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Mound Musings: Arms to Watch in the AL Central

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 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.

Last week we looked at the NL Central, and for three more weeks, Iíll continue to throw out some names 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 2017 season. Weíre past the halfway point, so letís look at the:

American League Central

Chicago White Sox Ė Now that Chris Sale has changed his Sox to red, the south-siders will present a little different look to their rotation. The apparent leader will be the steady, albeit not stellar, Jose Quintana. I like Quintana, but he probably falls into the, ďwhat you see is what you getĒ category these days, making it difficult to get him at any kind of discount. Carlos Rodon, on the other hand, is hinting that he might be ready to take the next step. He has the ceiling to make him appealing, and his last couple of fairly ordinary seasons might net you a modest discount. It gets shaky for a bit after the first pair. James Shields hasnít shown a thing recently, and Miguel Gonzalez has never been high on my list, so letís get to the good part. Derek Holland is penciled into the fifth spot, and if he can get and stay healthy, he could provide sizable rewards. Watch his spring workload. His stats arenít especially important, but his usage and hopefully progressive building of pitch counts are. And, the gem of the staff could require a little patience. The Sox acquired Lucas Giolito in the offseason, and after a horrible handful of innings last season, many potential owners might be scared off. He may begin the season at Triple-A, but when he clicks he could move right to the top of this staff. They also have Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer in the mix. Both could offer minor value, but Giolito, Rodon and, to a lesser extent, Holland, are the future.

The rebuilding White Sox already have been involved in talks with teams regarding incumbent closer David Robertson, and itís probably only a matter of time before they find a package to their liking. Robertson will close until heís dealt, but that will open the door for Nate Jones, who, if he can ever stay healthy, might be a better fit for the job. Further, when Jones moving into the closerís role, it would then trigger a domino effect as others like Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and perhaps even flame-throwing wild kid Michael Kopech look to move into more critical roles.

Recapping the White Sox:

The arm to own: Lucas Giolito
Heís not for me: James Shields
Best of the bullpen: Nate Jones
Monitor his role: Jake Petricka

Cleveland Indians Ė Fantasy owners appreciate durability in their starting pitchers, and over the past three seasons, very few have been more reliable than Corey Kluber. He takes the hill every five days, gets deep into games, maintains a very handy WHIP of about 1.00 and generates about one strikeout per inning. Itís a little concerning that heís rapidly piling up innings (700-plus over those three years), but thereís nothing to suggest he is wearing down. Heís top of the rotation but his price tag will reflect that. The next two arms actually offer similar upside when at their best. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are generally fantasy assets when healthy, but durability hasnít been a frequent descriptor for them. Neither has logged 200 innings in a season, and both can be erratic at times. Even though heís often ranked behind Carrasco, I like Salazarís upside just a bit more, so I would probably be more likely to pursue his services. There is a precipitous drop -of following the top three. Josh Tomlin and former hype-master Trevor Bauer are Nos. four and five, but Tomlin is too hittable, too often, and I tired of Bauerís erratic performances long ago. And, if they do need a fill-in, the most likely candidates will be Cody Anderson or Mike Clevinger. No thanks. Use the bullpen.

Sometimes a teamís best closer is literally too valuable to be locked into a finite role. Thatís the case with Andrew Miller. Heís the best relief pitcher on the team, and could be one of the best closerís in the game, but his ability to pitch multiple innings, earlier in undecided games, makes it tough for the Indians to ďsaveĒ him exclusively for the ninth inning. He will still provide high level contributions for his fantasy owners in the form of vultured wins, exceptional peripherals, triple-digit strikeout and a handful of saves Ė stats that probably outshine a bottom-of-the-rotation starter. Cody Allen returns as an adequate option as the primary closer while Bryan Shaw slots in as a stable set-up man pitching around Millerís innings, with Zach McAllister also quietly entering into the mix.

Recapping the Indians:

The arm to own: Danny Salazar
Heís not for me: Trevor Bauer
Best of the bullpen: Andrew Miller
Monitor his role: Zach McAllister

Detroit Tigers Ė Justin Verlander struggled mightily (at least for him) back in 2014, leading quite a few to write him off as over the hill. He was just another power pitcher whose power was waning. At the time, I said he would be back. His repertoire was always too deep, even with a fastball down a couple of ticks, he could still overwhelm hitters. Far too savvy to be kept down, he would adjust. After recovering from a biceps injury, in the second half of 2015 and last season, he made me look like a prophet. The man is the definition of a professional pitcher. Expect more vintage Verlander this year. Following him will be last yearís rookie sensation Michael Fulmer. I think heíll again be a good one, but I donít see him matching his 2016 stat line. If you pursue him, be careful not to overpay. However, I do expect to see value in Jordan Zimmermann. He was a major disappointment in an injury-plagued first year with the Tigers, but I see a bit of a bounce back on the horizon. Similarly, the once highly touted Daniel Norris could be in line for better days, albeit still as more of a back-of-the-rotation arm. Matt Boyd, a lefty with lefty command inconsistency, and veteran Anibal Sanchez are vying for the fifth spot. Sanchez has seen his career head into a steep decline with a long list of injuries contributing, so Boyd is the better play, but he needs to show he can lock in his mechanics if he hopes to be a fantasy asset. Wait and see might be the best bet.

