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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
Trade doesn't change much for Kendrys Morales
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:03 pm ET) Though Kendrys Morales is certainly capable of making a real contribution in Fantasy, he didn't do it in 39 games with the Twins, batting .234 with one home run and a .584 OPS.

And now with his trade to the Mariners, he's going to Safeco Field, a park known to neutralize a hitter or two. Oh noes!

Relax. We already have an idea how Morales will perform in Seattle considering he was just there last year. Of course, you would have rather seen him go elsewhere -- like to a hitter's park for once -- but if he continues to struggle like he did with the Twins, who don't exactly play in a hitter's haven themselves, the venue won't be the reason why.

After waiting half the year to sign with a team, Morales is now paying the price. While every other player is in midseason form, he's still in spring training mode -- or just coming out of it, anyway, having hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.

Provided the Mariners stick with him every day and don't fit him into some kind of rotation with Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, he's a good bet for some cheap power numbers down the stretch. Maybe the move to a contender will even spark something in him.


Brandon Moss blasts grand slam Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:57 pm ET) Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss belted a grand slam Thursday against the Astros.

Moss stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Moss hit a grand slam on a 96 mph fastball. It was Moss' 23rd home run of the season. Moss finished 1 for 3, with two runs scored and four RBI. 


Jeff Samardzija turns in an excellent start Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Jeff Samardzija turned in an excellent start against the Astros Thursday.

Samardzija allowed one run on five hits over eight innings. He struck out six and did not allow any walks. The only blemish against Samardzija came in the fourth inning. With the bases empty, Samardzija allowed a solo home run to Chris Carter. Other than that, he was fantastic. 

With the win, Samardzija improved to 4-8 on the year. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start.


Scott Feldman struggles with his control against Oakland
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:52 pm ET) Astros pitcher Scott Feldman struggled with his control Thursday.

Feldman had a rough start in Oakland. He allowed six runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. Feldman struck out four and walked five during the outing. Feldman first ran into trouble in the third inning. Josh Reddick doubled to start the inning, and Eric Sogard followed that up with a walk. Josh Donaldson singled in a run, giving the Athletics a one-run lead. After an intentional walk to Brandon Moss to load the bases, Derek Norris drove in two runs on a single. 

In the fourth, Coco Crisp added a sacrifice fly to make it 4-1. After putting two men on in the sixth, Feldman was pulled from the game. Both runs came around to score, giving Feldman six earned runs on the day.

With the loss, Feldman dropped to 4-8. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


Manny Machado sits out third straight game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(6:51 pm ET) Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was held out of the starting lineup Thursday night against the Mariners, as he continues to work his way back from a back issue. Machado has now missed three straight games with the injury. He is hitting .267 with 10 homers and 23 RBI in 258 at-bats.

Marcus Stroman solidifies his place in Fantasy
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:50 pm ET) So Marcus Stroman nearly no-hit the Red Sox Thursday. True story. The Blue Jays pulled him after the seventh inning, when he allowed his first hit, but still, seven shutout innings with a strikeout per is a nice reward for his Fantasy owners.

Too bad only 46 percent of them got to enjoy it.

How can he be started in so few leagues if he entered the day with a 2.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 8.0 strikeouts in nine starts? It's in spite of my sincerest efforts to get the word out. He's been nothing but dominant in the role and has the pedigree to back it up, making the lack of interest astounding.

And Al Melchior likes him even more than I do, ranking him 34th among starting pitchers. You can get mad, Jered Weaver owners, or you can just go out and get Stroman while he's still affordable.

(Not that I'm saying you should give up Weaver for him, but if Al ranks him higher, that should count for something.)


Logan Morrison, Corey Hart to platoon at first base moving forward
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) With the addition of Kendrys Morales on Thursday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon revealed his first base plans moving forward, MLB.com reports. The team will use Morales as a designated hitter, with Logan Morrison and Corey Hart platooning at first base.

Morrison has started 31 games this season at first base, compared to only one start for Hart, who was sidelined for most of the season with a hamstring injury.

Dayan Viciedo back in action Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(6:41 pm ET) White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo returned to the starting lineup for Thursday's series opener against the Twins in Minnesota. Viciedo was scratched Wednesday due to tightness in his left hamstring. He is hitting .236 with 12 homers and 36 RBI in 360 at-bats.

J.D. Martinez returns to lineup Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(6:38 pm ET) Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez returned to the starting lineup Thursday night against the Angels in Anaheim. Martinez missed Wednesday's game due to a quad injury. He is hitting .327 with 13 homers and 44 RBI in 208 at-bats.

Neftali Feliz not an especially exciting pickup
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:37 pm ET) With Joakim Soria out of town, Neftali Feliz is back closing for the Rangers, which is seemingly great since he used to be a significant Fantasy contributor in the role.

But if you haven't kept tabs on him, this version of Feliz isn't quite the same as that one. This one is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, averaging about 3 mph less on his fastball than that one. This one has also recorded just five strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.

In fairness, they were 10 1/3 effective innings, so maybe questioning Feliz's pitching ability isn't the way to go here. But even if you assume he's as right as rain, he probably won't be as good as Soria was with his 2.70 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. And pitching for a bad Rangers team, Soria ranked only 33rd among relief pitchers in Head-to-Head points leagues at the time of the trade, behind even non-closer Dellin Betances.

The Rangers may be the team least conducive for saves. Not only do they lose often, but they lose with bad pitching. So on the rare occasion they do win, the score typically isn't so close.

So Feliz may be a closer, but he's a closer with reduced stuff coming off major surgery for a team that won't give him any save opportunities. Sounds like Chad Qualls has met his match.


 
 
 
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