PT TOMORROW: AL Central—MIN options in the OF

Minnesota Twins

The Twins' roster has rounded into form after a bevy of FA signings, but the OF has been a homegrown effort. Eddie Rosario (LF, MIN) has made the transition from infield to outfield fairly quickly and broke out with a $22 season in 2017. Byron Buxton (CF, MIN) is a fly-ball killer with burgeoning five-tool potential, and Max Kepler (RF, MIN) is holding his own despite issues vLHP. The front office is itching for a long post-season run, but the entire OF has options left if they don't make the grade, so to speak.

If injury strikes or an extended breather is needed, veteran Robbie Grossman (CF, MIN) is the obvious beneficiary. A part-time role player the past two seasons, the 28-year-old has filled in admirably, posting 111 R, 20 HR, and 82 RBI in 714 AB. He owns a solid approach at the plate (13% career bb%) and he posted career highs in ct% (79%) and HctX (99) last year. He's not a game changer, but his high floor makes him a decent backup plan in the Nick Markakis mold should any of the starters go down.

Zack Granite (CF, MIN) stands at the ready in Triple-A Rochester and brings ample amounts of speed and BA. A career .293/.357/.377 hitter in the minors, he led the Eastern League with 56 SB in 2016. Though he did not get to use his speed during his '17 cup of coffee, he still managed to display elite plate skills (1.33 Eye) and takes full advantage of this tool by hitting the ball on the ground over half the time. There's legitimate SB impact here in all formats if he gets an extended look.


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Chicago White Sox

Wellington Castillo (C, CHW) has five seasons of 341 AB or more and is currently slated to hit in the middle of the CHW lineup this season. The last four seasons, despite his limited AB, he's managed to hit double-digit HR and provide a steadily increasing $R value largely buoyed by an increased 34% h%. At age 31, though, there is more potential for injury and time off to refresh those aging legs. Who will be most likely to pick up the slack behind the dish if the veteran needs a breather?

Omar Narvaez (C, CHW) is the backup plan, and based on his 2017, he's not a bad option. In 354 career AB, the 27-year-old switch hitter has shown a great approach at the plate (13% bb%, 83% ct%) albeit with well below average pop, no speed, and a 43% ground ball tilt. His 2H showed a bit more thump (80 HctX), as he added 150 points to his Slg and traded 10% of his GB% for line drives. If he can get his HR/F rate up to league average (career 4%), then there's some modest upside if Castillo needs extended time off.

Next up is Kevan Smith (C, CHW), who managed to get into positive $R territory with 4 HR and 22 runs in 272 AB last year. He hits the ball on the ground quite a bit (57% career), and his low bb% combined with inflated h% doesn't bode well for a .282 BA repeat. At age 30, he provides organizational depth at this point in his career but not much else. In Double-A, highly touted prospect Zack Collins struggled with making contact (129 K in 113 games) but showed the ability to get on base (87 BB) while blasting 19 HR across two levels. The front office will have no reason to start his time clock in 2018, so keeper league owners will have to wait at least another season. 

 

Cleveland Indians

Jason Kipnis (2B, CLE) has been a one-man wrecking crew this spring, leading all hitters with 6 HR in 25 AB. Before last season in which injuries limited him to a career low 336 AB, the veteran 2B had posted 500+ AB in each of the past five seasons. There is optimism in CLE that Kipnis is back and better than ever, but at age 31 (and with a "D" Health grade) what happens if he gets shelved again for a significant amount of time?

Management has the luxury of shifting All-Star Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE) to the keystone in this situation. Erik Gonzalez (3B, CLE) is out of options, currently slated for a utility/bench role, and can play all over the infield. However, he's a 26-year-old with 126 total big league AB and has slashed a forgettable .262/.282/.405 line during his short stint in the majors. A 25% HR/F rate helped him swat 4 HR in 110 AB last year, but his below average power metrics suggest major regression. As the Baseball Forecaster noted, he's an "afterthought" at this point.

