2021 Fantasy Baseball Division Preview

2021 Fantasy Baseball: AL Central Division Preview

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Welcome Fantasy friends and foes to the 2021 Fantasy Baseball: AL Central Division Preview.

MLB fans were gifted a three-team race in the AL Central last season, with the Minnesota Twins finishing one game ahead of both the Chicago White Sox and The Cleveland Baseball team.

Chicago follows up their 2020 breakout season by adding two considerable pieces in their quest for their first AL Central Division title since 2008. The White Sox traded for veteran right-hander Lance Lynn, who finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting last season. Lynn will join a rotation that already includes Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel and will rival for the majors’ best starting rotation. Closer Liam Hendriks joins the White Sox on a three-year deal. Hendriks, who will take over for Alex Colome, posted a 1.79 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP and a 13.1 K/9 rate over 110 1/3 innings for the A’s in the past two seasons.

Cleveland made significant moves this past offseason. The trade of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets was purely a cost-cutting move. Additionally, they lost the first baseman Carlos Santana and closer Brad Hand. However, they did sign former Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. Cleveland will have a small margin of error to compete. Where is the offense going to come from?

Now that we know the most critical transactions, how will all of this affect Fantasy managers? Who are the breakout players in the AL Central? Who should Fantasy managers avoid? Please find out the answers to those questions and who the star players and the upcoming prospects are as we dive into the 2021 Fantasy Baseball: AL Central Division Preview.

2021 Fantasy Baseball: AL Central Division Preview

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Chicago White Sox

Stars

American League MVP Jose Abreu led the 2020 Chicago White Sox. The 33-year-old first baseman led the AL in hits (76), and he finished second in league with 19 home runs. Abreu produced an impressive slash line of .317/.370/.617. He also led the league in the shortened season with 60 RBI, an RBI per game season.

The White Sox offense is full of Fantasy goodness. They finished third in home runs and fifth in runs scored last season, and the sparkplug of their offense is leadoff hitter SS Tim Anderson. Anderson followed up his breakout 2019 season when he led the AL with a .335 batting average by hitting .322, second in AL, and leading the league with 45 runs scored. His ascension toward the top of the shortstop rankings will continue in 2021.

Chicago struck gold in signing southpaw Dallas Keuchel last offseason. Keuchel was in the Cy Young conversation by going 6-2 in 11 starts. The veteran left-hander produced an ERA of 1.99 and a 1.089 WHIP and formed a formidable one-two punch with Lucas Giolito.

Durable right-hander Lance Lynn was acquired by the White Sox during the offseason. Lynn will fortify the rotation and allow the young pitchers like Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech to grow into their roles at the rotation’s backend.

Breakouts

Eloy Jimenez followed up a phenomenal rookie season in 2019 where he slashed .267/.315/.513 and slugged 31 dingers in 122 games. He was even better while progressing into an offensive superstar last season.

Jimenez earned a Silver Slugger award by slashing .296/.332/.559 to go with 14 home runs and 41 RBI in 55 games. Jimenez, who has slugged 45 home runs in just 177 games at the major-league level, took a gigantic step in tilting the scales in the White Sox favor in the win column involving the blockbuster trade between the two Chicago MLB teams.

Busts

After an MVP-type season in 2019, Yoan Moncada contracted COVID-19 as the team started the 2020 season. Moncada mentioned that he didn’t feel normal until after the season ended. His offensive numbers were a mammoth disappointment as he only produced a .225/.320/.385 slash line with six homers and 17 extra-base hits in 52 games in 2020. Fantasy managers should expect a bounce-back season from Moncada in an improved powerhouse White Sox lineup.

Yasmani Grandal struggled in his first season with the White Sox, hitting .230 with eight homers and a .773 OPS while striking out 58 times in 191 PA. The switch-hitting catcher was on top of many Fantasy analysts’ radar to explode in a loaded Chicago lineup. However, a possible decline for the 32-year-old catcher led to sharing catching duties with James McCann, but McCann signed a lofty deal with the New York Mets this past offseason. Look for power-hitting catcher prospect Zach Collins to take over McCann’s role.

