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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
Blue Jays' Daniel Norris performs well in first start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:30 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris tossed a strong start in his first spring appearance on Thursday.

Norris is competing for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, and got off to a nice start. Norris allowed one hit and one walk over 1 2/3 innings. He struck out two during the outing. 

Norris said he was glad to be taking on a strong lineup his first time out, according to the Toronto Sun. "I liked the fact I was facing a good lineup. You have to bring your 'A' game" Norris said. While it wasn't a perfect outing, Norris was pleased with his stuff.

"I struggled a little with it (staying closed) in the first, but was much better in the second inning," said Norris. "Years back in spring training, I can remember my stuff not doing much."

The 21-year-old posted a 5.40 ERA over 6 2/3 innings in the majors last year. 


Pirates' Jeff Locke wants to remain with team if he doesn't start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:00 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke said he prefers to remain with the club even if he loses out on the fifth starter spot, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Locke is stuck in a battle with Vance Worley, but Worley is considered to have a leg up in the competition. Both players are out of options, and would be considered for the bullpen if they lose out on the rotation spot. While a trade is possible, Locke said he would rather remain in Pittsburgh.

"If it comes to them saying, 'Would you rather be a starting pitcher on (another) team or be a (reliever) on the Pirates?' this is where I'd want to be," Locke said. "This is where my loyalty sits. This is the team I want to win with. It's never going to be about anything more than that."

The 27-year-old Locke posted a 3.91 ERA over 131 1/3 innings last year. 


Orioles' Chris Davis goes yard on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:51 pm ET) Orioles infielder Chris Davis crushed a home run on Thursday against the Blue Jays. 

Davis, who is coming off a poor season, is attempting to get back to his previous level of performance. His ability to hit for power has never been a question, and he proved that again on Thursday. With two men on, Davis took a fastball out to right center for a three-run shot in the third inning. 

Manager Buck Showalter said Davis' hard work has paid off thus far. "He's been working real hard," Showalter said. "Get a little return on it. Nothing wind-aided tonight, thick air. He had to square it up."

The 28-year-old Davis hit .196/.300/.404 over 450 at-bats last year. 


Rays' Alex Colome still not in camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:26 pm ET) Rays pitcher Alex Colome still hasn't reported to camp due to a visa issue, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Colome was a candidate for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, at least until Matt Moore was able to return from Tommy John surgery. He's been able to put in work at the club's facility in the Domincan Republic, and manager Kevin Cash doesn't want to rule him out just yet. 

"Colome is getting his work in. We know that. We’ve had communication on that," Cash said. "As I’ve said the whole time, we’d like to have him here. I don’t think it’s fair to punish a guy for being held up, so he’s still very much a factor."

Colome, 26, posted a 2.66 ERA over 23 2/3 innings last year. 


Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia 'I knew I was back to normal'
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:21 pm ET) Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia is over last season's wrist injury, according to the Boston Herald

Pedroia got to prove that on Thursday, going 3 for 3 with a grand slam. Following the game, Pedroia told the media that his performance proves he's feeling good right now. "I knew I was back to normal in the offseason," he said. "Obviously I told you guys that, but you can only believe me if you see it. So there you go." 

The 31-year-old hit .278/.337/.376 over 551 at-bats last year. 


Mets' Juan Lagares taking it easy with his elbow
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:14 pm ET) Mets outfielder Juan Lagares is taking it easy with his elbow thus far, according to MLB.com.

Lagares missed the final two weeks of 2014 due to an elbow injury, but said he doing well now. "I feel great right now," Lagares said. "I feel 100 percent. I just want to take it easy -- not easy, but I don't want to throw everything I've got right now."

Lagares has had opportunities to throw out some base-runners this spring, but has erred on the side of caution. Manager Terry Collins said he's completely fine with that strategy. 

"He did it the right way and I'm real proud of him," Collins said. "He could have sent a message to everybody -- 'Look, I'm fine.' And he was smart enough to say, 'I'll worry about it in April.'"

Lagares, 25, hit .281/.321/.382 over 416 at-bats last year. 


Tolleson, Feliz, Scheppers likely to make Rangers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:09 pm ET) The Rangers are likely to put Shawn Tolleson, Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers in the bullpen this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Manager Jeff Banister implied that all three players would make the team out of camp. That's not necessarily a surprise for Tolleson, who led the team in relief appearances last year, but both Feliz and Scheppers had been mentioned as fringe candidates thus far. 


Padres' Wil Myers hoping to prove the doubters wrong
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:43 pm ET) Padres outfielder Wil Myers is hoping he can prove the doubters wrong this season, according to MLB.com.

Myers not only has a lot to prove at the plate, but he also wants to show that he can handle his new defensive position. "Going into this year, I have a lot of doubters out there. I not only want to prove them wrong but prove to myself that I can play a good center field," Myers said.

He continued, "I've played a lot there in the minor leagues. And hearing everyone say, 'I don't think he can play center field,' is going to motivate me to play a great center field."

Manager Bud Black seems encouraged by Myers' defensive play thus far. "He's looking good, good angles, good routes, good hands, athletic," Black said. "His speed is fine. His strides look good tracking fly balls. He's an athletic guy. From what we've seen so far [it's been] all good."

The 24-year-old hit .222/.294/.320 over 325 at-bats last season. 


Red Sox SP Kelly on spring debut: 'I know what I need to work on'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:04 pm ET) Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly surrendered four earned runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings in his spring debut Thursday, striking out two and walking none.

"Stuff wasn't as crisp as it usually is," Kelly said after his outing. "88 mile fastball, don't think I've done that since I was 13. I know what I need to work on. ... I threw 44 pitches, will look to build up to 100 pitches. I'm not going to beat myself up. Will watch some video, work on things. ... Four-seam not as crisp as I would like. Just not there yet, but that will come. I threw all four pitches today, that's a plus."

Kelly said during the offseason that he planned on winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. He went 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA and 66:42 K:BB ratio in 96 1/3 innings between the Cardinals and Red Sox last season.


P Yoan Lopez to make debut for Diamondbacks on Saturday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Yoan Lopez will make his spring training debut this Saturday, according to MLB.com. 

The 21-year-old Cuban right-hander is competing for a spot in Arizona's rotation this spring. Lopez signed a deal that included a signing bonus of over $8 million. 


 
 
 
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