Fantasy Busts and Opportunities: NL 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 and the AL West 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.

NL Central Opportunities

Brewers

Milwaukee has built a roster on upside and volatility. The result is a highly leverageable unit for fantasy owners. Starters like Keon Broxton, Eric Thames, Domingo Santana, and Orlando Arcia should be late-round selections. All have the ability to massively outperform that draft slot. They could also flop spectacularly. Do note, Arcia should be considered less volatile than the other three.

The club has depth at second and third base. They’ll use some combination of Jonathan Villar, Scooter Gennett, and Travis Shaw with Hernan Perez serving as the backup. We’re probably looking at a spring battle between Shaw and Gennett with Villar starting at the loser’s position. If Thames flops, Shaw and Perez could share time at first. Perez, if he plays regularly, posts good fantasy numbers despite below average real world production.

I love the catchers the Brewers acquired in the last year. Andrew Susac and Jett Bandy both have the talent and the ballpark to be fantasy relevant hitters. This is a spring battle that will extend well into the season. They’ll probably both catch about 50 percent until one emerges as considerably better than the other.

In the outfield, Milwaukee would love to finally find a taker for Ryan Braun. As mentioned, Broxton and Santana are high ceiling, no floor players. If things fall apart, Perez or Villar could be tasked with filling in until Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, and other notable prospects are ready.

The rotation is a volume bomb. I count 11 viable starters, and that’s not including Tommy Milone. He may begin the season as the fifth starter, but he’s a terrible fit for that ballpark. Guys to watch outside the top five include Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Cravy, Jorge Lopez, Brent Suter, and Josh Hader.

Reportedly, Neftali Feliz will soon sign. He’ll presumably take over as the closer. Corey Knebel is the obvious alternative choice. The Brewers have a ton of inventory. There’s no guessing who else might break out to late inning status.

Cardinals

Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko are expected to battle for the starting third base job. Kolten Wong’s ability to rebound will also affect their playing time. I anticipate a full time share until Gyorko proves last season’s power was more than an outlier year. If they’re all bad enough, Matt Carpenter may move off first base, re-opening the door for Matt Adams

St. Louis has a wonderful seven man rotation. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha will battle Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver for the final two rotation slots. Both of those youngsters have incredible upside, especially Reyes. They’re well worth a stash if they don’t make the Opening Day cut.

In the bullpen, the club now plans to use Trevor Rosenthal in the Andrew Miller role. Seung Hwan Oh will continue to close with Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil, Jonathan Broxton also possessing some ninth inning experience. One or Reyes or Wacha will also probably spend some time in the ‘pen.

Cubs

The Cubs will return their ridiculously versatile roster, rendering this exercise moot. Functionally, the club has 10 starting position players with only a few actually playing every day.

Catcher will be some kind of amalgamation of Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero, and Kyle Schwarber. We’re all interested to see just how many reps Schwarber gets. Our depth charts team is projecting 13 plate appearances. If so, he’d miss gaining eligibility.

Ben Zobrist is the nominal starting second baseman, but we all know the job goes to Javier Baez when the chips are down. This has implications in the outfield for Jon Jay, Jason Heyward, and Albert Almora. Schwarber’s usage at catcher is relevant here too.

The rotation is five players deep and…cliff (not Lee). Tyson Ross would have been a nice addition. In the bullpen, Wade Davis is an injury risk. Hector Rondon, Koji Uehara, and Carl Edwards Jr. could fill his shoes as needed. Even Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm have second tier closer stuff.

Pirates

Like many of the teams in this division, the Pittsburgh infield features multiple redundancies. If Jung Ho Kang misses much of the season, David Freese will probably start at third base, opening the door for John Jaso and Josh Bell to share first base. Unless Josh Harrison moves to third with Adam Frazier starting at second. The sans Kang lineup probably features a lot of mixing and matching. It’ll be a fantasy owner’s nightmare.

If Kang is available all season, then Freese, Jaso, and Bell have to somehow share first base. I’d bet on Bell drawing the short straw. In the unlikely event that Kang is really on top of things, he could push Jordy Mercer to the bench. I’m 99 percent sure the Kang-at-shortstop experiment is done.

Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, and Wade LeBlanc will battle for the fourth and fifth start jobs. Some of those names are substantially more interesting than others. The losers will probably get their chances later in the season.

The bullpen is led by a couple lefties, Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero. Over the last four seasons, Watson has the heaviest workload of all relievers. If it catches up to him, Rivero is a fine backup plan.

Reds

So Devin Mesoraco is supposed to be a starting catcher? Right. When that plan bombs, Tucker Barnhart is good enough for very deep leagues thanks to his fabulous home park.

It looks like Cincinnati will be stuck with Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart for one more season. Jose Peraza will take reps from them as a super utility guy, but Dilson Herrera is blocked unless Phillips or Peraza hit the disabled list.

Scott Schebler will have maybe 200 plate appearances to lay claim to a starting job. If he falters, that’s another place for Peraza to play regularly. Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin could debut at some point too.

I rarely recommend Cincinnati pitchers as more than spot starters. I suggest a reactive rather than proactive approach to targeting these guys. If you really must take unproven depth at a bad ballpark, refer back to the Brewers rotation.

As for the Reds’ bullpen, Drew Storen may get first crack at the closer job. That would leave Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen free to fill more versatile roles. They’re both solid closer options if Storen flops.

Grid of NL Central Opportunities
Potential Bust Players to Stash Players to Stash Players to Stash
2B/3B Battle Scooter Gennett Travis Shaw Hernan Perez
Catcher Battle Andrew Susac Jett Bandy
OF Trade or Flop Hernan Perez Lewis Brinson Brett Phillips
SP Depth Wily Peralta Jorge Lopez Josh Hader
Neftali Feliz Corey Knebel
3B Battle Jhonny Peralta Jedd Gyorko
Carpenter Moves Matt Adams
Rotation Battle Michael Wacha Alex Reyes Luke Weaver
Wade Davis Hector Rondon Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
Jung Ho Kang Josh Bell David Freese John Jaso
Rotation Battle Tyler Glasnow Chad Kuhl Steven Brault
Tony Watson Felipe Rivero
Devin Mesoraco Tucker Barnhart
Middle Infield Jose Peraza Dilson Herrera
Scott Schebler Jose Peraza Jesse Winker
Drew Storen Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen





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I think Hudson is well ahead of Rivero for saves. He may even take the job from Watson.

Bell will play everyday between 1B and RF (resting all 3 OF), his playing time isn’t dependent upon Kang. Also, no one has ever been suspended most of the season for a DUI.

Finally, I’d bet Glasnow starts in AAA, as a report is out saying they have reworked his delivery (shortened stride) and he is working on a 3rd pitch. Drew Hutchison is out of options and the Bucs will want to prove they got something in that trade. I think Kuhl/Brault win spots, Hutch in pen as swingman.