Mound Musings: A Look at Pitching in the AL Central

Mound Musings: A Look at Pitching in the AL Central

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Three divisions down, and three to go. This week, we move to the AL Central to take a look into the crystal ball and search for draft day bargains. I'll continue to throw some names out there for your consideration, covering one division each week. When the dust settles, we should be looking at Opening Day, and hopefully have a value-laden pitching staff heading into the 2023 season. We're at the halfway point, so let's look at the:

American League Central 

Chicago White Sox – White Sox fans should be preparing to celebrate. If not this season, very soon. They have some amazing young talent in the field, and the pitching is getting there, too. Unfortunately, both have been underperforming. Dylan Cease had been very inconsistent with command of his secondary pitches, but last year he developed enough to make hitters shudder. From 2019-21, Lucas Giolito found his groove and has started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. He should be a genuine ace, and I expect him to be back after last year's fiasco. Veteran Lance Lynn was being counted on for a lot of innings, but a knee injury cost him two months, and it took him a long while to round into shape. I have never been a huge Lynn fan and I still harbor concerns about his conditioning. A couple years ago I would have listed Mike Clevinger as a solid No. 2, but he missed most of 2020 and 2021

Three divisions down, and three to go. This week, we move to the AL Central to take a look into the crystal ball and search for draft day bargains. I'll continue to throw some names out there for your consideration, covering one division each week. When the dust settles, we should be looking at Opening Day, and hopefully have a value-laden pitching staff heading into the 2023 season. We're at the halfway point, so let's look at the:

American League Central 

Chicago White Sox – White Sox fans should be preparing to celebrate. If not this season, very soon. They have some amazing young talent in the field, and the pitching is getting there, too. Unfortunately, both have been underperforming. Dylan Cease had been very inconsistent with command of his secondary pitches, but last year he developed enough to make hitters shudder. From 2019-21, Lucas Giolito found his groove and has started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. He should be a genuine ace, and I expect him to be back after last year's fiasco. Veteran Lance Lynn was being counted on for a lot of innings, but a knee injury cost him two months, and it took him a long while to round into shape. I have never been a huge Lynn fan and I still harbor concerns about his conditioning. A couple years ago I would have listed Mike Clevinger as a solid No. 2, but he missed most of 2020 and 2021 following Tommy John surgery and then suffered knee problems after returning in 2022. To further complicate things, he is being investigated for domestic violence. If he's back on track health-wise and doesn't end up suspended, he could be an inexpensive pick, but tread carefully. Michael Kopech, who made just four MLB starts in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery will also be counted on as a full member of the rotation. He missed all of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and was brought back cautiously. There are two talented kids, Davis Martin and A.J. Alexy, who are expected to get into the starting mix, but I think the true gem could move into the rotation later when deemed healthy. I'm buying on Garrett Crochet. A southpaw with jaw-dropping stuff, he has future ace stamped on his resume.

The White Sox have either a very good bullpen or an excellent bullpen, depending on the health of Liam Hendriks He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and is currently undergoing treatment. When healthy, he's as good as they get. If he's not ready to go, Kendall Graveman would be my choice to carry the ninth-inning load. He's not Hendriks, but he's competent. This pen has arms with awesome stuff. A pair of lefties, Aaron Bummer and Jake Diekman would be high on the list for holds, while Graveman (if Hendriks is available) and Joe Kelly can handle bridge work from the right side. One other name to note, Reynaldo Lopez is a solid swingman, taking care of long relief and filling in as needed in the rotation.

Recapping the White Sox:

The arm to roster: Let's give Giolito a mulligan for last year and look for a bounce-back.

He'll likely be overpriced: Lynn's price is often too high for me. I'm passing.

Best of the bullpen: Hendriks is the best closer in the game today if his health allows.

