Fantasy Season So Far: AL Surprises, Trends, and Expectations

Fantasy Season So Far: AL Surprises, Trends, and Expectations

by April 26, 2021 0 comments

This is companion to the previous article on the National League teams. A quick look at all the American League teams to see what we have learned so far. What’s surprising, what will happen moving forward, and how some players can help your fantasy teams.

You can find the National League version right here.

Baltimore Orioles

There’s not much to get excited about on the offensive side for the Orioles. Cedric Mullins got off to a hot start but he doesn’t stuff the stat sheet for your fantasy team despite getting on base quite a bit. Trey Mancini has shown some power, his other numbers should improve in time.

John Means is the highlight from the pitching staff. Despite a nice end to 2020 and an extremely productive beginning to this year (sub 1.00 WHIP and right around 1.50 ERA), he still flies under the radar. Expect him to continue to have success.

Boston Red Sox

Unlike Baltimore, there are a variety of strong options with the Red Sox. You know how good Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are so let’s examine some others.

Alex Verdugo will provide a bit of everything (he even has two stolen bases already), and J.D. Martinez seems back to his expected level after an awful 2020. Enrique Hernandez has taken nicely to the leadoff spot, and Christian Vazquez provides some nice at bats from the catcher spot. The hype train got a bit out of control for Bobby Dalbec in Spring Training. While he hasn’t shown power yet, he hasn’t been completely overmatched.

Nathan Eovaldi has been as solid as expected – not spectacular but a nice fit in your fantasy rotation. Injuries have always been Eovaldi’s demise but assuming health, he should continue to find success. Garrett Richards has been bad and control is the big problem here (13 walks in 16.2 innings). Eduardo Rodriguez is back after serious COVID-related issues last year and the BoSox need him back to pre-2020 form. Matt Barnes has locked down the closer role and been dominant (17 strikeouts in 10 innings with only two walks) until a rough outing in a non-save situation on Friday.

Chicago White Sox

Yermin Mercedes has been the star of the first 20 games of the season for Chicago. Of course he won’t keep up this pace but he does have a track record of success in the minors and with Eloy Jimenez out for a while, there is a spot in the lineup for Mercedes. Luis Robert’s power will come (he has eight doubles already). When that happens, he’ll be one of the most valuable players in fantasy given his contributions on the basepaths.

Andrew Vaughn has played less than most White Sox fans would like. Tony LaRussa seems to like the pesky grinder type of hitter (lots of at bats for Leury Garcia, Billy Hamilton, and Nick Williams) and his inconsistent use of Vaughn may be hampering his effectiveness when he has gotten opportunities. You have to believe his time will come – this may be a good opportunity to scoop him up in your leagues.  Yoan Moncada has started slow but is beginning to break out and has batted in either the clean-up spot or the third hole in each of the games he’s played.

The White Sox hired a new pitching coach during the offseason (Ethan Katz) and he has earned raves from the various members of the staff.  He may be behind the breakout start for Carlos Rodon. Rodon, of course, had a no-hitter but his other starts (as well as a stellar Spring Training) have been legit as well.

Don’t panic about Lucas Giolito’s awful last start against Boston, he may have been tipping his pitches and gave up an odd number of two strike hits that on other nights would have been outs. Lance Lynn is on the IL but reports are the injury is minor. Michael Kopech has been nails (17 strikeouts in 10.2 innings), though it’s all been out of the bullpen other than one spot start. The White Sox need to limit his innings this year but do plan to start him as the season goes along. He is an arm to target in dynasty or keeper leagues.

Cleveland Indians

Jose Ramirez hasn’t gotten on a roll yet but looks to be about ready to break out. Franmil Reyes is not just a two outcome (home run or strikeout) hitter. He continues to evolve and I expect him to put together a huge season. Josh Naylor is receiving more at bats than you may have predicted (though he’s not doing much with the opportunity yet). The Indians have to cut bait on Jake Bauers at this point, he’s almost an automatic out.

Shane Bieber’s strikeout rate is ridiculous (48 strikeouts in 29.1 innings). He’s in the tier with Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole because of that and his ability to go deep into games (over seven innings per start thus far). Aaron Civale has only given up 14 hits in 26 innings – looks as if his Spring Training adjustments have taken nicely. Zach Plesac has been rocked by the White Sox twice. Triston McKenzie can be electric but his control is really hurting him at this point (10 walks in 12.2 innings).

