Miguel Cabrera leads a potent Tigers offense.
The American League Central division is going to be one of the most competitive in baseball in 2013.
While the Detroit Tigers reached the World Series last year, their opponents have done all they could to improve their clubs.
New faces in new places have enabled the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians to get some recognition in the division.
The teams in this division will beat each other up. There’s not one team who, going into the season, is miles ahead of any other.
At least two of these teams will reach the postseason.
We’ll see a battle until the end of September to see who will be crowned division champion, but only one team is going to come out on top.
It’s tough to say who will emerge victorious as four teams have great potential; the Twins will struggle to keep up.
So, let’s take a look at the AL Central.
Justin Verlander is the ace and the face of the Tigers.
The Tigers are one of the more complete teams in all of baseball. They have the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, and the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, wearing their uniform.
They saw contributions from up and down the lineup to help them get to the World Series.
Now with the return of Victor Martinez, they have one of the best 3-4-5 combinations in the majors (Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Martinez). Adding Torii Hunter gives them another solid bat in the mix.
Detroit wants to utilize the speed of leadoff man Austin Jackson to help create runs, so they brought in Jeff Cox as a base-running consultant to work with Jackson through Spring Training.
Starting pitching is strong for Detroit. Led by Verlander, they have the deepest rotation in the division.
Re-signing Anibal Sanchez was a big move for the Tigers. After coming over from Miami at the deadline, Sanchez pitched to contact which saw his strikeouts drop, but he was a reliable pitcher in the playoffs despite two losses. He turned in a 1.77 ERA in three starts in the playoffs.
Sanchez slides in right between Max Scherzer and Doug Fister.
Scherzer has an explosive fastball capable of reaching 100 mph and is coming off a career year, notching 16 wins and 231 strikeouts. Scherzer has matured each year he’s been in the rotation and there’s no reason to think he won’t improve in 2013.
With Drew Smyly and Rock Porcello battling it out for the fifth starter, that leaves them with a viable option for long reliever or spot-starter. No matter who they decide to go with, the back of the rotation is solid.
In Porcello’s four years in the big leagues, he hasn’t started less than 27 games and has racked up more than 160 innings each year. He doesn’t have the best stats, but he’s only 24 and has plenty of room for improvement.
Smyly would be the only left-handed pitcher in the rotation. Pitching as both a reliever and starter last season, Smyly struck out 94 hitters in 99.1 innings.
The only question mark for the Tigers is their bullpen. Losing Jose Valverde after he struggled at the end of last season, Detroit doesn’t have a proven closer. They could have to rely on flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon, who can hit 102 mph.
Rondon is only 22 years old, and manager Jim Leyland thinks he is a viable candidate for the closing job.
Sprinkle in Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit, and this team could end up surprising themselves.
Detroit is going to win the division.
Eric Hosmer is a big piece of the Royals future.
The Royals have been on the brink of success the past few seasons. Now, with an improved pitching staff, this just may be the season Kansas City makes the playoffs.
They’ll have to get in as a wild card, but this team reminds me of last year’s Baltimore Orioles: a team that nobody really gave a chance but opened some eyes.
Kansas City has bolstered its starting rotation, adding James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis to pitch alongside Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen.
“Big Game” James Shields is a workhorse, and the team will be riding his right arm all season. He has to live up to his nickname as he has become an ace after being traded by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Shields has pitched over 200 innings the past six seasons while striking out upwards of 220 batters the past two.
Offensively, they saw lackluster performances from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas last year. Both young, these players are the future of the franchise and need to have bounce-back seasons.
A year of immaturity and a sophomore slump behind them, look for them to reach their expectations and maybe even exceed them. Hosmer is determined to live up to his potential.
With Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, the Royals are poised for a big season. They just need to put it all together.
The offense will get a boost from Lorenzo Cain, who has been plagued by injury but has flashed his speed and talent. He had 59 hits in 61 games last year and a full season of Cain will be very important to the success of the team.
The bullpen is what Royals fans should be excited about. Closer Greg Holland showed his abilities last year, striking out 91 batters in 67 innings. He could be a dominant closer, and with the pitching staff they now have, he should see plenty of chances to close games.
In front of Holland, they have Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow. A young group of guys, the Royals think they have a balanced bullpen.
Manager Ned Yost told Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star,
We’ll be able to handle all different scenarios. We think we’ve got starting pitching that can go deep. We’ve got guys who can pick up innings in Mendoza and either Chen or Hochevar. And we’ve got the back-end guys. We feel we’re in pretty good shape.
If they can put it all together, this could be the Royals year. With the extra wild card spot, there’s a better chance to make the playoffs. After that, anything can happen in October.
88 wins could be generous, but it's also realistic.
Alex Rios is coming off a career year.
The White Sox finished in second place last year with 85 wins. They lost some key players in the offseason, most notably AJ Pierzynski, and have some tough competition in the division.
Bringing in Jeff Keppinger was a solid signing. The 32-year-old hit .325 last year in 115 games for the Tampa Bay Rays.
However, the White Sox, who were leading the division for 117 days last year, will need consistent performances from up and down the lineup.
