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 2024 season. We're at the halfway point, so let's look at the:

American League Central

Chicago White Sox – The Sox have some amazing young talent in the field, and the pitching was getting there too. Unfortunately, both underperformed the past couple seasons, triggering a pitching staff rebuild. I don't know for how long, but one major piece is still there. Dylan Cease has been very inconsistent with command of his secondary pitches, but he has developed enough to make hitters shudder. Where do you go from there? Michael Kopech allowed 91 walks and 29 long balls in just 129 innings last year. He's better than that, but he makes me very nervous. Erick Fedde found his groove in Korea last year and has started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. I think he can be a serviceable MLB starting pitcher. Back in 2019 I was perhaps the biggest booster of Michael Soroka .Unfortunately, he has pitched just 46 innings over the last four seasons. He dons a new uniform and maybe he finds the fountain of health? A

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 2024 season. We're at the halfway point, so let's look at the:

American League Central

Chicago White Sox – The Sox have some amazing young talent in the field, and the pitching was getting there too. Unfortunately, both underperformed the past couple seasons, triggering a pitching staff rebuild. I don't know for how long, but one major piece is still there. Dylan Cease has been very inconsistent with command of his secondary pitches, but he has developed enough to make hitters shudder. Where do you go from there? Michael Kopech allowed 91 walks and 29 long balls in just 129 innings last year. He's better than that, but he makes me very nervous. Erick Fedde found his groove in Korea last year and has started pitching like he was expected to pitch when he turned pro. I think he can be a serviceable MLB starting pitcher. Back in 2019 I was perhaps the biggest booster of Michael Soroka .Unfortunately, he has pitched just 46 innings over the last four seasons. He dons a new uniform and maybe he finds the fountain of health? A couple of veterans, Touki Toussaint and Chris Flexen are probably next in line, but they really don't excite me. I think the true gem who could move into the rotation is Garrett Crochet. A southpaw with jaw-dropping stuff, he has the raw talent to be an impact pitcher if he can stay healthy and throw strikes.

The White Sox enter the season with perhaps the most unproven bullpen I have ever seen. I honestly don't know where to look right now. The only arm with much closing experience is a major health question mark. Will Corey Knebel be the guy?  When healthy, he's as good as they have. If he's not ready to go, maybe it's another graybeard Bryan Shaw? Deivi Garcia can be competent at times. A pair of retread righties, Dominic Leone and John Brebbia might be high on the list for holds, while Tim Hill could potentially handle bridge work from the left side. This pen might have one arm with awesome stuff. Rookie Noah Schultz has to be a part of this staff somewhere.

Recapping the White Sox:

The arm to own: I'm a Cease believer, and he's the guy if he stays with the Sox.

He'll likely be overpriced: Kopech took a major step backward last year.

Best of the bullpen: Wherever he lands in the overall plans, I like Schultz.

Cleveland Guardians – The Guardians have long been a source of quality pitching, albeit a relatively quiet source. For a longtime I waffled on Shane Bieber, but he has pretty much 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 Tanner Bibee is likely next up on my list. He looked adequate in his brief minor league career, but the Guardians have a way of making average pitchers much better as they 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 Logan Allen and Gavin Williams will handle the fourth and fifth spots. I like Allen slightly better right now, but he can be inconsistent and he's a soft-tosser, which makes me a bit skittish. He's only 25 years old and has been dealing with shoulder issues, but if he's healthy he fits. The pipeline isn't empty, as I expect Joey Cantillo will see Cleveland at some point this season. The young southpaw is definitely worth a look, especially in dynasty/keeper formats. Also, keep tabs on Carlos Carrasco who returns to where he enjoyed his best years.

A few 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 for a couple seasons, and he is one of the best closer's in the game. Beyond Clase, Scott Barlow will serve as his primary set-up guy, while Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak, Sam Hentges, Nick Sandlin and Eli Morgan (a potential swingman), are also in the mix of a fairly deep pen.

Recapping the Guardians:

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

He'll likely be overpriced: Williams is okay, but he could be a bit overpriced.

Best of the bullpen: I think Clase is one of the elite closer's in the game.

