PT TOMORROW: AL Central—Turnbull giving the league the horns

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are playing nearly .500 ball in spite of the season-ending injuries endured by members of their starting rotation, including Michael Fulmer (RHP, DET) and Matt Moore (LHP, DET). Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, DET) has landed on the injured list with a UCL sprain and could be out for three or four weeks, while Tyson Ross (RHP, DET) has been pitching through a minor back injury, requiring an even deeper dive into their pitcher pool to cover the available innings.

Though he wasn’t slated to make the rotation to open the season, Spencer Turnbull (RHP, DET) has been a revelation through April and into May, though his 2.31/3.82 ERA/xERA on the strength of his 82% S% and 0.5 HR/9 could mean a correction is coming. Regardless, he is locked into the rotation. Matt Boyd (RHP, DET) has built on the strong foundation he established in 2018 when he posted a 2.7 Ctl, 8.4 Dom, 3.1 Cmd line, improving across-the-board to a 2.0 CTL, 11.3 Dom, 5.7 Cmd through 50.1 IP in 2019. He is now the de facto ace of the staff.

The left-handed duo of Ryan Carpenter (LHP, DET) and Daniel Norris (LHP, DET) round out the rotation currently, but Carpenter needs to show more than he did in his lone start against the Los Angeles Angels who put up six earned runs over the five-inning outing. His 10.80/5.84 ERA/xERA in those five innings paints a more accurate picture, and yes, it’s only one start, but those game numbers are largely in line with his career line that spans a mere 27.1 innings to date. Norris has been better, posting a 3.81/4.89 ERA/xERA in his 28.1 innings pitched, including four starts, but the pair’s xERAs are closer than one might first imagine. The rest of the Tiger rotation essentially needs to avoid the IL to stay in the hunt as the season wears on.

 

Kansas City Royals

In spite of their small run differential, a mere -12 entering Friday’s game, the Royals are already 12 games under .500 through 38 games played, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of reinforcements at the upper levels on the immediate horizon. Nicky Lopez (SS, KC) is the highest-ranked prospect at the Triple-A level, but he is essentially blocked at SS and 2B by two of the best players on the major league roster in Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC) and Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC). If they do call Lopez up (his current .358/.457/.495 slash line, even in the Pacific Coast League, indicates he may be ready), then Merrifield could see more time in the outfield to make space in the middle infield.

The vast majority of Kansas City’s highest-ranked prospects are playing at High-A Wilmington and largely won’t be ready for the majors this season, but that concentration of talent should provide a measure of confidence for the Royals fan base in the not-too-distant future.

Aside from two outfield starts by Chris Owings (INF/OF, KC), one by Terrence Gore (OF, KC), and a single start at catcher by Cam Gallagher (C, KC) for simple starter nights off, the Royals lineup has been remarkably consistent over the past week, suggesting this is who they’re going with for the foreseeable future, and positional playing time isn’t much in question at the moment. Mondesi has managed to make good on the promise he flashed in the final few weeks of the 2018 season, and although his OBP will likely always be suppressed by his low walk rate (5% BB% through 161 plate appearances) he has hit five homers and stolen 10 bases thus far, putting him on pace for an impressive 21 HR/43 SB season, which is sure to keep him in the majors despite his below-average OBP.

 

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox continue to try and find the right mix in the outfield with Jon Jay (OF, CHW) and Eloy Jimenez (OF, CHW) still sidelined with back and ankle injuries, respectively. Adam Engel (OF, CHW) was optioned to Triple-A, and speedster Charlie Tilson (OF, CHW) got the call and has started every game since his promotion, spelling Ryan Cordell (OF, CHW) in right field, and Leury Garcia (OF, CHW) in center. Engel could manage only a .212/.281/.346 slash line through 52 at bats, so his demotion doesn’t come as a surprise, and when Jay and Jimenez return from the IL, he’ll be that much more removed from playing time chances.

