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Painting the Black: Four AL Players To Watch

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis is a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. Drafted 102nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, he played 9 professional seasons altogether with the Tribe, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. Lewis amassed a career of 7-11 in 161 games, good for a 3.68 career ERA in 198 innings. He helped the Indians win the AL Central in 2007, becoming a key cog in their bullpen, on a postseason run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Lewis went a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with the Indians in 2008 as their closer and was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2010. The award recognizes the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field as well as representing the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs. A Vanderbilt University graduate with a BS in Communications, Lewis now works as a broadcast personality with Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio in Cleveland. He continues to be involved in Cleveland Indians Charities providing support to the Cleveland community, making visits to local hospitals and participating in the annual Tyson Food Distribution event held before Thanksgiving. A diehard Cleveland fan his entire life, he still holds out hope that the Tribe & Browns championship droughts will come to an end during his lifetime.

PAINTING THE BLACK: Four players to watch in the American League

Filling out a fantasy roster can lead to some tough decisions. Who to keep?  Who to drop?  And who is going to be the one guy you wish you drafted before someone plucked him from your grasp?  It happens every season. Young players with small track records splash onto the scene with a monster year. Or veteran guys resurrect their careers to return to their old form. The 2014 season will be no different. But as fantasy GMs prepare for their upcoming draft days, which are the 4 players in the American League to snatch up for your team that might be overlooked?  Take it from somebody who's already faced them, played with them or played against them – these guys will take your fantasy team to the top!

Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox:

A blast from the past to be certain, but “G-size" will long live in many Cleveland Indians' fans' minds as the tale of two men during his tenure with the Tribe. Arguably one of the best leadoff hitters in the entire league from 2005-2008, he averaged over 70 extra-base hits, including 53 doubles in '06, and a career high 33 HRs and 90 RBI's in '08. The 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner looked primed to be one of the best at his position for many years to come. Then the injury bug came, nearly ending Sizemore's playing career altogether. He hasn't played in the big leagues since 2011, but it seems entering spring training in 2014, the time off to heal his knees and return to playing shape did his body good.

Boston took a big chance, signing Sizemore to a Major League deal this offseason, knowing full well the injury history they'd be taking on. As a former teammate, one thing I can tell you is this: healthy or hurt, he plays like a man possessed. You won't find a more aggressive, defensive outfielder than Grady. And the rave reviews for his bat are starting to pour in from Red Sox camp. His power to all fields will play perfectly at Fenway park and his defensive range will undoubtedly thrill his pitching staff. The difference-maker in Sizemore's game is his speed. He swiped over 20 bags a year before succumbing to injuries. But as long as the knees remain healthy, the Red Sox may have the steal of the position player free agency class of 2014. Essentially adding a reborn, rebuilt, and healthy former All-Star to replace Jacoby Ellsbury, “G-Size" is poised to bring many smiles to all the Fenway faithful.

Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox:

Two words come to mind when I think of Adam Eaton: Pete Rose. The reckless abandon with which Eaton plays the game reminds me of Rose's old-school, down-and-dirty, bulldoze-you-at-home-plate mentality. He's very much in the same mold mentality-wise as Grady Sizemore, just without the size. There are so many facets of Eaton's game to like. Blazing speed with the threat to bunt for base hits at any time, he also exhibits surprising power to all fields for being only 5'8". But don't tell him he's too small to be considered elite – he fully believes he's as five-tool a player as any in the game. After playing with him in 2012, aside from him hitting near to over .400 for his duration in the minor leagues that year, I came away so impressed with his plate discipline. Pitches routinely hit Eaton because he stands very closely, Chase Utley-like, to home plate. The icing on the cake: his cannon for a left arm in center field. YouTube his running catch to start a double play on the road in San Diego. Two words: jaw dropper.

The trade from Arizona to Chicago may very well put Eaton on the cusp of a breakout season. He'll utilize his speed in the American League that looks similar to the running game of Billy Hamilton in Cincinnati. Eaton is a pest on the basepaths. He's not afraid to steal second AND third every time he reaches the sacks. And the power alleys at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side amplify his ability to stretch doubles into triples. Knowing the rotations Eaton will face in the AL Central, he'll thrive facing a heavy diet of fastballs and sparking a White Sox lineup desperate for life in front of their heavy hitters.

Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics:

Gray, two years removed from Vanderbilt University, took his opportunities in the Oakland rotation and procured it into a playoff start. Not bad for a rookie with only 10 MLB starts to his name mirroring the Indians' Danny Salazar. Gray's numbers justify the budding of a star power pitcher, K'ing 67 hitters in 64 IP with only 20 BB's and 4 HR's allowed with a 2.67 ERA. What separates “Sonny-G" from other young flame-throwers are his command of a plus-fastball and plus-breaking ball. Rarely can you find a 23-year-old kid able to control that kind of arsenal with the consistency that Gray shows.

What makes him a difference-maker in 2014: a full-season in the big leagues and the vast expanses of Coliseum. There's no reason not to like Gray's attacking approach to any lineup he faces and his ability to get strikeouts with more than one out pitch. It's no secret that Oakland is a pitcher's park and he'll enjoy a great deal of success using the big field to his advantage. The A's won the AL West last season in convincing fashion and I'd be hard pressed not to like Sonny Gray helping lead the charge towards another division title this year.

TYLER SKAGGS, SP, Los Angeles Angels:

A tall, lanky left-hander, Skaggs pitches bigger than his 6'3" frame exhibits and his 12-to-6 curveball will make you a believer. He can run his heater up near 94-95 mph on a good day, but rarely gets credit for what I think is an above-average changeup. At the ripe old age of 22 entering the 2014 season, Skaggs achieved a brief couple stints with the Diamondbacks the past few seasons and got his feet wet in the big leagues. The results, on paper, are mixed at best. The potential? Many critics said former Angel-farmhand-turned-Dback-ace Patrick Corbin could be the better of the two between he and Skaggs. I'm here to tell you, as someone who's seen both, that Skaggs will blow by Corbin if he can put it altogether.

The intrigue for me is this: Skaggs gets lots of swings-and-misses with his breaking ball by default. But, rarely for a starter, he uses it to set up his fastball which, in watching many of his starts, I think is very deceptive with the downward angle he pitches at. The final piece of the puzzle for Skaggs is consistent command. In 7 starts last season, he K'd 36 in 38 2/3 IP, but walked 15. He's only made a total of 13 big league starts with a WHIP near 1.40. A small sample size, but let me sort through the noise and give you the real scoop: he's shown the ability to be lights out against Major League hitters. Now it's doing it every 5th day in the rotation. The AL West sports some imposing lineups. However, many middle-of-the-order bats in those batting orders are very susceptible to plus-breaking balls. It all plays in massive favor for Skaggs. He's still young, but given enough opportunities, he could really put the Angels over the top this season.