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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
Mariners SS Ketel Marte returns to lineup on Monday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(7:32 pm ET) Mariners shortstop Ketel Marte returned to the starting lineup for Monday's game against the Astros. Marte left Saturday's contest with a mild hamstring strain and did not play on Sunday.

He was initially out of Monday's starting nine, but with Austin Jackson traded to the Cubs, Marte will bat lead-off while playing shortstop Monday.


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(7:29 pm ET) Dodgers infielder Enrique Hernandez will miss the next few games after sustaining a strained hamstring, reports the Los Angeles Times. Hernandez suffered the injury during Sunday's game.

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by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
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"[Maybin] is just a little banged up, nothing major," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm trying to [divide playing time between] five or six outfielders. Gave him a day off yesterday, give him another day off today. Bourny has decent numbers against this guy, and put Jonny [Gomes] in there against left-handed pitching.

"So I thought it was a good time to give Maybin a couple of days off just to kind of heal up a little bit. I had to talk him into it, to take another day. He wanted to play."


Braves scratch Andrelton Simmons from Monday's lineup
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:10 pm ET) The Braves removed shortstop Andrelton Simmons from Monday's lineup due to right ankle inflammation, the team announed. He was replaced by Pedro Ciriaco. Simmons is hitting .265 with three home runs and 34 RBI in 118 games.

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Cubs land CF Austin Jackson in trade with Mariners
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(6:15 pm ET) The Cubs have acquired outfielder Austin Jackson in a deal with the Mariners. Seattle will received a player to be named later, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Jackson has had a decent season with the Mariners, slashing .272/.312/.387 with eight homers and 38 RBI in 107 games. He will provide solid outfield depth for the Cubs, who are currently without Jorge Soler.

The Mariners, meanwhile, will likely roll with a combination of Brad Miller, Franklin Gutierrez and Ketel Marte in center field for the bulk of what's left in 2015.   

Jackson had been in the starting lineup for the Mariners' game against the Astros on Monday. It is not yet known when Jackson is expected to report to the Cubs, who open up a three-game series at home with the Reds on Monday.


Cardinals' Carlos Martinez (back) won't start on Tuesday
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(5:51 pm ET) Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez will not make his next scheduled start on Tuesday. Martinez is dealing with a back issue that will cause him to be skipped this time through the rotation.

The Cardinals have not said when Martinez is expected to take the mound next. Marco Gonzales is a likley candidate to replace him for Tuesday's matchup with the Nationals, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Rangers 2B Rougned Odor returns to lineup on Monday
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(5:27 pm ET) Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor is back in the starting lineup for Monday's matchup with the Padres. Odor has not played since injuring his finger on a play during Tuesday's game. 

Odor is at the keystone position while batting fifth for the Rangers on Monday.


 
 
 
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