Cleveland Indians – A lot of pretty strong starting pitchers have departed Cleveland in recent years. That said, the cupboard is not completely bare. For a long time I waffled on Shane Bieber, but he has won me over. His once rather average stuff has improved significantly, and more importantly, his command of his entire repertoire might possibly be the best in the game. I think Cal Quantrill is likely next up on my list. Like Bieber, he looked adequate early on, but the Guardians have a way of making adequate pitch much better as the mature. Triston McKenzie will work from the third slot and he is also deep into that maturing process. His breaking stuff is virtually unhittable, but he has to stay ahead in the count so hitters can't just sit on his fastball. It looks like Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac will handle the fourth and fifth spots. I like Plesac slightly better right now, but he can be inconsistent, which makes me shy away. He's only 22-years-old, and has been dealing with shoulder issues, but maybe Daniel Espino or Gavin Williams will see Cleveland at some point this season. They are both worth a look, especially in dynasty/keeper formats.

A couple short years ago, I said, "The guy I really want to see in the ninth inning is Emmanuel Clase." Well, we have now seen him, and he is one of the best closers in the game. Beyond Clase, James Karinchak serves as his primary quality set-up guy, while Trevor Stephan, Sam Hentges, Nick Sandlin, Eli Morgan (a potential swingman) and Enyel De Los Santos also in the mix of a deep pen.

Recapping the Indians:

The arm to roster: McKenzie has the upside to create value on draft day.

He'll likely be overpriced: Civale is okay but he has a history of being overpriced.

Best of the bullpen: I think Clase is cemented into the closer gig.
 

Detroit Tigers – When evaluating the Tigers pitching staff, I get the feeling I'm viewing the antithesis of the Guardians. The Tigers find talent, but it doesn't always develop. The best hopes for Tigers' fans is in the arms of a few nice kids. Matt Manning and Casey Mize are both blue-chip pitching prospects, and Tarik Skubal is only a step behind them. Both of the first two were seen as legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospects. Mize underwent Tommy John and back surgery, which could cost him all of 2023. Skubal scuffled at times and occasionally flashed some upside, but he suffered a flexor tendon injury and is likely to miss the first half of this year. I liked Manning a bit better than the other two, and he finally appeared to be finding his stride. Keep your fingers crossed. They are all worthy of consideration, especially in keeper/dynasty formats, but I need to see progress. They also tried the free agent market, signing Eduardo Rodriguez from Boston. I saw him as a middling innings eater. I still do. Matthew Boyd remains an erratic lefty with lefty inconsistency. I still don't think he should be a mainstay in your rotation, but if his command improves, he has the tools to be an adequate fantasy starter. Maybe it's Spencer Turnbull. He looked pretty good in early 2021 before blowing out his elbow, but his stuff doesn't really suggest top-of-the-rotation status. Michael Lorenzen comes over from the Angels. He has a very nice arm but lacks consistent secondary stuff, so he is vulnerable to lefty hitters. Garrett Hill and maybe Alex Faedo are other options but not necessarily good options. One other name to note is Jackson Jobe. I love his slider and change, so perhaps he breaks the trend and continues to develop, eventually locking down a spot in the rotation.

Overall, this is a pretty shaky bullpen. For a few seasons Joe Jimenez was the "Tigers' closer of the future," but he was given chances and his results weren't very good. He's gone. Gregory Soto stepped in and looked better than Jimenez, but he was wildly inconsistent. He's gone, too. That leaves lukewarm – at least today – choices for late-inning work to include Alex Lange and Jose Cisnero. Lange has decent stuff including a dazzling curveball, but he sometimes lacks consistency. He's the best bet. Cisnero is similar, but he is even more erratic and has experienced both shoulder and neck woes. Tyler Alexander is a long-shot for key innings.

Recapping the Tigers:

The arm to roster: Manning should be a force. He has the highest ceiling.

He'll likely be overpriced: E-Rod has a following, but I'm skeptical at best.

Best of the bullpen: Today, probably Lange, but he needs to lock it in.

