Our annual series identifying popular fantasy baseball players expected to be overvalued in drafts concludes with the American League Central. To check out the breakdown of previous divisions, click the following links:
Keep it locked on Rotoworld’s constantly-updated player news page as spring training approaches. You can order our fantasy baseball draft magazine right now through Lindy’s Sports and also purchase Rotoworld’s online 2016 Baseball Draft Guide.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
It’s always tough trying to poke holes in a player you really like, but I fear Lindor’s performance last season might create unrealistic expectations for him in 2016, at least in redrafts (he’s obviously someone everybody would want to own in a keeper format). The 22-year-old was an absolute stud for the Tribe after being called up in mid-June last year, sporting a .313/.353/.482 batting line with 12 home runs, 51 RBI and 12 stolen bases across 99 games. That was good enough to make him a top-five fantasy shortstop despite being in the majors for barely over half of the season.
Lindor has long been considered a premium prospect, but he just never hit anywhere close to the level in the minors that he did with the big club. The youngster was a .279/.354/.384 hitter on the farm, and the 12 dingers he had in just 438 plate appearances with Cleveland was higher than any single-season total he produced in the minors. Lindor also saw a big jump in his stolen base success rate from the minors (68 percent) to the majors (86 percent). The shortstop makes a lot of contact, but his .348 BABIP from last season figures to normalize to some degree. Again, I like Lindor a lot as a player, but I suspect my leaguemates will be willing to pay more for him than I will in 2016.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
Cain built upon a superb showing in the 2014 postseason with easily his best ever season in 2015. The 29-year-old put up a .307/.361/.477 batting line with 16 home runs, 72 RBI and 28 stolen bases for the eventual World Champion Royals. Perhaps the most encouraging number of Cain’s 2015 campaign was 604, which was the number of plate appearances he accumulated after making trips to the disabled list each of the previous three seasons.
Cain’s 16 longballs in 2015 were a nice surprise, as the total matched what he produced in the previous three seasons combined. He did hit a few more flyballs last season, and if that trend continues his home run total might not fall off too much. Realistically, though, we probably can’t even consider Cain a lock for double digits in the home run department. A drop in BABIP (and batting average) in 2016 is also a good bet after marks of .380 and .347 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Finally, Cain’s history tells us that there’s a pretty decent chance he’s going to get injured at some point this season.
Zimmermann wound up striking it rich this winter when the Tigers handed him a five-year, $110 million contract. That occurred in spite of what was a relatively disappointing showing in his walk year, as the former National put together a career-high 3.66 ERA and career-high 1.21 WHIP. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of his season was a dip in velocity, as we saw the mph on Zimmermann’s fastball drop nearly a full tick.
The right-hander will turn 30 in May and will now have to face a designated hitter instead of a pitcher in his move to the American League. Those facts combined with a drop in performance and velocity in 2015 don’t point to a big rebound performance in 2016. Zimmermann’s early average draft position (ADP) numbers have unsurprisingly dropped, but I still prefer some other pitchers that are being selected after him.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
Buxton arrived on the scene for the Twins with much fanfare in mid-June last season after a minor league career that left scouts salivating. Things didn’t go so well for the 22-year-old in his first go-round with the big club, as he batted just .209/.250/.326 with a 44/6 K/BB ratio across 138 plate appearances and didn’t play every day down the stretch. Buxton often looked particularly vulnerable to offspeed stuff from right-handers, which wasn’t terribly surprising for such a young guy who had pretty limited experience above A-ball.
Prospect evaluators weren’t deterred by Buxton’s poor debut, as he’s still been ranked this preseason among the elite young talents in the game. That’s hardly surprising, as last year’s sample size was small and Buxton possesses a dynamic bundle of talent. However, early ADP returns suggest that fantasy owners might be too bullish on Buxton heading into his first full season. Early drafts have seen the youngster coming off the board among the top 40 outfielders, which is way too high for my taste for a guy who may still be overmatched versus major league pitching. I suspect that Buxton will provide stolen bases but not a whole lot else for fantasy owners this season. Patience is needed.
Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox
Eaton produced a virtually identical on-base percentage and another good batting average for the second straight season in 2015, but it was his power outburst that surprised everyone. The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder muscled up with 14 home runs for the White Sox, which is eight more than he had in his career coming into the year (in 229 fewer plate appearances). Eaton also swiped a career-high 18 bases, scored a career-high 98 runs and finally stayed healthy, resulting in a top-20 finish among fantasy outfielders.
Clearly, Eaton made a concerted attempt to tap into more power, as he sacrificed some contact (his 131 strikeouts essentially doubled his career total) in order to hit more balls in the air. The plan worked, and Eaton was able to add more pop without forgoing his on-base skills (his walk rate was actually up a bit in 2015). So what’s the problem? Well, with a current ADP that’s inside the top-30 outfielders, Eaton is being drafted not only as if his new approach and results are here to stay but also that he’ll remain healthy, something he had trouble doing prior to 2015. I’m not expecting Eaton to be a bust, but I’m just not as high on him as others evidently are.
Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
Ventura’s tenure so far with the Royals has been awe-inspiring at times but also head-scratching at other points. Things were going so poorly with the young right-hander at midseason last year that he was sent down to the minors after posting a 5.19 ERA over his first 14 starts. Ventura was afforded another opportunity after Jason Vargas blew out his elbow, and he responded with a 3.10 ERA and over a strikeout per inning across his final 14 outings. The righty then promptly reverted back to his first-half form during the playoffs, putting up a 6.43 ERA over five starts.
Ventura has posted the highest velocity among starters each of the last two seasons and in 2015 increased his strikeout rate while lowering his walk rate. His FIP last year (3.57) suggests that his 4.08 ERA was a bit unlucky, but I still have trouble trusting such a volatile guy who I have doubts about his ability to ever handle a 200-inning workload. I suspect Ventura’s numbers in 2016 will look fine in the end, but there are multiple pitchers with comparable ADPs that I’d rather have.
Josh Tomlin, SP, Indians
If you wrote off Tomlin prior to last season, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The veteran right-hander entered the campaign with a career ERA of 4.89 and was plagued by elbow and shoulder issues the last couple years. Tomlin didn’t make it back up with the Indians until mid-August last season following a rehab from shoulder surgery, but he was nails down the stretch with a 3.02 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 57/8 K/BB ratio across 65 2/3 innings. The Tribe rewarded him with a new two-year contract in January.
Tomlin has always had elite control. He boasts a career 1.5 BB/9 rate and didn’t walk anyone in six of his 10 outings last season. He’s also put up a nice 8.0 K/9 rate over the last two years despite a fastball that rarely cracks 90 mph. However, this is ultimately a very ordinary arm which has been extremely homer-prone. Even during last year’s impressive run, Tomlin still served up 13 longballs across 65 2/3 frames, but 11 of those bombs were solo blasts and the other two were two-run shots. Oh, and Tomlin also was incredibly lucky in the BABIP department with a microscopic .199 mark. I don’t see any mixed league value here.