PT TOMORROW: AL Central—Banuelos makes case to remain in White Sox rotation

Chicago White Sox

The rotation churn on the South Side continues as Ervin Santana (RHP, CHW) was designated for assignment, opening up a spot start opportunity or two before Lucas Giolito (RHP, CHW) returns from his left hamstring injury as soon as early May. Currently in the bullpen, Carson Fulmer (RHP, CHW) is the most likely candidate to make those available starts though it is possible one of the starters in Triple-A gets the call. Fulmer has been plagued by an elevated walk rate throughout his career and it’s unlikely he will work as a starter in any circumstance other than injury need or a roster move. 

The biggest beneficiary of Santana’s departure may be Manny Banuelos (LHP, CHW) whose spot in the rotation becomes just a little more secure. His first appearance as a starter in the majors since 2015 was strong in spite of the team seemingly limiting his pitch count and by extension, his innings. Banuelos threw 44 of his 71 pitches for strikes and allowed only one walk while striking out four over four innings. If he is able to extend his outings as the season progresses, he could prove to be a useful fifth starter this year.

Eloy Jimenez (OF, CHW) missed three games while on bereavement leave last week and Nicky Delmonico (OF, CHW) was Jimenez’s main replacement in left field, though it remains to be seen whether Delmonico returns to Triple-A immediately. How the White Sox handle the open spot in the rotation may decide where Delmonico’s is plays next. Adam Engel (OF, CHW) also saw time in center field as Leury Garcia (OF/INF, CHW) played mostly outfield but also logged a pair of games at shortstop though he’s unlikely to gain positional eligibility there in any except the absolute lowest threshold leagues.


Cleveland Indians

After posting a line of .184/.298/.327 across 57 plate appearances, Hanley Ramirez (DH, CLE) has been designated for assignment, thus ending the Hanley Experiment in Cleveland. Though he started only at designated hitter in 2019, he can still play a passable first base and it will be interesting to see where he lands. The newly available DH at-bats have been spread across four players in the subsequent six games so it appears that Cleveland is going to use them to give the starters partial rest days for the foreseeable future.

Tyler Clippard (RHP, CLE) was promoted and brings his veteran presence to the bullpen as Jefry Rodriguez (RHP, CLE) and Cody Anderson (RHP, CLE) return to Triple-A. Rodriguez pitched well in his two starts, registering a 6/2 K/BB ratio, a 2.13 ERA and 0.79 WHIP while allowing only eight hits over 12.2 innings of work, and should be up again soon while Mike Clevinger (RHP, CLE) recovers from his back injury. Anderson’s short time with the big club was not as successful in his three relief appearances (5/2 K/BB ratio, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and seven hits given up in 5 innings of work) and he could require more time at Triple-A before he’s ready for the bigs again.

Carlos Gonzalez’s (OF, CLE) arrival in the outfield gave Cleveland enough confidence to deal veteran Cameron Maybin (OF, NYY) to the Yankees for cash considerations. Gonzalez hasn’t gotten into the groove yet, slashing .257/.333/.343 in 35 at-bats, but has shored up the outfield enough that there is more playing time certainty for the starters. An outfield name to keep in mind as he could challenge for playing time sooner rather than later is Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE) who reached Triple-A last season and began this season at that level. His slash line of .342/.435/.575 through 73 at-bats suggests not only a bright future, but could also earn him a promotion to the big club soon.


Minnesota Twins

The Twins sit atop the AL Central currently, one of only two teams in the division with a positive run differential, and their offense is the driving force behind that number.

