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Saves and Steals

Bullpen Review: AL Central

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

We've passed the halfway point in our journey to evaluate every major league bullpen. Thus far, we've found sleepers like Carter Capps and prospects-to-watch like Corey Knebel. Today we'll discuss what the AL Central has in store. If you missed the previous editions or would like to reference them again, they covered the NL East, AL East, and NL Central.

 

Over a six week period, we'll discuss every major league bullpen by division. It's not a simple job. Anybody could emerge during spring training or early in the season. Ken Giles wasn't on the radar last February.

Suggestions and criticisms are welcome. My focus is on pitchers who are likely to make their club out of spring training, but I will also try to highlight notable prospects. If you would like to add a name to the mix, you can find me on Twitter.

 

Editor's Note: For more than 1,000 player profiles, prospect reports, positional tiers, mock drafts, ADP date, customizable projections and more, get Rotoworld's MLB Draft Guide.

 

Cleveland Indians


Cody Allen
Bryan Shaw
Scott Atchison
Marc Rzepczynski
Kyle Crockett
Nick Hagadone

 

Despite a lack of fanfare, Allen is one of the best relievers in the game. He emerged as a valuable closer last season once John Axford flopped. His repertoire consists of a 95 mph fastball and lethal curve. The breaking ball generates whiffs on half of all swings. It's comparable in quality to Craig Kimbrel's bender. With 11.76 K/9 against 3.36 BB/9, Allen has the opportunity to be a top-10 reliever.

 

Shaw was briefly considered as a closer candidate when the Indians transitioned from Axford to Allen. He leans on a useful cutter-slider combo that keeps hitters off balance. Last season, all but 21 of his pitches were classified as a cutter or slider. He appeared 80 times, so those of you in holds leagues should take notice. He doesn't have the elite peripherals of a relief ace (7.55 K/9, 2.59 BB/9), but he has his uses.

 

The middle innings crew is heavy on lefties. Rzepczynski, Hagadone, and Crockett should help the Indians, but their fantasy value is suspect. Rzepczynski is a typical lefty specialist. He held fellow lefties to a .180/.241/.200 line last season. Righties mashed him to the tune of .324/.437/.507.

 

Hagadone may be the southpaw worth a longer look. He had reverse platoon splits last season, although I wouldn't expect that trend to continue. It does suggest he's a full inning reliever rather than a specialist. With a 95 mph fastball, 10.41 K/9, and 2.31 BB/9, Hagadone could be a useful sleeper for holds. Keep an eye on his walk rate. He posted 6.03 BB/9 in 2013.

 

Crockett appears interesting at first glance, but I counsel caution. While he's never exceeded a 2.00 ERA at any professional level, his 89 mph fastball limits his ceiling. He featured a substantial platoon split in 30 innings last season. The Indians could option him if they don't want to roster three southpaws.

 

Atchison is another useful real world type. He's a command and control pitcher with an ability to generate ground balls. Unless he's working the seventh or eighth inning, his fantasy value is nonexistent.

 

The Indians have a few other pitchers to consider, including one of my favorite relief ace sleepers. Zach McAllister is out of options and appears to be seventh on the rotation depth chart. A short stint in the bullpen last season revealed a blazing 97 mph fastball. He usually sits around 91-92 mph as a starter. In his 13 relief innings, he allowed a 2.77 ERA with over a strikeout per inning. While he's a much different pitcher, McAllister could be 2015's Wade Davis story.

 

Another fireballer, Austin Adams, is climbing the ladder. He had a seven inning debut in 2014 in which he showed off a 97 mph heater. The actual results were ugly, so he's probably ticketed for the minors. He's not actually a prospect since he's entering his age 28 season.

 

Josh Tomlin could wind up as the long reliever. He's better suited to spot-start work for fantasy owners.

 

Kansas City Royals


Greg Holland
Wade Davis
Kelvin Herrera
Luke Hochevar
Jason Frasor
Tim Collins

 

The Royals have become synonymous with bullpen depth. That's what happens when a roster includes two of the 10 best relievers and another guy who can touch 100 mph.

 

Holland is the anchor of the bullpen. A 96 mph fastball and wipe out slider have allowed him to post two consecutive seasons with a sub-1.50 ERA. Last year, he had 12.99 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, and a 1.44 ERA. The only red flag: he used his slider over 40 percent of the time. Frequent slider usage is correlated with injury.

 

If anything happens to Holland, Davis can pick up right where he left off. Davis can overpower hitters while keeping them off balance. He leans on a 96 mph fastball, 92 mph cutter, and an effective curve. The cutter is particularly nasty. In his return to pen work, he compiled a 1.00 ERA, 13.63 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, and no home runs allowed in 72 innings.

