AL Central MLB Fantasy Preview
You have to give the Tigers credit for being aggressive. It wasn't going to take much to win the AL Central, even with Victor Martinez going down with a knee injury that could keep him out for the season.
But they hit a home run in free agency with the addition of Prince Fielder. Talk about piling on.
The Tigers are the class of the AL Central and might now boast (arguably) the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy baseball with Miguel Cabrera, who gets the best lineup protection he has ever had. Oh, Cabrera just happens to be trying a move back to third base to add even more value to him as an early fantasy first-rounder.
They have the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young in Justin Verlander and still-yet-to-hit-prime guys such as Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
Sure, you can debate whether Cabrera and/or Fielder are going to have to be 1B/DHs for the balance of the nine years Fielder is getting. You can doubt Cabrera is going to be viable as a third baseman. You can question whether Fielder is good fit in spacious Comerica -- he probably shouldn't be picked in Round 1 now.
You can even expect Verlander to come back somewhere closer to Earth.
But you cannot deny the buzz going on in Detroit now, even if might overrate the masses of their players in fantasy.
They are clearly the class of the AL Central as we break down the lineups, rotations, bullpens, quotes, questions, sleepers, busts and breakouts in our latest edition of SI.com's division capsules.
"I don't think either [Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello] has reached their ceiling," Jimmy Leyland said. "I think they both have room for improvement.
" ... I was impressed with the way Porcello came around at the end. He got a little firmer. The ball had a little better action on it with a little better velocity. He's in the process of continuing to work on his secondary pitches."
Cabrera is young enough to handle third base, but it is more likely he splits time at third, first and DH than be an everyday player anywhere. Cabrera figures to get enough games at third to qualify there in fantasy, and that's paramount to us.
Young has been a fantasy disappointment for years and an awful first half ruined his value for 2011. That isn't all bad news. He is going to come off the board late and few will look at his solid second-half numbers over his mediocre full-season stats. Young can go .280-25-100-100 as a great late-round fantasy selection.
The Tigers are going to be a great team again and Valverde is their locked-down closer, so calling him a bust is risky. But Valverde has yet to put back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons together. He seems to be an every-other-year guy. He isn't likely to fall flat on his face, but drafting among the top three closers in fantasy can lead to disappointment. The top three closers year-to-year tend to be disappointing -- unless you're Mariano Rivera.
While he did win 15 games last season, Scherzer has 20-win, Cy Young stuff. He has still yet to reach 200 innings or 200 strikeouts, but a full healthy season will push him past both of those plateaus and into the top 15 among fantasy starters, if not top 10.
"I still think [Matt Thornton]'s a great pitcher and he'll be able to handle that," Robin Ventura said. "So, I'm going to give [the relievers] a clean slate to be able to obviously show that they can handle different things and have another shot at it."
Dunn is going to get every chance to prove he can be a viable big-league hitter again. He won't have much fantasy value going into the season, but Ventura is going to give him a chance to play in the field more to see if it can ignite his bat. Free agents tend to have better seasons in Year 2 in their new home, so Dunn can provide great return relative to draft position. Just don't count on him as a fantasy lineup regular out of the gate.
For the reasons stated above, Dunn, arguably, is going to be the most valuable late-round pick in fantasy. The decline was just too sudden. As a late-round pick who has the potential to go .240-30-100-80, Dunn can be a steal in the latter rounds.
The White Sox were a team of busts a season ago, which makes them more of a place to look for improvement than decline. Their most valuable player is Konerko, easily their first fantasy pick, but he also will happen to be 36 years old this season. It lines up for potential disappointment, perhaps, so you might be better off going with a younger, high-upside pick at the important first-base position on draft day.
Beckham looked like a future leader of the second base position in fantasy. Now, he looks like mixed-league cannon fodder. It is easy to forget he is still just 25 years old. Ventura went through a slow start and broke through, so the new manager should help get the best out of the .280-20-80-100-10 talent.
"We value [Carlos Santana] as a catcher, but to tell you the truth, I tell you with Santana, he's very good -- wherever you put him he's going to be able to produce," said Manny Acta of potentially moving Santana to first base.
"If you can go out there and either make a trade or sign somebody that is going to be productive at first base, or if Matt [LaPorta] shows up to Spring Training and becomes the player we envision him to be, it makes things easier for us. Not that many teams have a catcher with that type of production. So, that gives us an advantage."
Carmona is facing charges that he is actually Robert Hernandez Heredia. He is expected to have visa issues that might force him to miss Spring Training, or worse. The Indians have depth in their rotation, adding Lowe and Slowey to Jimenez, Masterson and Tomlin. But a ready Heredia could make this a deep starting rotation and a potential sleeper to compete with the Tigers in the division.
