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Five Unheralded Prospects Who Could Contribute in 2016: AL Central

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Mike takes a look at five prospects from the American League Central who could have a fantasy impact in 2016.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

1) 3B Matt Davidson, White Sox

Acquired in 2013 from Arizona in exchange for closer Addison Reed, Davidson has lost much of the luster that once made him a Top-100 prospect. In 2014 he competed to become Chicago's starting third baseman but lost the competition to journeyman Conor Gillaspie--never a good sign. Since then Davidson has posted back-to-back abysmal slash lines at Triple-A Charlotte in 2014 (.199/.283/.362) and 2015 (.203/.293/.375). In 1,006 ABs over two seasons he has struck out a combined 355 times.

So what's to like about a free-swinging former prospect who will be 25 years old by Opening Day? Well, his raw power, for one, has not disappeared. Despite those terrible overall numbers, he has managed to hit 43 homers over the past two seasons, which is the exact total he hit in 2011-12, when he was a rising prospect. More important, perhaps, is the fact that recent events could open the door for Davidson at least to make the 25-man roster and eventually to earn playing time. That door appeared closed by the offseason acquisition of 3B Todd Frazier, but the sudden and much-ballyhooed retirement of Adam LaRoche leaves the starting DH spot unfilled. Newly-signed CF Austin Jackson could push incumbent OF Avisail Garcia into that spot, at least to start the season, but Jackson is hardly the caliber of player one would hesitate to bench should he struggle.

In short, don't look for Davidson in the lineup right away, and steer clear if you play in head-to-head leagues that penalize for strikeouts, but keep him in mind later this summer if he happens to get an opportunity and if you, in your roto league, could use some cheap power.

2) RHP Mike Clevinger, Indians

In August 2014 the Indians acquired Clevinger from the Angels in exchange for RP Vinnie Pestano. Once a useful reliever, the 31-year-old Pestano was a recent cut from Yankees camp, while Clevinger, 25, appears fully recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery. In 2015 Clevinger started 26 games for Double-A Akron, finished with a 2.73 ERA and 145 K in 158 IP. Promoted to Columbus for the Triple-A playoffs, Clevinger twirled back-to-back gems, first against Norfolk (7.2 IP 0 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K) and then in the deciding game of the championship series at Indianapolis (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K).

Clevinger will not make the Opening-Day roster, but a fast start in Triple-A could force the Indians' hand. While the top of Cleveland's starting rotation is stacked with aces Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, any or all of whom could make the All-Star Game, fourth starter Trevor Bauer and fifth starter Josh Tomlin have less secure holds on their respective spots. Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, "led" the American League in walks last season with 79. Tomlin, meanwhile, has a career 4.65 ERA and 5.9 K/9 ratio, and he'll turn 32 in October. Even a slight uptick on offense should get Cleveland into playoff contention, so the club would have no reason to hold back a dominant Clevinger. If circumstances warrant his promotion, then fantasy owners should look for him as early as June. He would become an instant AL-only option and a worthwhile flier in deeper mixed leagues.

3) OF Tyler Naquin, Indians

Speaking of offense in Cleveland, Naquin faces both long-term uncertainty and short-term opportunity, an unusual position for a young player. In the long run, the Indians envision a loaded outfield led by star LF Michael Brantley, who will be joined, perhaps as early as 2017, by elite prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. In 2016, however, following Abraham Almonte's 80-game PED suspension, Naquin faces weak competition for playing time and at-bats. If they haven't learned already, the Indians soon will discover that non-roster signees Will Venable, 33, and Marlon Byrd, 38, are not likely to help much on defense, nor is RF Lonnie Chisenhall, a converted third baseman. Until Brantley returns from injury, the club's best defensive alignment will feature Naquin in CF and Rajai Davis in LF. Cleveland has the pitching to compete in the AL Central, and the outfield-of-dreams is at least a year away, so there's no compelling reason to deny Naquin, a former first-round pick in his own right, the opportunity.

If he gets that opportunity, Naquin will give fantasy owners a good hit-tool, strong on-base skills, and an intriguing combination of power and speed. He needs to stay healthy and cut down on strikeouts, but in 2014 Naquin slashed .313/.371/.424 in 76 games at Double-A Akron. In 2015 he slashed .300/.381/.446 in 84 combined games with Akron and Triple-A Columbus. Those OBP numbers would play well at the top of the lineup. Given a full season, Naquin could reach 10 HR as he did in 2013, and he could swipe 20-25 bags. Should he receive everyday at-bats, those numbers, coupled with the batting average, would make him relevant in all fantasy leagues--at least for one season.

4) RHP Miguel Almonte, Royals

The Royals have been careful with Almonte, 22, who rarely goes more than five innings and 80 pitches in a start. Still, of the five players profiled in this column, Almonte would be the highest-rated prospect, a fringe Top-100 player held back only by the stubborn perception in some circles that his future lay in the bullpen. Doubts notwithstanding, he looks like a future starter. His 2.7 career BB/9 ratio in the minors shows sufficient control, and his nasty three-pitch mix--a plus fastball, double-plus changeup, and average-to-plus curveball--might have him in the Kansas City rotation already were it not for his below-average command.

The 2016 Royals might need him anyway. Kris Medlen returned from Tommy John surgery and was serviceable down the stretch while starting eight games in August and September, but no one knows how he'll hold up over a full season. In 34 appearances (18 starts) last year, Chris Young posted an impressive 3.06 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, but expectations for Young, now 36 years old, should be kept on the modest side, for he has averaged less than 145 IP the last two seasons. Danny Duffy and Dillon Gee, ticked for middle relief roles, appear to be next in line should Medlen and/or Young falter, but neither Duffy nor Gee boasts anything close to Almonte's upside.

To date, Almonte has logged only 36.2 innings in Triple-A, so expect more seasoning at Omaha, but then look for him in Kansas City as the weather turns hot.

5) OF Adam Brett Walker II, Twins

In three full minor-league seasons, Walker has shown durability, consistency, and jaw-dropping raw power. Since 2013, moving one level at a time, he has appeared in 129, 132, and 133 games, respectively, received 505, 508, and 502 at-bats, and blasted 27, 25, and 31 HR. If the Twins keep to their development plan, and if Walker holds to form, fans in Triple-A Rochester can expect to enjoy watching a 6'5", 225 lb. outfielder who plays every day, hits prodigious home runs, and even steals a few bases--he has averaged 12 SB per season since 2013. Alas, if those same fans seated on the first-base side should happen to feel a random summer breeze, they might look plateward to see if the right-handed Walker is at-bat. As his batting average has plummeted from .278 in 2013 to .239 in 2015, so too have his strikeout totals skyrocketed from 115 three years ago to a ghastly 195 last season. Suffice it to say that improved plate discipline could hasten his arrival in the Majors.

Despite impressive athleticism, Walker looks to be a defensive liability even at the corner OF spots, which makes him the least likely of these five prospects to contribute in 2016. A fast start in Triple-A, however, could change things. Either way, Walker appears on this list because he's an unheralded name-to-watch. If he arrives in Minnesota in 2016 he will have immediate fantasy relevance in AL-only leagues, and if he were somehow to find his way into everyday at-bats his power alone would make him an option in mixed leagues. As for head-to-head leaguers who are penalized for strikeouts: beware.