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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Cleveland Indians

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Though the Indians finished with a sub-.500 record for the third straight season in 2011, they were in contention right up until September, taking a big step forward for an organization thought to be in rebuilding mode.

Of course, that's kind of the problem. The Indians' out-of-nowhere breakthrough relied on so many unlikely performances from so many unlikely sources that the actual extent of the team's progress is difficult to gauge.

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Justin Masterson emerged as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Josh Tomlin continued to get by on some of the league's most hittable stuff. Asdrubal Cabrera somehow became a power hitter. And a collection of no-name relievers came together to produce the AL's fifth-best bullpen ERA.

Then again, for all that went right, about as much went wrong. Grady Sizemore's return from knee surgery ended in disappointment. Shin-Soo Choo was hardly a factor, battling physical and mental demons all year. Matt LaPorta continued to wallow in mediocrity. And the king of the bullpen, closer Chris Perez, wasn't nearly as dominant as he has shown he can be.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, though, came in the form of midseason acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez, who continued his career-worst performance even with his exodus from Colorado in exchange for top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Those two represented about all the farm system had left, which means the Indians mortgaged their future for a division title that never came.

So now they're handcuffed, lacking the resources to improve on a roster full of question marks. They did add Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey to the starting rotation this offseason, but mostly to counteract the loss of Fausto Carmona -- or Robert Hernandez Heredia, rather -- whose availability is in question until he resolves his identity issue. They also signed veteran Casey Kotchman as competition for LaPorta, but he isn't exactly a thumper at first base.

Apart from such patch-up jobs and cosmetic changes that are sure to come up during the season, you shouldn't expect to see much turnover on the Indians roster in 2012. They decided on their nucleus last year. Now, let's see where it takes them.

Bounce-back player ... Shin-Soo Choo, OF

After back-to-back .300-20-80-80-20 seasons, Choo's 2011 was clearly a step in the wrong direction. But it was also unusually contentious. His DUI arrest on May 2 led to a backlash in his native South Korea that he admitted became a distraction, and the numbers back it up. He hit .241 with one home run from that point until June 24, when he broke his thumb. The two months he missed with the injury gave him a chance to regroup, and when he returned on Aug. 12, he was a different player, hitting .348 with three homers in 46 at-bats before going down with another injury -- this time a strained oblique -- that effectively ended his season. Clearly, Choo's 2011 was marred by bad decisions and even worse timing, but his performance in August was encouraging enough that he deserves a free pass. He's only 29, after all. A swift decline wouldn't make sense, given his track record. You should feel confident drafting Choo as your second outfielder, as usual.

Bust ... Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

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OK, so Cabrera was the surprise of 2011, emerging off the waiver wire to contribute 25 homers and 94 RBI at the weakest position in Fantasy. It was fun, sure. But the danger for Fantasy owners is when that once-in-a-lifetime season becomes the new expectation. Not only were Cabrera's 25 homers a complete departure from his established track record, but they came with an elevated fly ball rate that began to wreak havoc on his batting average in the second half, when he presumably became homer-conscious. He hit only .244 after the All-Star break, and his .411 slugging percentage during that stretch was actually lower than the one he put together during a six-homer 2009. If he continues to force the issue, he could turn out like Aaron Hill. Then again, if he reverts to being more of a line-drive hitter, he'll have to settle for fewer homers. Either way would cause Cabrera to take a step back in Fantasy, perhaps to the Erick Aybar-Derek Jeter class of shortstops, so proceed with caution.

Sleeper ... Jason Kipnis, 2B

Granted, Kipnis' first couple weeks on the job were a little too good to be true. He hit six homers in the span of 11 days before his deal with the devil ran out, landing him on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury. But just because he's not really a 40-homer threat doesn't mean the whole thing was a sham. He also had five steals during his time in the majors, demonstrating a combination of power and speed normally associated with the best of the best second basemen, such as Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. And the attributes he was most known for in the minors -- his .300-plus batting average and high walk rate -- weren't even on display during his 136 at-bat trial. Kipnis is as well-rounded of an offensive contributor as you'll find among middle infielders, and even with his stellar debut, he has managed to remain under the radar in Fantasy. Don't be surprised if he's a top-10 second baseman by season's end.

