Having a solid pitching staff has become an expectation for Cleveland Indians fans.
Stars like Francisco Lindor may leave town, but having a strong starting rotation and bullpen keeps the playoff hopes alive once again in 2021.
Shane Bieber is the only true star pitcher on the roster right now.
But there are so many young arms who have shown progress over the past few years.
They may not be the next Bieber, but they can end up being mainstays in Cleveland.
Let’s look at two pitchers in particular who could end up being pleasant surprises in 2021.
Starter: Aaron Civale
Aaron Civale, Beautiful Curveball…and Insta K Strut. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/noG42sDxsr
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 4, 2021
Aaron Civale is a former third-round draft pick of the Indians who made his debut in 2019.
He got 10 starts that year and followed it up with a full slate of 12 starts during the shortened 2020 season.
2021 is going to be, barring disaster, the first time Civale will go over 100 innings in his MLB career.
Projections may not be too favorable to Civale because of his 4.74 ERA last season.
However, having only 12 starts should put an asterisk next to that number.
He did raise his K/9 from 7.2 to 8.4 and only walked 16 batters in his 74 innings of work.
Civale now enters 2021 as the second or third starter in a rotation led by the reigning American League Cy Young winner.
The added year of experience and working alongside Bieber should provide a boost to the 25-year-old Civale.
He has posted a positive WAR in both of his MLB seasons and getting over the 2.0 mark should be more of an expectation than a surprise this year.
One thing that could help him this season is simple luck.
He gave up over one hit per inning pitched last year.
As baseball fans know, that number can drop drastically with better luck from year to year.
Improved effectiveness, more experience, and luck should mean Civale stands out as a legitimate number two option behind Bieber this season.
Reliever: James Karinchak
James Karinchak looks ready for the postseason 👀 pic.twitter.com/iwr2kijUZT
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 27, 2020
James Karinchak has all the makings of a dominant MLB closer.
He has the intensity of a wild man and wearing No. 99 proved he was up there on the “gets us” meter.
Now the 25-year-old needs to prove he can sustain himself over a full season.
Karinchak had limited action in 2019 and made 27 appearances in 2020, posting a 2.67 ERA.
The exciting stat was his mind-blowing 17.7 K/9 with 53 strikeouts in only 27 innings of work.
2021 is the year when the hard-throwing reliever can cement himself as the go-to option for Terry Francona late in games.
He enters the season in a competition with Emmanuel Clase for that closer role.
But the Indians may not even use one defined closer and could go by committee to start the season.
Karinchak’s ability to strike out batters at will could leave Francona no choice but to treat Karinchak as the only option when the game is on the line.
That may mean coming in before the ninth inning, as the game can just as easily be lost in the seventh or eighth.
Karinchak’s 2020 K/9 gave fans a glimpse of just how dominant he can be.
Keeping up his impressive pace will make him a fan favorite in 2021.