 

Herrera hasn't dominated in the same ways as Holland or Davis, but his fastball is among the fastest in the league. Averaging 99 mph, he runs the pitch up to triple digit velocities with frequency. He leans on a four pitch mix including the fastball, 98 mph sinker, curve, and changeup. The change is actually his most effective pitch. At 82 mph, it's a massive 17 mph slower than his heater. The pitch has one of the best whiff rates among major league changeups.

 

After successful Tommy John surgery prior to the 2014 season, Hochevar is on the cusp of returning to big league action. A former top prospect, he broke out in a relief role during the 2013 campaign. He posted 10.49 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, and a 1.92 ERA. He relied on a four pitch mix headlined by a 96 mph fastball. The numbers (albeit in a small sample) suggest he should drop his sinker. He could give Kansas City a fourth relief ace. Just watch out for the usual bumpy return from TJS.

 

Compared to the back end of the bullpen, Frasor looks unimpressive. The 37-year-old righty was used as a rare righty-specialist last season by the Rangers and Royals. His numbers included 8.75 K/9, 3.42 BB/9, and a 2.66 ERA. In a different bullpen, he could be a source of holds or emergency saves. He's pretty deeply buried in Kansas.

 

Collins looks to be the lone lefty in the pen. The diminutive southpaw had a down season at the major league level but pitched well at Triple-A. He's always allowed a few too many walks (career 5.16 BB/9), so his grasp on a job is tenuous.

 

Some out in Readerland might be wondering about Brandon Finnegan. The club intends to use him as a starter. If he works his way back into the bullpen, he could be yet another monster.

 

If the club wants a traditional long man, it's probably Brian Flynn. Acquired from the Marlins in the Aaron Crow trade, Flynn is a useful depth piece for a major league team. Given the right opportunity, he might settle in as a starter. His relief value is dubious.

 

Remember Louis Coleman and the 0.61 ERA he allowed in 2013? The slider specialist declined in 2014. He lost velocity on his already slow fastball and threw nine percent fewer sliders. He'll compete for a role in the bullpen, but he might be buried on the depth chart.

 

Chicago White Sox


David Robertson
Zach Duke
Zach Putnam
Jake Petricka
Javy Guerra
Daniel Webb

 

After featuring one of the worst bullpens last season, the White Sox addressed the issue with two expensive imports. In some respects, Robertson improved during his first full season as a closer. He managed 13.43 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, and a 3.08 ERA. A lofty 15.6 percent HR/FB ratio accounts for the high-ish ERA. Moving from Yankee Stadium to U.S. Cellular Field is a lateral move in terms of expected home runs.

 

The other addition is Duke. The southpaw and former starter emerged as a member of the Brewers. Unlike most top relievers, Duke leaned on a diverse set of offerings to keep hitters off balance. He used six pitches last season, although three were used more than the others. His fastball velocity hovers just below 90 mph, but he makes up for it with a high ground ball and strikeout rate. Nobody is quite sure if he can maintain his 11.35 K/9 rate. His ability to do so will affect his potential to replicate his 2.45 ERA.

 

Putnam and Petricka competed for ninth inning duties last season, although neither was well-suited to the role. Putnam is a splitter specialist who used the pitch over 50 percent last season. He also has an unimpressive fastball and useful cutter. Despite a great whiff rate on his splitter, he has trouble putting away hitters once he's ahead. If he ever develops a second weapon, he could be dangerous.

 

Petricka has a more typical profile. He used his 95 mph sinker nearly 70 percent of the time while mixing in a change and slider. The offspeed pitches are effective. He prefers to rack up grounders with the sinker rather than chasing strikeouts. He should be a useful middle innings reliever for the Sox, especially if he can improve upon his career 4.19 BB/9.

 

Guerra once saved 21 games for the Dodgers back in 2011. His 2014 season was one of his best since those halcyon days. His fastball ticked back up to 94 mph with 7.38 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, and a 2.91 ERA. Be wary, advanced statistics expected a 4.00 ERA.

 

Webb once looked like a contender for closer work, but an unscheduled meeting with the walk monster interrupted those plans. The righty has a 96 mph fastball, but he needs to improve upon his 5.59 BB/9.

 

Others who could make the roster include Dan Jennings, Maikel Cleto, and Michael Ynoa. Jennings is a fastball-slider guy from Miami. He's a typical middle reliever. Cleto is a high upside reliever who hasn't figured it out. A 98 mph fastball and big whiff rates are offset by way too many walks (7.06 BB/9 in 2014).

