Collette Calls: 2022 AL Central Bold Predictions

Collette Calls: 2022 AL Central Bold Predictions

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

The premise for this year's series was laid out in the first installment, so please review it. ADP references are looking at Draft Champions leagues in 2021 and 2022. Auction values are based on standard 15-team league formats. 

Chicago White Sox

Eloy Jimenez finishes in the top 30

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

E. Jimenez

67

71

-$5

$17

This prediction assumes that he does not attempt any more stupid fielding stunts in spring training this year. The stunt and disappointing season did very little to his market value as his ADP remains relatively unchanged, so some of the same reasons which drove people to take him as highly as 16th overall last season are still in play. In his one full season at the major-league level, at age 22, he was 15 percent better than the league average by wRC+. This past season saw him take it to another level finishing 39 percent better than the league average offensively before last year's delayed debut and disappointing performance. All growth is not linear, and the long layoff and severity of his injury was a humbling experience and a reminder for this future DH to remember his limitations and recognize the moment at hand.

Jimenez is not going to help you at all in steals, so his fantasy production is completely dependent upon his average and his run production, and he is currently slated to hit fifth or sixth in the still-loaded Chicago lineup.

The premise for this year's series was laid out in the first installment, so please review it. ADP references are looking at Draft Champions leagues in 2021 and 2022. Auction values are based on standard 15-team league formats. 

Chicago White Sox

Eloy Jimenez finishes in the top 30

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

E. Jimenez

67

71

-$5

$17

This prediction assumes that he does not attempt any more stupid fielding stunts in spring training this year. The stunt and disappointing season did very little to his market value as his ADP remains relatively unchanged, so some of the same reasons which drove people to take him as highly as 16th overall last season are still in play. In his one full season at the major-league level, at age 22, he was 15 percent better than the league average by wRC+. This past season saw him take it to another level finishing 39 percent better than the league average offensively before last year's delayed debut and disappointing performance. All growth is not linear, and the long layoff and severity of his injury was a humbling experience and a reminder for this future DH to remember his limitations and recognize the moment at hand.

Jimenez is not going to help you at all in steals, so his fantasy production is completely dependent upon his average and his run production, and he is currently slated to hit fifth or sixth in the still-loaded Chicago lineup. He should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runners in front of him in their OBP-laded offense with enough bats behind him to drive him in while continuing to play in a cozy offensive environment with an unbalanced schedule against a plethora of questionable pitching. It is unlikely he would move any higher than fourth in the lineup unless there is an injury to Jose Abreu. This may be the last draft season we will find him outside the top 40. 

Dylan Cease is a top 15 pitcher

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

D. Cease

348

81

$12

$7

I see a few condition in play for Cease to be one of the most valuable fantasy pitchers in 2022. Toronto was the only other club to provide more run support to its starting pitchers in the American League last year, and some of that was a side effect of playing in two very friendly minor-league parks for half the season. Cease had the fifth-best run support in the American League when he was on the mound, which helped him get to 13 wins given five of his 13 were of the non-quality start variety. 

Cease is a good example of the noise in simply looking at ERA vs xERA or FIP because it was this profile that allowed me to grab him at $4 in AL Tout as one of the better pitching bargains of the year:

Season

ERA

xERA

FIP

2019

5.79

4.73

5.19

2020

4.01

6.66

6.36

My purchase last year ignored those numbers and went off what I remembered my eyes seeing watching him pitch at both the big-league level as well as a handful of times here in Triple-A Charlotte. His struggles stemmed from his inconsistent command, putting him in the OSA (one skill away) club. You could tell from his stuff he was ready to take it up a notch with more consistent command, and he indeed made progress last year but left some room for improvement as well as he had more outings with three or more walks (12) than he did with nine or more strikeouts (11.) 

We are talking about a starting pitcher who has three offerings with at least a 40% whiff rate who will throw all four pitches to both righties and lefties who has excellent life on his pitches. If I could sit down and create my preferred pitching profile, this is nearly it. If he can get ahead in the count more consistently and can sling his breaking stuff at a higher frequency, he could have a very special season. Every season we look back at a guy who performs like an ace who was not drafted as an SP1, and Cease is a prime candidate to be that guy in 2022. 

Cleveland Guardians

Andres Gimenez is a top 25 middle infielder

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

A. Gimenez

158

250

-$7

-$1

I include the middle infielder qualifier since Gimenez qualifies at both second base, where he is currently 28th by ADP, as well as shortstop, where he is 30th. However, he is 46th by middle infielders, 125 spots behind Dansby Swanson on the MI ADP board. Gimenez has twice stolen 28 bases in a minor-league season in recent seasons and was able to swipe 11 in under half a season's play and multiple managers last year. Francona should be back at the helm in 2022, and has a track record of leveraging the running game to get the offense moving. Cleveland's power is condensed into the 3-4-5 spots with Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes and Bobby Bradley, and will be relying upon the others to get on base and leverage the running game when they're on base as the likes of Gimenez, Myles Straw, Amed Rosario and Bradley Zimmer have plenty of speed to utilize. 

