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AL Central Notes

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: April 17, 2020, 1:10 am ET

Here are some AL Central thoughts. I’ll be back with the NL West on Monday.

 

Chicago

- Yoan Moncada isn’t getting drafted as highly as I thought he would after last year’s breakout, probably because most are writing off his .315 average as a fluke. It was, but I don’t think he’ll decline there as much as the projection systems suggest (the four that Fangraphs track put him at .266, .267, .268 and .274, or barely above his .265 career mark). Moncada cut his strikeout rate last year not by improving his contact rate but by simply swinging at more pitches. He still has room to grow when it comes to discipline, and I expect it to happen, given that he’s already shown himself capable of making adjustments. Moncada possesses elite bat speed, and he’s always been stellar when he makes contact. He’s just turning 25 in May, and it’s doubtful that he’s peaked yet. I had him hitting .285 with 33 homers pre-shutdown.

- Especially since we don’t know the service time rules for callups yet, it’s hard to say when Nick Madrigal might be up as the White Sox’s second baseman. After a rather quiet start in A-ball last year, Madrigal hit .337 in 282 at-bats between Double- and Triple-A. His fantasy value will mostly hinge on basestealing, since he’s not going to hit homers in the majors, especially not initially. Madrigal stole 35 bases in the minors last year, but he was just 4-for-7 during his 29-game Triple-A stint. If he gets thrown out a couple of times initially, he might curb his attempts for a while, which would likely leave him without mixed-league value even if he’s a .300 hitter right away. As a result, he’s not really on my list this year, though I expect he will be next season.

- The White Sox are likely to get more out of Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon this season than they originally expected. Kopech, who is on the way back from Tommy John, showed impressive velocity in his one spring appearance before play was halted. The soon-to-be 24-year-old wasn’t going to be asked to make 30 starts this season after missing all of last year, but now he should be a real threat to be a part of the rotation from day one, making him a mixed-league sleeper. Rodon was expected back in July or August after having his Tommy John surgery last May, and there was some thought that he might be limited to relief work this season. The delay makes a return to the rotation more realistic, but his role will probably hinge on how the pitchers ahead of him are performing.

 

Cleveland

- The Indians were set to be without Mike Clevinger (back), Carlos Carrasco (elbow) and Emmanuel Clase (back) on Opening Day, so the delay should help them a bunch. Clase is not a lock to be ready whenever play begins, but the two starters should be. Tyler Naquin, who blew out his knee in September, could also be an option in the outfield at the start of the season. If he’s healthy, he’s probably the team’s best option as a right fielder against right-handers.

- The decision to add Domingo Santana seemed like a pretty good one, but it means the Indians will be getting lousy defense in one outfield corner, whether it’s Santana in left or Franmil Reyes in right. Most likely, Reyes will DH most of the time. Santana was hitting .274/.343/.473 with 19 homers in 391 at-bats for the Mariners when he injured his elbow last July 22 and struggled the rest of the way. He should put up mixed-league worthy numbers in the middle of Cleveland’s lineup.

- While the Indians weren’t the only team to send youngsters down after play was halted last month, they were the most aggressive about it, demoting familiar names Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, James Karinchak and Bradley Zimmer. Civale and Plesac seemed likely to open up as the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 starters with Clevinger and Carrasco out, and they would have been the clear favorites for the fourth and fifth spots with everyone healthy. Karinchak, one of the game’s most talented relief prospects, also appeared to have a great chance of making the team. Of course, these were really just paper moves; a case of cheap ownership acting cheap. Civale should be in the rotation when play begins, and Plesac has a pretty good chance as well.

 

Detroit

- The Tigers were content to sport the game’s worst offense while rebuilding last year, but things shouldn’t be quite so bad this time around after the additions of C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Cameron Maybin. The first two of those, at least, are being underrated as late-round options in mixed leagues. Cron hit 30 homers in 2018 and was well on his way to surpassing that total last year until a thumb injury wrecked his second half. Schoop didn’t bounce all of the way back from his disastrous 2018, but he did hit .256 with 23 homers in just 433 at-bats for the Twins. Comerica is an underrated hitter’s park, especially for right-handers, and both Cron and Schoop should hit in the top half of the order for the Tigers. They’ll likely be useful.

