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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
Giants will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:05 am ET) The Giants will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest for Game 4.

Manager Bruce Bochy admitted he was considering giving Bumgarner the start prior to Game 3, but changed his mind following the game. Bumgarner has thrown a combined 256 innings between the regular season and the postseason, and there's a chance the team didn't want to push him any further, especially on short rest. San Francisco will throw Ryan Vogelsong, as originally planned.


Royals RP Greg Holland shuts it down Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals closer Greg Holland did his job Friday against the Giants.

With his team up by one run, Holland was called upon to pick up the save. He had little trouble against San Francisco. Facing the heart of the team's order, Holland induced a flyout and two groundouts against Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. He threw just eight pitches, five of which were strikes. 


Giants' Michael Morse comes up big as pinch hitter
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Giants outfielder Michael Morse came up big as a pinch hitter Friday against the Royals.

Morse got his opportunity in the sixth inning and didn't disappoint. With a man on first, Morse worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Jeremy Guthrie. After starting out 0-2, Morse was able to work the count full. On the eighth pitch, Morse managed to double down the left field line, plating the team's first run of the contest. Morse was replaced by a pitcher in the top of the seventh.


Royals' Alcides Escobar reaches twice in Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals infielder Alcides Escobar reached base twice Game 3 against the Giants. 

Escobar wound up playing a big role immediately, doubling in his first at-bat. He would come around to score later in the inning, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead. Escobar would strike again in the sixth inning. After a single, Escobar would score from first on an Alex Gordon double. Escobar went on to finish 2 for 4, with two runs scored.


Giants SP Tim Hudson saddled with the loss Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Giants pitcher Tim Hudson was saddled with the loss Game 3 against the Royals.

Hudson allowed three runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked one during the outing. Hudson found himself in trouble immediately. After giving up a leadoff double to start the game, Hudson allowed a run on an RBI-single just a few hitters later. He would settle in at that point, tossing four scoreless frames. 

Hudson ran out of gas in the sixth. Alcides Escobar was able to reach on a single, and was driven home on an Alex Gordon double. After picking up a groundout, Hudson left the game. Javier Lopez came on in relief and allowed an RBI-single against Eric Hosmer. The run would be charged to Hudson. 


Giants to go with Ryan Vogelsong in Game 4
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) The Giants will start pitcher Ryan Vogelsong Game 4 against the Royals.

Manager Bruce Bochy was considering starting ace Madison Bumgarner on short rest, but opted against the decision. Vogelsong struggled in his last start, allowing four earned runs over three innings against St. Louis. He'll oppose Jason Vargas. 


Royals' Jeremy Guthrie pulls out a win in Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie pulled out a win Friday night against the Giants.

Guthrie allowed two runs on four hits over five innings of work. He did not record any strikeouts or walks during the contest. Guthrie gave up plenty of contact during the start, but was helped out by Kansas City's strong defense. He was excellent over the first five frames, not giving up a run. 

Things began to unravel in the sixth inning. After a leadoff single, Guthrie allowed a run-scoring double against Michael Morse. Guthrie was pulled from the game at that point, but was charged with a second run after Morse would come around to score later in the frame. 

The Royals would hold on to the one-run lead over the last couple of innings, giving Guthrie the win. 


Twins prospect Miguel Sano won't play winter ball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Twins infielder Miguel Sano won't play winter ball, according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press

Sano missed most of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has not experienced a setback, but "doctors do not want him to play," according to the report. Sano was considered one of the top prospects in the game prior to the 2014 season. 


White Sox OF Michael Taylor decides to become free agent
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) The White Sox have outrighted outfielder Michael Taylor to Triple-A Friday.

Taylor declined the assignment, and will become a free-agent. He hit .250 over 28 at-bats with the major-league club last season. The team now has 37 players on the 40-man roster. 


Giants will consider Madison Bumgarner for Game 4
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) The Giants will consider Madison Bumgarner on short rest for Game 4, according to CSN.

As of right now, the team is planning to start Ryan Vogelsong. But if the Giants lose Game 3, there's a chance Bumgarner would get the nod on short rest. Bumgarner allowed one run in the team's Game 1 victory. 


 
 
 
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