Prospects

The Chicago White Sox have a nice mix of veterans with a playoff-caliber top of the rotation with Lance Lynn, a top-six Cy Young finisher in consecutive seasons, to combine with Kuechel Giolito. There will be heavy competition to fill out the remaining rotation with young right-hander Dylan Cease and veteran retreads Reynaldo Lopez and southpaw Carlos Rodon.

Chicago also does possess promising arms that should contribute this season. Michael Kopech opted out of the delayed and shortened season and is now two and a half years removed from Tommy John surgery. Kopech has the potential to be an ace with great movement on his arsenal and can hit triple-digits on his fastball. However, it would not be surprising if Kopech doesn’t come out of the bullpen. He could be a set-up reliever for new closer Liam Hendricks, who signed a  three- or four-year deal worth a guaranteed $54 million deal.

Southpaw Garrett Crochet escaped severe injury at the end of last season and looks to his cement status as their fourth-ranked prospect. A dark-horse candidate to create Fantasy buzz is the 2020 second-round selection, right-hander Jared Kelley.

The White Sox prospect that will make the most significant Fantasy impact is the second baseman, Nick Madrigal. His 2020 slash line of .340/.376/.369 with a .745 OPS and 11 RBI in 102 at-bats proved his contact ability. His Gold Glove potential will keep Madrigal in the White Sox daily lineup.

First baseman Andrew Vaughn is the team’s No. 1 prospect and should rotate between backing up Jose Abreu at first base and taking over for the departed DH, Edwin Encarnacion. His power and ability to get on base will lead to Vaughn being a sneaky deep-sleeper selection in your upcoming Fantasy drafts.

Cleveland Baseball Team

Stars

Shane Bieber had a phenomenal season, which made him the winner of the Major League’s Pitching Triple Crown. Bieber also became Cleveland’s first unanimous Cy Young winner by leading baseball in multiple categories. Bieber led baseball with wins (8), strikeouts (122), and 1.63 ERA over 77.1 innings of work. What does Bieber do for an encore?

Jose Ramirez was the AL MVP runner-up last season, posting an outstanding .292/.386/.607 slash line and hitting 17 homers while stealing ten bases. Ramirez has produced three top-three MVP finishes over the last four seasons. The switch-hitting third baseman has averaged 24 homers and 21 stolen bases over the previous five seasons.

Ramirez is the highest-paid player on the team at $9.4 million, which is an absolute bargain for the Cleveland Baseball team, dead last in MLB payroll. He is the lone survivor of the team’s cutting payroll. Will he remain in Cleveland? There is a buzz that Ramirez might be traded, and if Cleveland struggles out of the gate, that buzz will be deafening.

Breakouts

James Karinchak should be a sleeper pick for Fantasy managers looking to fill their relief pitcher spot this season. Karinchak produced a 2.67 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP over 27 appearances. More impressively, he struck out a whopping 53 batters in 27 innings! Moreover, the 2020 closer Brad Hand signed with the Nationals, which will open the door for Karinchak to be the team’s closer.

Cleveland has two promising starters in their rotation that Fantasy managers should put in their queue come draft time. Zach Plesac was in the middle of a COVID-19 protocol violation that forced him to miss three weeks of action. However, when he was on the mound, Plesac went 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA and 0.795 WHIP across eight starts. The right-hander held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average while striking out 9.3 K/9. Plesac projects to be the SP2 for The Cleveland Baseball Team.

Aaron Civale will handle the third spot in the rotation. In his last five starts last season, Civale produced a 1-2 record with a 6.43 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP when batters were hitting .319 during that stretch.  He gave up the most hits (82) in the AL last season. Civale possesses minimal upside but is an innings-eater.

Franmil Reyes was exclusively at designated hitter last season and produced the team’s third-highest batting average at .275 and the second-highest OPS at .795. Very streaky hitter, Reyes is an imposing figure and a potential power threat who fits perfectly in the cleanup spot in the lineup. However, he struck out plenty, including 69 strikeouts in 241 plate appearances last season.

