This week, we will be taking a look at the AL Central as we go through each divisional preview. The AL Central looks to be a weak division and the Cleveland Indians look to repeat with another divisional title.
The Indians have lost Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson and some key bullpen arms so the seem to not be as strong as prior years, but still have plenty of depth in their their starting rotation.
Hitting: The Indians feature a good mix of power, speed and youth. At the center of their offense is shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez. We saw a nice power boost from Lindor last year and that could carry over to 2018. Edwin Encarnaccion and Yonder Alonso also provide some nice power in the middle of the lineup as well. However, the Indiands are looking at Lonnie Chisenhall, Roberto Perez and Bradley Zimmer at their 7-9 spots, which does not provide the same lineup depth that they have enjoyed the past several years. I do like Jason Kipnis to bounce back this year, so that should make up for some of the lost production at the bottom.
This rotation looks again to be one of the best in the majors again. Kluber is one of the best in the game and if you pair that with a healthy Carlos Carrasco, it is a nasty 1-2 punch. This season could rely heavily on how Bauer responds to a breakout 2017 season. Bauer finally seemed to keep his walks i check in 2017 and finally had the breakout year Cleveland was hoping for. The back end of the rotation in Tomlin and Clevinger also provides some upsuide in two guys that could act as #3 guys.
Bullpen: Although they lost Breslow and Smith, Cleveland has Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in their bullpen and that’s a great back end. Although they could have some trouble getting to the 8th and 9th, I think that the rotation is strong enough to make sure they go deeper into games.
Strengths:The rotation is very deep and is supplied with a balanced and strong offense.
Weakness: The bridge from the 6th to the 7th inning could blow some games for the Indians and the bottom of the lineup looks weaker than historical Cleveland teams.
The Minnesota Twins were one of the surprisingly good teams in 2017. They finished around .500 and made some noise in the AL Central and look to build off of their 2017 season.
Hitting: The Twins seem to have a strong mix of veterans with young talent. However, they lack a true balanced hitter. Their centerpiece is around Miguel Sano, but Sano is possibly facing suspension due to sexual assault allegations. The Twins still have Joe Mauer and Brian Dozie at the top of the lineup, but their best days seem to be in their past. We are still waiting on Byron Buxton to break out and become more consistent as well. If Sano and Buxton can stay on the field and have good years, it will take the Twins a long way.
This rotation lacks an ace plain and simple. The Twins lost Ervin Santana this offseason, who lead them last year. I like Odorizzi in the Twin-cities compared to Tampa and Kyle Gibson still has some upside being young. If they want to make a playoff push, they need to strengthen this rotation.
Bullpen: The bullpen is full of veteran guys in Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke. It looks to be solid, but with many question marks around the health of their bullpen being so old. If they can stay healthy, it will be a solid pen.
Strenghts: A young team that looks to be on the cusp of contending soon with guys like Sano and Buxton.
Weaknesses: The rotation lacks any sort of depth and Sano and Buxton need more support than Logan Morrison.
The Tigers seem to be an aging team that after a couple dominant years, have finally reached their end and might be heading toward a rebuild stretch.
Hitting: The Tiger’s center their lineup around veteran Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera will be 35 years old this season though and had a very disappointing 2017 season. There is some potential though in this lineup. I do like Leonys Martin, Nick Castellanos and James McCann. Victor Martinez also offers some middle of the order veteran leadership. Overall, the lineup relies heavily on aged veterans that seem to be way past their primes.
This seems to be like a very interesting rotation. I am not a huge fan of Boyd as a #2, but I do think Fulmer was playing hurt last year a little, which hurt him (no pun intended). At only 25, Fulmer has room to grow. The back end of that rotation looks to be filled with aged veterans with Zimmerman being 32, Fiers being 32 and Liriano being 34. These are scary ages for pitchers as they tend to be when the wheels start falling off for veterans with a lot of innings of them.
Bullpen: Historically, Detroit has had a lot of bullpen problems and they look to keep that trend up this season. Shane Greene looks to close and after that, it gets ugly really quick. Alex Wilson looks to be a potential setup man, but the bullpen lacks any sort of bridge from starter to closer.