2012 Cleveland Indians Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Michael Brantley LF 1 Ubaldo Jimenez RH
2 Asdrubal Cabrera SS 2 Justin Masterson RH
3 Shin-Soo Choo RF 3 Derek Lowe RH
4 Carlos Santana C 4 Josh Tomlin RH
5 Travis Hafner DH 5 Kevin Slowey RH
6 Grady Sizemore CF Alt Fausto Carmona RH
7 Jason Kipnis 2B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Casey Kotchman 1B CL Chris Perez RH
9 Lonnie Chisenhall 3B SU Vinnie Pestano RH
Top bench options RP Tony Sipp LH
R Jack Hannahan 3B RP Joe Smith RH
R Matt LaPorta 1B RP Rafael Perez LH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Francisco Lindor 18 SS Class A Class A
Lindor isn't close to the majors, but he might be the only impact player in the Indians' minor-league system. He's worth a long-term look if you're aiming for a Starlin Castro type.
2 Cord Phelps 25 2B Majors Triple-A
Phelps had solid minor-league numbers last year, but he's clearly an inferior hitter to Kipnis. He'll need a break just to get a look as a utility man in 2012.
3 Zach McAllister 24 SP Majors Triple-A
The former Yankees farmhand had an up-and-down major-league showing last year. He has a low ceiling, but he could factor in the rotation if Lowe or Slowey doesn't pan out.
4 Nick Hagadone 26 RP Majors Majors
Of the Indians' many reliever prospects, Hagadone stands out as one with closer-type stuff. But even if he makes the roster, he has a few players ahead of him for that role.
5 Dillon Howard 19 SP DNP -- signed late Class A
Howard stands out as the Indians' top pitching prospect and a potential frontline starter, but at age 19, a lot could go wrong for him still. He's a long-term option only.
Best of the rest: Thomas Neal, OF; Chen-Chang Lee, RP; Austin Adams, SP; Scott Barnes, SP; Chun Chen, C; Giovanni Soto, SP; Corey Kluber, SP; Danny Salazar, SP; and Bryce Stowell, RP.

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Player News
Paco Rodriguez expected back after roster expansion
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez, on the disabled list with a strained teres major muscle, has been limited to less than max effort throwing so far as he continues to recover. According to the Orange County Register, he is not expected to return to the majors before Sept. 1 roster expansion. 

Chris Perez does not expect to be 100 percent
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:51 am ET) Though he expects to be in the majors when rosters expand Sept. 1, Dodgers reliever Chris Perez admitted to the Orange County Register Friday his ankle is still not 100-percent healthy.

"It's serviceable," Perez said. "I feel good. I'm still trying to build up the strength in it."

Perez has a 5.03 ERA in the majors this season, and is trying to work his way back from bone spurs in his ankle. He does not expect to undergo surgery to remove them, so he will have to manage the pain. He is currently on a rehab assignment at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he will make one more appearance next Friday. 


Logan Watkins starting Friday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:38 am ET) Cubs infielder Logan Watkins is in the starting lineup Friday against the Orioles, one day after being called up from Triple-A. This will be his first start of the season and just sixth in his career. 

Adam Eaton could return shortly after beginning assignment
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:13 am ET) White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton is set to begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte this weekend, and could be back in the majors soon after, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Eaton, who has been out two weeks with a strained right oblique, could be back from the disabled list as early as Tuesday, when the team opens a series against the Indians. 


Brian Schlitter begins rookie-level rehab
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:36 am ET) Cubs pitcher Brian Schlitter began his rehab assignment with a scoreless inning for the Arizona League Cubs Thursday, as he continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury. Schlitter has been out since Aug. 10 due to inflammation in his shoulder, and it is not clear when he is expected back. 

Blake Parker shuttled back to Triple-A
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Cubs pitcher Blake Parker was sent right back down to Triple-A Iowa following the conclusion of the team's doubleheader, for which he served as the 26th man.

Parker appeared in Thursday's game, allowing two hits and striking out two batters over one scoreless inning of relief. It lowered his season ERA to 6.08 in 13 1/3 innings. 


Clayton Kershaw goes eight strong for win No. 15
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw had a no-hitter going against the Padres until the sixth inning. The ace surrendered his first hit to opposing starter Tyson Ross.

Kershaw went eight innings strong for the win at home on Thursday, improving to 15-3 on the year. The southpaw permitted one run on three hits and two walks while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory. Of his 103 pitches, 69 were strikes. He improved to 15-3 on the year, matching Johnny Cueto, Wily Peralta and Adam Wainwright for the major-league lead in victories. 

Over his last three starts covering 25 innings, Kershaw has allowed five earned runs. He has gone eight-plus innings in seven of his last nine starts. He owns a 1.82 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP over 21 starts (153 1/3 innings). He will make his next start Wednesday at Arizona.

Kenley Jansen slams door shut on Padres
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:07 am ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out two and worked past a walk in a scoreless ninth inning for the save Thursday night at home against the Padres. Jansen has converted 36 of 40 save chances, with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings of relief.

Tyson Ross goes the distance in losing effort
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:59 am ET) Padres pitcher Tyson Ross tossed a complete game but took a tough-luck loss to the Dodgers Thursday night, dropping to 11-12 on the season. The right-hander permitted two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out eight over eight innings of a 2-1 defeat.

Ross is 0-4 with a 2.67 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 27 innings pitched against the Dodgers this season. The offense has only backed him with two runs over that span. He'll look to bounced Tuesday at home against Milwaukee.

Travis Wood suffers 11th loss of the season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:53 am ET) Cubs pitcher Travis Wood took the loss Thursday night at home against the Giants, dropping to 7-11 on the season. The left-hander permitted four runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out six over six innings of a 5-3 defeat.

Over his last two starts covering 11 1/3 innings, Wood has allowed seven earned runs. He owns a 4.91 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP over 26 starts (150 1/3 innings). He will look to bounce back Wednesday in Cincinnati.

 
 
 
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