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Is any Tribe infielder worth owning?

5/19/2010

Entering play Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians featured only two hitters who were helping mixed-league owners this season.

One is terrific outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, and the other is a surprise: Austin Kearns, who I view as a sell-high guy. Besides those two, no Indians hitter ranks in the top 300 in ESPN's Player Rater. I wrote about the still-homerless Grady Sizemore in a blog last week, but a recent injury to Asdrubal Cabrera has made people wonder if any Indians infielders are worth owning.

After Choo and Sizemore, Cabrera is the only other Indians hitter owned in more than 26 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues. With Cabrera breaking his forearm Monday in a freak collision with third baseman Jhonny Peralta -- one of Peralta's few hits this season -- and said to be needing surgery, it's likely he'll miss at least six weeks of action and maybe a lot more, so letting him go would be a wise move. Cabrera had been hitting for average this season (.287), but with no power or speed he didn't make for much of a fantasy option, even at a scarce position. It's a shame because Cabrera stole 17 bases last season, and we at ESPN Fantasy projected him to hit 11 home runs, with 76 RBIs, 83 runs and 18 steals this season. He's not going to reach those figures. I wouldn't wait for Cabrera to return in 10-team leagues.

Luis Valbuena's struggles are a bit more baffling. He was on many sleeper lists this season after hitting 10 home runs in 103 games, and his eligibility at second base and shortstop was helpful. However, in 26 games, Valbuena is hitting just .158 with five extra-base hits. I can't figure Valbuena out. In the minors he had plate discipline and speed, though little power. Last season with the Tribe, he strayed from those tools and hit home runs. This season he's taking walks again, but not hitting at all. The walks combined with an unlucky batting average on balls in play suggest Valbuena is a nice buy-low option. Then again, with Cabrera out, former Phillies farmhand Jason Donald -- remember the Cliff Lee four-for-one deal? -- was promoted from Triple-A Columbus and started Tuesday at shortstop. Veteran Mark Grudzielanek is hitting .307 with four multihit games in the past 10 days and seems to be the second baseman. Valbuena might be bound for the minors soon. I wouldn't wait for him in fantasy, either.

I wrote about Matt LaPorta in the same blog as Sizemore, Ben Zobrist and others who hadn't homered, and since then -- voila! -- LaPorta took Baltimore Orioles lefty Mark Hendrickson out of the park. LaPorta profiles as a 25-homer option soon, so if you can wait longer for him to hit, do so. I think LaPorta will be worth it, especially in keeper leagues.

The final member of the Indians' infield nobody ever seems to discuss is Peralta. He used to play shortstop but apparently wasn't an option to return there when Cabrera broke his arm. Until a recent hot streak in which he has raised his batting average 38 points in a week, Peralta was one of the least productive third basemen in baseball, with two home runs and eight runs scored all season. Peralta is only two years removed from a 23-homer, 89-RBI campaign, so it is a bit hard to believe he's utility fodder now, but he's not ownable in standard leagues.

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As for Donald, expectations should be kept in check. The Phillies viewed him as a utility infielder, which seems legitimate. Donald was hitting .277 at Triple-A with two home runs and 10 stolen bases in 37 games, so it's possible he'll hit enough to warrant regular playing time and look statistically like a Ryan Theriot or Adam Kennedy type. Those in AL-only leagues should presume he has leaped over Valbuena on the middle infield depth chart and add him.

For those wondering about the other players the Indians received from Philadelphia, catcher Lou Marson is hitting .215 with one RBI in 79 at-bats, putting up little fight in an effort to hold off prospect Carlos Santana. Right-handed starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco is only 23 and has a 4.08 ERA through seven starts at Columbus, but his WHIP is 1.50. Even in a small sample size, his 8.87 ERA and 2.28 WHIP in five starts with the Indians late last season is telling. I wouldn't want Carrasco even in an AL-only format. Finally, Class A right-hander Jason Knapp is still recovering from shoulder surgery last season.