Paul Konerko has always been reliable, but he’s 37 and while he hit .298 with 26 homers, his production dropped in the second half of last season. His .486 slugging percentage was his worst since 2003 when he's played in more than 135 games.
Adam Dunn can give the Sox power, but that’s about it. He hit .204 last season, but clubbed 41 homers and drove in 96 runs. He seemed to settle into his DH role, though he needs to boost his average.
Alex Rios is coming off a career year where he hit .304 with 25 homers, 23 steals, 91 runs batted in and 93 runs scored. His career has been inconsistent, so we don't know what Rios we will see in 2013.
If they are going to be competitive, they’re going to need Tyler Flowers to fill the shoes of Pierzynski. He’ll have to get used to his new role and the White Sox bullpen coach Mark Parent thinks he’s plenty capable of doing that:
I'm excited about Tyler's chance to go play. Not to say A.J. didn't have a phenomenal offensive year last year. ... Tyler's just a little younger and more active behind the plate. If we get some offense and if our pitching is better because of (Flowers) and our offense is close, we'll be pretty good.
From the looks of things, the pitching staff could be a pleasant surprise this season.
They brought back Jake Peavy on a two-year $29 million deal and picked up Gavin Floyd’s $9.5 million option.
Chris Sale is going to lead the rotation again. He’s coming off a 17-8 season where he struck out 192 in 192 innings.
Factor in John Danks and this could challenge the rotation of the Tigers. They just need to all be at their best.
The bullpen is deep with Addison Reed as closer, Matt Thornton setting him up and Matt Lindstrom, Nate Jones and Jesse Crain compiling the middle relief.
While it seems like there are many positives on this team, there is competition and I’m not sure the Sox can repeat their performances of last year, though they are confident in their group.
It all comes down to consistency. For now, 84 wins seems fair.
Cleveland's bullpen is a bright spot.
The Cleveland Indians have made some major changes this offseason after losing 94 games in 2012. Hiring new manager Terry Francona was the first step.
Now, they’ve added veterans who can make their lineup as strong as when Francona was in Boston. Nick Swisher brings energy, some power and versatility. Michael Bourn brings speed. Mark Reynolds brings power. Jason Giambi brings leadership and can become a mentor to his teammates.
Last season, they lacked offense. They left runners on base and didn’t have the power aspect. No player on the 2012 Indians hit over 20 homers.
We're going to see a brand new team. The pieces that remain include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. They carried the entire club last season.
Cabrera hit .270 with 16 homers from the shortstop position. Kipnis, in his first full season, scored 86 runs, stole 31 bases and drove in 76. Santana hit 18 homers a year after hitting 27 long balls.
For them, the pressure is off. The guys they have around them have proven they can be valuable to their franchises and four years of Swisher and Bourn will be great for a young Cleveland team.
Swisher, Bourn, Reynolds and Giambi have all been on winning teams and Francona has two world series rings as manager. There will be a different atmosphere surrounding this team and it should bode well for their success.
The question marks surround starting pitching. When you go out and sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, your pitching clearly needs work. Behind Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, there’s not much depth.
Brett Myers has plenty of experience, but how much will he help the Indians? Trevor Bauer, the number three overall draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 2011, has received scrutiny for not listening to anybody.
The bullpen pitched 528.1 innings last season and will be expecting some help from their starters this year.
Chris Perez has improved each year, coming off a season where he recorded a career high 39 saves.
The bullpen hasn’t been a concern the past few seasons, and if the starters can limit their amount of work, the bullpen should continue to be successful.
The only thing the Indians need to allow them to fight for the division crown is starting pitching depth. They don’t know what they’re going to get and that could cause them to falter down the stretch.
The future looks bright for Cleveland, but pitching is key. One more starter could go a long way for this team.
The Twins hope Trevor Plouffe can be their everyday third baseman.
Minnesota was 66-96 last season with a last place finish. Don’t expect that to change this year.
The Twins are rebuilding and preparing for the future.
Granted they have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, but that won’t be enough for them to be competitive this year.
Josh Willingham has power, hitting 35 home runs last year and Trevor Plouffe emerged as a starting third baseman.
However, they traded Denard Span and Ben Revere, getting back young talent who have yet to prove themselves. Tons of potential, but not proven. The Twins are a couple years away from getting back to the position they were at in 2010.
That being said, they are stepping in the right direction. Vance Worley has the potential to be an ace, he just needs some maturity. Bringing in Mike Pelfrey, Rich Harden and Kevin Correia will help the young pitchers with a veteran presence.
They have good players, but they don’t compare with the talent within the division. While they have some power, some speed and some pitching, they’re just a little behind their competition.
Getting Alex Meyer from the Nationals gives the fans some excitement for the future, but he’s a year or two from joining the team. Also, receiving Trevor May from the Phillies is a move for the future, as he’s not quite ready for the big leagues.
Their lineup needs huge seasons from the entire order if they want to get anywhere close to winning.
Glen Perkins and Jared Burton will be strong in the Twins bullpen, but the starters and middle relief needs to get them the ball with the lead.
With unproven players getting their chance to start, the Twins could be in for a long year.
Again, they’re in rebuilding mode and will likely have to wait a couple years to be back in contention.
I'll give them 70 wins, leaving them in the gutter of the AL Central.