We’re within a week from the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season and the Cleveland Indians are poised to contend for another playoff appearance and in order to do that, someone is likely going to have to breakout and have a season that no one is expecting to contribute in a big way.
Almost every season, one player seems to come out of the woodwork and puts together a season that gives the team something extra that wasn’t expected unless those within the organization knew it could happen if the player was given the opportunity. Whether it’s a rookie like Tyler Naquin in 2016 or a player that earns more playing time like Yan Gomes in 2013/14, any player can seize that moment and makes the most of it.
Here’s five Cleveland Indians that could have a breakout type season in 2020.
The 24-year-old shortstop has been in the organization since signing out of Taiwan in 2013 and has risen through the ranks during the last seven seasons before making his big league debut in June of 2019.
Chang played in 28 games batting .178 with one home run in 84 plate appearances. He entered the 2020 season on the team’s 40-man roster and would have likely started the season in Triple-A Columbus.
Since summer camp opened earlier this month, Chang has been crushing the ball when given the opportunity in intrasquad scrimmages at Progressive Field. He’s hit at least one home run off Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, the Indians’ top three arms in the pitching rotation.
With the expanded rosters, there’s a good chance Chang could make it in a utility role behind Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. His ability to play both shortstop as well as third base and the fact that he looks to be improving his power, Chang could be that extra bat the lineup needs down the stretch of this quick 60-game season.
Zimmer is not only one that could not only breakout but also make a comeback. The former first-round pick and top prospect’s promising career nearly came to a halt two seasons ago when he underwent shoulder surgery.
In 2017, he made an impact with his base stealing and his highlight catches in centerfield for the 101-win Indians but the bat wasn’t there as he had a .241 batting average and a .692 OPS. Zimmer came back at the end of last season after rehabbing his shoulder appearing in nine games but failed to get a hit in 13 at-bats.
He has come back to summer camp making a strong impression with his bat. This week he has hit four home runs including two off Mike Clevinger and one person told me that it appears that Zimmer fixed the placement of his hands in his stance and early on, it looks like it’s created a quicker and smoother swing.
A crowded outfield group will make decisions difficult for Terry Francona and company but the early takeaways from Zimmer would make one think he could have a role and if his bat can stay hot, Zimmer will get the opportunity over the likes of Jake Bauers or Greg Allen who are also in the outfield battle.
Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac
While all eyes are on the likes of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco when people look at the Cleveland Indians rotation, the depth is still strong despite the trade of Corey Kluber during the offseason.
Aaron Civale along with Zach Plesac made a favorable impression on the organization and the fan base during the 2019 season and both would appear to be tabbed as the fourth and fifth guys in the rotation heading into 2020.
Civale went 3-4 in ten starts while Plesac went 8-6 in 21 starts last season. Both pitchers showed solid control for rookies on a perennial playoff contender but Civale posted a better WHIP and held opponents to a lesser batting average. Plesac gave more quality starts with eight compared to Civale’s six.
Both pitchers along with Bieber were all selected in the 2016 Draft and all three could be the future of the rotation moving forward with Carrasco entering his mid-30s and Clevinger hitting 30 later this year.
The pressure shouldn’t be as strong on the duo as they enter 2020 because of the shorter schedule and having Clevinger and Carrasco 100% healthy entering the season. The lack of pressure could allow Civale and Plesac to lock in and perhaps shock some in the baseball world if they can show that the Indians were right in trading Kluber by putting together strong outings down the stretch and proving that Cleveland still will be contenders because of their strong depth in starting pitching.
Many were waiting last season for “The Assassin” to make his major league debut because Bobby Bradley was crushing the ball in Triple-A Columbus. Bradley hit 33 home runs last season for the Clippers and by mid-June, he was called up to the major leagues and on July 13, he finally showed his power to the rest of the major league.
That was the only home run Bradley hit in his short stint with the Indians appearing in just 15 games hitting .178 during that span. He was placed in the player pool and has appeared in some intrasquad games so far this summer but has been mostly at the alternate training site in Eastlake.
With Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes holding down first base and designated hitter, it would appear that Bradley won’t be on the opening day roster but Reyes has had some slip-ups so far this summer with failing to wear a mask at a 4th of July party and a reported back injury on a slide which made him miss a couple of days. If an injury were to flare up, it could be the next opportunity for the Assassin to strike.