Emmanuel Clase has taken over the closer role. He and James Karinchak are a nightmare for opposing teams.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are similar to the Orioles in terms of their lack of desirable fantasy players on the offensive side. Akil Baddoo has had an exciting start but there is no chance he keeps this pace up. Great player to bank in a keeper/dynasty league but don’t expect big stats the rest of 2021. Wilson Ramos has six home runs. He’s fine in two catcher leagues but realize we’ve most likely seen his most productive stretch of his season.

Tarik Skubal was touted as a 2021 breakout after a sterling Spring Training. Walks have doomed the start of his season thus far. Casey Mize, on the other hand, has done better than expected but neither may be ready to be difference makers this season. Matthew Boyd has been the star of the rotation to begin 2021. Beware of his lack of strikeouts though – regression may be around the corner. Could Michael Fulmer be back? There are some nice signs, keep an eye on him.

Houston Astros

COVID-19 issues ravaged the Astros’ nice start. Expect things to improve as they continue to get their players back. Nice to see some life out of Carlos Correa. Yordan Alvarez’s knees have held up so far, and Alex Bregman is back to being dangerous. Kyle Tucker has been a mixed bag (nice power, poor average).

Cristian Javier has shown improved strikeout potential this season (20 Ks in 13.2 innings). Let’s hope he’s back up in the rotation for good at this point. Lance McCullers should be fine – he was apparently suffering from post-vaccination effects in his shaky start and his hits/inning and Ks/inning ratios are strong.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are pesky and are more solid on the offensive side that you may realize.  Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Carlos Santana are all tough outs.

Hunter Dozier and Andrew Benintendi are the question marks here. If they put it together (I tend to think Dozier has more of a chance than Benintendi), the lineup is dangerous up and down the line. All this is occurring without the player who had the most fantasy appeal coming into the season (Adalberto Mondesi). Unfortunately, his return does not look imminent.

The pitching staff will most likely be the component that limits the Royals this year. I can’t recommend any of Kansas City’s hurlers with any confidence. Brady Singer has nice value long term, but will experience inconsistencies throughout 2021.

Los Angeles Angels

Mike Trout is hitting almost .400 despite striking out 20 times in 56 at bats. That’s merely a thought I’d throw out there because it’s impossible to find any other negatives with Trout. If you aren’t counting on him to get you steals, I’d take him over any other hitter in fantasy. Shohei Ohtani’s power is real and will continue.

If Jared Walsh is available in your league, pick him up. He’s a regular, hits in the middle of the Angels’ lineup, and has legit power. Justin Upton will not contribute with his batting average but you’ll like his power. The lineup is very strong once Anthony Rendon comes back.

If Los Angeles can get solid pitching, the playoffs are on their horizon. But that might be wishful thinking. Alex Cobb and Jose Quintana cannot be trusted at this point in their careers. They could really use a dependable number one starter and while Dylan Bundy isn’t bad, he isn’t at that level. The pitcher with electric stuff of course is Shohei Ohtani. It’s too much to expect a full load from him, however. We’d all be shocked if he surpasses 100 innings this year (but he’ll pack nice stats into his limited workload).

Minnesota Twins

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster thus far for the Twins. Playing in a NL park to begin the season (with no Nelson Cruz) and COVID issues have contributed to this.  Cruz and Byron Buxton have been white hot to start the season and there’s lots of talk of Buxton joining the elite class of hitters this year (health pending of course – always a big question with him). Alex Kirilloff was just promoted. He doesn’t get the buzz of uber prospects like Jarred Kelenic or Wander Franco but he a legit bat to add if he’s on the waiver wire in your leagues.

Kenta Maeda has red flags flying. He was so good in 2020 but thus far this year he has given up 28 hits in 17 2/3 innings. The Twins need him at the top of the rotation because J.A. Happ will not continue his strong run. Expect Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda to be solid throughout season – both have had a nice start. Matt Shoemaker has had a history of enticing performances when healthy but that has not been evident in his three starts to begin 2021. Finally, Taylor Rogers may be on the brink of reclaiming the closer’s role from Alex Colome.

New York Yankees

Tough start to the year from the Yankees but there is too much talent to stay there for long. While most of the hitters have been down a bit, the big concern with the Yankees’ lineup is Gleyber Torres. Looking like one of the premier hitters in all of baseball after his sublime 2019 season, he has been in a rut since then. In that span he has three home runs (none this year) in about 200 at bats with a low batting average to boot. Yes, it’s time to worry.

Giancarlo Stanton may have the ugliest swing in baseball. Good results at times, just not aesthetically pleasing getting to that point.

