The Detroit Tigers ran away with the AL Central in 2011 and they appear ready to do so again in 2012. They recently signed Prince Fielder after losing Victor Martinez for the year due to a knee injury.
No one else in the division had a winning record a year ago, and that might again be the case this season.
I am intrigued by the Royals, however. They are loaded with talented young hitters but their pitching prospects may be a couple years away from making an impact.
Of course, we fantasy enthusiasts don't care much about team's records. We just care about player stats.
While there are a few studs in this division, there are a lot of players you can get late in your draft that are sure to out-perform their draft position.
Let's take a look at some of those players along with a couple of prospects that may make some noise in 2012.
"Moose" was ranked neck-and-neck with fellow Royal Eric Hosmer on Baseball America's top prospect list heading into the 2011 season.
He did not have the same success as Hosmer, however, after a June call-up. Moustakas hit .263 with just five home runs and a .675 OPS in 338 at-bats.
The 23-year-old slugger turned it on late, showing flashes of things to come in 2012. He hit four of his five home runs in 88 September/October at-bats while slashing an impressive .352/.380/.580.
Moustakas is going 215th in early mock drafts according to Mock Draft Central and is an excellent pick there because of his huge upside and because of the scarcity at third base.
After being traded to Detroit, Fister was other-worldy in 10 starts. He went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and an unheard of 11.4 SO/BB ratio.
He was having a nice season up to that point with the Mariners, even though his record did not reflect it. Fister ended the year with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.
The 28-year-old is just into his prime and will have some of the best run support of any pitchers in the majors in 2012. Fister doesn't have a great strikeout rate (6.1 per nine innings in 2011) and his ratios will probably regress a bit, but he should be able to win 15 games pretty easily.
He will be a late-round pick that will give you mid-round value.
Kipnis broke into the league with a bang last year. After getting called up in July, he hit six home runs and had a 1.014 OPS through his first 16 games. A couple days later he strained his hamstring and missed three weeks. He wasn't the same after coming back.
Kipnis finished the season with seven home runs, five stolen bases and a .272 average at the big league level. Between Triple-A and the majors, he had 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases—great numbers for a second baseman.
Kipnis has great upside and should be a lock for 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases with an average around .290. He is the 14th second baseman off the board (Mock Draft Central) but wouldn't be a bad starting option if you miss out on Cano, Pedroia or Kinsler.
Reed flew through Chicago's minor league system in 2011, playing at all four levels. He struck out 12.8 batters per nine innings and sported a 1.26 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP in total.
Reed's success continued with the White Sox in September when he struck out 12 hitters in 7.1 innings.
With Sergio Santos out of the picture, Reed is expected to battle for the team's closer role in spring training.
Now is the time to get him cheap. His draft stock will surely spike if he gets the closer's gig. Even if he doesn't, there's a good chance the lefty will get it by season's end.
In 2011, Boesch silently improved on his solid rookie campaign. He raised his average from .256 to .283 and he hit 16 home runs, two more than he had in 2010 in a few less at-bats. Another statistical improvement can be expected as he enters this season.
The Tigers' signing of Prince Fielder will probably help Boesch more than any other hitter on the team. He is slated to bat second in the order and will see the best pitches of any major leaguer in 2012 with Miguel Cabrera and Fielder hitting behind him.
Boesch is currently the 57th outfielder going in drafts (Mock Draft Central) just ahead of players like Eric Thames and Nolan Reimold. Roll with him late and you won't be sorry.
The departure of Melky Cabrera leaves a hole in center field for the Royals—one that Lorenzo Cain is hoping to fill.
Cain hit .312 with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases at Triple-A last season after being a part of the deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. Cain has flashed more speed in the minors, swiping 24 or more bags in four different seasons with as many as 34.
If he can win the starting center field job, the 25-year-old will give a great return on your investment as he is going 224th overall according to Mock Draft Central.
Turner is the Tigers' top-ranked prospect heading into 2012 and 15th overall on MLB.com's list.
The 6'5" righty posted a 3.44 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP while striking out 110 in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He didn't do so well in three big league starts, but he is only 20 years old.
Turner will be competing for the Tigers' last rotation spot this spring. If he gets it he will be worth a late-round pick, but you probably won't know his fate until after your draft. At worst, he should be up by mid-season.
Any Detroit starting pitcher will be able to rack up a lot of wins because of their explosive offense.
As a rookie in 2010, Valencia hit .311 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs in 299 at-bats. His average dipped to .246, however, in his sophomore season. He still managed to hit 15 home runs and drive in 72 runs, which isn't too bad for a third baseman.
Valencia had a low .275 batting average on balls in play last year and was a career .298 hitter in the minors so I expect his average to bounce back up around the .285 to 290 range.
He is entering his prime at 27, so a 20 home run season may not be out of reach. Valencia is worth a late-round flier in mixed league drafts.
Make a case for your favorite sleeper or prospect from the AL Central that didn't make the list.
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