Full 2013 AL Central Piece-by-Piece Preview, Predictions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

Full 2013 AL Central Piece-by-Piece Preview, Predictions

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    It took just 88 wins to capture the AL Central crown last season, and there is little doubt it ranked as the worst division in baseball.

    However, the Tigers turned that postseason berth into a World Series appearance, and they're in a good position to make another run at the AL pennant this year.

    Elsewhere in the division, the White Sox return more or less the same group that gave the Tigers everything they could handle last year.

    The Indians had a busy offseason, highlighted by the signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn as they look to make a run at the playoffs..

    In Kansas City, the team finally found its staff ace, as James Shields will front a complete retooled rotation that could push the Royals over the top.

    Even expected cellar-dweller Minnesota took steps to improve its starting rotation, and if nothing else they should be a tougher draw for the rest of the division throughout the year.

    That's the AL Central in a nutshell; what follows is a slightly more in-depth look at the division for the upcoming season.


    * All stats via Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Starting Rotations

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    Chicago White Sox

    1. LHP Chris Sale
    2. RHP Jake Peavy
    3. RHP Gavin Floyd
    4. LHP Jose Quintana
    5. RHP Dylan Axelrod 

    The White Sox have one of the best young pitchers in the game in Chris Sale, and even with a 17-8 record last season he still has room to improve as he seemed to tire down the stretch.

    Jake Peavy enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2012 and earned a two-year, $29 million extension, and Gavin Floyd will be looking to position himself for a solid payday as well with his contract up at the end of the season.

    The staff is rounded out by a pair of unproven arms in Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod, and at some point John Danks will re-join the staff as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.


    Cleveland Indians

    1. RHP Justin Masterson
    2. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
    3. RHP Brett Myers
    4. RHP Zach McAllister
    5. LHP Scott Kazmir

    Incumbents Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez front the Indians staff entering the season, and they're both looking to bounce back from disappointing 2012 campaigns.

    Brett Myers was signed to a one-year, $7 million deal, and he'll be returning to the rotation after spending last season as a closer for the Astros and setup man for the White Sox.

    The final two spots are the wild cards, as Zach McAllister will be looking to build off of a solid 2012 season and is a potential breakout candidate. He'll be followed by former All-Star Scott Kazmir, who spent last season in the Independent League and is looking to get his career back on track. He's still just 29.


    Detroit Tigers

    1. RHP Justin Verlander 
    2. RHP Doug Fister
    3. RHP Max Scherzer
    4. RHP Anibal Sanchez
    5. RHP Rick Porcello

    The Tigers have as deep a staff as any in baseball, and it all starts with Justin Verlander, who is considered by many to be the top pitcher in the game today.

    He's followed by a trio of proven veterans in Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Of that group, Scherzer has the most upside and he was lights out down the stretch last season. Sanchez was brought back on a five-year, $80 million deal after a strong three months with the team last year.

    The fifth starter spot came down to Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, and after some trade rumors the team opted to hold on to both of them, with Porcello the likely No. 5 starter. Porcello is still just 24 with 48 big league wins under his belt already, and he may be ready to take the next step.


    Kansas City Royals

    1. RHP James Shields
    2. RHP Jeremy Guthrie
    3. RHP Ervin Santana
    4. RHP Wade Davis
    5. LHP Bruce Chen

    With a lineup stocked with homegrown talent, the Royals lacked a rotation to match and turned their attention to improving their staff this offseason.

    Ervin Santana was acquired from the Angels early on, before the team shipped an impressive prospect package that included Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The team also re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year deal.

    Shields gives the team the ace it's been lacking, and he'll lead a group of proven veterans to give the Royals at least an outside chance at contention. 


    Minnesota Twins

    1. RHP Vance Worley
    2. RHP Kevin Correia
    3. RHP Mike Pelfrey
    4. RHP Liam Hendricks
    5. RHP Cole De Vries 

    Much like the Royals, the Twins turned their attention to shoring up their starting rotation this offseason. Unlike the Royals, however, the Twins were unable to add a true staff ace.

    Vance Worley was acquired from the Phillies for speedy outfielder Ben Revere, and he'll be the ace of the staff, at least until Scott Diamond recovers from elbow surgery.

    The team also signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to round out the staff, though they are capable veteran arms at best. Liam Hendricks and Cole De Vries fill the final two rotation spots, though WBC stud Samuel Deduno could make a run at a rotation spot at some point. 


    Ranking The Starting Rotations

    1. Detroit
    2. Chicago
    3. Kansas City
    4. Cleveland
    5. Minnesota 


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    Chicago White Sox

    LR Hector Santiago (L)
    MR Brian Omogrosso (R)
    MR Donnie Veal (L)
    MR Matt Lindstrom (R)
    SU Nate Jones (R)
    SU Matt Thornton (L)
    CL Addison Reed (R)

    The White Sox bullpen will once again be anchored by promising young right-hander Addison Reed, who converted 29 of 33 save chances as a rookie but posted a 4.75 ERA in the process.