Detroit Tigers – At one time the best hope for Tigers' fans was in the arms of a few nice kids. Matt Manning and Casey Mize were both considered blue-chip pitching prospects, but they haven't found much success. Now, Tarik Skubal is the latest great hope. Both of the first two were seen as legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospects. Mize underwent Tommy John and back surgery, which cost him all of 2023. Skubal has a big arm and occasionally flashes upside, but he suffered a flexor tendon injury and missed the first half 2023. I liked Manning a bit better than the other two, and he finally appeared to be finding his stride, but he hasn't topped 100 innings since 2019. Keep your fingers crossed. They are all worthy of consideration, especially in keeper/dynasty formats, but I need to see progress. This year, looking for stability, they also tried the free agent market, signing Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda. Both have enjoyed success but struggled recently. What will we see in 2024? I'm inclined to look for at least some bounce-back. Reese Olson and maybe Alex Faedo are other options, but not necessarily great 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 has been a pretty shaky bullpen. They appear to be trending upward, with Alex Lange handling most of the ninth-inning duties and Jason Foley his primary set-up man, but it quickly gets thin behind them. Andrew Chafin is now on board along with Miguel Diaz, who can be erratic at times. Shelby Miller and Will Vest are other considerations for late-inning work, but they aren't likely to help a fantasy team.

Recapping the Tigers:

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

He'll likely be overpriced: Mize still has a following, but I'm skeptical at best.

Best of the bullpen: Lange may have locked it in and has minimal competition.

Kansas City Royals – The Royals are, in many ways, also experiencing a changing of the guard in their rotation. The two staff members I have been modestly touting the past couple years are Brady Singer and Brad Keller, and while they are not aces, there is some potential for them 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 offering he could be tough. Keller, a former Rule-5 pick, has been somewhat erratic. He's a free agent now with thoracic outlet syndrome, so his status is up in the air. Behind Singer, the Royals have Cole Ragans, who put up an amazing second half, and they brought in Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo to help the kids grow. Realistically, they are back-of-the-rotation options for fantasy teams at best. The same might be said for fringy fantasy starter Jordan Lyles. I'm not a big Kris Bubic fan, but he's also in the mix. There is potentially 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 on my mind is, where are Asa Lacy and Daniel Lynch along the developmental timeline? Lynch is progressing slowly, and Lacy has sort of disappeared. Also, one of their best pitchers, Kyle Wright, was acquired in a trade, but he's out until 2025.

The Kansas City bullpen enjoyed a renaissance of sorts with Scott Barlow stepping up in a big way in 2022, but he fell off last year and was dealt away. Will Smith looked good at times last year and he has the best credentials to take over ninth-inning duties. I still think Nick Anderson could get a look as a part-time closer, but it's probably nothing imminent unless a lot of pieces fall into place. James McArthur returns as a primary set up guy, with newcomers John Schreiber and Chris Stratton also hoping to get some occasional leads into the late innings.

Recapping the Royals:

The arm to own: Singer could take a step forward. No guarantees, but it is possible.

He'll likely be overpriced: Ragans looks okay, but I think he's somewhat overhyped

Best of the bullpen: Smith looks like the guy with McArthur waiting in the wings.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins are a legitimate pick to win the AL Central, and this season looks like a great time to be a Twins fan. That said, I'm at least partially basing that on pitching depth. I do anticipate a strong season from Pablo Lopez, who doesn't always get the attention he deserves, and Joe Ryan could be poised to take another step forward. They have another arm with top-of-the-rotation potential in Bailey Ober who is rounding into a nice, reliable starter. Chris Paddack is also back on radar after losing almost two seasons to Tommy John surgery. He's better than his recent peripherals suggest. The pitching will certainly be deeper and considerably stronger if the recently acquired Anthony DeSclafani returns to form (he missed much of the last two seasons with injuries). He's a winner on a team that can win a lot of games, and I anticipate a solid year. That's a pretty 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. Louie Varland is first in line and will likely collect a few starts, but there's no room for him right now. If the Twins need help later in the season, I also like a couple pitching prospects. I think Jordan Balazovic and Simeon Woods Richardson are both about ready to contribute at the MLB level.

The Twins' bullpen should also be considered a strength, led by arguably the best arm in baseball today. Jhoan Duran averages 102 mph – that's right, averages – and most importantly he has developed enough command to make the velocity work. That said, the bullpen as a whole looks pretty good. They have holdover set-up guys Griffin Jax, Justin Topa, Caleb Thielbar and Brock Stewart to provide a solid bridge to the late innings, while Josh Winder gives them innings as a swingman.

Recapping the Twins:

The arm to own: Ryan is knocking on the door, and I'm buying this spring.

He'll likely be overpriced: I'm staying away from Paddack, expecting a light workload.

Best of the bullpen: Duran steps up and becomes entrenched as a top closer.

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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