for him and help himself earn one more contract after the season whether it be with Cleveland or another team.

Roberto Perez

Perez is going to be the man in 2019 now that Yan Gomes was dealt to Washington. His defense is better than Gomes, despite a lackluster 2018 for him.

Perez had the worst hitting performance of his entire career in 2018 and that cannot happen again. After the resurgence of Yan Gomes bat, Perez was thought to be the one on the hot seat but Gomes rode off to Washington and left us saddened.

Perez was a key player in the 2016 postseason run and had a solid world series. Despite his offensive struggles in 2017 he also did well in the ALDS against the Yankees.

2018’s offensive production is something Perez knows cannot happen again now that he will man the backstop most nights for this rotation. Kevin Plawecki looks to start the year as the backup catcher so there won’t be much platooning going on as had happened in 2018 with Gomes and Perez.

Roberto has the defense to be a top 10 catcher but the offense is lagging way behind. If he can even hit in the .230 range, that is better and something I will gladly take. I am glad he has the defense as I believe a catcher’s defense is the most important tool and offense from the position is just a bonus.

Next. How interleague play can affect the Tribe in 2019. dark

There are plenty of players that have something to prove in 2018, probably more than those who don’t need to prove anything. The Indians will need these guys to step up and show improvement to push this team to October and past the first round for the first time since 2016.