    Nate Jones was also a rookie last season, and he was terrific over 65 appearances with an 8-0 record and 2.39 ERA. He'll be joined in the setup role by hard-throwing veteran southpaw Matt Thornton.

    From there, free-agent signing Matt Lindstrom gives the team another proven veteran arm, and Donnie Veal and Brian Omogrosso are cheap, effective middle relievers. Hector Santiago saw time at closer, setup and even made four starts, and he'll again be a valuable swingman. Veteran Jesse Crain will rejoin this group at some point as he battled a hip injury last season.


    Cleveland Indians

    MR Bryan Shaw (R)
    MR Rich Hill (L)
    MR Cody Allen (R)
    MR Nick Hagadone (L)
    SU Joe Smith (R)
    SU Vinnie Pestano (R)
    CL Chris Perez (R)

    The Indians have the division's top closer in two-time All-Star Chris Perez, as the right-hander has saved 98 games over the past three seasons with a 2.84 ERA.

    Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith are one of the top setup tandems in the game; they combined for a 144 appearances and posted a 2.76 ERA with 57 holds.

    Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone both saw extended big league action for the first time last season and have some upside moving forward. Rich Hill was signed as a free agent and Bryan Shaw was acquired in the Shin-Soo Choo deal; they'll round out a strong group top to bottom.


    Detroit Tigers

    MR Darin Downs (L)
    MR Bryan Villarreal (R)
    MR Al Alburquerque (R)
    MR Octavio Dotel (R)
    SU Phil Coke (L)
    SU Joaquin Benoit (R)
    CL Bruce Rondon (R)

    The closer situation in Detroit was among the most talked-about of the offseason, as they opted not to sign someone to fill the void left by the departing Jose Valverde and will instead turn things over to flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon, who had a 1.53 ERA and 29 saves while posting an 11.2 K/9 mark last season in the minors.

    The veteran trio of Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel gives the team stability in the late innings to bridge the gap to Rondon.

    Meanwhile, youngsters Bryan Villarreal (10.9 K/9) and Al Alburquerque (12.2 K/9) both have swing-and-miss stuff, and minor league journeyman Darin Downs gives the team a second left-hander after a solid spring.


    Kansas City Royals

    LR Luis Mendoza (R)
    LR Luke Hochevar (R)
    MR Juan Gutierrez (R)
    MR Tim Collins (L)
    SU Aaron Crow (R)
    SU Kelvin Herrera (R)
    CL Greg Holland (R)

    The Royals led the division and ranked sixth in all of baseball last season with a 3.17 bullpen ERA. That was after they lost All-Star closer Joakim Soria for the year before the season started.

    Greg Holland recorded 16 saves with a 12.2 K/9 mark, taking over as closer after Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Reds, and he'll fill the ninth-inning role again this season.

    Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow all topped 70 appearances last season, and all posted sub-3.50 ERAs on the year. Herrera and Collins are still just 23 years old, so they have a bright future ahead of them.

    Starters Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza find themselves relegated to the bullpen after the team's offseason acquisitions, while Gutierrez missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.


    Minnesota Twins

    MR Ryan Pressly (R)
    MR Brian Duensing (L)
    MR Alex Burnett (R)
    MR Josh Roenicke (R)
    SU Casey Fien (R)
    SU Jared Burton (R)
    CL Glen Perkins (L)

    The Twins bullpen is a relatively unsung group of arms that actually turned in a solid performance last season with a 3.77 ERA to rank in the middle of the pack (17th overall).

    Glen Perkins is one of the better left-handed relievers in the game, and he saved 16 games with a 2.56 ERA and 10.0 K/9 last season. With Matt Capps gone, the closer's job is all his this season.

    Jared Burton (2.18 ERA, 64 G) and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA, 35 G) quietly emerged as a dynamic one-two punch in the late innings, and they'll return in that role this season. Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly, swingman Brian Duensing and middling right-handers Alex Burnett and Josh Roenicke round out the 'pen.


    Ranking The Bullpens

    1. Kansas City
    2. Detroit
    3. Cleveland
    4. Chicago
    5. Minnesota 


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    Chicago White Sox

    C Tyler Flowers
    1B Paul Konerko 
    2B Gordon Beckham
    SS Alexei Ramirez
    3B Jeff Keppinger

    For the first time in the past eight years, the White Sox will open the season with someone other than A.J. Pierzynski as their everyday catcher. Longtime prospect Tyler Flowers takes over for him, and he'll be looking to lock down the job following a strong spring.

    Paul Konerko will anchor the infield, and even at 37 years old he still has plenty left in the tank. Third base will be manned by free-agent signing Jeff Keppinger, who signed a three-year, $12 million deal after hitting .325/.367/.439 for the Rays last season.

    The middle infield may be the biggest question, as Gordon Beckham has hit just .238 over the past three seasons and Alexei Ramirez is coming off the worst season of his career and is on the wrong side of 30.


