MLB Season Preview: AL Central
By: Sam Soergel
Like its National League counterpart, the Central Division in the American League looks to be a very competitive division in 2015. The Royals represented the AL in the World Series, the Tigers are always competitive, and the White Sox built up this off-season. The Indians made some good moves and the Twins have the best prospect in baseball, so this division could be a battle ground for years to come.
Chicago White Sox (2014: 73-89, 4th Place)
Key Additions: David Robertson (P), Emilio Bonifacio (IF), Adam LaRoche (1B), Melky Cabrera (OF), Jeff Samardzija (P), Key Losses: Paul Konerko (1B/DH)
Looking at the additions the White Sox got this winter, it’s easy to see they are going all in. Singing the best free agent closer, bring in a number two starter over from Oakland, and other free agent splashes put Chicago in a great position. They already have an ace in Chris Sale, 2014 rookie of the year slugger Jose Abreu, and a respectable infield. Chicago is ready to contend, and don’t be surprised if they do; they have enough stars combined with other reliable pieces. Paul Konerko retiring will hurt, but signing Adam LaRoche to a two year deal to DH and get some playing time at first will definitely help.
First Base: Jose Abreu dominated his rookie year, unanimously winning rookie of the year. He launched 36 homers and had the fifth highest average in the AL.To back him up, they signed Adam LaRoche. LaRoche, who will primarily DH, is coming off another strong season with Washington, hitting 26 longballs and knocking in 92. There’s no power shortage at first base.
1 and 2 starters: A duo of Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzjia can be dangerous against any team. Sale has been an all-star the last three seasons and he’s held lefties to a .165 average last year. Samardzija had an ERA under three last season and could become another ace in the rotation.
Defense: Chicago was ranked 26th in defense last year. They had 107 errors which was only better than three teams (they tied with the Dodgers). Errors can be a killer no matter when they happen. Second baseman Carlos Sanchez has only played in 28 major league games, but bringing back Gordon Beckham and signing Bonifacio, who are both solid fielders, could help lower the error total for 2015.
Bullpen: After Closer David Robinson and free agent signing Zach Duke, most of the Chicago bullpen is young and inexperienced. If Chicago wants to win, there bullpen needs to be better than it looks on paper.
Cleveland Indians (2014: 85-77, 3rd Place)
Key Additions: Brandon Moss (1B/OF) Key Losses: —
The Tribe did not make a lot of major moves this off season. However, they did make one when they traded for Oakland Athletics’ first baseman/ outfielder Brandon Moss. Moss, who could also play DH, hit 25 home runs last season, and he was also voted to the all-star game for the first time. He’ll join outfielder Michael Brantley, who finished third in average, and 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber on a team that doesn’t have all the pieces to contend, but they are close. Other important pieces include rising star catcher Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, and outfielder Michael Bourn.
Outfield: Cleveland has a very productive outfield with the addition of Brandon Moss. Michael Brantley dominated last year, and if Michael Bourn can return to form, they could have one of the better outfields in the division. The speedy Bourn fell off after coming over from Atlanta, but still hit a respectable .257 in 106 games.
Rotation: They have the reigning Cy Young winner, and if Carlos Carrasco repeats his 2014 success, that will really help. But after that, Trevor Bauer hasn’t lived up to the hype he got when he was a prospect. Gavin Floyd hasn’t pitched since last June. Danny Salazar went 6-8 last year. This is a rotation filled with a lot of ifs, but manager Terry Francona said it is a strength and they should be able to contend with it.
Nick Swisher: Swisher did not put up good enough numbers to be a good everyday DH, he hit .208 with 8 HRs. He’s another player on the roster that has to rebound. The DH spot is his to lose, but he has to prove himself.
Detroit Tigers (2014: 90-72, 1st Place)
Key Additions: Yoenis Cespedes (LF), Alfredo Simon (P) Key Losses: Max Scherzer (P), Rick Porcello (P), Torii Hunter (OF)
Detroit’s made the postseason the last four years, and look for them to contend again despite losing key pieces. Most notably, Max Scherzer, Detroit’s best pitcher last year, left Detroit for Washington. That leaves a big question mark in the rotation, although they have former Cy Young winners David Price and Justin Verlander. Anibal Sanchez is another strong part of the rotation. They sent Rick Porcello to Boston, but in return got the winner of the last two home run derbies, Yoenis Cespedes. Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are not getting younger (both had surgeries this offseason), but are still valuable and very dangerous pieces in the lineup. The infield has strong gloves in Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. Justin Verlander needs to rebound from the worst season of his career and Cabrera and Martinez both need to produce. If these things happen, Detroit could very well be headed to its fifth straight postseason.
Rotation: Two former Cy Young winners, a 2014 all-star, and Anibal Sanchez are a good rotation on paper. This is the best rotation in the division, barring another bad season from Verlander or one from Price. The other starter is Shane Greene. He’s only been in 15 major league games, but being around the pitching talent he is around should help him adjust easily.
