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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
Rays' Tim Beckham drives in winning run Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:58 am ET) Rays infielder Tim Beckham continues to show his potential in the big leagues. Beckham ripped a two-run double in the eighth inning off Miguel Castro to break a 2-2 tie. 

"I was just hoping I had a chance to get another at-bat, man," Beckham said to MLB.com. "I struck out twice tonight looking. I wasn't too happy about that. That's not what I like to do. Nobody likes to do it. But I definitely don't like to strike out looking. Just wanted to get another AB, and another opportunity to hit the ball hard. Hopefully some runners on base and get some RBIs."

Beckham was given the green light to swing on a 3-0 count and delivered.

"I didn't get it clean off the barrel, but I put a good swing on it," Beckham said. "He was throwing the ball pretty hard. Thought I had enough to get it out of here."

Beckham is hitting .275 with five RBI in 40 at-bats this season.


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by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:54 am ET) Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier went 3 for 4 at the plate in Los Angeles' 11-8 win over the Padres Saturday.

Ethier, starting for the injured Yasiel Puig, found success early and often, slugging a home run in the first inning off of Ian Kennedy to drive in Jimmy Rollins, his second of the season. Ethier then doubled in the fifth inning and singled to center in the eighth to drive in another run.

Ethier is now hitting .353 with six RBI in 34 at-bats this season.


Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe connects for first home run
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:51 am ET) Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe went 1 for 5 at the plate in Los Angeles' 11-8 win over the Padres Saturday. Uribe did his damage in the fifth inning when he smashed a 1-1 pitch from Ian Kennedy over the right field wall for a two-run home run, his first of the season.

Uribe is now hitting .244 with three RBI in 45 at-bats this season.


Dodgers' Howie Kendrick rips third homer of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:48 am ET) Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick went 1 for 5 at the plate in Los Angeles' 11-8 win over the Padres Saturday.

Kendrick did his only damage in the fifth inning when he ripped a 2-2 pitch from Ian Kennedy over the center field wall for a two-run home run, his third of the season. Kendrick is now hitting .308 with 12 RBI in 65 at-bats this season.


Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez continues to roll at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez went 2 for 5 at the plate in Los Angeles' 11-8 win over the Padres Saturday.

Gonzalez got going early when he smacked a double to right field in the first inning and was eventually driven home on a Carl Crawford double. He kept rolling in the second when he took an Ian Kennedy pitch over the right field wall for a three-run blast, his seventh of the season.

Gonzalez is hitting a blistering .403 on the season with 18 RBI in 67 at-bats this season.


Padres right fielder Wil Myers cracks third home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Padres right fielder Wil Myers went 1 for 5 at the plate in San Diego's 11-8 loss to the Dodgers Saturday. Myers connected for his third home run of the season to lead off the first inning Saturday when he smacked a 1-1 pitch from Brandon McCarthy over the center field wall.

Myers is now hitting .272 with 12 RBI in 81 at-bats this season.


Padres' Justin Upton smacks two home runs in losing effort
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(1:40 am ET) Padres left fielder Justin Upton went 2 for 3 at the plate in San Diego's 11-8 loss to the Dodgers Saturday. Upton got things going early with a two-run shot off of Brandon McCarthy in the first over the right field wall.

Upton did it again in the sixth, taking McCarthy to center field on an 0-2 pitch for a three-run shot, his fifth of the season. Upton continues to swing a hot bat, raising his average to .303 with 13 RBI on the season, five on Saturday, in 66 at-bats on the year.


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"I just try to do too much sometimes," Lagares said. "When I swing at strikes, I get good results. That's it. It's a great feeling. It's one of those days when you feel good out there and make good swings."

Manager Terry Collins has also been impressed with Lagares' recent success and wants to move him up in the order.

"I don't necessarily think Juan is an RBI guy," Collins said. "I think when he starts to have good at-bats, he's a top-of-the-order guy, which we hope to get him back in that spot."


Giants catcher Andrew Susac connects for first home run of the year
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(1:21 am ET) Giants catcher Andrew Susac went 2 for 5 at the plate in San Francisco's 5-4 win over the Rockies Saturday in 11 innings. Susac found success in the fourth inning when he ripped a 1-1 pitch from Jorge De La Rosa over the left field wall for a solo shot, his first of the year. 

Susac, who also added a double, boosted his average to .385 with one RBI in 13 at-bats this season.


Giants right fielder Justin Maxwell adds another home run Saturday
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(1:16 am ET) Giants right fielder Justin Maxwell went 1 for 6 at the plate in San Francisco's 5-4 win over the Rockies Saturday in 11 innings. 

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