Busts

Oscar Mercado emerged as the centerfielder of the future in 2019 when he posted a .269/.318/.443 slash line with 15 homers and 54 RBI with 15 stolen bases in his rookie season. His sophomore season, not so much. Mercado struggled mightily with a .128/.128/.174 slash line with only two extra-base hits last season on his way to being optioned to their alternate training site. Mercado is no longer Fantasy relevant.

Prospects

Triston McKenzie lived up to the hype and earned a spot in the starting rotation after his performance last season. The 23-year-old began his MLB career by striking out ten hitters over six innings while allowing just one run. McKenzie finished the season 2-1 while posting a 3.24 ERA with 42 strikeouts and a 0.900 WHIP in 33.1 innings.

The young right-hander projects the fourth spot for the 2021 Cleveland Baseball Team rotation. His minor league resume suggests that his four-pitch arsenal will provide the ammunition for McKenzie to be a top-end starter for Cleveland.

Nolan Jones is a 23-year-old third baseman who batted .272/.409/.442 with 15 home runs in 126 games across two minor league levels last season. Jones is a power hitter with a great eye at the plate, as evidenced by Jones leading the minor leagues with 96 walks.

Jose Ramirez blocks the left-handed-hitting Jones at the hot corner in Cleveland, so Jones expects to get reps in the outfield this spring. Cleveland is desperate for an outfield bat even with the acquisition of former Minnesota Twin Eddie Rosario. 

Jones will begin the 2021 season in Triple-A, but we will see him playing Progressive Field this summer.

Detroit Tigers

Stars

There is the only one called star on the Detroit Tigers, the future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. The 37-year-old appeared only as designated hitter last season for the Tigers. He hit .250/.329/.417 with ten home runs and 35 RBI in 57 games in 2021.



The former two-time MVP does not hold much Fantasy value, and most Fantasy managers will probably use Cabrera only as a possible streaming option.

Breakouts

One of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers in 2020 was the emergence of first baseman Jeimer Candelario. The switch-hitting Candelario, who possesses position versatility at third base and first base, posted a splendid .297/.369/.503 slash line with seven homers and 29 RBI to go along with a 1.6 WAR, which topped the team.

The Tigers believed they had found their shortstop of the future in Willi Castro. In 36 games last season, Castro slashed .349/.381/.550 and smacked six homers, and totaled 24 RBI. The small sample size might deter Fantasy managers but look for Castro to produce double digits in home runs and stolen bases in 2021.

Busts

The daily lineup is relatively void of talent, so we head to the starting rotation to examine a few looked upon to produce but failed expected outcomes.

Matthew Boyd has exhibited flashes, including his 238 strikeouts 2019 season. However, that looks to be an outlier for Fantasy managers. Boyd finished 3-7 last season with a 6.71 ERA while giving up 10.0 H/9 and coughed up the most home runs in the majors (15) last season.  Boyd is a free agent at the end of the 2022 season. With young arms on his heels, his hold in the Tigers’ starting rotation seems to be tenuous at best.

Former Rookie of the Year winner in 2016, Michael Fuller didn’t miss a start last season, his first season back on the mound after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Fullmer has seemed to be dealing with injuries throughout his career, and his Fantasy production continues in a downward projection. Fullmer went 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA, a 2.06 WHIP, and a career-low 14.7% strikeout rate last season. It would be reasonably difficult for Fantasy managers to have any faith in investing in the former All-Star.

Prospects

The Detroit Tigers projects to finish last in the AL Central Division for the third consecutive season. However, the future looks too bright in Detroit. The Detroit Tigers were the only team in the majors with five MLBPipeline Top 100 Prospect list players.

Southpaw Casey Mize, the number one overall pick in 2018, came in at #11 and produced disappointing results. Mize went winless in seven starts while posting a 6.99 ERA in 28.1 IP. Mize will compete for a spot in an underwhelming starting rotation. He is just 23-years-old and will continue to progress into a late-round value in 2021.

