AL Central wrap: Max Scherzer the real deal


The moves are already starting to occur this baseball offseason -- though I'd argue there really is no off time anymore -- so let's continue the blog series discussing each and every team from 2010 and looking ahead to 2011. The National League is complete, the American League East has been covered, so now we resume with a look at the AL Central.

Minnesota Twins

What happened: Not only did Joe Mauer's power regress, he didn't even end up as the team's top option on the Player Rater. Honestly, if we had given you 10 guesses in March which Twin would finish higher, would you have said Delmon Young? Yep, Young's batting average didn't deviate much from its norm, but the power developed, as he hit 21 home runs and knocked in 112 runs. Hey, the guy is only 24. Meanwhile, Mauer went from 28 home runs to nine, but the .327 batting average helped lessen the pain for owners. Justin Morneau felt pain as well, as his MVP path (.345 batting average, 18 home runs in 81 games) was derailed indefinitely by concussion. In other Twins news, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano had good campaigns, Jim Thome can obviously still hit, and Danny Valencia got Rookie of the Year votes.

What will happen: Fantasy owners will carefully watch the injury reports not only on Mauer, who dealt with knee and shoulder problems, and Morneau, but also on recovering closer Joe Nathan, who missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. Nathan could again be a top-10 closer, but you likely won't need to draft him that way. The Twins should also have a few rotation parts healthier -- Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey are each capable of knocking their respective ERAs down a full run -- making the overall rotation more formidable. Bump Mauer and Morneau down in your rankings a bit from preseason 2010, but remember how talented they are.

Who to watch: Conventional wisdom would point to third baseman Valencia, who hit .311 in 2010, and judging from his minor league numbers, that wasn't far out of line. I'm not sure there's much power potential, however. Watch 22-year-old outfielder Ben Revere, a big-time base-stealing prospect who was promoted for a cup of coffee this season. There's no power here, either, but the kid makes contact and can definitely run. If the Twins make room -- Jason Kubel or Young could be trade bait or DH-bound -- then Revere is worth a late pick.

Chicago White Sox

What happened: A pair of "ChiSox" finished among the top 15 options on the ESPN Player Rater: outfielder Juan Pierre and first baseman Paul Konerko. Pierre ran wild, leading the majors in stolen bases by 16 over second-place finisher Michael Bourn, while Konerko smacked 39 home runs in his contract season. Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez and John Danks were also very helpful for fantasy owners, while Jake Peavy, Gordon Beckham and the one month that Manny Ramirez spent on the South Side didn't go quite as well.

What will happen: I think Beckham is going to bounce back strong, and while he has lost his third base eligibility, second base is far more scarce for fantasy purposes. Beckham has 20-homer potential with a .275 batting average, and he's only 23. Don't give up on him yet. He could reach those numbers and steal 10 bases in 2011. Outfielder Carlos Quentin is another nice bounce-back candidate; he hit 26 home runs and knocked in 87 in a shortened season, and he's only three years removed from serious real-life MVP consideration. When healthy, he can be terrific. As for the closer situation, look for Bobby Jenks to be on the move, and youngster Chris Sale has the stuff to take over the role, vaulting over Matt Thornton.

Who to watch: The corner infield positions are problematic at this point, as Konerko likely will bolt, and some combination of Brent Morel and Dayan Viciedo could be ready for full-time duty at first base and/or third base. Morel seems ready and projects as a 15-homer, 10-steal guy for fantasy. Viciedo hit for big power at Triple-A Charlotte and then flashed some with the big club, but two walks versus 25 strikeouts scares me. Of course, he's a mere 21 years old, so there's time. Meanwhile, I'd take a late flier on Morel in deep mixed leagues.

Detroit Tigers

What happened: MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera did his job, but he didn't get a lot of help. Rookie center fielder Austin Jackson somehow managed to hit .293, thanks in part to an unsustainable .396 batting average on balls in play. Keep your expectations for his second season in check come draft day. Meanwhile, outfielder Brennan Boesch was all the rage for a few months, then almost unplayable down the stretch. Magglio Ordonez helped for awhile and Ryan Raburn had a nice closing finish, but ultimately the Tigers didn't hit enough. On the mound, Justin Verlander won 18 games, but sophomore Rick Porcello was awful the first half of the season. There's no telling when Porcello will put everything together.

