Mid Season Rankings Update: AL Central Edition
Today we’ll look at some players in the AL Central and how they`re faring.
A reminder of how we generally rank and how to read the blurbs below before we get to the goodness: we rank with a three-year window in mind, as most of you know, but no one is really sure what the next three years will bring, in our own lives or in the baseball world. Yet we do it anyway! We also generalize it to a 15-team roto league, and although points and head-to-head leagues are a little different ranking-wise, we feel you can still use these as a general tool. Chris Knock and friends will be coming out with a Top 500 OBP dynasty update soon after our rankings finish just like before the season started.
Again, we value all of your feedback and critiques and hope you enjoy. And if you want access to all of our positional rankings NOW, donate below!
Bo Naylor, -5 (20)
As predicted in the preseason write-up, Naylor has ascended the Guardians’ depth chart and is now the number one catcher in the organization. Naylor had an excellent sixty games at Triple-A Columbus. He walked almost as much as he struck out, had an ISO of .244, and for purposes of our game, had 13 homers, 45 runs, and 48 RBI in 270 plate appearances. He only stole two bases, which is a little disappointing, but all in all, it was everything that we could have hoped for.
So why did he drop in our rankings? Well, we had some risers: Logan O’Hoppe, Endy Rodriguez, Dalton Rushing, Keibert Ruiz, and Diego Cartaya. More importantly, Naylor has mightily struggled in Cleveland this season to the tune of .149/.231/.234 with one homer and zero steals. He is running a 30 wRC+. To me, however, this is a story as old as time: rookie catcher struggles offensively in the majors while adjusting to the league.
In fact, looking over Naylor’s career, his line at the majors reminds me of his 2021 line at Double A. Naylor struggled in his first taste of Double-A and then came back the next year and dominated, with the most striking difference being his swing choices. He went from striking out three times more than he walked to an almost one-to-one ratio. Then, this year when he repeated Triple-A, he again materially improved his swing choices from his stint in 2022. If the pattern follows, then 2024 should be a good year for Naylor, and this midseason ranking will be a small blip on the radar. I foresee that in one year’s time, Naylor will be knocking on the Top 10 of our rankings.
(The Roto Red)
Josh Naylor, +11 (9)
Coming in ninth for first baseman is Josh Naylor climbing up all the way from the 20th spot just a few short months ago. But wait, I remember Naylor kind of being #notgood to start the year, surely you guys are making a mistake. You would be correct, at the end of April he was slashing .212/.271/.341 and the masses were calling him a bust.
Since April 30th all Naylor has done is go .345/.377/.544 with eight home runs and 3 stolen bases. The man has arrived and is making the next level leap that we were all hoping for at the end of last year. He figures to be a mainstay in the middle of the order for a powerless Guardians lineup. Boasting an elite zone contact percentage of 87% along with a barrel rate of 9% he is primed to continue on an upward trajectory. What I`ve been most impressed with this year is that he is increasing his launch angle while still maintaining his power. Naylor has historically hovered around a 50% groundball rate, this year he has knocked almost 10% off of that to the tune of a 41.2 GB%. Most projection systems have him hitting another 10 home runs the rest of the season but I believe he could hit another 15 with the way his swing has been progressing. Next year, he may make a move into the top 5.
Edouard Julien, +14 (13)
Why is it so hard for me to keep track of players in the AL Central? Honestly, man, there’s just a void in my brain where those five teams should be. Nevertheless, that dang division has one of the most interesting second basemen in the Junior Circuit (at least over the last few months). Enter Edouard Julien, who is batting .271 on the season with 7 homers and a theft go with. Sure those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but the dude is on an absolute tear right now, slashing .310/.383/.549 since June 1st. That’s good for a 158 wRC+; best among occupational keystoners with at least 70 plate appearances during that span. Makes me feel real good I didn’t drop him in my home league after his rough April/May.
Somehow he’s still only rostered in 41% of Fantrax leagues, so get yourself out there and pick him up to see where it goes! I think he’ll eventually strike out less and walk more as well, so it’s definitely worth taking a shot on him.
