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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
Yu Darvish: 'My elbow feels fine'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Speaking publicly for the first time since he was shut down late last season with right elbow inflammation, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish said he's feeling no ill effects now, reports MLB.com. Darvish, who's throwing off flat ground, is on track to begin throwing off a mound early next month.

"My elbow feels fine and I am able to throw on my throwing program," Darvish said, per the website.

Darvish has been working out in Texas during the offseason and said his training is "going well." General manager Jon Daniels said Darvish is "right on schedule."

"I think Darvish is very in tune with his body as much as anybody and knows how he's feeling," Daniels said. "He's very confident. Like any of these guys, until they're out there you're always going to have some reservation, but that's the worrywart in me. From all the information we have, I'm encouraged. He's basically been cleared to do just about everything."

Darvish's last start came Aug. 9 against Houston. He went 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 22 starts, tossing two complete games and one shutout.


Brewers reliever Jim Henderson throwing again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson, who had shoulder surgery last August, began throwing off a mound last week and will toss bullpen sessions this week, reports MLB.com. Henderson hopes to be 100 percent by Opening Day, the report added.

Henderson was limited to 14 appearances last season. He went 2-1 with a 7.15 ERA.


Ryan Braun says his thumb feels 'significantly better'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who underwent a thumb procedure last October, said his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Braun was plagued throughout last season by a nerve issue at the base of his thumb, the paper noted.

"Knock on wood, I feel great; it feels really good," Braun told reporters.

"Everything is going well. Regular offseason, regular routine. I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to see how it felt. So far, so good. It feels really good.

"I do everything I regularly do. I don't hit off live pitching but I take regular batting practice like we would during the season, and it feels good. I don't feel anything at all."

Added Braun: "I know it's significantly better than where it was this time last year, which I'm encouraged by. But as I told you guys the last time I saw everybody (at Thanksgiving) the real test will come in spring training, once we've played games for a couple of weeks and that everyday wear and tear. See how it recovers, see how it responds."


Stiff competition for fifth spot in Mariners' rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the Mariners' starting rotation, reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "The more competition, the better," Walker told the paper.

"It brings out the best of everyone who is fighting for the spot."

Walker posted a 1.96 ERA in six outings last September after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.


Report: Yankees decline reconciliation with Alex Rodriguez
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) After meeting with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air over his year-long suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees to set up a meeting, but was turned down, reports the New York Post.

Rodriguez requested to meet with the Yankees to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but was told to wait until spring training. Reports also surfaced that Rodriguez is looking noticeably thinner compared to recent seasons, a source told the New York Post.

Rodriguez is set to report to spring training Feb. 25.


Rockies' Boone Logan appears to be fully healthy
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said pitcher Boone Logan has completely recovered from elbow issues that ended his 2014 season, reports The Denver Post.

Boone struggled in 2014 and was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. He produced a 6.84 ERA over 25 innings.


Report: Yelich, Hechavarria turn down offers from Marlins
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) The Marlins are no longer discussing multiyear contracts with outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, reports the Miami Herald.

A significant gap between Yelich and the Marlins has caused contract talks on a long-term deal to stall. Hechavarria turned down the Marlins' multiyear contract because the offer was not significant enough. He can become a free agent after the 2018 season, while Yelich can become a free agent after 2019.


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin ready for bounce back 2015 season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a tough 2014 season. After injuring his shoulder in spring training, Chacin struggled in 11 starts, posting a 1-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He suffered right rotator cuff strain, which forced him to miss nearly half the season.

However, manager Walt Weiss is happy with Chacin's progress this offseason.

"He's doing great. He's been throwing and working out really hard. He's had a really good offseason," Weiss said to The Denver Post.

Teammate and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa thinks 2015 will be much kinder to Chacin.

"He surprised me a lot," De La Rosa said. "He was playing catch with me every day (in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his arm looks really good. His ball really had some life, and he's lost some weight. I think he's getting stronger. He's going to have a good year."


Report: Braves sign reliever David Carpenter
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) The Braves signed relief pitcher David Carpenter, reports Baseball America.

Carpenter spent the last three seasons pitching for the Angels. During his career, Carpenter has pitched 43 innings and produced a 5.23 ERA.


Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki wants to move past injury concerns
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has heard the rumors about being injury-prone and he said it only motivates him to play better, reports MLB.com.

Tulowitzki only appeared in 91 games during the 2014 season and said his main goal for 2015 is to stay on the field.

"I've heard that I'm injury-prone. I've heard that I'm getting older. I like it," he said. "That stuff fuels me. It makes my workouts better. It makes me want it that much more. I just want to prove that I can do it. For so long, I've worked so hard to try to stay on the field. That's what keeps driving me - to stay on the field, help this team win and try to solidify myself as the best player in the game."

He added that he wants to play between 140 and 160 games, but he knows it will be a challenge as he gets older.

"It's been a battle for me, no doubt," Tulowitzki said. "I do everything I possibly can to prepare for the season and make myself healthy."


 
 
 
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