 

You may recall Ynoa's name from back when the Athletics signed him as an amateur. The White Sox are talking him up as a potential relief ace. First he has to stay healthy and effective. The A's converted him to the bullpen last season, and he surrendered mixed results at High-A. A 5.52 ERA is concerning despite 12.61 K/9 and 4.14 BB/9. High-A is a long way from the majors, but the Sox expect to fast track him.

 

Detroit Tigers


Joe Nathan
Joakim Soria
Joba Chamberlain
Al Alburquerque
Tom Gorzelanny
Bruce Rondon

 

While the White Sox bad bullpen will be quickly forgotten, all who recall the 2014 postseason will remember the Tigers' abomination. After re-signing Chamberlain a few days ago, the pen will look very familiar.

 

It starts with Nathan. He's coming off his most disappointing season since 2011 – his first year back from Tommy John surgery. The 40-year-old no longer has the same velocity or stuff, so there is reason to question his viability as a closer. His 4.50 BB/9 was the worst such rate since his days as a starter for the Giants (1999-2000).

 

Thankfully for the Tigers, they acquired Soria at the trade deadline. Injury affected his ability to contribute down the stretch, but he should work as a closer when Nathan falters. After a shaky 2013, Soria recovered his command. He pitched to a 3.25 ERA with 9.74 K/9 and 1.22 BB/9. Expect a few more free passes this year.

 

Chamberlain and Alburquerque are both reliable middle relievers. The Tigers used Chamberlain in a full inning role while Alburquerque often worked partial innings. Despite 94 mph fastballs, both pitchers throw well over 50 percent breaking balls. Alburquerque posted the best walk rate of his career last season. He offers slightly more upside. They're both candidates to receive 10 to 15 holds.

 

Gorzelanny is a swingman who pitches much better out of the bullpen. He has a 2.88 career ERA in relief with 8.07 K/9 and 3.93 BB/9. The 32-year-old has lost some zip on his fastball, so don't count on him as a fantasy asset. He has a classic three pitch repertoire of fastball, slider, and changeup.

 

After missing 2014 to Tommy John surgery, Rondon may be a forgotten name. The flamethrower averaged a tick under 100 mph in 2013, but it's unclear how his velocity will respond post-surgery. Contrary to popular belief, TJS does not improve velocity. Rondon was still getting the hang of his repertoire when he hit the shelf, so there is still some development to be done with the 24-year-old. If he comes back like the old Rondon, he could leap to the ninth inning.

 

The Tigers figure to play a lot of mix-and-match in their bullpen. Other pitchers who could contribute include Joel Hanrahan, Josh Zeid, Ian Krol, and Blaine Hardy. Hanrahan is still working back from injury. Krol and Hardy have the best shot to earn an opening day assignment since they're left-handed.

 

Minnesota Twins


Glen Perkins
Casey Fien
Caleb Thielbar
Michael Tonkin
Brian Duensing

 

Anticipate an unstable bullpen in Minnesota. There is a good chance we'll see a lot of turnover due to a lack of depth behind Perkins.

 

Speaking of Perkins, there are a few red flags to watch. A left forearm injury caused him to miss time late last season. He claims the injury is behind him, but fantasy owners should be careful. He lost about 1.5 mph on his pitches. He'll turn 32 by this time next week, so don't count on revived heat. The velocity was always secondary to Perkins. At his best, the lefty dominated with sliders. Last season, he posted a 3.65 ERA, 9.63 K/9, and 1.61 BB/9.

 

The rest of the bullpen is extremely uninteresting for fantasy owners. Holds league owners can consider Fien, just in case something happens to Perkins. He's a command and control righty who mostly depends upon on a fastball and cutter. A 3.98 ERA, 7.25 K/9, and 1.42 BB/9 won't excite many owners. If you're in a K/BB league, he offers more value.

 

Thielbar is a soft-tossing lefty. Tonkin pumps 94 mph from the right side, but offers little else of value. Neither pitcher are likely to cross any fantasy radars. The same goes for Duensing. He's transitioned from swingman to LOOGY in recent years.

 

Rotation depth could appear in the pen, namely Mike Pelfrey, Tim Stauffer, Trevor May, or Alex Meyer. May and Meyer are prospects, so the club is likely to keep them stretched out in Triple-A. If the club wants to give Meyer a taste of bullpen work, he'll likely be the best reliever on the roster. It's something to keep in mind.

 

Another prospect, Jose Berrios, could appear at some point this season. Like with Meyer and May, the preference is for him to start. Scouts love his character and believe it will help him succeed in the majors. If his offspeed stuff doesn't take a step forward, the Twins could give him a shot in relief.

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.