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Around the League

Fantasy Risers: AL Central

by D.J. Short
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Follow @djshort and @Rotoworld_BB on Twitter.

In recent weeks, you've seen the Rotoworld staff take an in-depth look at some players whose value is on the rise headed into the 2016 season. We're breaking them down by division. The National League East, NL Central, NL West and American League East have been covered, so now it's time to move on to the AL Central.

The Hot Stove is finally starting to heat up. Keep refreshing Rotoworld's player news page for all the latest throughout the winter.

Miguel Sano DH, Twins

Byron Buxton received significant hype upon his promotion to the majors in June, but it was Sano who made the bigger impact. Called up in the first week of July, the 22-year-old batted .269/.385/.530 with 18 home runs and 52 RBI over just 80 games as a rookie. His .916 OPS was 11th among players with at least 300 plate appearances. That put him with some impressive company, just ahead of the likes of David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira, Anthony Rizzo, and Nolan Arenado.

The big thing that stands out with Sano -- well, other than his immense power -- is his penchant for the strikeout. He struck out in 35.5 percent of the time, the highest such mark in the majors among players with at least 300 plate appearances. And while he hits the ball hard, a repeat of his .396 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is unlikely. As a result, I wouldn't count on him to be much of an asset in batting average in the short-term, but most fantasy owners should be just fine with that as long as he continues to mash and get on base at a high clip. There's monster potential here in 2016 and beyond, regardless of where the Twins decide to play him.

Lorenzo Cain OF, Royals

Cain was a trendy selection in some circles this spring after a breakout performance during the 2014 postseason, but he ended up outperforming even the most optimistic expectations. Finishing third in the American League MVP balloting behind Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout, the 29-year-old batted .307/.361/.477 with 56 extra-base hits (including 16 home runs), 72 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and 101 runs scored over 140 games.

Cain hit .301 in 2014 and stole the same number of bases (28), so his big step forward this year was really about the power spike. He hit just 17 home runs over his first 358 games in the majors from 2010-2014, so I get being a little skeptical about his ability to maintain it. The encouraging part is that he hit the ball in the air more often this season while cutting his strikeout rate by five percent. I still worry somewhat about his injury history, but he's someone who contributes in all categories and should be a top-20 outfielder in drafts next spring.

Carlos Rodon SP, White Sox

Rodon was expected to make his way to the majors quickly after being drafted No. 3 overall by the White Sox in 2014 and he did just that, logging just 34 1/3 innings in the minors before getting the call-up in late April this year. The 22-year-old southpaw showed flashes of dominance at times during his rookie season, finishing with a 3.75 ERA and 139/71 K/BB ratio over 139 1/3 innings.

Armed with a mid-90s fastball and an electric slider, Rodon averaged a strikeout per inning. However, he walked 11.7 percent of the batters he faced, highest in the majors for any pitcher with at least 130 innings pitched. On the plus side, his control was better on the whole during the second half. After failing to complete seven innings once in his first 15 starts in the majors, he managed to do it five times in his final eight starts. He's carrying some momentum into 2016. Rodon needs to make some progress with his control/command and his changeup, but he'll offer some intriguing upside in the later rounds of mixed league drafts next spring.

Wade Davis RP, Royals

Davis has been the game's most dominant reliever over the past two seasons, posting a microscopic 0.97 ERA (nearly a half-run better than anybody else) over 140 appearances while averaging 12.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. He has allowed just three home runs in 139 1/3 innings during that time, with opposing batters hitting just .147 against him. As automatic as it gets. And I'm not even including his dominant postseason. The 30-year-old has done the great majority of that in a set-up role, but he didn't miss a beat while filling in at closer in 2015 and Greg Holland's Tommy John surgery has his stock going through the roof going into next season.

Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are the top two fantasy closers for me, but things are pretty wide open beyond that. Sure, Mark Melancon, Trevor Rosenthal, Craig Kimbrel, and Jeurys Familia are nipping at their heels, but Davis deserves to be included in that group too. His peripherals admittedly weren't as good in 2015 as they were last year, but he's at least in my top-five closers at this point.

Francisco Lindor SS, Indians

Lindor was a familiar name on prospect lists over the past couple of seasons, but I expected him to be more of an asset with the glove than the bat during his first season in the majors. Boy, was I wrong. The 22-year-old switch-hitter batted .313/.353/.482 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI over 99 games while going 12-for-14 in stolen base attempts. He was a monster after the All-Star break. Even though Lindor didn't make his major league debut until June 14, he finished the year ranked ninth among fantasy shortstops on Yahoo.

Thanks to a sudden infusion of youth, the shortstop position looks much stronger than it has been in quite some time. Carlos Correa, who took home the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year Award over Lindor, is the new no doubt No. 1 option at the position and likely will be for quite some time. Troy Tulowitzki is still No. 2 with me due to his upside and pedigree, but you can make a strong case for Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, and Corey Seager to be right behind him. New blood all around.