Strengths: The lineup has a lot of potential for some serious pop. I like Martin as a setup guy and I think if Cabrera and Martinez have bounce back years, they can set themselves up for a second place finish in the Central.
Weaknesses: The aged veterans are a scary thing to have a team move around because so much has to go right and guys have to stay healthy for that to happen. I just can’t seem this team staying healthy and I do not think they can take the next step with such a bad bullpen.
Chicago White Sox
After many disapppointing seasons on the South Side, the White sox have finally stripped down and rebuilt their team. They have a great young core that looks to excite within the next several years.
Hitting: The White Sox have a great middle of the order hitter in Jose Abreu. They have been able to set him up better with the emergence of Avisail Garcia and Tim Anderson. Yoan Moncada looks to build off of a decent rookie season as well at only the age of 23. Moncada looks like he will bat leadoff and if he can improve his patience, can be a great move for the Sox. Beyond these 4, there are a lot of question marks. I even question Garcia this year with due to his .392 BABIP in 2017. I do not think Welington Castillo is the long term solution to the catcher spot. Nicky Delmonico seems like a decent utility player that can hit .270 with 15 home runs. However, Sanchez, Leury Garcia and Adam Engel as the 7-9 looks to be like a major weak spot.
This is where I start to have my doubts about this team. Having James Shields as your ace at the age of 36 is not very promising. I love Giolito and Lopez once they have proven themselves, but I do not see them making the next step this year. I feel like it is a lot to ask of these young guys to step up and perform like aces. I like the long-term outlook, but short term looks to be ugly.
Bullpen: The White Sox have a surprisingly good bullpen. I like Juan Minaya, Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria as well. If prospect Michael Kopech gets called up to the pen, it could really bolster this above average bullpen. The Sox seem to have a decent pen in place to take on what looks to be a sizeable workload this season.
Strengths: This is a young and hungry team and it finally looks like the Sox have set themselves up with a strong core to build around. I like Giolito, Moncada and Anderson to build the team around. The Sox also have a number of prospects that could come up and make an impact.
Weaknesses: The youth is also their biggest weakness. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this team has not proven anything and I do not see why the Sox would rush their young guys when Cleveland looks to win the division again. If the Sox can see what they have this year and bring up some young talent in September, I would consider it a successful year.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals look to be in full rebuild mode after not signing Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain or Mike Moustakas (possibly).
Hitting: This lineup lacks real start power after the loss of Eric Hosmer. Lucas Duda is slated to bat 3rd or 4th and that should tell you all you need to know about this lineup. Whit Merrifield had a breakout 2017 season and looks to bat leadoff. I like his power speed mix but I do not think he performs to the same level as last year. The Royals still have Jorge Soler, who is still only 26 and can provide that middle of the order pop that they will miss. And of course, the Royals cannot be talked about without mentioning Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon. These veterans look to lead this team and are presences in the middle of the lineup.
Danny Duffy has finally been the ace that people thought. However, the consistency is what prevents him from reaching another level. With the rest of the rotation, you know what you are getting. Most of these guys will be low to mid-4 ERA guys. Kennedy and Hammel scare me a little being 33 and 35 perspectively. I do not expect too much with this rotation and I think they have a limited upside.
Bullpen: The bullpen is composed of mostly two big relievers in Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer. Beyond that, the Royals seem to have a bunch of average to below average relievers. This bullpen can eat innings if the starters can’t go deep, but I think that the bullpen potential is capped and is very limited.
Strengths: I think a mix of Soler and Merrrifield (young guys) with veterans like Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez is a good mix. If Soler and Merrifield can have god years, the Royals could have some nice trade chips in the future.
Weaknesses: The lack of star power in the lineup, the lack of depth in the bullpen and the rotation are the scariest. This is an aging team with limited potential and although they can be average, I think that is all this team is at the best.
2018 Projected Final Standings:
1) Cleveland Indians
2) Minnesota Twins
3) Kansas City Royals
4) Detroit Tigers
5) Chicago White Sox
It should be noted that this division is very hard to predict and I think that the Sox, Tigers and Royals all finish very close to each other. I think that the Twins still finish around .500. I just think that this division is very weak and even the second place team will not be in playoff contention.