This article is part of our Mound Musings series.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox – Have you ever noticed the sky can be pretty impressive just before the dawning of a new day? The young but quickly maturing White Sox might be very close to putting all the pieces together. Lucas Giolito finally found his groove and started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. It was an impressive step, and I expect it to continue. The next two pieces of the puzzle are perhaps, unfortunately, a year from dropping into place. Carlos Rodon missed most of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and won't be back until around midseason. That puts the talented righty on schedule to take a significant step forward next year. I'm buying. Michael Kopech made just four MLB starts in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of last season, but should be on the mound this year, albeit probably with some workload restrictions. Kopech has a huge arm, and I'm hoping he'll find more consistency with his command and secondary stuff. He could be worth a flyer, especially in keeper formats. Two more young arms will see time on the South Side this year. Both Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease were very inconsistent with command of their secondary pitches, but they also display some encouraging signs at times. Over the long haul, Cease is probably the better bet. As they have been doing recently, the team added a couple veterans to possibly help with the kids' development.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox – Have you ever noticed the sky can be pretty impressive just before the dawning of a new day? The young but quickly maturing White Sox might be very close to putting all the pieces together. Lucas Giolito finally found his groove and started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. It was an impressive step, and I expect it to continue. The next two pieces of the puzzle are perhaps, unfortunately, a year from dropping into place. Carlos Rodon missed most of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and won't be back until around midseason. That puts the talented righty on schedule to take a significant step forward next year. I'm buying. Michael Kopech made just four MLB starts in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of last season, but should be on the mound this year, albeit probably with some workload restrictions. Kopech has a huge arm, and I'm hoping he'll find more consistency with his command and secondary stuff. He could be worth a flyer, especially in keeper formats. Two more young arms will see time on the South Side this year. Both Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease were very inconsistent with command of their secondary pitches, but they also display some encouraging signs at times. Over the long haul, Cease is probably the better bet. As they have been doing recently, the team added a couple veterans to possibly help with the kids' development. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez (assuming his shoulder is sound) should give the Sox some innings and stability, but I really don't consider either to be significant fantasy assets.
Alex Colome signed a lucrative one-year deal with the Sox following a solid 30-save season in 2019. He's not an elite closer, but he could be in line for a handful more saves if the team collects a few more wins. Kelvin Herrera and Steve Cishek both have closing/late-inning experience, so they will share the late-inning set-up duties with guy who really stood out last season. Southpaw Aaron Bummer really clicked in 2019, and he would be my first choice from this bullpen in a holds league. And, for the future, it wouldn't surprise me to see him closing when/if Colome moves on.
Recapping the White Sox:
The arm to own: Lucas Giolito is still improving, but Rodon is a possibility, too.
He'll likely be overpriced: Dallas Keuchel; his price is often too high for me.
Best of the bullpen: Colome is solid, but maybe a flyer on Bummer.
Cleveland Indians – One does not simply pencil in a replacement for Corey Kluber. From 2014 to 2018 he pitched every five days, got deep into games, maintained a very handy WHIP and piled up strikeouts (more than 200 each of those years). He missed much of 2019 with injuries, but even with him in Texas (and Trevor Bauer in Cincinnati), the cupboard is not bare. A couple of seasons ago, I recommended pursuing Mike Clevinger, and he has paid dividends. I like him again this year, but he's no longer a sleeper and will command a fair price on draft day. For a long time I waffled on Shane Bieber, but he has pretty much won me over. His once rather average stuff has improved a bit, and, more importantly, his command of his entire repertoire is significantly better. The next arm on the staff actually offers similar upside to the top pair, but Carlos Carrasco just can't find consistency. Don't get me wrong, he's a good pitcher, but his mechanics do occasionally get out of sync and his performance suffers. I think Aaron Civale has earned the four spot in the Indians' rotation. He doesn't have great stuff, so his strikeout totals won't be great, but he commands a solid repertoire well enough to get deep into games. Not a bad back-of-the-rotation fantasy guy. It looks like either Zach Plesac or Adam Plutko will work from the fifth spot. I like Plesac better, but I don't see either being fantasy assets. Unfortunately, while they have some quality young arms in the system, most are at least a year or two away. Their best upper level starting pitching prospect, Triston McKenzie, missed all of 2019 with back woes.
What an intriguing bullpen. Brad Hand is the primary closer, but his name is constantly mentioned in trade rumors, and I believe it's only a matter of time before he switches uniforms. If and when that happens, there are a pair of very good candidates to step in. Unfortunately, the guy I really want to see in the ninth inning, Emmanuel Clase, suffered a back injury and will probably miss three months. He throws a cutter that has to be seen to be believed. They also have another closing candidate in James Karinchak who likely will serve as Hand's primary set-up guy along with Nick Wittgren. Beyond them, Adam Cimber is an asset against right-handed hitters, and Oliver Perez fits against lefties, but both are potentially vulnerable to opposite hand hitters.
Recapping the Indians:
The arm to own: I'll give the nod to Mike Clevinger hoping for a small discount.
He'll likely be overpriced: Carlos Carrasco is simply too inconsistent.
Best of the bullpen: Brad Hand today, but Clase should be monitored.
