Eric Mack
Thursday February 10th, 2011

Earlier this week, it was mentioned Pittsburgh is in for a long, cold winter -- despite what Punxsutawney Phil told them on Groundhog Day. But it pales in comparison to what is going on in Cleveland. There just seems to be nothing to look forward to.

LeBron James and his talents are in warmer waters on South Beach, the Cavs are mired in a legendary 26-game losing streak, the Browns, um ... didn't they move to Baltimore? ... And the Indians, well, at least the news is sounding a bit more promising recently.

The Indians figure to be a bottom-feeder the AL Central, but they might not have to scrape the lowest part of the barrel, if Grady Sizemore (microfracture knee surgery) and Carlos Santana (LCL knee surgery) can prove healthy this spring.

Those are two potential big-time bargains if the injury questions drag them down far on draft day. If your league drafts late, the bargain might disappear.

Santana, who is capable of a 20-homer, 80-RBI season, is cleared for all baseball activities. You have to hate a catcher coming off knee surgery. They bend their knees more than 100 times a game, right? But Santana's bat is so promising, he will be well worth the risk after the top five backstops are off the board on draft day.

He went in Round 7 in the recent Mock Draft, which will be featured in our fantasy baseball preview after pitchers and catchers report next week. That is about as high as the reward outweighs the risk.

As for Sizemore, he is a little more behind after a much more serious procedure -- one that can end careers. Sizemore is hoping to be fully functional by mid-spring, which can put him in the opening-day lineup.

In that mock, Sizemore went as the last pick in Round 12. A healthy Sizemore can perform like an early rounder, so the 12th round is outstanding value. The fact he won't be ready right away this spring could keep him low on draft boards, too.

Santana and Sizemore are two potentially great injury-risk sleepers. We outline that category as one of your six ways to find players who can outperform their draft position. Stay tuned for that in the baseball preview.

Cleveland Indians outlook

Projected lineup

1 Michael Brantley LF 2 Grady Sizemore CF 3 Shin-Soo Choo RF 4 Travis Hafner DH 5 Carlos Santana C 6 Matt LaPorta 1B 7 Asdrubal Cabrera SS 8 Jayson Nix 3B 9 Jason Donald 2B

Top bench options

R Trevor Crowe OF R Luis Valbuena UTL

Projected rotation

1 Fausto Carmona RH 2 Justin Masterson RH 3 Carlos Carrasco RH 4 Mitch Talbot RH 5 Josh Tomlin RH ALT Jeanmar Gomez RH

Top bullpen arms

CL Chris Perez RH SU Rafael Perez LH RP Tony Sipp LH RP Joe Smith RH RP Aaron Laffey LH

There are more sleepers than stars on this team. Choo is the only Indian who ranks in the first third of our Top 300. Sizemore and Santana are in the top 120, and they are critical to making Choo rise to fantasy superstardom and making the Indians starting pitchers anything more than late-round fliers.

If the Indians can get and stay healthy and patchwork a young rotation together, they can stay away from the AL Central cellar and look down on the ...

There are far more question marks with this perennially rebuilding club in Kansas City. The good news is the farm system is ready to feed the majors if this last wave of prospects doesn't finally make its mark.

Kansas City Royals outlook

Projected lineup

1 Melky Cabrera CF 2 Mike Aviles 3B 3 Billy Butler DH 4 Kila Ka'aihue 1B 5 Alex Gordon LF 6 Jeff Francoeur RF 7 Lucas May C 8 Chris Getz 2B 9 Alcides Escobar SS

Top bench options

R Wilson Betemit UTL R Mitch Maier OF

Projected rotation

1 Jeff Francis LH 2 Luke Hochevar RH 3 Kyle Davies RH 4 Vin Mazzaro RH 5 Bruce Chen LH ALT Sean O'Sullivan RH

Top bullpen arms

CL Joakim Soria RH SU Blake Wood RH RP Jesse Chavez LH RP Ruben Tejeda RH RP Kanekoa Texeira RH

Gordon is a potential age-27 breakthrough, but we have waited years for anything out of him and it likely falls on deaf ears now. Butler is solid, but he needs to hit more homers to enter the top 10-12 at the loaded first-base position.

The Royals, like the Indians, are more about sleepers than stars. Soria tends to get a lot of respect among the top five closers, though -- a rarity for a stopper on a bad team (you never know when they will actually win a few games a week, much less ones of the save variety).

It has to be the Astros, who dealt Matt Lindstrom to the Rockies this winter. Brandon Lyon is their closer right now and he ranks at the bottom of those who have the closer's role all to their own going into spring training.

The Astros might not be as bad as some people think, though. The rotation actually is shaping up to be pretty decent for a non-contender.

Houston Astros outlook

Projected lineup

1 Michael Bourn CF 2 Chris Johnson 3B 3 Hunter Pence RF 4 Carlos Lee LF 5 Bill Hall 2B 6 Brett Wallace 1B 7 Clint Barmes SS 8 Jason Castro C

Top bench options

R Jeff Keppinger UTL R Jason Michaels OF R Jason Bourgeois OF

Projected rotation

1 Brett Myers RH 2 Wandy Rodriguez LH 3 Bud Norris RH 4 J.A. Happ LH 5 Nelson Figueroa RH ALT Ryan Rowland-Smith RH

Top bullpen arms

CL Brandon Lyon RH SU Wilton Lopez RH RP Jeff Fulchino RH RP Mark Melancon RH RP Wesley Wright LH

Myers enjoyed a renaissance last season, Rodriguez is capable of taking a significant step this season, while Norris and Happ are third-year starting pitcher breakout candidates (another one of our season preview topics to come).

The lineup has some holes, but a first full season even close to what Johnson posted last year will certain help. Also, Wallace needs to finally show he was worth all the hype.

With these three capsules, we have just the Giants, Dodgers and D-Backs to round out all 30 teams in baseball. They will come Tuesday, along with a series of fantasy baseball previews and plenty of news as pitchers and catchers report. Baseball season is here!

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