Yandy Diaz (3B, CLE) awaits in Triple-A to man the hot corner. In 156 AB from 2017, Diaz displayed a good approach at the plate (12% bb%, 78% ct%) but hasn't really displayed much power or speed in his minor league career. He can get on base (.352 career MiLB/MLB OBP) at a good clip and has a solid BA foundation, but he's got a decided GB tilt (59%) and won't help much elsewhere. He's a high floor/low ceiling CI fill in, but don't expect much more than that. Giovanny Urshela (3B, CLE) would be next in queue on the depth chart, but BPVs in the teens (read: lack of offensive production) isn't very inspiring given the club's World Series' aspirations. Don't expect Francisco Mejia (C, CLE) to be at 3B anytime soon, despite getting reps this offseason, as he's being groomed for some OF duty.

 

Detroit Tigers

Manager Ron Gardenhire recently noted that other than Michael Fulmer (RHP, DET), the rest of the rotation is in a "cat fight" for a job. The skipper also mentioned that free-agent signee Francisco Liriano (LHP, DET) has his spot locked down provided he's healthy. He hasn't been a positive earner since 2015, but his body of work to this point has given him a longer leash to start. So, who's going to lock down the last three spots?

Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, DET) has managed to earn -$18 in $R value since the beginning of his 5 yr/$110M contract with DET. Long gone are the glory days of 2013–14. His Dom has dropped from to an anemic 5.7 while his Ctl has increased to 2.3 during his stay in Motown. His H% and S% suggest his 6+ ERA was a tad inflated (xERA 5.46), and he still owns an impressive 67% FpK rate, but declining Cmd coupled with a steady increase in FB and HR/9 since 2014 suggest problems moving forward. Management still owes him $74M, so it behooves them to let him pitch and hope he can pull out of his tailspin.

Mike Fiers (RHP, DET) has now posted four seasons of BPV decline, which has coincided with a rising HR/9 and ERA/xERA ratios. There's not much encouragement here, though his 8.6 Dom rebounded to career marks in 2017 and his GB rate has risen in each of the past four seasons. If he can curb the wildness (3.6 Ctl), then maybe there's something here, but at 33, we're still looking at fringe starter in mixed leagues. Matt Boyd (LHP, DET) is reportedly working on using more offspeed pitches this year, and one can only hope he does something differently in 2018. A 5.25 ERA (5.17 xERA) with 2.1 Cmd doesn't inspire confidence. 

All of these pitchers are out of options, so look for them to garner the top spots in the rotation regardless of their spring training numbers. That said, they all have short leashes, and Daniel Norris (LHP, DET) should be on speed dial at Triple-A Toledo. Injuries plagued him in 2017, but before that he posted a triple-digit BPV led by increases in Dom, FpK, and SwK. There's still some post-hype potential here, and he makes for an interesting end-game dart throw in AL-only leagues.

 

Kansas City Royals

While forearm tightness in August culminated in Kelvin Herrera (RHP, KC) losing the closer role at the end of the season, there are a lot of question marks surrounding him heading into 2018. He completely lost control in the 2H (1.7 1H, 4.6 2H Ctl), which cut his BPV in half despite curbing his 1H HR problems (2.0 HR/9) and increasing his GB rate by 10%. Reports out of Spring Training are that he feels stronger than ever, but with KC in the midst of a rebuild and Herrerra set to hit free agency in 2019, who steps up if he departs at the trade deadline?

Brandon Maurer (RHP, KC) is currently slated to setup Herrera. With 35 career saves over the past two seasons and triple-digit BPVs since 2016, he makes a viable candidate to close. Despite the ugly 6.52 ERA (4.45 xERA), he still posted a solid 3.1 Cmd, a career high 67% FpK%, and a slight velo bump as well. He needs to work the ball down in the zone to curb an uptick in HR, but his spacious home park should help in this regard. He's a respectable handcuff in reserve rounds for Herrera owners.

The pickings are slim past Maurer. Wily Peralta (RHP, KC) is a converted starter who can most likely go multiple innings for manager Ned Yost. He had a miserable 2017 and has posted negative $R earnings since 2014. Kevin McCarthy (RHP, KC) is best suited for middle relief duties as a low Dom (5.7), high GB (54%) middle reliever without upside. Kyle Zimmer (RHP, KC) is the only "name" in the minors right now of interest, but at 26 years old, the oft-injured blue chipper has yet to sniff the majors. Richard Lovelady (LHP, KC) has generated buzz in camp this spring. Not only does he have an 80-grade name, but he also has a fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90s and a career 1.67 ERA in the minors with 107K/26BB ratio in 91 IP. 


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