With spring training now upon us, there are numerous players that fantasy owners should be monitoring. Who in the AL Central should owners be focused on?
Pitchers and catchers have reported, initiating the start of the 2018 season. There are still a ton of free agents on the market, storylines to be fleshed out, and more. But, this is what every fantasy owner has been waiting for. Fantasy titles are won and lost during the spring as breakout stars, potential busts show themselves. In this article, we take a look at the AL Central.
The AL Central seems to be one of the weaker divisions in all of MLB. The Cleveland Indians are clearly out in front of the pack, while the Twins are trying to have another solid season like 2017. The White Sox more than likely come next in the division’s pecking order, but they are in the middle of a rebuild just as the Tigers and Royals.
While there is a ton of player turnover, the division still offers its fair share of continual producers, yet exciting rookies.
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Mejia
The Indians are coming off another great season, and are in an enviable position of having talent and depth across the roster. One spot in their lineup where they could stand to benefit though is behind the plate. Yan Gomes’ has flopped since his breakout 2014, and Roberto Perez is nothing more than a backup, leaving Mejia as the most talented catcher in camp this spring.
Mejia had a stellar 2017 in AA ball, posting a 297/14 HR/52 RBI/.835 OPS line over 92 games. He has shown a well-advanced approach at the plate as a switch hitter, and scouts are sure that his bat is more than likely pro ready. Defensively, he needs to clean up his framing and make other tweaks, but for a 21-year-old, Mejia is about as solid as they come.
The Indians do not necessarily need Mejia to win the central, but in order to challenge for a title yet again, Mejia could be a key. With the catcher spot so bleak in terms of options fantasy wise, Mejia’s ascension to the big leagues is of huge interest. If he can get off to a hot start this spring, he would once again put pressure on the Indians to have his promotion come sooner than later.
Honorable Mention: Bradley Zimmer
Huge breakout candidate heading into 2018, owners will need to make sure that he gets off to a hot start and that he is over his hand injury. The Indians have a ton of bodies in the OF, but Zimmer is the most dynamic of the group and provides a much-coveted SB upside not seen in drafts.
Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano
Twins’ GM Thad Levine curiously labeled Sano as carrying “generous carriage” as the slugger tipped the scales near 260 lbs. point entering this spring. Albeit shortened, Sano had a great 2017, posting a .264/28 HR/77 RBI/.859 OPS line over 114 games. A fractured shin torpedoed the end of his season and has lingered leading up to the spring.
Combine the injury with his looming legal issues, and Sano’s draft day value is completely muddied. Fantasy owners for one, have to make sure that Sano’s shin can carry the weight he is at now, and hold up without issue this spring. Hopefully, his legal issue is resolved before the start of the season as well, allowing fantasy owners the ability to know what, if any, suspension could be handed down.
The power is unquestioned, he still swings and misses a lot, but it is hard to deny Sano’s value to the Twins and owners. If he avoids any setbacks with his leg, fantasy owners can be confident that he can be a mid-round value again. If the leg flares up, and his suspension gets lengthy, Sano will surely tumble the ranks
Keep a close eye on him.
Honorable Mention: Jose Berrios
Berrios took a big step forward in 2017 but did wear down to close the year. The upside is immense, but there are still some lingering concerns. He needs to continue to show his adjustments, and what we saw more of in the first half of the year. If not, his draft day value loses some luster.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada
Now is the time for Yoan Moncada. He will enter the year as the starting second baseman for Chicago, and find a spot near the top of the order. He only mustered a .231/8 HR/22 SB/3 SB/.750 OPS line over 231 at-bats last season.
Moncada finished the year solidly though, .276/5 HR/11 RBI/.818 OPS in Sept., giving owners a glimpse at what could come in 2018.
Fantasy owners do need to see him get off to a good start this spring, as his fantasy value will more than likely fluctuate based off what he does over the next few weeks. There is a ton to like in his skill set, and even though second base is deeper than before, Moncada could be a star in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Nate Jones
Easily the most talented arm in the White Sox’ bullpen, yet had an interesting procedure in July to alter the positioning of a nerve in his elbow. He has no setbacks heading into the spring and looks in direct competition for the closer gig. If he is healthy and avoids any setbacks with his elbow, he should win the job with a strong spring.
Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candalerio
Candalerio was the huge get from the Cubs last season at the trade deadline, and the Tigers cannot be more happy with him after his debut last season. Across 27 games in the majors, he ended 2017 with a .330/2 HR/13 RBI/.874 OPS line. The team will shift him to be the full time starting third baseman this year, opening the door for Candalerio to fight for R.O.Y. honors in the AL.
A strong spring training will go a long way in cementing his fantasy value, and if he can excel, he shapes up to be one of the more intriguing later round selections this spring. There are some who question his fantasy ceiling, yet a solid spring will surely help his buzz.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Fulmer
Fulmer was having a promising 2017, yet an elbow injury halted that. He ended with a 3.83 ERA, but the nerve issue was something he battled all year. Clearly, he has SP1 upside and is the ace for the Tigers, yet owners need to see him at full strength before being on him again this spring.
Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler
Stop me if you have heard this before, but Jorge Soler is a player to watch once again. Since coming over from the Cubs in the Wade Davis deal, Soler has done nothing for the Royals. An oblique strain tanked him in 2016, and last season he was once again never healthy.
He spent a majority of the 2017 season in AAA, where he posted a .267/24 HR/59 RBI/.952 OPS line. Entering 2018, Soler has remade his swing and cleaned up his diet to try and stay healthy. The Royals are going to be one of the worst teams in the central, and the league for that matter, so there is no reason for the Royals not to see what Soler can do when given everyday at-bats.
He does not need to be a draft day target, but the raw talent is still in there somewhere. This spring will go a long way in either bringing it out or continuing his label as a bust.
Honorable Mention: Danny Duffy
One of the few fantasy worthy targets on the Royals, Duffy had quite the year in 2017. Between flashes of dominance, injuries, and even a bizarre dust-up with the police, Duffy will once again be a perplexing target. If he can get off to a quiet, and solid foot this spring, he is once again a solid SP3 type of target.
Clearly, the central runs through the Indians. The Indians will be one of the better teams in the league yet again, and could easily represent the AL in the World Series. The rest of the division is far and away behind, yet the Twins and White Sox have some young and intriguing pieces that could surprise.
There are still a ton of players to watch in the division, and there will surely be more player movement heading into 2018. Spring games are starting up, and fantasy owners should be fully tuned in the players above, and many more.