He won just 12 games last year, but Masterson pitched like a 15- to 18-game-winner. We should expect continued improvement and perhaps a move into the top 25 starting pitchers in fantasy.
Cabrera didn't look like he might hit 25 homers in his career, but he did it in one magical 2011 season. He had just 18 homers in his first 1,415 at-bats in his major league career before hitting 25 in his past 604. Now Cabrera is going to be drafted as an elite fantasy shortstop, around sluggers that produce 30 homers and 100-plus RBI every season. Cabrera is a risk for a decline, especially when you look at his second-half slide (.244-11-41-32-5). We could see him go .250-20-80-80-10 instead of the .273-25-92-87-17 he broke out with last year.
This is an easy pick, almost a cop-out after we watched Santana go .239-27-79-84-5 in his first full season as a catcher. He just might be the first catcher selected on draft day, but is capable of even more. If he is moved to first base full time, it might affect his fantasy eligibility, but it can also make him more productive. Most leagues don't lose catcher eligibility in-season, so Santana can be a rare .260-35-110-100 fantasy backstop.
"We will bring Aaron Crow in as a starter," Ned Yost said. "He's a young guy that we kind of broke in last year as a reliever, and he was very successful first half, made the All-Star team, was very overpowering, struggled a little bit in the second half, but we are going to give him a shot at being a starting pitcher ... if it didn't work out, he could always go back to the bullpen where he's had some success last year as a rookie."
The Royals have some serious long-term talent in Butler, Gordon, Hosmer and Moustakas. Gordon is a case study in how many years it can take, through. It might not happen until age 27. If Butler, Gordon and Hosmer improve on solid 2011 and Moustakas finds himself, this could be a real good team in a hurry -- a collection of young fantasy gems.
It took a summer for Moustakas to prove big-league worthy, but once he did, he was a monster. He went .352-4-12-10-2 in September, which can make him a great late-round pick at the sketchy third base position. If Moustakas proves capable of building on his strong finish at age 23, he could go .280-20-80-80 and be a steal at his draft position.
He is coming off his worst season as a pro, but that down year in 2011 wasn't all that bad. The problem with Soria might not be his own. He could be a candidate to be dealt to set up elsewhere, or the Royals might just decide to have him set up for Broxton, a former elite fantasy closer himself, or the sophomore Crow, if he doesn't fit in the rotation out of spring training. Soria has some fantasy bust-ability now after four years of dominance.
The 22-year old didn't look like a 21-year-old rookie last season, going .293-19-78-66-11 (.334-.465) in what amounted to a five-month season. It is pretty clear we are looking at a future fantasy star that can go .300-30-100-100 annually. It won't take much more maturation for him to reach those levels even this year.
"[Ryan Doumit] can play just about everywhere, outfield, DH, catch," Ron Gardenhire said. "Everything really depends on a lot of other situations and what happens. But we like him. He's a gamer. He's another one of these guys that's a hard-nosed player.
"He can catch. He can swing the bat. And he's got a great attitude, a great worker. So we're excited that we got a chance to grab him, too. We're looking for baseball players. We went through a rough time last year, and wanted to make sure that we brought guys in that can get after the game and he's one of them."
Mauer appears to be healthier right now than Morneau, who is still rehabbing injuries. Mauer might never hit 25 homers, but he can still be an elite catcher, particularly if he gets more games at first base and DH. Morneau is going to be the Twins' first baseman, but there are still questions unanswered with the various injuries has had had to deal with. Morneau is going to provide much more bang for the fantasy buck, if he proves healthy in spring training. Doumit is an important player for the Twins because he backs up both of those spots and is slotted as the DH. Doumit can play the field when the M&M boys need a game or two at DH in any given week.
Baker never quite gets enough respect as a fantasy starter, perhaps because he has never proven capable of staying healthy. If Baker can rebound from the sore elbow that plagued him at the end of last year, he can be a 15-game-winner -- no matter what you think of the Twins' offense. He is going to be a solid Low Investment Mound Ace this spring.
We can expect -- against the odds -- Mauer plays a full season of 500 at-bats at DH and catcher and he still might not produce at a level close to his draft position. A .290-9-75-85 campaign is entirely possible. Heck, his fantasy owners might even sign up for that right now. The problem is he is going to be drafted far earlier than those numbers are worth being picked, even as a catcher.
Doumit just might be in the perfect situation, if healthy. He has never played a full season, passing 400 at-bats just twice, but he is slotting as a DH and can also retain catcher eligibility. That makes him a superb sleeper at the thin catcher position. He might even be capable of posting .272-18-90-80 (.334-.450) numbers. That would make him a top-five fantasy backstop.