Danny Salazar SP, Indians

The hype was out of control for Salazar in 2014 and he failed to live up to it early on before finishing the season on a high note. While he ended up with a 4.25 ERA, advanced metrics (3.39 SIERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.45 xFIP) indicated that he deserved better and his impressive peripherals showed the upside of his electric stuff. Well, things evened out for him in 2015, as he posted a 3.45 ERA and 195/53 K/BB ratio in 185 innings across 30 starts. The advanced metrics (3.39 SIERA, 3.48 xFIP, 3.62 FIP) backed up his success.

Salazar struck out 25.8 percent of the batters he faced this past season, good enough for 12th among qualified starters. Dating back to 2013, he has averaged 9.9 K/9 over through his first 60 starts in the majors. Only Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Yu Darvish have been better during that time among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched. He can get a little homer-prone at times, which puts him behind his rotation-mates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with me, but he's a top-25 starter regardless.

Mike Moustakas 3B, Royals

Moustakas had some big moments during the Royals' unexpected run to the World Series in 2014, but questions remained about his long-term prospects. Remember, this is a guy who hit .212 with a .632 OPS during the regular season in 2014 and entered this year with a .668 OPS (82 OPS +) for his career. However, things finally came together for him in 2015, as he batted .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI while receiving some down-ballot consideration for the American League MVP Award.

It was quite a turnaround. Defensive shifts really hurt Moustakas in the past, but he evolved as a hitter this year, moving from a pull hitter to someone who uses more of the field. He pulled the ball 10 percent less often while hitting the ball to the opposite field six percent more often. You can compare the seasons in spray chart form here, per FanGraphs. It's quite noticeable. As a result of his new all-fields approach, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) shot up 74 points from .220 to .294. It's not a crazy number, but even getting close to league average obviously helped him a lot. Moustakas doesn't strike out much, so there's reason to believe he can maintain this level of production as long as he continues his new approach. He's on the fringe of the top-10 options at third base and makes for a quality corner infielder option.

Adam Eaton OF, White Sox

Eaton was a favorite late-round target of mine again this spring, but things weren't looking good when he was hitting .192 at the end of April. As a result, he found himself dumped on the waiver wire in many leagues. I hope you were either really patient or smart enough to scoop him up, as he hit .301/.378/.457 with 47 extra-base hits (including 14 home runs), 56 RBI, 17 steals, and 91 runs scored over his final 134 games. It was good enough for him to finish the year ranked 19th among outfielders on Yahoo.

Similar to Lorenzo Cain above, the power was the big surprise. Eaton had just six home runs in 918 plate appearances coming into 2015. He more than doubled that total this year in 308 fewer plate appearances. It's probably unfair to expect a similar power output in 2016, but the good news is that he's hitting the ball in the air more often these days. Eaton has never had great success stealing bases in the majors (he's just 40-for-62), but with his proven on-base ability, he's a valuable contributor atop Chicago's lineup in a hitter-friendly home ballpark.

Honorable Mentions

Yordano Ventura SP, Royals

Ventura won 14 games with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, so it might seem a little strange to see him on a "Fantasy Risers" list coming off a season where he had a 4.08 ERA. However, I'm actually more encouraged by what he did this year, particularly after he was momentarily demoted to Triple-A in late July. With increased reliance on his curveball, his strikeout rate shot up in a big way over the final two months. It's exciting to think what he could be if he can do that over a full season.

Byron Buxton OF, Twins

The struggles for Buxton were understandable this season, as he was aggressively pushed to the majors before batting .209/.250/.326 over 138 plate appearances in between missing nearly two months with a left thumb sprain. Still, he doesn't turn 22 until later this month and oozes tools, so it's just a matter of time before he puts it all together. The Twins traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees last month, so he'll get every opportunity to run away with the starting center field job in 2016. His speed will likely be his biggest asset for fantasy owners in the short-term, but he's really exciting.

Nick Castellanos 3B, Tigers

The lone Tigers' representative on our list, Castellanos has yet to put it all together, but the former top prospect at least showed some encouraging signs during the second half of 2015. While his strikeout rate increased, he was actually more selective at the plate while batting .269 with 31 extra-base hits (including nine home runs) and an .800 OPS. Only 25 players had more extra-base hits after the All-Star break. He still has a lot to prove, especially against right-handed pitching, but perhaps he's moving the right direction going into his age-24 season.

Eddie Rosario OF, Twins

We've seen Rosario on prospect lists in the past, but not much was expected of him when the Twins called him up in May. However, the 24-year-old proved to be an extra-base hit machine, amassing 13 home runs, 18 doubles, and an AL-best 15 triples while also stealing 11 bases. I have to point out that he produced an ugly 118/15 K/BB ratio, so there are obviously flaws in his overall game, but fantasy owners can live with that as long as he continues to provide some pop and speed.

Byung-ho Park 1B

This is assuming the Twins will be able to sign the Korean slugger by the December 8 deadline. After winning the bidding for $12.85 million, Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said he's optimistic they'll be able to do so. Park, a two-time MVP Award winner in the KBO, has amassed 105 home runs in 268 games over the past two seasons. He strikes out a bunch and naturally there are questions about how his power will translate, but Jung Ho Kang's success provides some optimism. Park would likely slide into the DH spot if the Twins sign him, which could mean a move to the outfield for Miguel Sano or a trade involving Trevor Plouffe.

 

(UPDATE: The Twins and Park have agreed to a four-year contract with a club option for 2020.)