Jake Cave (OF, MIN) was optioned to Triple-A after a disappointing .233/.324/.267 slash line through 34 plate appearances which gave Willians Astudillo (OF/INF, MIN) a pair of starts in right field after Byron Buxton (OF, MIN) needed a few days off after fouling a ball of his shin. With Cave’s demotion, there are only two players posting negative BPV in the early going—a fact that underscores how well the Twins’ bats are going right now. Ehire Adrianza (INF/OF, MIN) at -39 through 31 plate appearances and Marwin Gonzalez (INF/OF, MIN) at -29 through 75 plate appearances are the odd men out and they will both need to improve offensively even though Ronald Torreyes (INF, MIN) currently at Triple-A, isn’t going to be challenging them on the big league roster any time soon given his .129/.160/.257 slash line. Gonzalez’s playing time should be safe until Miguel Sano (3B/MIN) returns which is scheduled for May, though Gonzalez may be overexposed as the starting third baseman.

At catcher, it is conceivable that the Twins might decide to roll with the hotter hand as Mitch Garver (C, MIN) is outhitting Jason Castro (C, MIN) by a considerable margin in this first month. They have alternated starts lately, and although Castro is getting on base at a good clip (.375 OBP on the strength of his 22% bb rate) he is failing to hit the ball with much authority as his .360 Slg indicates over his 32 plate appearances. Garver has slashed a gaudy .400/.442/.875 in the early goings across 43 plate appearances, and although these numbers are certainly skewed by the small sample size, it’s evident he’s seeing the ball pretty well right now and Minnesota might do well to keep his bat in the lineup while it’s hot.


Detroit Tigers

The Tiger rotation has taken another hit as Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, DET) has landed on the injured list with a UCL sprain and is slated to miss three to four weeks of action. Michael Fulmer (RHP, DET) and Matt Moore (LHP, DET) are already on the shelf until next season or even the one after so what’s to be done in Detroit?

With this latest injury, Daniel Norris (LHP, DET) should retain his rotation spot for an extended term, with Ryan Carpenter (LHP, DET) the go-to in Zimmermann’s absence. Other options already on the 40-man roster include Matt Hall (LHP, DET) and Sandy Baez (RHP, DET) potentially in a spot-start situation, both of whom are at Triple-A. These three pitchers are not off to strong starts this season, but substantial injuries to three major league starters requires a hard target search of the upper minors rotations in an effort to fill innings however possible. These necessary moves could make for a long season in Detroit.

Bullpen fixture Blaine Hardy (LHP, DET) has landed on the injured list with the dreaded “strained forearm” which could be exactly as described or it may be the precursor to Tommy John surgery which would cost him the rest of 2019 and perhaps nearly all of 2020. He is listed as “out indefinitely” so this could end up being a TJS situation. Jose Manuel Fernandez (LHP, DET) has been called up to take his place in the bullpen as he looks to improve upon two major league relief outings earlier this season that went less than smoothly, as he gave up five earned runs in 0.2 of an inning, for a 67.50 ERA.


Kansas City Royals

In sharp contrast to the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals actually activated a starting pitcher from the injured list this past week. Danny Duffy (LHP, KC) has rejoined the rotation and is scheduled to start the Wednesday, May 1 game against the Tampa Bay Rays. This move bumps Heath Fillmyer (RHP, KC) from the rotation for the time being though other opportunities to start may arise. 

Homer Bailey (RHP, KC) was something of a question mark to start the season after scuffling the past four seasons in Cincinnati, but the change of scenery has done well for him. He has been effective through five starts, and though his 5.63 ERA isn’t good at first glance, his 3.96 xERA tells a truer story. His 11 walks allowed in 24 innings pitched needs to improve, but over that same span, he has racked up 27 strikeouts, good for a mark of 10.1 K/9 in this small sample.

Kelvin Gutierriez (1B/3B, KC) was promoted from Triple-A when newcomer Lucas Duda (1B, KC) landed on the injured list with a back injury. Gutierrez is most likely to see time at third base, filling in for Hunter Dozier (3B, KC) on nights he plays first base, slots in at designated hitter, or just needs a night off. He possesses modest power and on-base skills, but his time at Triple-A so far in 2019 has been excellent as he has put up a .333/.443/.439 line though it should be said this isn’t consistent with his previous outputs at any level so it should be viewed somewhat skeptically and some regression, especially in light of his call up, should be expected.

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