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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
Astros SP Mike Fiers to make team debut on Tuesday vs. Rangers
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8:58 pm ET) Newly-acquired pitcher Mike Fiers will make his Astros debut and start Tuesday's game against the Rangers, manager A.J. Hinch announced on Saturday. Fiers' next scheduled day would have been Monday, but Hinch said he wanted to give the right-hander an extra day of rest.

"He's willing to do anything and he's raring to go," Hinch said, per MLB.com. "I wanted to see physically. He hasn't done a ton for a couple days ... He's had to move himself here and get himself ready, and some of the baseball for a pitcher has taken a little bit of a back seat for 48 hours."

Fiers was acquired along with Carlos Gomez from the Brewers on Thursday. Fiers is 5-9 with a 3.87 ERA so far in 2015.


Tigers RF J.D. Martinez leaves Saturday game with injury
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(7:56 pm ET) Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez left Saturday's game against the Orioles in the third inning with an apparent knee injury.

Martinez fouled a ball off of his knee during an at-bat in the second inning, and was subsequentley lifted for defensive replacement in the third.

Martinez underwent X-rays which came back negative. He was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and is considered day-to-day.


Dodgers C Yasmani Grandal homers in three-hit outing
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7:21 pm ET) Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has caught fire during his team's series against the Angels.

Grandal followed up his three-hit outing on Friday with a 3 for 4 performance on Saturday that included a home run and two RBI.

During his last three games, Grandal is hitting .583 with seven hits, a home run and four RBI.


Angels' Cory Rasmus will start Sunday vs. Dodgers
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(7:17 pm ET) Angels right-hander Cory Rasmus will be tabbed to make the start against the Dodgers on Sunday. Rasmus, who was recalled earlier this week, will make his first start of the season for the Angels.

He did pitch an inning of relief on Friday, his first appearance of 2015. Rasmus has made 10 appearances--including three starts--with Triple-A Salt Lake this year. He is 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 innings with the Bees.


Angels SP Andrew Heaney gives up two runs in loss to Dodgers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7:13 pm ET) Angels starting pitcher Andrew Heaney was overmatched during Friday's game against the Dodgers.

Though Heaney pitched well, he was facing off against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who continued his 37-inninng scoreless streak. Heaney tossed 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out three batters and walked a pair.

With the loss, Heaney drops to 5-1 on the season. He owns a remarcable 1.97 ERA in 45 2/3 innings this season.


Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen avoids trouble, picks up 19th save
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7:05 pm ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen didn't have his best stuff on Saturday, but he managed to escape his team's matchup with the Angels with his 19th save of the season.

Jansen gave up a run on two hits and walked a batter during an uneasy ninth inning. He managed to strike out two batters in the process.

Jansen now has a 3.04 ERA in 26 2/3 innings this season.


Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw tosses eight scoreless in win
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7:03 pm ET) Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw was simply dominant during his win against the Angels on Saturday.

Kershaw (9-6) tossed eight scoreless innings, while allowing just two hits and striking out seven batters. He seemed poised for a complete-game shutout, but he was pulled from the game before throwing a pitch in the ninth so he could receive a much-deserved standing ovation from the home crowd.

Kershaw has tossed 37 consecutive scoreless innings, striking out 45 batters and giving up just one walk during that stretch. 


Mets option OF Michael Conforto to Triple-A
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(6:33 pm ET) Mets rookie outfielder Michael Conforto was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday. Conforto's demotion clears space for the newly-acquired Yoenis Cespedes, who was officially added to the roster.

Conforto went 4 for 19 in the first six games of his career. He looked fairly comfortable facing big-league pitching for the first time, so there is a good chance he will be back up with the Mets at some point this season.

The youngster has never played at the Triple-A level, as he was promoted straight from Double-A to the majors on July 24. 


Mets OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis nursing pinched nerve in back
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(6:30 pm ET) Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been suffering from a pinched nerve in his upper back, which caused him to be unavailable for Thursday and Friday's games, according to ESPN.com.

However, Nieuwenhuis appears able to play through the injury, as the Mets optioned rookie outfielder Michael Conforto to Triple-A in the wake of the Mets' acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes.

Nieuwenhuis was listed as a reserve on the lineup card for Saturday's game against the Nationals.


Rays SP Drew Smily has rough rehab outing Friday
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(6:14 pm ET) Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly was roughed up during a Class A rehab start on Friday, per MLB.com.

Smyly allowed five runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings of work. He struck out four batters and allowed a home run.

"It wasn't good," said Rays manager Kevin Cash about Smyly's line. "I heard everything from a health factor was fine. I don't know about the game report. I know he gave up some hits. The velocity was good. He got his pitches in. So that was the priority. We're really not going to start evaluating the numbers right now. We need to keep him going. He got his pitches, he threw close to 70 pitches."

Smyly will continue to throw every five days. He will have a rest day on Saturday before throwing another bullpen session and another rehab start. The Rays, though, are not sure about how soon Smyly will return to the team.

"I think that all kind of goes in part with where we're at in the season with the off-days, we have to factor that in," Cash said. "I know he's itching to get back, but we have to make sure he's ready before we commit to having a set time."


 
 
 
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