This prediction will only materialize if Gimenez gets some batted-ball luck because his impatience at the plate limits his chances to reach base. He has but a .302 OBP in nearly 350 plate appearances at the big-league level, striking out nearly five times for every one time he walks. That profile will keep him near the bottom of the lineup, and the even-worse strikeout profiles of those behind him in the lineup almost assure Gimenez will be put on the move more frequently to advance into scoring position for the next man up. The entirety of this prediction is predicated on his steals as his run production and likely his batting average will leave you wanting much more. The upside here is another Mallex Smith while the downside is another Yolmer Sanchez.

Triston McKenzie is a top 60 pitcher

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

T. McKenzie

202

228

-$2

$5

I covered McKenzie in the Value in the Scrap Heap article earlier this winter, but I will re-state why I like him quite a bit this season:

He is an interesting speculation as he limited the opposition to a .194 batting average with a 28 percent strikeout rate and had a solid 1.18 WHIP for a pitcher with a near-5.00 ERA because of untimely walks and homers. In fact, McKenzie had the highest ERA of all pitchers last season with the following conditions:

  • At least 100 IP
  • At least a 25 percent strikeout rate
  • Less than .250 batting average against
  • WHIP 1.20 or less

Sorting pitchers by those conditions last year produced the names below and I have included their current ADP:

PITCHER

2022 ADP

Gerrit Cole

8

Shohei Ohtani

9

Julio Urias

31

Aaron Nola

36

Robbie Ray

42

Logan Webb

55

Jose Berrios

70

Joe Musgrove

77

Frankie Montas

79

Alek Manoah

84

Charlie Morton

92

Yu Darvish

94

Pablo Lopez

114

Logan Gilbert

133

Luis Garcia

145

Clayton Kershaw

186

Alex Wood

217

McKenzie

228

Cristian Javier

309

The average ADP of that list, minus McKenzie, is 138. McKenzie also has the highest 2021 ERA of pitchers on that list despite the skills mentioned above due to his command issues which led to both too many walks as well as homers. The other pitchers with ERAs over 4.00 on the above list include Logan Gilbert (4.68), Aaron Nola (4.63) and Yu Darvish (4.22.) 

What gives me hope for McKenzie is the breaking stuff as both his slider and curveball have 44% whiff rates and were very tough to hit last year as the league hit a collective .123 off his breaking stuff (.174 xBA) with four homers. The problem was the fastball; the league only hit .227 against the pitch, but 16 of his 21 homers came off the fastball. McKenzie goes to his fastball when he gets down in the count at a very high rate, so disciplined hitters who can lay off the breaking balls can go hunting for the heat:

The table below shows what McKenzie's rates were by the condition of the plate appearance in 2021:

SPLIT

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

K%

Batter Ahead

165

.264

.521

.519

10%

Even Count

143

.225

.231

.465

25%

Pitcher Ahead

187

.130

.139

.243

45%

Simply put, better overall command in 2022, particularly with his fastball, should allow McKenzie to take a significant leap forward in his development. 

Detroit Tigers

Riley Greene is a top 60 outfielder

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

R. Greene

695

303

DNP

NYP

Detroit was forced to play the inexperienced Akil Baddoo last season due to his Rule 5 status and it paid off well for them. Their hand may be forced to play Greene just on his talent alone after the season he put up in Double and Triple-A in 2021. The second-best prospect in the organization hit .301/.387/.534 in 124 games with 24 homers, 25 doubles, 95 runs and 16 steals. Yes, Toledo can be a comfortable place for homers and that helped Greene hit 16 there as a 20-year-old, but his .308/.400/.554 line as a 20-year-old in Triple-A was equally as impressive. 

Detroit is a better club, but one that is still working towards being a contender. The Tigers could surprise us a year earlier with the talent they've acquired plus the talent they've developed all clicking at once as well. They also have the albatross of the $70 million due to Miguel Cabrera when his productive days are well behind him and it would be an incredibly tough pill to swallow to cut someone making that much money who has meant what he has to the franchise. Greene is a big part of that future, and his path to a spot on the roster is proving he can handle center field at the major-league level and push Victor Reyes into the reserve role in which he belongs. 

I am forgiving Greene's higher-than-average strikeout rates simply because of what he was able to accomplish at the advanced levels of the minor leagues at such a young age. Yea, Spencer Torkelson is cool, but have you ever watched Riley Greene?

