While Ben wrapped up the AL side on Tuesday, I’m lagging behind thanks to a scheduling quirk. Here’s the NL Central:
Chicago Cubs: Junior Lake, OF
I’ve written about Lake before over at Baseball Prospectus, but he’s the guy for this post. He’s going to get a ton of at-bats in an outfield that currently consists of him, Nate Schierholtz (trade candidate) and Ryan Sweeney. I spent the majority of the aforementioned article arguing against Lake being what his surface stats portend him to be, and I don’t plan to argue against myself.
He is however set up to accrue plenty of counting stats, purely thanks to playing time. Add in his natural raw talents and there are likely to be streaks where he is extremely good. Outside of that though, inconsistency is the likeliest outcome with many streaks where he’d actually sink your team. If you can find the hot streaks and avoid the cold snaps then you should be fine. If you can do that however, I’d find a more lucrative outlet for it than fantasy sports.
One more to remember: Mike Olt, 3B (technically still a prospect, but suffering from prospect fatigue)
Cincinnati Reds: Devin Mesoraco, C
The trade of Mesoraco’s timeshare partner Ryan Hanigan has allowed Mesoraco to assume full control of the backstop at-bats in Cincinnati. The Reds did sign Brayan Pena, but his biggest contribution to the team (aside from tweets about NERTS!) will be that new manager Bryan Price shouldn’t be tempted to sit Mesoraco for him. Mesoraco hasn’t established himself like many thought he would, cobbling together two mostly horrific partial seasons with the bat.
There’s not much sense in looking for trends with Mesoraco either, as his second half was mostly equivalent to his first, only with a worse on base percentage and a better slugging percentage. He finally looked to have found himself in July, putting together a .294/.329/.441 slash line, but he reverted back to his previous form in August, and the bottom truly fell out in September.
While his walk rate dropped 2.5 percentage points and his strikeout rate held steady, Mesoraco did improve as a hitter last season, if only marginally thanks to a thirty point climb in BABIP. You may think that means a regression is coming, but that bump in BABIP brought his all the way to .264, which is still well below league average. It’s possible there’s something in Mesoraco’s skillset that is depressing his BABIP but he’s not a flyball dominant guy (45% GB rate last season/21% lind drive rate), so that doesn’t quite stand to reason. His infield fly ball percentage is well within the normal range as well.
Between his skills and a little bit better luck, Mesoraco should be primed for a breakout season. It looks like the Reds are trusting him to have one, and there’s reason enough to believe you should too.
One more to remember: Tony Cingrani, SP
Milwaukee Brewers: Khris Davis, OF
Davis had shown some impressive minor league production before stepping into the big leagues and recording a .279/.353/.596 slash line. The line is all “pretty solid” and then you get to that slugging percentage and don’t remember how long your mouth has been agape but any semblance of moisture that was there is now pooling on your desk.
There is cause for concern of course. A 22% strikeout rate doesn’t bode well for a great batting average or converting his raw power into functional power, but he walks well enough (7% last year, better in the minors) that his OBP will still make him useful in dark periods. No one should expect a repeat of the power performance he put on in limited at-bats last season, in fact, additional ABs will likely expose him a bit. But with Norichika Aoki in Kansas City, it’s clear that Milwaukee is going to see what they have in Davis. He’s got the upside of a high third outfielder, but I’d be more comfortable with him in a 4th OF role, in fantasy.
One more to remember: Wily Peralta, SP
Pittsburgh Pirates: Dumpster Fire
This is harsh, but literally the only post-prospect on the Pirates worth a damn is Gerrit Cole, and y’all know he’s the business.
One more to remember: Gerrit Cole, SP
St. Louis Cardinals: Shelby Miller
From a team with but one post-prospect to a team with a bevy. Miller is the guy here, beating out Wacha and Adams and Rosenthal because unlike those guys, it’s possible people are underestimating Miller at this point. Wacha made his bones in the playoffs (while Miller was avoided to the point of mockery) and while he’s a good pitcher, it seems that an 8-10 start run has people reevaluating him when they shouldn’t. Perhaps I’m being slow to react, but I think he returns to earth to be a good #3 starter, which is plenty valuable in and of itself. Others are thinking Adams has a good chance at a full time gig if Allen Craig bounces to RF, and if he does there’s value to be had. I’m not sure the Cardinals risk Craig in the outfield too much, though. Rosenthal is properly rated, but I’ll be damned if I take a reliever over a starter in this situation.
Miller was phenomenal his first full season, throwing 173 innings of 3.06 ERA, striking out 23% and walking 8% of batters. He was fly ball prone, but kept his HR/FB% right around 10% to mitigate the damage. Much of that damage was done in the second half though, as Miller began to run out of steam. He saw his strikeout rate drop, his walk rate rise and pretty much everything move in the wrong direction in the second half. Given that it was his first full season in the majors, much of that is forgivable.
I expect a full season performance similar to his first half performance in 2014, and for everyone to realize that between Miller and Wacha, it’s really no contest as to who is the better pitcher. That means a 200+ strikeout season from Miller with something around a 2.90 ERA.
Three more to consider: Michael Wacha, SP, Matt Adams, 1B, and Trevor Rosenthal RP