Jake Burger, +30 (18)
Coming into the season very few would have expected Jake Burger to become a relevant fantasy option at third base, but that is exactly what he has done. He comes in at 18th in the third baseman dynasty rankings. He made his way back to relevancy with a good first half that was fueled by his power production at a position that oftentimes is tough to lock down. He hit 19 home runs in 73 games, which also came with 41 RBIs. The power comes with a lot of swing and miss, as he strikes out at a 33.5% rate. The high strikeout rate has limited his batting average (.220) and walk rate (5.7%), culminating in a very poor on-base percentage (.278).
Looking deeper at his quality of contact numbers shows a player that may still improve given how much Burger has been limited by injuries in the past. He is in the 91st percentile of hard hit percent and 98th percentile in barrel percent. When he does make contact he hits it hard, barreling it and sending it in the air. Staying healthy and continuing to get more at-bats could see improvements in the amount of contact he gets to and even better numbers overall.
Tim Anderson, -9 (26)
Tim Anderson is in a free fall in our rankings for the past year and a half, once billed as a top-of-the-order bat that boasts good bat-to-ball ability and a penchant for getting on base, Anderson has shown none of that this past year and a half. Injuries can be blamed for part of it, and as a whole probably contributes a lot more than we think.
All I can see from a thousand miles away is that his groundball rate is now sitting at 65% which has to be at or near the top of the league (no way I`m going to look that depressing stat up), with below-average speed now (sprint speed is now in the bottom 48%). That`s just not going to cut it in fantasy, or real life, as the sinking White Sox are now having trouble finding suitors for the oft-injured Anderson.
Eloy Jiménez, -10 (24)
We’re all aware of the disappointment the 2023 Chicago White Sox have been thus far. And perhaps no positional player encapsulates that more so than Eloy Jiménez and his drop in our rankings. His biggest issue now is the same as it has been in the past – injuries. After two trips to the IL already, Jiménez only played in 59 games heading into the All-Star Break. One of those trips was due to an emergency appendectomy, which can vary in severity, and he missed over a month while recovering.
From the start of the season through June 13th, his wRC+ was an essentially league average 105. He was walking at a solid 8% clip but his power was just gone with an ISO of .176. Mind you this window includes both trips to the IL, the appendectomy as noted and a hamstring injury early in April. Start looking at June 14th to now and his wRC+ improves to 129 and including an improved slugging percentage of .525. His avgEV is elite, though with a poor LA, so I think we’ll hopefully be seeing the power boost that we’ve been waiting for all year. But with his injury history, we can’t be too optimistic. As glorious as his power is, health and durability concerns will continue to follow Jiménez.
I’d like to say that those concerns coupled with his relatively slow start make this a good opportunity to at least price-check the Jiménez owner in your league. Public projections think he’ll double his home run totals over the course of the rest of the season. Assuming he does, keep in mind that he’s at best a 4 category fantasy baseball asset. Are a potential 25 home runs in a season something even worth a top 25 positional ranking? See what your league mate wants in return, I’d be hesitant to even trade for him at this price though.
Bailey Ober, +53 (72)
The Mountain, as I like to call Ober has finally gotten his chance to start consistently for the Twins and boy is he taking advantage. With a 2.61 ERA through the first half that has a 19% K-BB% Ober`s gameplan is relatively straightforward; pound his fastball that plays up due to his size high in the strike zone, bury backfoot sliders to lefties, and pound low and inside to righties with his changeup. He locates all three pitches well if you glance at his heat maps, he’ll also drop in a curve from time to time that, surprise, he also locates well.
At 27, he is experiencing his breakout and should enjoy sustained success going forward. The ERA is unsustainable of course as he`s currently stranding 80% of runners and that should regress, but other than that he`s really been pitching like he always has been, he just now has the opportunity.
Jhoan Duran, Ranking Change (Current Rank)
Duran is now firmly entrenched as the closer in Minnesota after playing second-fiddle to lesser men all of last year. Listen, there’s not much to say here, he’s good, and his walk rate has crept up a bit this year, but no one is really complaining. He’ll be good, until he’s not when another young fire-baller arrives with a devastating breaking ball. Such is the animal that is a relief pitcher.