Eduardo Rodriguez finishes in the top 100 overall

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

E. Rodriguez

230

150

$7

$3

There is a rumor that Rodriguez eschewed a plane and simply sprinted from Fenway Park to Comerica Park after his experiences at home in 2021. The 4.74 ERA last season was a tale of two stories as Rodriguez pitched to a 3.95 ERA on the road, but to a 5.95 ERA at Fenway. His ERA at Fenway has ranged anywhere from 3.09 to 6.02 and his career in Boston ended with a 4.29 ERA with a slightly better 4.04 ERA on the road. The move from Fenway to Comerica takes him from a park with a 107 Park Factor over the past three seasons to one with a 98 Park Factor over the past three seasons which has one of the lowest rates of homers in the majors (24th)

Rodriguez had the challenge of trying to re-establish his baseball value after missing all of 2020 with one of the well-documented cases of struggling through COVID-19 and the after-effects after his career season in 2019. Rodriguez is coming off a season where he was able to post a career-best 20.4 K-BB% built upon career-bests in both his strikeout rate and walk rate all despite his fastball velocity still not rebounding back to its earlier levels:

The veteran has fine tuned his repertoire to include five offerings which he throws to both righties and lefties alike, helping him show three pitches with at least at 25% whiff rate led, surprisingly, by that declining-velocity four-seam fastball at 31%. It is rare for that particular pitch to generate whiffs at that level, but when a pitcher can work from ahead and keep hitters guessing which stream is coming from the kitchen sink, they are able to surprise hitters. His ability to keep hitters off balance as such is reflected in the fact he has been one of the better pitchers at limiting hard contact in his past two seasons. 

I am normally skittish about new big contracts in new places like this thanks to hearing Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf repeat it to me in between the clinks of their fantasy championship rings, but I am willing to make an exception for this profile, change in park and change in division. 

Kansas City Royals

Whit Merrifield is not a top 60 player

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

W. Merrifield

39

32

$25

$26

This one is going to take up some space given how money this guy has been the past few years. He has missed all of four games over the past four seasons, and those came in 2018. He has played in every single contest from 2019-2021 and has been a staple at the top of the lineup for Kansas City with his run production as a modern-day Craig Biggio without the benefits of the Crawford Boxes. He has exceeded 700 plate appearances in each of the past three full seasons, which is both extremely impressive as well as very rare. He is one of just 39 players since baseball's last lockout (1995) to have three or more seasons with at least 700 plate appearances. However, once you add an age qualifier onto the story, things change.

Merrifield turned 33 in recent days, and everyday baseball is a young man's game. When looking for players age 33 or older with multiple seasons of 700 or more plate appearances, the list shrinks to six players:

  • Ichiro Suzuki: 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011
  • Derek Jeter: 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012
  • Craig Biggio: 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004
  • Orlando Cabrera: 2008, 2009
  • Brian Giles: 2004, 2006
  • Jeff Bagwell: 2001, 2003
  • Rafael Palmeiro: 1998, 2001

Note the lack of back-to-back seasons on the above list and the complete void of three peats. If we look at just age 33, only 15 players in the past 25 full seasons has hit the 700 plate appearance plateau, with the last one being Joey Votto in 2017. We do not know what Merrifield's value looks like in a partial season simply because his lowest full season plate appearance total was in 2017 when the baseball was bouncier and he hit 19 homers in 145 games. His game is volume, and he has a strong five-season track record of answering the bell everyday and producing in 4-5 categories. I asked Alexa to look up Merrifield and injuries and she apologized for not being able to find any results because he has never been on the injured list at the big-league level. His last playing injury was a sprained left wrist in May of 2014.

He is either Wolverine, or the law of averages wins out this season. Merrifield is contributing in RBI and batting average, but excels in runs and steals with his volume and athleticism. An injury, particularly to his lower half, will have an impact on what he does best. This prediction is not anything related to observed or perceived skills degradation as much as it is the improbability of him continuing to avoid the injury list as he kicks off the accelerated part of the aging curve. A primary reason we feel safe drafting Merrifield in the late second or third round is because of that infamous durability because we have never had to deal with the other side of that story. 