Detroit Tigers –The Tigers cover all the bases in their rotation – a couple fairly high upside starters, a couple perennial underperformers, a couple placeholders and a couple very appealing young arms that could arrive this season. At the top of the rotation, Matthew Boyd remains an erratic lefty with lefty inconsistency, but he is displaying a bit better command as he matures. I still don't think he should be at the top of your rotation, but if his command improves, he has the tools to be a significant asset. Spencer Turnbull lost 17 games last year, and while his peripherals weren't that bad, he lacks command, leading to a lot of baserunners. He doesn't have the repertoire to keep hitters honest without better command, so I think he likely will have a hard time improving. Leading the underperformers is Jordan Zimmermann. He was once a hot commodity in fantasy leagues. However, chronic neck and back issues have resulted in declining production, and he will need to show me he can pitch (again) to garner my interest. Daniel Norris also qualifies as a disappointment, and while he could be in line for better days, I consider him a longshot to provide fantasy value. They also signed Ivan Nova to a one-year contract, but he's more of an innings eater and placeholder than a real reason for optimism. The best hopes for Tigers' fans are to be found down on the farm. Matt Manning and Casey Mize are both blue-chip pitching prospects, and there's a good chance both will see Detroit this season. I like Manning slightly better, but they are both worthy of consideration, especially in keeper/dynasty formats. And, don't forget Michael Fulmer should be back in the second half. I'm just not a huge fan.
This is a pretty nondescript bullpen. For a few seasons, Joe Jimenez was the "Tigers' closer of the future," and when Shane Greene was dealt last summer, the future arrived. He performed adequately, and while I don't consider him an ideal closer, he should have a fairly long leash since there aren't any other solid options. Buck Farmer probably sees most of the eighth-inning work, Other than those two, the lukewarm (generous) choices for late-inning work could include Jose Cisnero and/or Gregory Soto. One possible sleeper would be Franklin Perez. He's a high upside arm who has fallen off the radar due to injuries over the past couple years.
Recapping the Tigers:
The arm to own: Matthew Boyd could click any time now, but grab a kid.
He'll likely be overpriced: Spencer Turnbull is drawing interest, but I'm skeptical.
Best of the bullpen: Joe Jimenez because there isn't much else here.
Kansas City Royals – Last year I lead this review with, "I'm afraid when Jakob Junis and Danny Duffy are the staff leaders, there's not any great level of optimism," and not a lot has changed. Duffy, at the top of the rotation, can still be a decent starter when he's healthy and on track, but he has had chronic injury issues, and they seem to prevent him from ever getting into a good rhythm. Junis features generally pedestrian stuff other than a quality slider, but not surprisingly, one quality pitch can't provide positive results start after start. The one member of the staff I thought could potentially step up last season was Brad Keller, and I saw some encouraging outings. The former Rule-5 pick was pretty effective for much of last season, and wouldn't need to improve a lot to step to the head of the class in Kansas City. He's still a back of the rotation option for fantasy teams, but he could potentially help in deeper leagues. The last two spots in the rotation will likely be filled by some combination of lefty Mike Montgomery (arguably the best of the bunch), Jorge Lopez, Eric Skoglund, and/or Jesse Hahn. I'll pass on all of them, but maybe there is some help on the way. The Royals went after pitching in the draft a couple years ago, and I think one of their selections, Brady Singer, could find his way to Kansas City this summer. Keep an eye on his progress.
The Kansas City bullpen became a lot more settled with the emergence of Ian Kennedy as a viable closer. Not surprisingly, his fastball ticked up with the move to the pen, and he contributed 30 saves last year. I actually thought he looked better in the role than his peripherals would suggest. Kennedy should have considerable job security barring a trade. If that happens, look for Josh Staumont to get a look as the closer. He has a huge arm, but still lacks command. The Royals converted him to relief work last season and the move certainly made an immediate difference. They brought in Greg Holland over the winter, but the former closer is a longshot to see saves again in the foreseeable future. Scott Barlow returns as a primary set up guy with Kevin McCarthy and southpaw Tim Hill hoping to get any leads into the late innings.
Recapping the Royals:
The arm to own: Brad Keller could take another step forward.
He'll likely be overpriced: Jakob Junis doesn't have the necessary stuff to excel.
Best of the bullpen: Ian Kennedy has found his niche at the back of the bullpen.
Minnesota Twins – The Twins are clearly aiming for post season play, and they may have the pitching to complement their thundering bats. I've been patiently waiting for Jose Berrios to lace up the elite shoes, and this could be the year. He's already the young leader of the band, but I think there is still some growth to come. I'm a buyer. In what I thought was a great move, the Twins added Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers. Moving from the NL West and Dodger Stadium won't help his peripherals, but I do anticipate a strong season. Another solid contributor, Jake Odorizzi, put together a very respectable season in 2019. His ERA and WHIP were about where I think they should be, and he gets plenty of run support, so a repeat is reasonable to expect. Another newcomer is Homer Bailey. I'll be honest, he's 33 years old, and I haven't figured him out yet. I like him when he's right (the second half of last season for example), but prefer to be far away when he goes into a funk. Do ya feel lucky? Jhoulys Chacin is the likely fifth starter early on. He's not a strong option by any means, but he's better than the alternatives, Lewis Thorpe and/or Devin Smeltzer. The pitching will certainly be deeper and considerably stronger when Michael Pineda returns from suspension in May, and another newcomer, lefty Rich Hill, makes it back from an elbow issue, expected to be sometime in June. This is a veteran rotation that should be quite productive.
The Twins' bullpen began 2019 as a closer by committee, but as I anticipated, the best arm in the pen, Taylor Rogers, eventually claimed the gig fulltime. He is more than capable, and should see plenty of leads to protect this year .If there is a weakness here, Rogers is the only really proven southpaw. That said. The bullpen as a whole looks pretty good. Sergio Romo has closing experience (if needed) but should serve as an excellent set-up guy, the role he is best suited to fill. Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Tyler Clippard will be counted upon to get the game into the late innings. And, perhaps Blaine Hardy can bounce back from elbow issues to provide help from the left side.
Recapping the Twins:
The arm to own: Jose Berrios, but I look for a big year from Maeda, too.
He'll likely be overpriced: Homer Bailey/ I love him and hate him.
Best of the bullpen: Taylor Rogers could be in line for a huge season.
Next week we'll look at the NL West.