We’ve already looked at potential bounce-back candidates from the American League West and the AL East. Let’s now move to the AL Central and begin with established hitters who may be able to rebound in 2020.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins:
The free-swinging Rosario was a 32-home run hitter last season, but despite that, his fWAR plummeted from 3.5 in 2018 to 1.2. His overall line in 590 plate appearances (.276/.300/.500 – good for a 103 wRC+) was close to average, owing in part to the sport’s fifth-lowest walk rate (3.7 percent). And whereas Rosario received positive marks as a fielder in 2018, he notched minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, a minus-5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and the game’s worst Outs Above Average mark (minus-17) a year ago.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians:
Ramirez was one of the most valuable players in baseball from 2017-18, though a slow start and a 5 percent-plus drop in walk rate last year doomed the switch hitter to a mediocre .255/.327/.479 line in 542 plate appearances. That said, Ramirez still finished with 23 homers, 24 steals and 3.3 fWAR, so he wasn’t exactly a drain on Cleveland’s lineup. And Ramirez was infinitely better after the All-Star break (176 wRC+ in the second half, 68 in the first), giving the Indians hope he’ll be at his best from the get-go this year.
Franmil Reyes, DH/OF, Indians:
While Ramirez came alive in the second half of the season, Reyes was somewhat disappointing after the Indians acquired him from the Padres in July. The 24-year-old still concluded with 37 HRs, but he saw his wRC+ (109) drop by 20 points from the prior season and his on-base percentage go down by 30 points. In all, he was a .249/.310/.512 hitter. Nevertheless, the powerful 24-year-old did rank in baseball’s 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers:
Cabrera is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but it’s fair to say he’s nowhere near the offensive force he was during his halcyon days. Thanks in part to knee problems, the 36-year-old was pedestrian at the plate in 2019, when he batted .282/.346/.398 with 12 home runs and a career-low ISO (.116) across 549 appearances. Cabrera also posted one of the lowest walk percentages of his career (8.7) and, according to Statcast, saw his average exit velocity fall by 4 mph and his hard-hit rate drop by 10 percent compared to the numbers he logged during an injury-shortened 2018. Regardless of whether Cabrera rebounds, the Tigers aren’t going to contend in 2020. However, it would be reassuring for the team to see a glimpse of vintage Cabrera, who’s still owed $132MM through 2023.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Tigers:
One of Cabrera’s newest teammates in Detroit, Cron’s coming off a so-so season with the division-rival Twins. Although Cron did hit 25 home runs, the type of production he recorded as a Ray the previous season wasn’t really there. He wound up with a .253/.311/.469 line (101 wRC+, down from 123 in 2018) over 499 trips to the plate. There were some positive signs, though: Cron’s strikeout rate went down by 4.5 percent, his swinging-strike percentage declined by roughly 2 percent and he was a Statcast darling, ranking near the top of the league in several categories – including hard-hit percentage (82nd percentile), average exit velocity (84th) and expected weighted on-base average (86th).
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers:
Candelario was a 2.5-fWAR player in 2018, his first full season in the majors, but devolved into a replacement-level performer last season. The switch-hitting 26-year-old batted a weak .203/.306/.337 with eight homers in 386 PA, and the Tigers banished him to the minors for a good portion of the season because of his uninspiring output at the sport’s highest level. Statcast didn’t offer any reasons for hope, either, ranking Candelario in the game’s 17th percentile in xwOBA, its 24th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 31st percentile in average exit velocity.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals:
The typically durable Perez, 29, didn’t play at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, though it seems he’s coming along well in his recovery. Assuming he does stay on track, the Royals will have to hope for better numbers than what the highly respected six-time All-Star offered when he last took the field in 2018. Back then, Perez registered an unspectacular .235/.274/.439 line in 544 PA and earned bottom-of-the-barrel grades as a pitch framer; however, he did throw out an incredible 48 percent of would-be base stealers.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Royals:
Once a quality prospect, Franco seldom lived up to the hype in Philadelphia from 2014-19. Last season was especially rough for Franco, who hit a disastrous .234/.297/.409 in 428 attempts en route to minus-0.5 fWAR. The rebuilding Royals then bought low on Franco in free agency, signing him for a $2.95MM guarantee. Franco’s still just 27, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2021, so he’s worth a shot for Kansas City.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Royals:
O’Hearn was fantastic during his 170-PA major league debut in 2018, but things fell apart over a much larger sample size last season. The 26-year-old amassed 370 PA and stumbled to a .195/.281/.369 showing. A 63-point drop in batting average on balls in play (.230) didn’t help, though, and O’Hearn did put up above-average exit velocity and hard-hit marks. However, he only ranked in the league’s 24th percentile in xwOBA (.308, compared to a .279 real wOBA).