GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Corey Kluber knows what it is like to come out of nowhere. Two years ago, the pitcher went on an incredible run through the summer months, breezing through lineups, emerging as the Indians' rotation leader and eventually capturing the American League Cy Young Award.No one predicted Kluber's
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Corey Kluber knows what it is like to come out of nowhere. Two years ago, the pitcher went on an incredible run through the summer months, breezing through lineups, emerging as the Indians' rotation leader and eventually capturing the American League Cy Young Award.
No one predicted Kluber's ascension to ace status prior to that campaign.
With Opening Day approaching fast, MLB.com is making some fearless predictions for each team around the Majors. Here is one for the Indians: One of the Tribe's starters will win the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, and it won't be Kluber. This time around, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are poised to contend for the annual hardware.
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"Why not? They've got all the talent in the world," Kluber said. "I think that we feel good about everybody we're running out there on the pitching staff."
Kluber is scheduled to take the mound for the Indians in their April 5 season opener against the Red Sox at Progressive Field. Carrasco and Salazar will then fall in line as Cleveland's second and third starters, respectively, though they each could be the No. 1 for multiple teams. The starting staff will be rounded out with Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin to start the season.
Cleveland's starting staff is packed to the point that Trevor Bauer -- a presumed lock for a rotation job when Spring Training began -- will begin the season in the bullpen. The strength of the group overall is the primary reason that many projection systems think very highly of the Indians, who are believed to be legitimate contenders for a spot on the October stage.
Like the Mets a year ago, starting pitching will need to pave the Tribe's path to the playoffs.
"That's one of the exciting things for us, is the entirety of the group," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "Not just the six guys that we have at the Major League level, but the guys even that will start the season in Triple-A or the upper levels of our Minor League system."
"To have a group that is still young and should be ascending and getting better," he later added, "is one of the reasons why we're excited to be starting the season."
The front-end trio of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar rivals the other elite staffs around baseball.
Kluber turned in a breakout showing in '14 en route to the Cy Young Award and, while his win-loss record paints a deceving picture, the right-hander was still one of the game's top arms last season. In '15, Kluber went 9-16, but that ledger was impacted by continuously low run suppport. Kluber still logged 222 innings, struck out 245 batters and stood tall as the staff's clear leader.
Carrasco and Salazar also had strong showings last summer.
"They both had very good years last year," Antonetti said, "and our hope is that they can continue to build on that."
Carrasco won 14 games, piled up 183 2/3 innings, turned in a 3.63 ERA and struck out 216 batters. Salazar -- after opening the year in Triple-A -- also picked up 14 wins, collecting 195 strikeouts to go along with a 3.45 ERA in his 185 innings for Cleveland. Both right-handers light up the radar gun with their fastball and each feature a changeup that ranks as one of the best in baseball.
All the ingredients are there for Carrasco and Salazar to blossom even more in 2016.
One of those two could easily walk away with a Cy Young.
"Both of those guys, the sky's the limit," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "I think either one could win a Cy Young this year coming up. The thing Kluber had [when he won], that's always been him -- his personality, the way he worked -- that's always been him. The other two, we've had to guide into that direction and they're getting there.
"That's what it's going to take to win a Cy Young. You can have nasty stuff, but the guy that works the right way, has great routines, has the better chance to win a Cy Young."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.