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Minor Developments: AL Central six-pack

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We're back in the AL this week to preview the fantasy prospects of a six-pack of Central Division rookies. This is a mixed bag – most of the value looks to be for those in deeper formats but there are a few mixed league gems scattered about for those who can wait long enough for them to shine.

Brent Morel(notes), 3B, Chicago: He showed a surge at the plate in '10, batting .300 across two levels before getting a taste of September coffee. His three homers show power potential, but his average was an uninspiring .210. He'll battle Mark Teahen(notes) for the third base job, and manager Ozzie Guillen seemed to get behind the veteran on the eve of spring training. At best, Morel will be a cheap AL-only option at third, and could return modest profit at a position of scarcity.

Mike Moustakas(notes), 3B, Kansas City: He's the best option to open as Royals third baseman after slugging 36 bombs during his '10 minor league campaign. However, KC will most likely keep him at Triple-A until June to hold up his service clock. Great power potential here, but may struggle initially with batting average as he figures out major league pitching. If he gets the call in June, expect 15-20 homers, still a fair return for those willing to invest.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka(notes), SS/2B, Minnesota: He's a bit of an unknown commodity among fantasy owners, but there are valuable skills here. He'll turn 27 in June, and possesses solid contact skills and modest power (11 homers in '11), along with above average speed (22 steals in '11). His .346 average in Japan last season is unlikely to transfer to the majors, but there is no reason he can't hit in the .280 range. He'll bit a bit better than what Kaz Matsui was in his debut season. I project .280/12/60/22 for '11 – quite useful in deeper mixed formats.

Andy Oliver(notes), SP, Detroit: His 93.8 MPH average fastball is exciting, but he has a long way to go in the control department (5.32 BB/9 in his major league debut). He's likely to start in Triple-A to continue refining his secondary offerings and command, but is first in line to get a call if needed.

Chris Sale(notes), RP, Chicago: It was announced last week that Sale would start in the bullpen, and Matt Thornton(notes) was the favorite to close. That is a major negative for his fantasy owners, but Sale could still sneak his way into the closer discussion by the end of camp. His lethal 96.3 MPH heater sets up a nasty slider, which leads to a ton of ground balls (52%). Sale also was a very effective college starter (just last year).

Dayan Viciedo(notes), 1B/3B, Chicago: He poses a minor threat to Brent Morel at third, and is more likely to find his way into a utility role if he doesn't begin the year back at Triple-A. There has been talk of him also seeing time in the outfield, giving him additional position flexibility. The power is coming around, and he could club 30 homers in his prime with an average in the .270-.280 range. For now, a lottery ticket in AL-only formats.

Others:

Lonnie Chisenhall(notes), 3B, Cleveland: Will challenge for the third base job in camp, but most likely begins in Triple-A. Solid skills here, and should hit for average and modest power upon getting the call.

Kyle Gibson(notes), SP, Minnesota: One of the more polished pitchers in the minors, and nearly ready for the show. Needs a rotation opening, although Nick Blackburn(notes) and Brian Duensing(notes) may not be talented enough to hold him off. Top-of-the-rotation talent with great strikeout potential.

Eric Hosmer(notes), 1B, Kansas City: He's the top first base prospect in the minors and could have many .300/30 homer seasons in his future. Could slug his way to the majors by June, but is more likely a September promotion.

Jason Kipnis(notes), 2B, Cleveland: Gritty, tough, talented ballplayer. He plays the game hard, and has been compared by some to Dustin Pedroia(notes) offensively. Not much holding him off in Cleveland, meaning there is a good chance we see him in June.

Royals Pitchers: Take your pick of John Lamb(notes), Mike Montgomery(notes) or Danny Duffy. All are really good, and have top-of-the-rotation talent. Add in Jake Odorizzi and Aaron Crow(notes), and this is a pitching rich system that should produce a few top of the rotation fantasy talents in the next few seasons. Expect to see one or more of this group in September.

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Rob Steingall is a nationally syndicated fantasy analyst whose work has appeared in newspapers including The Providence Journal.

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