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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Cleveland Indians

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The Indians' last playoff appearance was in 2007, but it feels much longer than that.

That's what happens when a rebuilding project shows no clear signs of progress, condemning a team to what should be another 90-loss season ... and another one after that.

The problems begin with the starting rotation. The Indians have wasted so much time developing soft-tossing lefties that they have yet to find anyone who can, you know, get people out. Sure, Fausto Carmona was an All-Star last year -- their only representative, actually -- but at a time when frontline pitching is becoming more and more plentiful across the league, his 1.31 WHIP and 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings don't hold a candle to the competition.

Maybe Justin Masterson can finally take a step forward. Maybe Carlos Carrasco can build off the progress he made late last year. Maybe top prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz will coast through the minors and save the day sooner than anyone expected. Maybe.

But even if one or two of those things happen, the Indians will still be a step or two behind the rest of the league.

They do have a little more hope on offense. Five-category stud Shin-Soo Choo and slugging catcher Carlos Santana are both early-rounders in Fantasy. If ex-superstar Grady Sizemore can complete his return from microfracture surgery and regain the form we haven't seen from him since 2008, the Indians will have a halfway respectable middle of the order.

But again, the hope is more in tomorrow than today. It's in prospects like Lonnie Chisenhall, who should eventually bump Jayson Nix from third base, Jason Kipnis, who's doing his best to convert to second base, and Nick Weglarz, whose high walk rate could make him an OPS monster. All three could arrive this year, but none is enough of a surefire, can't-miss prospect to recommend for mixed leagues at this stage of the game.

And so the wait continues.

Breakout ... Carlos Santana, C

Rarely do 150 at-bats carry so much weight for a player, but Santana was so productive at such a position of need that his brief debut last year should give you all the confidence you need to draft him as a high-end option. You know how impressive Buster Posey was last year, beating out Jason Heyward for NL Rookie of the Year honors even though he had two fewer months of production? Well, Santana was matching him stroke for stroke before hurting his knee in August. He actually finished with the higher OPS of the two, and it's not like it was a surprise given his minor-league track record. His unprecedented strike-zone judgment (seriously, who walks more than he strikes out as a rookie, especially among catchers?) should make him a stud even if he doesn't quite hit .300. The fact he's not considered a real risk in Fantasy even coming off knee surgery shows just how much upside he has.

Bust ... Grady Sizemore, OF

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Sizemore might be the hardest player to assess in Fantasy this year. He could just as easily be a sleeper as a former first-rounder coming off two injury-plagued seasons, the last one ending in mid-May. But on the tightrope walk between the two extremes, he's leaning the wrong way. Players have had success with microfracture surgery in the NBA, but it's relatively untested in baseball. And for a player whose game depends so much on speed, the knee procedure could be the thread that unravels everything. Even if Sizemore is able to come back strong, even if he plays every day and provides his usual power, he's unlikely to regain his prior form. You can't expect him to steal 30 bases again, and without a significant contribution in that area, his shortcomings, such as his high strikeout rate and suspect batting average, become more pronounced. True, he'll only cost you a middle-round pick, but middle-round production might be the best-case scenario for him.

Sleeper ... Chris Perez, RP

OK, so Perez isn't exactly a nobody in Fantasy. He'll get drafted in every league, in fact. But most Fantasy owners don't seem to grasp just how impressive his breakthrough 2010 season was. From June 28 on, he posted a 0.53 ERA, striking out 37 batters in 34 innings. He allowed less than a hit every two innings during that stretch. A pitcher can't get any more effective than that. So why do Fantasy owners lump him with the David Aardsmas of the world when he's performing on the level of Mariano Rivera? True, he pitches for a bad team, but that hasn't stopped Joakim Soria from earning elite status in Fantasy and accumulating 35-plus saves every year. At a time when so many big-name closers -- from Francisco Rodriguez to Andrew Bailey to Jonathan Broxton -- have so many concerns, Perez is more valuable than anyone gives him credit for. He's a late-rounder who's almost sure to perform like a middle-rounder, if not better.

Cleveland Indians Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Grady Sizemore CF 1 Fausto Carmona RH
2 Asdrubal Cabrera SS 2 Justin Masterson RH
3 Shin-Soo Choo RF 3 Carlos Carrasco RH
4 Carlos Santana C 4 Mitch Talbot RH
5 Travis Hafner DH 5 Josh Tomlin RH
6 Matt LaPorta 1B Alt Jeanmar Gomez RH
7 Jayson Nix 3B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Jason Donald 2B CL Chris Perez RH
9 Michael Brantley LF SU Rafael Perez LH
Top bench options RP Jensen Lewis RH
R Austin Kearns OF RP Tony Sipp LH
R Luis Valbuena INF RP Joe Smith RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Lonnie Chisenhall 22 3B Double-A Triple-A
Maybe not a 30-homer guy but a complete enough hitter to matter in Fantasy. Likely starting by July.
2 Jason Kipnis 23 2B Double-A Triple-A
Converted outfielder still learning second base, but his bat should make him a Fantasy mainstay when he arrives.
3 Alex White 22 SP Double-A Triple-A
Ceiling still in question but doesn't need ace stuff to be Indians' best starter. Could arrive by midseason.
4 Nick Weglarz 23 OF Triple-A Triple-A
Power and patience could make him an OPS monster if glove doesn't stop him. Someone to watch this summer.
5 Drew Pomeranz 22 SP DNP -- unsigned Class A
First-rounder in 2010 has legitimate ace potential but needs to prove himself in minor leagues first.
Best of the rest: Jason Knapp, SP; Nick Hagadone, SP; Vinnie Pestano, RP; LeVon Washington, OF; Tony Wolters, SS; Joe Gardner, SP; Bryce Stowell, RP; Cord Phelps, 2B; Scott Barnes, SP; Zach Putnam, RP; Robert Bryson, RP; Josh Judy, RP; Ezequiel Carrera, OF; and Corey Kluber, SP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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