Fantasy Baseball AL Central Preview: Twins, White Sox set to make fantasy managers happy

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are coming off a season in which they won 101 games and a division flag while absolutely destroying the all-time MLB home record (307). Minnesota somehow reached the 200-homer mark in only their 103rd game last year, then broke the record before the end of August. The Bomba Squad was terrifying. Five players hit 30 or more homers and eight hit 20-plus.

The team has added Josh Donaldson to that historic mix, a former MVP and on-base machine who launched 37 home runs for Atlanta last season. Even if the Twins don’t quite match their 2019 power total, it’s clear this team is going to rake again in 2020. The lineup is loaded with sluggers; this team’s projected 1-7 hitters combined for an absurd 233 home runs last season. For every regression candidate (like perhaps Mitch Garver), we can also point to players with career-year potential (like, say, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton). The Twins ranked dead-last in baseball in steals (28), so don’t expect any speed contributions outside whatever Buxton manages to deliver.

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Minnesota’s pitching staff may lack a first-tier ace, but it nonetheless contains three good-to-great fantasy options: Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and recently acquired Kenta Maeda. We should also note that pitching reinforcements are on the way, as Michael Pineda returns from suspension in May and Rich Hill should be operational by season’s start. All things considered, this is a team that appears to have a shot at a deep postseason run. It’s also a buffet of fantasy talent. Consider the Twins favorites to repeat as division title-winners.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Minnesota Twins projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Chicago White Sox

If you happen to be a White Sox fan who quietly suffered from 2015 to 2018 while the crosstown Cubs were enjoying October baseball, then get ready to talk some serious [expletive]. This year’s Sox roster is gonna be fun. It also has a chance to be pretty damn good, but the fun is guaranteed. Chicago offers the bat-flipping magic of Tim Anderson near the top of the lineup, followed by a collection of talented offseason additions — Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara — and then, presumably, a pair of the game’s buzziest rookies somewhere near the bottom of the order. Every inning of White Sox baseball this season has a chance to be a party.

Of all the new and used toys available to manager Rick Renteria this year, the most intriguing for fantasy purposes is Luis Robert, an every-tool prospect coming off a legendary minor league season. Let’s please never forget the time he cleared the bull in Durham with a bomb that simply disappeared into the night ...

Robert was ridiculous all year. He slashed .328/.376/.624 across three minor league levels with 32 homers, 74 extra-base hits, and 36 steals. He’s a stellar defensive outfielder, too. We should see him very early in the season, if not opening day. Middle-infield prospect Nick Madrigal won’t be far behind, as he cruised through Chicago’s farm system alongside Robert in 2019. Madrigal is a lock to hit for average and steal bases. He struck out just 16 times last season in 120 games, so he figures to be a tough out the moment he arrives.

The White Sox starting rotation is great at the top (Lucas Giolito), but a bit mushy in the middle (Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez) and potentially bad at the end. But hard-throwing Dylan Cease has obvious upside, and Tommy John rehabbers Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon will eventually return, too.

Again, this team should be a blast to watch in 2020. It’s a roster rich with fantasy assets.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Chicago White Sox projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Cleveland Indians

Francisco Lindor, for now, remains the franchise cornerstone in Cleveland. He’s one of the game’s most charismatic and entertaining players, plus he’s an outrageous talent — a no-doubt first-round fantasy pick. Lindor is also under team control for the next two years, his manager certainly doesn’t want to see him go, and there’s no obvious reason for the ballclub to feel compelled to move him. It’s kinda crazy that Lindor trade speculation and rumors have been swirling for months. For the sake of Cleveland’s fanbase, here’s hoping he remains a member of the squad long-term. Lindor is endless fun, a 30/20 player in back-to-back seasons. If he slips beyond the seventh pick in your fantasy draft, it’s a gift.

Beyond Lindor, there are a handful of bright spots in Cleveland’s lineup — notably Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes, and Carlos Santana — but also an abundance of meh. It’s hard to look at the lineup below and think it’s the equal of either of the lineups above. Last season, this club finished almost perfectly league-average in total runs scored, home runs, team batting average, and OPS. Cleveland’s batting order offers a consensus fantasy first-rounder, one second-rounder, and then, um ... some other dudes. Nobody is gonna confuse this squad with the group that ruled Jacobs Field in the late-90s.

Corey Kluber relocated to Texas via trade in the offseason, so that’s one potential ace out of the mix for Cleveland. Over the past two seasons, Mike Clevinger has produced a 10.4 K/9, 3.12 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 326.0 innings, so he’s a circle-of-trust upper-tier fantasy pitcher. The start to his season could be delayed by a week or two (depending on when MLB opens) following meniscus surgery, but the injury is not a long-term worry. He’s approved for use at his ADP in Yahoo leagues (43.4). Shane Bieber was a monster last season (259 Ks, 1.05 WHIP) and certainly deserves a third-round look. Carlos Carrasco is back, which is awesome news, though he’s currently dealing with a hip flexor malfunction. Aaron Civale was a small-sample hero last year (2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), but most projection systems paint an ugly picture of his 2020 prospects. His stuff wasn’t overpowering (8.8 swinging strike %) and his ERA and FIP were a mile apart.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Cleveland Indians projected lineup (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Kansas City Royals

Seven years after we first hyped Jorge Soler and three seasons after the Cubs flipped him for Wade Davis, he finally broke out in the most massive way imaginable. It was as if he’d packed all the stats he failed to produce from 2014 to 2018 into a single monster campaign. Soler served as the Royals’ primary DH in 2019, allowing him to appear in all 162 games — a startling total for a guy who’d played only 182 over the previous three seasons combined. He swatted an AL-leading 48 home runs for Kansas City, scoring 95 runs and driving in 117. He now enters 2020 as a plausible seventh- or eighth-round fantasy option, a good bet to deliver, say, an 85-35-90-.260 stat line. He can regress in terms of power and still be plenty useful.

Kansas City also features a pair of third-round-ish fantasy assets at the top of the order in Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield, power/speed combo players with middle infield eligibility. Mondesi has significantly more batting average downside, but also more base-stealing potential; he swiped 43 bags in just 103 games last year. KC ranked second in MLB in total stolen bases last season (117), but the team was generally bottom-five in things that actually tend to impact winning. As a team, the Royals slashed just .247/.309/.401 and hit only 162 homers. Not great.

Salvador Perez returns to the lineup after a season lost to injury (TJ surgery), and he’s been a relative bargain in fantasy drafts to this point (ADP 172.7). He’s still only 29 years old and had produced four straight 20-homer seasons before the injury. If he gets time at first base this year, a strong possibility, then he has a shot to lead all catchers in total at-bats.

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The best advice we can give you regarding KC’s pitching staff is to stay away. Closer Ian Kennedy has modest late-round appeal, but that’s pretty much it for mixed leaguers. No need to mess with this team’s starters, except as desperation streaming options.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Kansas City Royals projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Detroit Tigers

Avoid them.

OK, maybe not closer Joe Jimenez or presumptive opening day starter Matthew Boyd. But, well ... c’mon. This team’s lineup is a wasteland.

Miguel Cabrera is an all-time great, but his 100-40-120-.330 seasons are history — not happening again. The Tigers ranked last in baseball in run-scoring and team OBP last year and there’s no obvious reason for optimism entering 2020. Casey Mize is a terrific pitching prospect, but certainly not draft-worthy in standard mixed formats.

Seriously, if you just leave this team alone, it can’t hurt you.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Detroit Tigers projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

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