Age: A lot of the Tigers’ core is running out of time. Victor Martinez is 36. Miggy and Verlander are 31, but Miggy has at least one physical problem year in and year out. Miggy and Martinez are no threat what so ever on the basepaths despite their huge amounts of power. Luckily, other important pieces like Cespedes and Kinsler aren’t as old.
Losing Maz Scherzer: This is big. The Tigers lost one of the best pitchers in baseball and replaced him with Alfredo Simon. No disrespect to Simon, he was an all-star last year, but he is no Max Scherzer. Hopefully, he’ll have a decent season and can do at least half of what Scherzer can do.
Kansas City Royals (2014: 89-73, 2nd Place)
Key Additions: Kris Medlen (P), Edinson Volquez (P), Alex Rios (OF), Kendrys Morales (1B/DH) Key Losses: James Shields (P), Billy Butler (1B/DH), Nori Aoki (OF)
The Royals surprisingly finished only one game behind the Tigers. They surprisingly came back to win the Wild Card game. And they surprisingly made it to the World Series. Being the surprise team of 2014, the question arises: can they do it again? It looks like they can. Despite losing ace James Shields to San Diego, they brought in Edinson Volquez who rebounded his career in Pittsburgh, and they took a chance on Kris Medlen who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Billy Butler left for Oakland, but they picked up Kendrys Morales with a two year deal. Speed is the name of the game for the Royals: Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Terrance Gore are huge threats on the base paths. They also have Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas, all key pieces in the playoff run last season. They still have a strong rotation headed by Yordano Ventura and a lights out bullpen with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. The Royals are another AL Central team that could easily make the playoffs again.
Outfield: This is probably the best outfield in the division. Stars Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain are great defensively, and, despite lower numbers the last year, Alex Rios is a good bat to have in the lineup and can be a good defender as well. Fourth outfielder Jarrod Dyson doesn’t put up big offensive numbers, but his speed makes him an incredible defender, and a threat on the base paths.
Bullpen: One of the best bullpens in last year’s postseason, the same pieces are back this year and watch out. The Royals have speed on the base paths and coming out of the ‘pen. Closer Greg Holland’s fastball tops out at almost 96 mph, and so is the fastball of Wade Davis. Young arm Kelvin Herrera has a fastball averaging 96.2 mph and could even make a spot start if needed.
Rotation Depth: With James Shields gone, Yordano Ventura is the Royals’ number one starter. He has the stuff to be an ace, but he’ll only be 24 in June. That means it could be a while before he’s really dominant, but he can be. After that, Royals’ starting pitchers have never done extremely well. The other four have been hit or miss throughout their careers. Free agency signing Edinson Volquez could tank this year, and Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas look like they are question marks right now. Danny Duffy looks good, but it’s a good thing that Kansas City has an amazing bullpen.
Minnesota Twins (2014: 70-92, 5th Place)
Key Additions: Ervin Santana (P), Torii Hunter (OF) Key Losses: —
Like the Indians, they Twins did not do a whole lot this off season. However, they signed Ervin Santana to a four year deal, and Torii Hunter is back in Minnesota on a one year deal. Santana adds to a rotation headed by Phil Hughes who had a strong season in 2014. Besides Joe Mauer, who will play his second season at first, there are not many well-known players outside of the Twin Cities. Brian Dozier is a bright star at second base, and the teams has some amazing talent waiting in the wings. Outfielder Byron Buxton is the number one prospect in all of baseball, and third baseman Miguel Santo is another one to keep an eye on. The Twins probably won’t contend this season, but with the talent they have down on the farm, they could be contenders in a few seasons.
Future: The Twins will eventually be a better team. Rising talent like Byron Buxton will eventually help make them contend. If they have money to give Ervin Santana a four year/ $55 million deal, they should have more money to put towards top free agents in the coming years. Their payroll was only $85 million last year, but the future looks bright for the Twins
Today: What doesn’t look bright for the Twins is today. Their lineup consists of a lot of young, inexperienced players, and their rotation, like a lot of rotations in this division, have some question marks after Santana and Phil Hughes.
So here’s how they’ll finish:
1st: Royals – The Royals lost Shields, and the pitchers they signed aren’t aces, but they have great pieces and this year, they’ll take the division, but if starting pitching doesn’t work out, things could be a lot different.
2nd: White Sox – The moves they made this winter prove they are in it to win it. They will beat out the Tigers this year and could even snag a wild card spot.
3rd: Tigers – The Tigers have a ton of questions going into the season which is why they’ll finish third. They could finish second or even take the division depending on how their cornerstones perform.
4th: Indians – The Tribe could finish with a winning record, but they probably won’t get a playoff spot
5th: Twins – It’s not their year, but maybe within the next 5, they’ll have a season like the 2014 Royals.