Carlos Hernandez finishes in the top 300

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

C. Hernández

708

401

-$3

$1

Hernandez was two different pitchers in a couple of ways in 2021. The first split personality came in how he worked as a reliever versus how he looked as a starter:

ROLE

IP

ERA

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

AvgFBVelo

Reliever

27.1

3.95

0.220

0.322

0.350

31%

13%

98.1

Starter

58.1

3.55

0.224

0.317

0.324

16%

11%

96.9

Kansas City gave Hernandez a spot in the rotation after the break despite the control issues because he impressed them with his live stuff. His fastball has 95th percentile velocity with top 20th percentile spin to it, and all five of his offerings generated whiff rates over 20% as he threw all five to both righties and lefties. Even then, there were some issues last season with his splits:

ROLE

TBF

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

vs RH

193

0.254

0.322

0.379

21%

10%

vs LH

165

0.184

0.303

0.277

21%

13%

It is unusual to see that type of split for someone who throws five offerings to both righties and lefties, but it is also a good reminder of the noise within year-to-year splits. His strikeout rates were identical, but he walked a few more lefties because his changeup is more of a reminder pitch than a real weapon with a below-average whiff rate. 

One thing which really stands out on his Statcast profile page is the list of similar pitchers based on velocity and movement; take a look at the top 3:

  1. Drew Rasmussen
  2. Huascar Ynoa
  3. Brandon Woodruff

The first two do not have the depth of repertoire Hernandez possesses while the comparison to Woodruff is interesting as both have a five-pitch repertoire and Woodruff made the transition from the bullpen to the rotation himself during the 2018 season before his breakout season in 2019. Hernandez is admittedly raw as a starting pitcher, but the pieces are there for things to get interesting with him should he develop more consistent mechanics and command as a starting pitcher in 2022. 

Minnesota Twins

Luis Arraez is a top 20 second baseman

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

L. Arraez

377

307

$1

-$4

Arraez is not going to help in homers, RBI or steals, so for this type of prediction to come to fruition, he will have to excel in the other two categories. I believe he can absolutely do that. He has a .313 career batting average at the major-league level from 2019-21 when the league-wide batting average in that same time has been .248. He has elite bat-to-ball skills as only David Fletcher had a lower Whiff% last season (min 250 PA.) He embraces his lack of over-the-fence power by working to put the ball in play wherever he is pitched by the opposition as his batted balls rarely get to fence and a good portion of his doubles and triples come from the hard-hit liner down the line which rolls into the corner. 

His career .374 OBP is perfectly suited for the leadoff spot in Minnesota to set the table for Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson at the top of the lineup. There is a clear path to 100-plus runs for Arraez if he and the talent behind him stay healthy all season. Last season, he led off 70 times, but the talent behind him had trouble staying healthy with nobody garnering more than 68 games in the second spot of the lineup, and nobody exceeding 47 games in spots 2-5. Arraez hit .312/.368/.394 in 310 plate appearances at the top of the lineup with 46 runs scored meaning he scored 14.8% of the time he reached base in 2021 with all the noise going on behind him. A more consistent lineup with the talent of the aforementioned names have should provide Arraez with ample opportunities to score and easily surpass his career high in runs on his way to 100 runs scored this season. The average north of .300 and 100-plus runs would easily get him into the top 20 for second baseman. The list of second baseman to do that the past five full seasons is Jose Altuve (2x), Jean Segura, Dustin Pedroia, DJ LeMahieu, and Dee Strange-Gordon. The challenge would be the only one of those to get to 100 without at least 30 steals was Pedroia and he drove himself in 15 times. 

Jorge Alcala leads the Twins in saves

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

J. Acala

688

445

-$3

$0

The Minnesota bullpen had its issues last season with seven different pitchers earning saves, led by Alex Colome at 17 and Hansel Robles with 10. Neither of them remain with the club, leaving Taylor Rogers as the leader in the clubhouse with nine saves. This prediction for Alcala is not to slight Rogers as he has some rather impressive foundational numbers himself with an outstanding strikeout rate, a high groundball rate and low homer rate. That is also the kind of profile an analytically-minded manager out of the Kevin Cash family tree could decide to leverage more in other high-leverage situations rather than saving him for the ninth, not to mention Rogers was only 9 of 13 in his save chances last season.

Alcala was two different relievers last season, which is why I am rather interested in him this season. On the surface, the 10 homers in 59.2 innings is cringeworthy, but look at how they break down:

SPLIT

ERA

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

1st Half

4.67

.228

.274

.455

9

2nd Half

2.88

.195

.247

.276

1

Alcala got to the majors with a fastball/slider combination, but then began rolling out a sinker and a changeup in-season which pushed his overall swing-and-miss rate into the mid-30s by season's end:

He now throws four pitches out of the 'pen with two, the slider and changeup, generating whiffs at least 30% of the time while both versions of his fastball generate swings and misses at least 21% of the time and the positive trend shows up in his month-by-month batting average:

Let others focus on the near-4.00 ERA and the high home run rate while you remember the growth in the second half which came from a change in approach. The only save of his major-league career came in the final game of the season, but I am expecting many more opportunities in 2022. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast on iTunes. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls.
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