The Tigers bullpen could be pretty predictable or up for grabs, and it all depends on the stalwart Francisco Rodriguez. The 35-year-old K-ROD has been finishing games for a long time, including 44 saves last year for Detroit. However, there have been hints that the trail may be coming to an end. His velocity continues to slip, and heís not really the strikeout threat he once was, so we could maybe be close to a changing of the guard with heir-apparent, beast Bruce Rondon likely next in line. Be careful though, and watch Rondonís velocity this spring. The Tigers have built a pretty deep pen behind the top two guys with lefty Justin Wilson and righties Mark Lowe, Alex Wilson, and dark horse Shane Greene, (who will benefit greatly from a full time bullpen role) also getting in some key innings. If K-ROD falters, this pen could become a whirlwind of change.

Recapping the Tigers:

The arm to own: Jordan Zimmermann
Heís not for me: Michael Fulmer
Best of the bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez
Monitor his role: Bruce Rondon

Kansas City Royals Ė This isnít a rotation that gets me excited. After a breakout season, Danny Duffy is the staff leader. Donít get me wrong, Duffy is a quality starting pitcher, but there are nagging doubts that keep me from jumping in. For example, I felt like he missed his spots a little too often leading to hard hit balls that could have done damage. I just think his numbers could soften somewhat. Then again, I have always liked Ian Kennedy. However, Kennedy seems to be remaking himself. Interestingly, he surpassed 92 mph on his fastball for the first time in his career last season. The concern is the increased velocity may be costing him a bit of his pinpoint command. Maybe Iím selfish. Iíd just like to see both Ė more power and exceptional command. I donít think the Royals will allow Jason Hammel to wear a Cubsí uniform or pitch frequently in Wrigley Field Ė both apparent contributors to his success. That, plus some potentially lingering elbow issues, are enough to scare me away from him. The back of the rotation will likely be filled with the largely uninspiring Jason Vargas, Nathan Karns, Chris Young or Travis Wood. Vargas probably has the inside track for one of the spots, but he pitched just 12 innings last year following 2015 Tommy John surgery. I enjoy watching Young, mostly because heís as tall as I am, but he is a risky $1 play at best.

This pen would appear to be pretty cut-and-dried. Last season Kelvin Herrera stepped in admirably when closer Wade Davis was on the disabled list. Davis is gone to Chicago now, presumably handing the reins to Herrera. Just be aware, the only likely alternative is a guy with 203 career saves Ė most of those in a Royals uniform Ė Joakim Soria. If Herrera stumbles at all, Soria could step up in a big way. The other consideration in the Kansas City pen is young southpaw Matthew Strahm. He opened a lot of eyes late last year, and while his future is probably in the rotation, the Royals appear content to let him develop coming out of the bullpen. He probably wonít see save chances, but he looks like a nice potential source of holds with relatively useful peripherals.

Recapping the Royals:

The arm to own: Ian Kennedy
Heís not for me: Nathan Karns
Best of the bullpen: Kelvin Herrera
Monitor his role: Matthew Strahm

Minnesota Twins Ė After serving an 80-game suspension for PEDís in 2015, Ervin Santana returned to form in 2016 and gave the Twins a solid producer at the top of their rotation. I actually think there is room for modest improvement this year, including a potential bump in strikeout rate. The Twins wonít be considered contenders, so despite potential challenges to logging wins, he might come at a bit of a discount on draft day. Some would list Kyle Gibson as the Twinsí No. 2 starter, but I am going to point at Hector Santiago for that spot. Santiago is frustrating because he has developed a habit of pitching well, then making a mistake at a critical point and watching a ball sail into the seats. He has the stuff to correct that tendency. Focus, sir. Gibson has a balky shoulder. Thatís enough said. He took a huge step backward last year, and they have worked on his mechanics to try and relieve stress on the shoulder. If successful, he could outperform expectations, but thatís a risky proposition. Next up is another injury-related wild card. Phil Hughes had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last year, and pitchers have experienced mixed results following that procedure. Hughes relies heavily on almost unbelievable command (just 16 walks in more than 209 innings in 2014) so his base mechanics have to be in perfect synch for him to be effective. After a year off, that could be problematic. The fifth spot probably belongs to Trevor May, Tyler Duffey or maybe even Ryan Vogelsong, but they all have one thing in common Ė they are better suited to bullpen duty. May is the best of that bunch, but whoever emerges with the job is probably just a placeholder for Jose Berrios. He struggled to adjust to major league hitters last season, but donít forget about him, he remains a very solid prospect.

You remember that game, ďMusical ChairsĒ donít you? The music plays and when it stops, everybody scrambles to an empty seat. In Minnesota, as long as their preferred closer, Glen Perkins, continues to fight his way back from injuries, that empty seat is at the end of the bullpen bench. Last year, Perkins appeared in just two games before landing on the shelf with shoulder woes. The Twins went through a series of arms trying Ė mostly unsuccessfully Ė to fill his shoes. Brandon Kintzler ended the year with the gig (and 17 saves) but he is not the answer. Perkins wonít be ready when the teams head north, so Kintzler could fill-in until he is deemed healthy, but if Perkinsí rehab lingers, the better bets might be Ryan Pressly or May (if his bid for a rotation spot falls short). Finally, deep leaguers looking for a sleeper for productive innings might consider lefty Taylor Rogers. Iím impressed, and I think his role could expand dramatically.

Recapping the Twins:

The arm to own: Jose Berrios
Heís not for me: Kyle Gibson
Best of the bullpen: Glen Perkins
Monitor his role: Ryan Pressly

Next week weíll look at the NL West.