Continuing our six-part series of the youth movement of Major League Baseball, we examine the American League Central.
Earlier this week, we debuted our six-part series by examining a player from each team in the AL East that Major League Baseball fans need to pay attention to. Each player had two years or less major league service time and has flashed numerous reasons why the future of Major League Baseball is in exciting hands.
Let’s move on to part-two of our series by taking a look at the American League Central. As of May 8, only the Cleveland Indians (17-17) have a .500 or better record in the division. Even the 9-23 Chicago White Sox are only seven games out of the playoffs. However, with a number of teams in this division in the midst of rebuilds, it’s only a matter of time before a few of these teams erupt.
Cleveland Indians – Mike Clevinger
Mike Clevinger seems to have it all, he just needs to put it together. That seems to be what he’s doing in 2018. A former fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels, Clevinger burst onto the scene last year, working a 12-6 record and 3.11 ERA for the Indians. Using a 95 mph fastball and three above-average secondary pitches (slider, curveball and changeup), Clevinger struck out more than 10 hitters per nine innings pitched and held opposing hitters to a .210 batting average.
One of Clevinger’s biggest issues in 2017 was finding the strike zone with his pitches. That’s changed through his first six starts of 2018. His zone percentage is up 10% (40% in 2017, 50% in 2018), making his secondary pitches more effective. His strikeout rate has dropped from 27% to 19%, however, as hitters are making more ground ball contact against him (46%).
Mike Clevinger, Filthy 3 Pitch K vs. Aaron Judge (all Sliders). 🤢
Through six starts, Clevinger is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. He’s also the fourth starter in the Indians’ rotation, and he’s outperforming a handful of the team’s aces, thus far. If the Indians can find a way to keep this rotation together, it will undoubtedly control the AL Central for many years to come.
Detroit Tigers – Jeimer Candelario
The Detroit Tigers have one of the more thrilling farm systems in baseball, led by four future stud pitchers in Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows. The biggest question is whether the Tigers can help support these future pitchers with a productive lineup.
Although he’s only appeared in 43 games prior to the 2018 season, Jeimer Candelario is proving to be the most reliable bat in the Tigers lineup. The 24-year-old is hitting .281 with a highly impressive .357 OBP and 131 wRC+. Mainly slotted in as the number two hitter in the lineup, Candelario is beginning to show unforeseen power. In 32 games he has four home runs, 10 doubles and three triples.
Jeimer Candelario homers for the second time this season. #Tigers and Orioles are tied at one apiece on FOX Sports Detroit and FSGO. pic.twitter.com/6hMCLPYDqe
— FOX Sports Detroit (@FOXSportsDet) April 18, 2018
The switch hitter brings a lot of tools to the table, already. If Candelario can add gap-power to his repertoire — watch out. Even his defense is proving to be more valuable than anticipated at the major league level. With no other hitting prospects poised to make much noise at the major league level, the Tigers better hope Candelario continues his current production.
Minnesota Twins – Jose Berrios
Has Jose Berrios finally put his skill-set together? The 23-year-old RHP put up back-to-back stellar performances in AAA over 2015 and 2016. He went 16-7 with a sub-2.90 ERA and was striking out more than 10 hitters per nine innings. Unfortunately, when the Twins made the decision to call him up, Berrios pitched to the tune of an 8.20 ERA, gave up nearly two home runs per game and walked nearly five and a half hitters per nine innings.
His stuff has been described as elite, and many evaluators strongly believe he will be the ace of the Twins staff in the very near future. Berrios has done an outstanding job of slowing everything down in 2018. He’s dropped his walk rate from 8% last season to sub-5% in 2018. Opposing hitters are averaging just .208 while Berrios has posted a 0.98 WHIP over 40 innings. His ground ball rate is up, the percentage of balls that leave the infield is way down, and only 22% of contact against him has been registered as “hard-contact.”
The biggest explanation for his success is his curveball. It’s producing a 17% swing and miss rate this season. Just watch Berrios’ series of pitches below and become amazed.
Kansas City Royals – Whit Merrifield
Whit Merrifield is no stranger to success.
LEGENDS OF OMAHA
Merrifield is a little bit of an outlier in this entire series. The vast majority of players highlighted in this series are 24-years-old or younger — Merrifield is 29. The 2010 draft pick of the Royals did not make his MLB debut until 2016 and played his first full season last year.
In 145 games, Merrifield stole 34 bases and jacked 19 home runs while striking out in just 14% of his at-bats. He’s continued to be a key contributor for the Royals in 2018. He has doubled his walk rate (up to over 8%) and has already recorded seven stolen bases.
Even many hardcore baseball fans have not heard of Merrifield, so I’m assuming most fans did not know that only Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton and Trea Turner stole more bases last season. Some players are just late bloomers, and that seems to be the case for Merrifield. The clip below is from the 2017 season, however, it shows his ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark and then turn around and get his hands through the zone quickly to poke a ball the opposite way.
Chicago White Sox – Yoan Moncada
The first time I saw Yoan Moncada was when he was a member of the Salem Red Sox, the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He was one of the top young prospects in all of baseball and was clearly developed well beyond his peers. After making a slick diving catch in the outfield, Moncada stepped up to leadoff the next frame and belted a ball to deep left field. I’ve been hooked ever since.
He earned his first substantial major league playing time last year with the Chicago White Sox and did not disappoint. He hit eight home runs, eight doubles and posted a .338 OBP in 54 games. Now a full-time major leaguer, fully entrenched in the White Sox starting lineup, Moncada already has six home runs in 29 games, hitting 32 points higher than last season, and is getting on base in 36% of his at-bats.
Yoan Moncada is on pace to have 48 doubles, 6 triples, 36 homers, 90 RBI's, 102 runs scored, 24 stolen bases, 84 walks, and a lot of strikeouts this season, along with an .882 OPS, and a 7.2 BWAR/7.8 FWAR.
He doesn't turn 23 years old until the end of this month.
— Mike (@ChiSoxFanMike) May 2, 2018
Standing at 6-2, Moncada has bulked up tremendously since those Single-A days, but he hasn’t lost a step on the field. He has plus-contact ability, plus-plus game power, plus-defense, a plus-arm and plus-plus speed on the basepaths. Moncada has been compared to a faster, more powerful Corey Seager or a Robinson Cano type player. He’s the cornerstone of this Chicago franchise as they continue their rebuild. Seriously, just look at this mammoth swing…
Stay tuned as I bring you the American League West on Thursday. As much as I want to just write 2,000 words on Shohei Ohtani, I won’t.