Fantasy Busts and Opportunities: AL Central

The series continues! We’re here to discuss the following question – which current MLB starters might flop in 2017, opening an opportunity for a prospect or non-full time player? During Spring Training, we’ll go into a full dive on team depth charts, fleshing out these opportunities in more detail. This post is meant to be quick and dirty. If you missed the previous editions, you can find the NL East here, AL West here, and NL Central here.

I’ve constrained myself to players I believe may predictably fail. The person who asked the question used the Tigers rotation, Jimmy Rollins, Shin-Soo Choo, and Luke Gregerson as examples. He or she profited from Michael Fulmer, Tim Anderson, Ken Giles, and Nomar Mazara.

Let’s begin.

AL Central Opportunities

Indians

Befitting a World Series contender, the Indians roster is rather sturdy. It’s unclear who will start between Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. I’d bet on Perez and his superior glove, but Gomes’ performance at the plate could change the calculus.

The outfield remains thin. Michael Brantley is slated to start after missing basically all of 2016. Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer will share right field. Center appears to belong to Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte. The club could benefit from some additional depth. Anyone they acquire is unlikely to be very fantasy relevant. Greg Allen may not be far from a major league opportunity. Bradley Zimmer is the top outfield prospect in the system, but I expect him to spend a full season in Triple-A due to contact issues.

The rotation is set. Keep an eye on Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson for when injuries arise. Both hurlers come with plenty of upside. The bullpen is headlined by Andrew Miller even though Cody Allen will probably record most of the saves.

Royals

Kansas City intends to start Raul Mondesi at second base, but he’s ridiculously un-ready to my eye. The combination of aggression, low contact rates, and modest power just don’t add up. While I still expect the Royals to start him regularly, there’s a chance for another second baseman to rise in 2017. Internal options include Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield. Blech.

Anybody who misses a full season with injury is a risk. If Mike Moustakas‘ return goes poorly, the Royals could call upon Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier. The latter has actual fantasy upside, although he’ll probably play the outfield in the majors. Speaking of outfielders, Jorge Soler may spend half his plate appearances as the designated hitter, opening up plenty of right field reps for Paulo Orlando, Jorge Bonifacio, and Billy Burns. Dozier could factor here too.

In the wake of Yordano Ventura’s devastating death, the Royals will need to find a fifth starter. They’re a potential landing place for Jason Hammel, or they could roll the dice on Mike Minor, Chris Young, and Brian Flynn. Whether it’s Hammel or a cheaper option like Jered Weaver, I anticipate a pitching acquisition of some kind.

Tigers

James McCann is very much a platoon hitter, meaning that Alex Avila should have a decent shot if he can rediscover his bat. Center field is shaping up to be a disaster. Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook, and JaCoby Jones are the top candidates for the job. I’m still waiting for them to throw a non-roster invite to Michael Bourn and/or Desmond Jennings. Some teams are really overdoing this whole youth movement thing. Learn from the Braves and Phillies.

The back of the rotation is shaky with a rapidly declining Anibal Sanchez and still unestablished Daniel Norris as the fourth and fifth starters. There’s plenty of depth with fantasy streamer or better potential – Matt Boyd, Shane Greene, Mike Pelfrey, and Buck Farmer.

If Francisco Rodriguez is traded or injured, I’d put my money on Bruce Rondon getting another chance. He looked great in September, although that’s hardly an accurate way to measure talent.

Twins

Minnesota signed Jason Castro to play frequently. He’s a defense first backstop with streaky hitting. When they acquired John Ryan Murphy prior to last season, it was for his bat. He declined precipitously upon joining the Twins.

I doubt the Twins will oust local man Joe Mauer despite below average first base production. That leaves Kennys Vargas and Byung-ho Park battling for designated hitter duty. Now that the Dodgers won’t be trading for Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar is left to play super utility man. He could fill in for Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, or even join the outfield as needed. As for the greener pasture, Eddie Rosario is the primary backup at all three spots. Robbie Grossman is projected to start in left field. That smells unlikely.

There is a lot of garbage time in that starting rotation, but Tyler Duffey is the only depth piece who appears ready to profit. It’s always difficult to predict which unheralded pitchers will suddenly find the proverbial light bulb. Keep an eye on this unit. They should benefit greatly from the upgrade at catcher.

If Glen Perkins returns to health, then the ninth inning is settled. In the likelier event that he’s still (re)injured, Brandon Kintzler, Trevor May, and J.T. Chargois are among the best options to step up.

White Sox

After selling off many of their best players, the White Sox are in full rebuilding mode. Omar Narvaez should be given a chance to build on a solid 2016 debut. Our old buddy Geovany Soto is the main backup.

Tyler Saladino is fantasy relevant if starting. He’s currently set to play back up super utility man. If/when Todd Frazier is traded or Brett Lawrie flails, Saladino should benefit. There’s a small chance Yoan Moncada will leapfrog Saladino.

The outfield is filled with toolsy youngsters plus Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia. While Garcia is probably in his last run of guaranteed playing time, Cabrera will probably be traded during Spring Training or at the deadline. Charlie Tilson and Rymer Liriano will get the first looks. Keep an eye out for Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, and others as they emerge. The club lacks true designated hitter options with Garcia and Matt Davidson atop the depth chart.

Derek Holland is hardly a reliable member of a rotation, even out of the fifth spot. When he’s shelved, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer offer high risk, high reward to fantasy owners. Personally, I wouldn’t stash any of them which probably means missing out.

David Robertson is a must-trade player, assuming there’s any sort of market for his services after a shaky 2016. Nate Jones is the best reliever in that bullpen. There are other hard throwers too.

Grid of AL Central Opportunities
Potential Bust Players to Stash Players to Stash Players to Stash
Michael Brantley Abraham Almonte Greg Allen Bradley Zimmer
Tyler Naquin Abraham Almonte Greg Allen
Yan Gomes Roberto Perez
Indians Rotation Mike Clevinger Cody Anderson
Raul Mondesi Christian Colon Whit Merrifield
Mike Moustakas Cheslor Cuthbert Hunter Dozier
Paulo Orlando Hunter Dozier Jorge Bonifacio Billy Burns
Royals Rotation Mike Minor Chris Young Free Agent
James McCann Alex Avila
Tigers Center Field Tyler Collins Mike Mahtook JaCoby Jones
Tigers Rotation Matt Boyd Shane Greene Buck Farmer
Francisco Rodriguez Bruce Rondon
Jason Castro John Ryan Murphy
Twins DH Kennys Vargas Byung-ho Park Eddie Rosario
Jorge Polanco Eduardo Escobar
Robbie Grossman Eddie Rosario Eduardo Escobar
Twins Rotation Tyler Duffey
Glen Perkins Brandon Kintzler Trevor May J.T. Chargois
Omar Narvaez Geovany Soto
Brett Lawrie Tyler Saladino Yoan Moncada
White Sox Outfield Rymer Liriano Leury Garcia Adam Engel
Derek Holland Lucas Giolito Reynaldo Lopez Carson Fulmer
David Robertson Nate Jones

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Fine work. Royals look like a top candidate to firesale at the deadline to me. Given their relatively large number of upcoming free agents (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar), I could see them being inclined to sell at the deadline if they fall at the fringes of a wild card race (or worse). Could see any of the pending FA being dealt and also guys like Kelvin Herrera, which would open the closer role.