Defensively, Tilson can play all three outfield positions, and his Triple-A slash line of .333/.396/.475 over 111 plate appearances is by far his strongest showing in the minors to date. Though he hasn’t demonstrated much power at any point in his career, he is a stolen base threat, and if he can post a solid OBP during this call-up, he has a good chance to stick as a fourth or fifth outfielder for the remainder of the season.

The bullpen took a bit of a hit as Nate Jones (RHP, CHW) landed on the 60-day IL, as he is dealing with elbow inflammation and will be shelved until late June at the earliest. Jones’s injury has given Ryan Burr (RHP, CHW) the opportunity to rejoin the parent club and work the middle innings, but he’ll need to improve on his 10/5 K/BB ratio over 13.1 innings pitched, as well as his 5.27/4.77 ERA/xERA, if he hopes to stay at the big league level, as there are a number of viable relief options in Triple-A.

 

Cleveland Indians

The lack of offense in Cleveland remains a problem. Among position players with more than 100 plate appearances, Carlos Santana’s (DH/1B, CLE) BPV of 43 leads the team, and among all players, backup outfielder Jordan Luplow (OF, CLE) is tops with a 46 BPV. Perennial MVP candidates Francisco Lindor (SS, CLE) and Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE) have been unable to get their bats going through the first six weeks of the season. Lindor has put up a passable .262/.310/.462 slash line across 70 plate appearances after enduring a pair of injuries in the preseason, while Ramirez is below league average with his .206/.297/.316 line in 152 plate appearances. As Lindor and Ramirez go, so goes Cleveland, and the fact that they’re above .500 in spite of a -9 run differential heading into the weekend is impressive.

At Triple-A, two position players who could help boost run production at the major league level are Bobby Bradley (1B, CLE) and Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE). Bradley is hitting for a much higher average than he has in the past, slashing .313/.373/.600 in 115 at-bats so far. That stat line doesn’t demand a promotion, but given the club’s other options, it should have the attention of the front office. Mercado is similarly outperforming his prospect tool grades with a .302/.400/.509 line and 14 stolen bases over 116 at-bats.

Should either Bradley or Mercado get the call, veteran Carlos Gonzales (OF, CLE) might see the biggest decrease in playing time, as his .227/.275/.307 line over 79 plate appearances wouldn’t be missed. There may yet be something left in the tank, but he hasn't shown it. Jake Bauers (1B/OF, CLE) could then shift to the outfield and Bradley would see time at designated hitter and maybe first base. This isn’t how the Cleveland faithful would have drawn it up entering the 2019 season, and it’s clear they need to do something to jumpstart the offense.

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are firing on all cylinders, with strong contributions on both sides of the ball. Entering Saturday’s action, their +50 run differential ranks third in the American League behind only the other division leaders: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros. Additionally, Minnesota’s .667 winning percentage through 36 games is best in all of baseball.

At first glance, Michael Pineda (RHP, MIN) appears to be a candidate for replacement, citing his 6.09 ERA through 34 innings pitched, but he has been victimized by a poor 64% S% and his hr/9 is elevated at 1.9. While his 1.53 WHIP isn’t great, he has managed to keep the walks down (2.4 Ctl) while posting a respectable 7.9 Dom. His xERA of 4.62 suggests a correction in his favor is coming. His job in the rotation should be secure.

Miguel Sano (3B, MIN) is nearing his projected return date and has been putting up some strong numbers in his minors rehab. Through 30 plate appearances, he is slashing .320/.367/.640 with a 7/2 K/BB ratio, and should provide extra pop in the middle of the order as he would replace Marwin Gonzalez (INF, MIN), whose time in Minnesota has been underwhelming so far. Gonzalez is better cast as a jack-of-all-trades whose real value lies in his positional versatility. That said, he has not gotten on track with the bat, as his .206/.286/.280 slash line indicates.   

Utility fielder Ehire Adrianza (INF/OF, MIN) got only two starts last week while fourth outfielder Jake Cave (OF, MIN) got zero as the Twins starting lineup was nearly identical in each game into the second week of May. Barring injury, I expect Minnesota to embrace the maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as they look to continue their early-season success.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.