Landing at #24, southpaw Tarik Skubal also gained valuable MLB experience last season. His underlying stats looked promising, with left-handed hitters hitting only .136 (all singles) against him. He surrendered two earned runs or less in six of his eight starts while striking out 37 batters in 32 innings pitched. Look for Skubal to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Tigers in 2021 and beyond.

The Detroit Tigers farm system’s gem is their number one overall draft pick in 2020, third baseman Spencer Torkelson. Torkelson came in as the third-best prospect in 2021. Torkelson is uber-talented. It is only a matter of time before we see him playing in Comerica Park.

Outfielder Riley Greene, who came in at #21, was one of the hottest hitters in Spring Training last season. Greene slashed .417/.611/.917 with two homers and six walks in seven games. He should play in the Minors next season with a possible late-season call-up not out of the question. At #25, Matt Manning is recovering from his forearm injury and likely to spend the 2021 season in the Minors.

Kansas City Royals

Stars

Whit Merrifield is one of the few Royals that consistently is on the radar of Fantasy managers. His positional flexibility as a second baseman and outfielder increases his Fantasy value. Merrifield suffered through some regression last season, with him slashing .282/.252/.440 with a .764 OPS. In contrast, he batted over .300 in 2018 and 2019 while leading the majors in hits in both seasons. Merrifield might come with the draft value this season due to Fantasy managers being concerned about the lack of production in a small sample.

Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is a Fantasy quandary. Mondesi seems like that he is not reaching his full potential. He struggled for most of the season last year before exploding in September. The switch-hitter slashed .356/.408/.667 and produced six home runs with 20 RBI and a whopping 16 stolen bases in September alone.

Mondesi is a career .251 hitter who oozes potential, but we only see flashes. He is Fantasy gold in category leagues with his ability to steal bases. He led the majors last season with 24 stolen bases in only 59 games while producing 75 total stolen bases in 2018-2019. Mondesi is still being drafted as a top-six shortstop as well it should be. Just imagine if he ever put it all together.

Carlos Santana signed a reasonable two-year $17.5 million deal with the Royals. The former Cleveland first baseman/designated hitter is renowned for his excellent plate discipline. He had led the league in walks twice and enjoyed his best season in 2019 when he slashed .281/.397/.515, smacked 34 home runs while driving in 93 runs.

Santana loves hitting at Kauffman Stadium, slashing .327/.449/.628 with 18 dingers in only 74 games. He provides veteran leadership and is very durable, missing more than ten games only once since 2010. The switch-hitter struggled in 2020, hitting a career-low .199, but I see Santana bouncing back in 2021.

Breakouts

Salvador Perez, a Royal fan favorite, can hardly be described as a breakout. Nevertheless, he returned last season after missing the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. Perez became a Fantasy manager favorite last season by hitting .333/.353/.633 with a team-leading 11 home runs despite missing time because he tested positive for COVID-19 and an eye injury.

Brad Keller was the team’s best pitcher as he produced a 5-3 record with a 2.47 ERA. In his nine starts, he posted a 3.43 FIP to go along with a 1.024 WHIP in his 56.1 innings.

Busts

Fantasy managers were witnesses to Jorge Soler falling back to earth last season. In 2019, Soler broke the Royals’ single-season home-run record with 48 dingers. Additionally, he posted an impressive .354 on-base percentage and 136 wRC+. In 2020, Soler had a significant increase in strikeouts with a career-high 34.5 SO%. His batting average decreased from .265 to .228. Soler should slot into the fourth hole in the Royals lineup between Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez, which should help Soler return to a Fantasy power producer. However, Fantasy managers should not anticipate anything close to his 2019 production.

Nicky Lopez is one of the better defensive second basemen in baseball, but that won’t help Fantasy owners. Lopez hit a measly .201 and managed a paltry 55 wRC+ and is useless in Fantasy. How long will his glove keep him in the lineup?

Prospects

There should be excitement among the Royals faithful. The Royals have three prospects who made it into the top 30 of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, headlined by shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr., ranked at No. 7.

Witt Jr. has been impressive and has displayed enormous potential since he was selected No. 2 overall MLB draft pick in 2019. Currently, there are no openings in the daily lineup but don’t be surprised to see the 20-year-old as a September call-up this season.