Beyond Gerrit Cole, who can you really trust in this rotation? Jordan Montgomery has shown nice signs and New York will need him to continue to be solid. Often taken for granted, Aroldis Chapman may be in the best stretch of his career. He’s faced 26 batters this season and has an unworldly 17 strikeouts to three walks. Filthy.

Oakland Athletics

We may be witnessing Ramon Laureano’s breakout. Injuries have held him down in the past but he looks to be a full-go this year. His batting average isn’t strong yet but he has eight stolen bases already and a nice mix of production across the board.

Mark Canha is a mainstay in your lineup if you play in points league (he already has 14 walks) and Matt Olson has some of the best power in all of baseball. Jed Lowrie has been the most pleasant surprise here. Finally healthy again, don’t be surprised if he’s productive all season.

The A’s have won 13 games in a row despite getting very little contribution from two of their top starters: Frankie Montas and Jesus Luzardo. Of the two, be much more worried about Montas (he was bad in 2020 as well).

Oakland is on their incredible run even though they lost closer Trevor Rosenthal at the beginning of the year. He won’t return, but it appears they’ll make do with some combination of Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle has emerged victorious in 13 of their first 21 games, overcoming 2020 rookie of the year Kyle Lewis’s absence from the lineup for most of the season. Mitch Haniger has been the rock, with nice contributions from Kyle Seager and Ty France. France is the real deal and will put up nice stats across the board while giving you second and third base eligibility. Dylan Moore has come back to earth after what seemed to be a breakout in 2020. This year’s version may be more realistic. Jerred Kelenic waits in the wings to get his call to contribute.

From a pitching standpoint, it’s hard to figure out how this team is above .500. Nobody is putting up strong stats and there doesn’t seem to be anyone walking through the door on the pitching side to bolster the staff. Seattle hoped James Paxton would be their ace but he’s now gone for the year. Kendall Graveman has been their best arm and may have taken the closer’s role away from Rafael Montero.

Tampa Bay Rays

We all know how it goes with the Rays. Many players are shuffled in and out of the lineup and they win by getting contributions from a variety of unlikely players. The beat goes on this year.

Joey Wendle has been the best hitter and while he’s not a complete unknown, he’s not a guy you reach for to get on your team. Randy Arozarena is striking out quite a bit but otherwise looks like he wasn’t a flash in the pan after his crazy 2020 playoff run.

An injury to a mainstay in the lineup and I think we’ll see Wander Franco being brought up. Despite his youth, he was a consideration in last year’s playoff run and earned high praise in Spring Training. He won’t be in over his head when the call to the big leagues comes.

Much of the same that was said about the varied pieces on offense could be applied to the pitching staff. Tyler Glasnow has come back down to earth a bit since his Jacob deGrom-level first three starts but he’ll be counted on to carry the load here. Michael Wacha has had a couple nice starts but it’s hard to count on him or really any other starter in Tampa Bay’s rotation. Diego Castillo has four saves but the Rays have two others – Jeffrey Springs and Trevor Richards – who also notched a save. That trend will of course continue.

Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo was the hot hitter coming out of Spring Training but he hasn’t done much to start the season for the Rangers. Rather, Nate Lowe, Nick Solak, and lately, Adolis Garcia have been carrying the offense. While I think all three players will be of value throughout the year, Garcia is probably available in your leagues. He may have the most upside as he was a highly regarded St. Louis Cardinal prospect a few years back.

The pitching staff boasts several nice surprises to start the season. Dane Dunning was dominant before facing his old teammates and getting hit hard by the White Sox on Friday. He’ll be solid but the Rangers will limit his innings and won’t let him go deep into games so his upside in 2021 is muted. Kohei Arihara has been strong through his first four starts. Will the league catch up as they get more of a chance to scout his arsenal and approach? That will likely be the case. Ian Kennedy has four saves but don’t trust him going forward.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are treading water despite COVID-19 issues. They are led mostly by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who is rewarding those who have shown a little patience in the young stud. Expect Guerrero to be a top-five MVP caliber player as the year progresses.

Toronto hasn’t gotten much from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez (currently out with COVID-19) but that will change and when it happens the lineup is deep especially when adding George Springer who’s been out with an oblique all season. The worry is Cavan Biggio, who has been striking out quite a bit and not producing much at all. Luckily, they have enough depth to let him work through his slump.

Steven Matz has been outstanding so far. It’s hard to imagine this run continuing but reports are he’s added to his arsenal so it’s possible that the step forward will be a legitimate one. The closer role has been a merry-go-round for Toronto through the first stretch of the season – Rafael Dolis seems to be the current placeholder.


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