- Before the Tigers started adding, I had former Rule 5 pick Victor Reyes as their top position player on my draft board; he was a great surprise in hitting .304/.336/.431 in 292 plate appearances last season, and he’s 18-for-22 stealing bases in 511 career plate appearances. Unfortunately, the Maybin signing bumped Reyes out of the projected starting lineup, even though he was a far better player than JaCoby Jones and Christin Stewart last year. It makes sense to give Jones another shot in center, but Reyes should be given every opportunity to beat out Stewart, who hit just .233/.305/.388 in 416 PA last season and who rates as a well below average outfielder. It might have been on its way to happening... Stewart was 4-for-28 with no extra-base hits before play halted this spring.

- That both Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo are out of options means the Tigers’ third base battle will be an ongoing thing. I prefer Candelario, but it’s not like either is a great bet as a long-term regular. Lugo’s only real success came as a 21-year-old in A-ball four years ago and last season in Triple-A, when everyone was hitting in Triple-A. He offers limited power, poor plate discipline and little defense. Candelario is a .223 hitter after 1,161 major league plate appearances, but he beats Lugo everywhere else.

 

Kansas City

 

- .268 average, 20 HR, 89 R, 88 RBI, 67 SB. That’s what Adalberto Mondesi has done in his last 150 games dating back to Aug. 1, 2018. He’s probably more of an injury risk than most, but by the time play starts again, he’ll be back to full strength following his shoulder surgery. He should be a second-round pick in mixed leagues with the upside of being a top-five overall player. However, he can be gotten in round five in a lot of leagues.

- The only step the Royals took to upgrade their offense over the winter was to add Maikel Franco, who has accrued 1.4 WAR over 2,539 major plate appearances and is worse now than the day he entered the league. I still don’t hate the move, but I think they could and should have signed Travis Shaw for similar dollars. Franco might be worse than Kelvin Gutierrez, who at least offers a well above average glove.

- Committing to both Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield as outfielders (and re-signing Alex Gordon) cuts off the path for any youngsters there, not that either Brett Phillips or Bubba Starling seemed at all likely to step up. It’s stunning how little the Royals have as far as nearly ready position prospects. They’re hoping speedy Khalil Lee will be a factor by 2021, but Lee strikes out a ton for someone with modest power. He hit .264/.363/.372 with 154 strikeouts in 546 plate appearances as a 21-year-old in Double-A last year.

 

Minnesota

- With quality bats from top to bottom, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the Twins line up this year. The only real given is that Nelson Cruz should be entrenched in the third spot. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco typically hit at the top of the order against righties last season, but Luis Arraez and Josh Donaldson also make plenty of sense up there and Mitch Garver could continue to fit in against lefties. That some quality bats are going to get stuck in the bottom half of the order is one reason I’m not quite as high on Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as others and why I’m not as excited about Kepler as I was last year. Polanco, Donaldson and Eddie Rosario all figure to join Cruz in batting fifth or higher. Maybe Kepler will keep leading off, but it’s far from a given. Buxton is going to have a hard time moving any higher than eighth even if he does start fulfilling his potential. Of course, it should be noted that it’s not nearly as punishing batting eighth or ninth for the Twins as it would be on another team.

- In truth, there’s a pretty good case for Rosario hitting seventh or eighth, but I’m actually really fond of him in fantasy leagues, partly because there’s no chance that Rocco Baldelli will go that route early on. Rosario is coming off his worst season in the last three, but because he hit in the middle of such an excellent lineup, he finished with 91 RBI and 109 RBI in just 137 games. The slight downturn seems like a fluke anyway; Rosario posted the best exit velocity numbers of his career and struck out less than usual. Rosario never walks and thus has mediocre OBPs, but that’s not much of a problem from a fantasy standpoint, since it just gives him more shots at driving in runs. I have him right around 50th overall in my top 300.

- The delayed season both gives to and takes away from the Twins’ rotation. The good news is that Rich Hill could now be back for the bulk of the season after completing his recovery from elbow surgery. The bad is that Michael Pineda’s PED suspension, which is set to cover another 39 games, now figures to cost him a significantly bigger chunk of the season than it otherwise would have.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.