Southpaws Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy were ranked No. 29 and No.30, respectively. Both starters have power arms with electric stuff who are close to the majors.

Minnesota Twins

Stars

In an odd reversal of fortune, the Minnesota Twins relied on pitching in 2020 after setting numerous offensive records in 2019.

The Twins possess a formidable top three starters in their starting rotation.  His overall 2020 stats were not very impressive, but Jose Berrios shined in September. In his last four starts, Berrios went 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five starts while posting 1.11 WHIP and giving up a .212 batting average against. The right-hander has posted four consecutive seasons with an ERA of 4.00 or below in his career.

Upon returning from his PED suspension, Michael Pineda was impressive in his five starts last season. Pineda went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 26.2 innings with no home runs allowed. Pineda projects as the SP3 for the Twins, and it will be intriguing to see what he can produce in a full season.

The big thumper returns to the Twins lineup. The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reported that the Twins and designated hitter Nelson Cruz agreed on a one-year deal worth $13 million. Cruz produced MVP-caliber numbers last season to the tune of hitting .303/.397/.595 with 16 home runs.

Breakouts

The Minnesota Twins found their ace in the former Los Angeles Dodger Kenta Maeda. The 33-year-old right-hander made notable leaps in 2020 by posting a 6-1 record with a career-best 2.70 ERA and 2.1 WAR in 66.2 innings. Maeda led the league with a 0.750 WHIP and achieved career-best in 32.3% SO% while lowering his walk totals (1.35 BB/9).

Bust0

The biggest disappointment for the Minnesota Twins last season was catcher, Mitch Garver. Garver was one of the top offensive catchers coming into the 2020 season after hitting 31 homers in 2019. However, his struggles in 2020 included a slash line of .167.247/.261 and intercostal strain that cost him games last season. The emergence of Ryan Jeffers causes legitimate concerns on any Fantasy impact projected for the 30-year-old catcher.

The Twins signed Josh Donaldson for $18.75 million to be their starting third baseman and to be a potent bat in the middle of their lineup. However, Donaldson hit only .222 with career-lows in BABIP (.211), XBH% (44%), and IP% (51%) in an injury-marred 2020.

Prospects

Eddie Rosario‘s departure should exhibit that their top prospect Alex Kirilloff is ready to take over. Kirilloff projects to be a 20/10 player and have earned the team’s trust, as displayed by being carried on their postseason roster. Kirilloff made his MLB debut as the starting right fielder in an elimination game.

Ryan Jeffers skipped Triple-A entirely due to the lack of a minor league season but catapulted to the big leagues to fill in for an injured Mitch Garver. Jeffers should be the Twins’ everyday catcher based upon hitting .273/.355/.436 in the second half of the season.


The signing of Andrelton Simmons to start at shortstop for the Twins in 2021 will push Royce Lewis‘  big league arrival to 2022. Simmons is one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors and will be a great mentor to Royce Lewis. Lewis finished as the 2019 Arizona Fall League MVP after hitting .353/.411/.565. Lewis is a great dynasty selection, but he will have minimal to zero Fantasy impact in 2021.

AL Central Division Projected Standings

  1. Chicago White Sox      93-69
  2. Minnesota Twins        91-71
  3. Cleveland                     83-79
  4. Kansas City Royals    71-91
  5. Detroit Tigers             67-95

Make sure you bookmark our Fantasy Baseball category page to consume all of our 2021 MLB content in the coming weeks!

2021 Fantasy Baseball Division Previews 
AL EastAL CentralAL West
NL EastNL CentralNL West

About Dennis Sosic

Dennis Sosic is from Cleveland, Ohio and a HUGE sports fan including NFL (GO BROWNS!) and college football (GO BUCKEYES!) MLB (GO TRIBE), NBA (GO CAVS!) and MMA. He has been called a Sports Geek by friends and foes alike and that fits him perfectly. He has been competing in fantasy sports, mainly fantasy football and baseball for over 20 years. Please do all of us a favor and follow Dennis @ CALL_ME_SOS.

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