MLB 2012 Season Preview: AL Central

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIMarch 11, 2012

MLB 2012 Season Preview: AL Central

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    The American League Central has worked in competitive cycles. The Chicago White Sox had their 2005 World Series, the Minnesota Twins owned the division in 2009-2010 and even Cleveland's had their moment in the sun.

    Last season the Detroit Tigers had their moment. Will it continue in 2012?

    The Central is one of the more cut-and-dry divisions in baseball, so read on to see how it will shake down in the coming season.

5. Minnesota Twins

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    Minnesota's fallen a long way from their 2009 and 2010 reign of AL Central dominance.

    Pitching, which was once a strength of the Twins, is now their greatest weakness. Their rotation could be the worst in the American League—that's saying something in the same league as the Baltimore Orioles.

    The staff has no ace, and lacks any upside arm to bolster the rotation.

    Offensively, Minnesota is lacking. The once deadly combo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is now dust in the wind. New additions Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham could provide minimal support, but there's not enough clout elsewhere in the lineup.

    Until prospects start paying off, or they find suitable arms to support the rotation, Minnesota will continue to falter in an increasingly difficult AL Central.

4. Chicago White Sox

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    In Chicago we find another AL Central team that's quickly falling from the baseball Gods' good graces.

    The Chi-Sox are still dangerous with the lumber. They lack a defined middle of the order, but have solid contributors across the board.

    Dayan Viciedo has a lot of upside. However, veterans Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski continue to get older. 2012 will be a race of youthful breakouts vs. declining veterans.

    On the other side of the ball, Chicago is greatly lacking. They didn't have a single starter go beyond 200 innings last season. John Danks and Gavin Floyd represent ace potential, but are too inconsistent.

    The one bright spot in the rotation will be the continued development of Chris Sale. There's a lot of upside there.

    The White Sox have future potential, but it's just not there this season.

3. Kansas City Royals

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    The Kansas City Royals continue to have one of the best futures in baseball, and their organization will show it in 2012.

    They might be the best offensive team in the AL Central. It's hard to overlook names like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer. Did I mention that's just the start?

    The Royals farm is filled with upside bats at every position. It's a devastating mix of 5-tools players, speed threats and huge power bats. Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Johnny Giavotella are all likely to start 2012 on the big league roster. Learn these guys' names now, because they'll be stars soon enough.

    Kansas City's 2012 won't be decided with a bat. It will be decided with arms.

    The rotation has a lot of upside, but it's not all there yet. Aaron Crow and Danny Duffy making it to the rotation is a good start. Likely too follow, sooner than later, is top prospect Mike Montgomery.

    There's a lot to like here. KC showed competitive drive in 2011, but ultimately faltered when their pitching failed.

    They've got the pieces to remedy that in 2012. They won't be a top finisher, but third place is a big jump from bottom feeder.

2. Cleveland Indians

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    2011 was full of surprises in Cleveland. Will 2012 be the season they retake the division? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no.

    There's a lot of talent on this team, and it's tough to draw a line from how good they can be with how good they will be.

    To start our evaluation we turn to the lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana broke out big in 2011, and they make up the returning core for 2012. Both players have what it takes to be offensive studs.

    Rounding things out are the high upside duo of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. Chisenhall has strong power potential while Kipnis is a 5-tool stud in the making.

    With all that said, the best Cleveland could hope for would be huge seasons from Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. Both players have been beasts in the past, but saw lackluster results in 2011.

    The Tribe's rotation is equally high risk-high reward.

    Justin Masterson returns as the ace of the staff, after turning in a fantastic 2011. Behind him is Ubaldo Jimenez, who's wild dominance seems lost in 2010. Joining them are veteran lowballer Derek Lowe, and potential upsider Josh Tomlin.

    The Indians have troves of talent, but there's too much inconsistency for them to win the division in 2012..

1. Detroit Tigers

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    Leading this wild bunch of teams is the Detroit Tigers. Last season's 2011 AL Central champs have all the pieces in place to reign over 2012.

    Things seemed bleak when Victor Martinez went down with a torn ACL in early January. Then, Detroit went out and nabbed itself Prince Fielder. Combined with Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers feature the best 3-4 in baseball.

    Surrounding those two is a strong supporting staff. Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avilla had big 2011's and will look to continue that breakout success in 2012. The outfield is filled with high upside potential. If Austin Jackson can get back on track and become a true leadoff hitter, this squad gets that much more dangerous.

    It's hard to see things getting better, but they do.

    Rounding out the team is a very sturdy rotation. Ever heard of that Justin Verlander guy? 2011's American League Cy Young and MVP winner. Well, he leads this rotation.

    Following him are Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. Many thought Fister couldn't compete outside of Safeco, but his numbers actually got better when he got to Comerica. Scherzer is still attempting to find consistency, but when he's on there's no one better.

    The one thing Detroit has over everyone else in the division is a strong track record. Cleveland has high upside, but a lot of high risk. KC is filled with great prospects, but they all lack seasoning.

    Outside of a couple players here and there, the Tigers roster is filled with consistent studs ready to dominate 2012.

Final Breakdown

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    1. Detroit Tigers: Prince Fielder makes them that much more dangerous, and they once again run home with the AL Central crown.

    2. Cleveland Indians: high upside, but the high risk wins the battle.

    3. Kansas City Royals: lots of prospect depth, but that bright future comes after 2012.

    4. Chicago White Sox: bad trades and free agent buys continue to drag a good organization down.

    5. Minnesota Twins: one of the uglier clubs in the American League.