Kansas City Royals – Not unlike the Tigers, the Royals are in many ways also experiencing a changing of the guard in their rotation. The two members of the staff I have been modestly touting the past couple years are Brady Singer and Brad Keller, and while they are not aces, there is potential to help a fantasy team. Singer is an interesting study. He's a sinker/slider pitcher and he gets by on those two pitches alone. If he could master a true off-speed pitch he could be a handful. Keller, a former Rule-5 pick has been somewhat erratic but he is steadily improving his game and I don't think he's done yet. Behind Keller and Singer, the Royals brought Zack Greinke home to help the kids grow. He's probably a back-of-the-rotation option for fantasy teams right now, but he could potentially help in deeper leagues. The same might be said for fringy fantasy starters Ryan Yarbrough and Jordan Lyles. There is more help on the way. The Royals have gone after pitching in the draft over the past couple years, and one or two of their top prospects could find their way to Kansas City as early as later this summer. The question is, where is Asa Lacy, their first-round pick in 2020 is a lefty with a very high ceiling who may only need to get healthy and rediscover the strike to be ready. Similarly, Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch have talent but have had major struggles with the Royals. All three are worthy of consideration, again especially in keeper/dynasty leagues. I'm not a big Kris Bubic fan, but he's also in the mix.

The Kansas City bullpen enjoyed a renaissance of sorts with Scott Barlow stepping up in a big way in 2022, but the surprising Royals added long time closer Aroldis Chapman, and he'll probably see the lion's share of save opportunities as long as he serves up positive results. He looked good at times last year but he also looked hurt pretty often. I still think Josh Staumont will eventually get a look as the closer, but probably not this year unless a lot of pieces fall into place. Dylan Coleman returns as a primary set-up guy with Amir Garrett and Nick Wittgren hoping to get leads into the late innings.

Recapping the Royals:

The arm to roster: Either Keller or Singer could take a step forward. I prefer Singer.

He'll likely be overpriced: Greinke is finishing out his career but is limited in value.

Best of the bullpen: Chapman if his resurgence happens. Monitor him closely.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins, Guardians and White Sox are all legitimate picks to win the AL Central, and this season looks like it could be a race to the wire between those three. That said, I'll give the edge to Minnesota, and I'm basing that at least partially on pitching depth. I do anticipate another strong season from Sonny Gray who doesn't really get much attention, and Joe Ryan could be poised to take a step forward if his new splitter pans out. They also added another arm with top-of-the-rotation credentials when they acquired Pablo Lopez from Miami in an off-season trade. Tyler Mahle is also back on board after an injury marred 2022. He's a lot better than his peripherals suggest. Pretty impressive, right? Hey, I haven't even mentioned my favorite yet. The pitching will certainly be deeper and considerably stronger if Kenta Maeda returns to form on the mound (he missed all of last season following 2021 Tommy John surgery). He's a winner on a team that can win a lot of games. and I anticipate a big year. That's a very good top five, and while there aren't a lot of household names, I like the mix. There are even a couple other names to keep in mind. Righty Bailey Ober is first in line, and will likely collect a few starts along with the injured Josh Winder, but there's no room for them right now. If the Twins need late-season help, that could be Chris Paddack, as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. I also like a couple top pitching prospects. Jordan Balazovic and Simeon Woods Richardson are both about ready to contribute at the MLB level.

The Twins' bullpen could again be a closer by committee, but I think the best arm in the pen, Jhoan Duran, will end the season with the most saves on the staff. That said, the bullpen as a whole looks pretty good. They have holdover closer Jorge Lopez who has plenty of talent and will surely see some ninth-inning work, but he can also serve as an excellent set-up guy. They even have another arm with some closing experience (30 career saves) in Emilio Pagan, while Caleb Thielbar and Griffin Jax should provide a solid bridge to the late innings.

Recapping the Twins:

The arm to roster: Maeda at his best is an ace. I'm buying this spring.

He'll likely be overpriced: I'm staying away from Ober. I don't see the innings.

Best of the bullpen: Duran steps up and takes the closer reins from Lopez.

Next week we'll look at the NL Central.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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