What will happen: I was big on Porcello for 2010, but I don't think I'll invest a top 150 pick on him until I see more consistency. I will take the plunge on Max Scherzer, though, as the strikeout right-hander deserved better than a 12-11 record, and should reach 15 or more wins and 200 strikeouts soon. Fantasy owners should never draft based on wins, and Scherzer has the look of a potential top 25 starter.

Who to watch: Second baseman Scott Sizemore has always hit in the minors, but he was terrible for the Tigers, hitting .224 in 48 games. The Tigers have other options at in the middle infield, most notably speedster Will Rhymes and potentially Raburn, but look for Sizemore to make good on his second opportunity. He likely won't be drafted in standard mixed leagues, but there's potential for double digits in home runs and stolen bases, just like there was this past season.

Cleveland Indians

What happened: Well, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was very good. Past that, the Indians were disappointing, as nobody else finished among the top 135 on the Player Rater. There is a quality closer in place in Chris Perez, and Fausto Carmona is at least ownable, while catcher Carlos Santana could be top five at his position immediately.

What will happen: Matt LaPorta seems likely to figure things out at some point and hit 25 home runs, but he sure didn't show much in 2010. LaPorta, the key to the CC Sabathia trade a few years back, has played 162 major league games and hit .232 with a .694 OPS. His power prime is still to come, and it's actually a good sign he's holding his own against right-handed pitching. But why he has hit .214 with no power against southpaws is a bit mystifying. LaPorta doesn't warrant attention in 10-team leagues yet, but he should improve. And Santana could be a top-100 pick even in shallow leagues. Think a young Victor Martinez. And Grady Sizemore is definitely on my bounce-back list for 2011, although I wouldn't expect another 25-homer, 25-steal season from him.

Who to watch: While Carmona was the team's top starting pitcher, he's not much of a strikeout option. Right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Alex White possess more upside. Carrasco, the former Phillies product leveraged in the Cliff Lee trade, made seven starts for the Indians and flashed potential. White was the team's top 2010 draft pick and he held his own at two levels of the minors. Look for him to make his major league debut in 2011. Carrasco isn't a safe bet in 2010, but he should be given a chance to make 30 starts, and could keep his ERA on the good side of 4.00.

Kansas City Royals

What happened: The fall of Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke was a big story, as the right-hander had trouble winning games, then closed poorly with a 5.92 ERA in September. Greinke remains a strong strikeout pitcher, but it's tough to win games here. The only Royal to win more than 10 games was journeyman lefty Bruce Chen, and he had the same ERA as Greinke. As for the offense, Billy Butler did not make strides in terms of power, and other than some surprise power from Yuniesky Betancourt and a nice second half for Mike Aviles, not much excited fantasy owners.

What will happen: Things could get interesting if hotshot first base prospect Eric Hosmer becomes major league-ready at some point soon, because the Royals have Butler and Kila Ka'aihue manning first base and designated hitter. Frankly, I'd bet on Ka'aihue realizing his power potential before Butler and Hosmer at this point; Butler hit .330 off right-handers in 2010 (.360 BABIP), but he keeps reminding us that doubles don't always turn into home runs as a player develops. Hosmer's problem might be power potential as well. Draft the safer Butler over Ka'aihue in 2011, but not among the top 15 first basemen. You need more than 15-20 home runs from that spot.

Who to watch: There's no such problem at third base. Mike Moustakas smacked 36 home runs between Double-A/Triple-A in 2010, and the former No. 2 overall draft pick is poised for a big rookie season in 2011. Spend the extra buck on the left-handed hitter in AL-only leagues, and consider him worth taking in mixed drafts. Sure, we've been down this road with Alex Gordon, now the team's left fielder, but Moustakas seems like a surer bet.