    Cleveland Indians

    C Carlos Santana
    1B Nick Swisher
    2B Jason Kipnis
    SS Asdrubal Cabrera
    3B Lonnie Chisenhall

    Indians fans are still waiting for a breakout campaign from Carlos Santana, and despite poor batting averages the past two years, he's shown terrific plate discipline and is still more than capable of a monster year.

    Nick Swisher was signed to a four-year, $56 million deal to serve as a run producer in the middle of the order and a veteran presence in a young clubhouse. Across the diamond, former top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall is finally the unquestioned starter at third. He could be primed for a breakout season after hitting .404 with four home runs this spring.

    The double play combination of Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera may be the team's greatest strength, as Cabrera has already established himself as one of the game's top shortstops and Kipnis is a star in the making after a breakout season last year.


    Detroit Tigers

    C Alex Avila
    1B Prince Fielder
    2B Omar Infante
    SS Jhonny Peralta
    3B Miguel Cabrera

    With the duo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera manning the corners, the Tigers have two of the game's premier sluggers driving their offense. They should both once again be squarely in the AL MVP conversation.

    Catcher Alex Avila will be looking to return to his 2011 form (.295 BA, 19 HR, 82 RBI) after a disappointing 2012 campaign (.243 BA, 9 HR, 48 RBI). Regardless of his offense, he does a great job handling the staff.

    The middle infield spots are manned by veterans Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta, who rank as average players with the potential for slightly above-average offensive production.


    Kansas City Royals

    C Salvador Perez
    1B Eric Hosmer
    2B Chris Getz
    SS Alcides Escobar
    3B Mike Moustakas

    Had it not been for a knee injury, catcher Salvador Perez may already be a household name. Instead, the 22-year-old enters the 2013 season as a popular pick to break out after hitting .301 with 11 home runs in 289 at-bats last season.

    The corner infield spots are manned by a pair of former top-three picks in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Both players have shown flashes of future stardom and both have struggled, but with another year under their belt may be ready to take the next step.

    Second base remains a question mark in Kansas City, as Chris Getz wins the job by default but is a subpar option. At shortstop, Alcides Escobar finally showed some offensive ability last season to match his slick fielding, hitting .293 and swiping 35 bases.


    Minnesota Twins

    C Joe Mauer
    1B Justin Morneau
    2B Brian Dozier
    SS Pedro Florimon Jr.
    3B Trevor Plouffe

    Any injury concerns that may have surrounded Joe Mauer entering last season were put to rest, as he hit .319/.416/.446. He may never reach 20 home runs again, but he's still one of the game's elite backstops.

    Former MVP Justin Morneau is in a contract year, and he managed to stay relatively healthy last season to hit 19 home runs with 77 RBI over 505 at-bats. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was a pleasant surprise in 2012, hitting 24 home runs in 422 at-bats, though he hit just .235.

    The middle infield remains a mess in Minnesota, as Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon Jr will open the season as the starters with Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar seeing time as well.


    Ranking The Catchers/Infields

    1. Detroit
    2. Cleveland
    3. Kansas City
    4. Chicago
    5. Minnesota


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    Chicago White Sox

    LF Dayan Viciedo
    CF Alejandro De Aza
    RF Alex Rios
    DH Adam Dunn

    After a horrendous first season in Chicago, Adam Dunn turned things around last year, slugging 41 home runs and making the AL All-Star team. He'll hit around .200 but post a respectable OBP thanks to the 100-plus walks he'll draw.

    Dayan Viciedo held his own in his first season as a starter, hitting 25 home runs with 78 RBI, and at 24 he has plenty of room to improve. Alejandro De Aza was solid as well in his first extended action, hitting .281 and stealing 26 bases out of the leadoff spot.

    The wild card for Chicago is which Alex Rios will show up in 2013the one who hit .227 with 13 home runs in 2011, or the one who hit .304 with 25 home runs and 23 steals last year? My guess is he'll fall somewhere in the middle.


    Cleveland Indians

    LF Michael Brantley
    CF Michael Bourn
    RF Drew Stubbs
    DH Mark Reynolds

    Michael Brantley is the only returning player in this group, as he hit a solid .288/.348/.402 last season while driving in 60 runs and stealing 12 bases. He's not a star, but he does a little bit of everything.

    The big signing here was Michael Bourn, who inked a four-year, $48 million deal and will bring his blazing speed and Gold Glove defense to the Cleveland outfield.

    Drew Stubbs, who was acquired in the Shin-Soo Choo trade, remains a dynamic power/speed threat, but he strikes out too much to make good use of those tools. Mark Reynolds has as much raw power as anyone in baseball but also struggles to make consistent contact. Those two could combine for 400 strikeouts over a full season worth of at-bats.


    Detroit Tigers

    LF Andy Dirks
    CF Austin Jackson
    RF Torii Hunter
    DH Victor Martinez

    The signing of veteran Torii Hunter shores up a major hole in right field, but the bigger addition may be getting Victor Martinez back after he missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL.

    Austin Jackson would have been an All-Star if not for a first-half injury, as he raised his OBP from .317 to .377 and his OPS from .690 to .856. Those numbers make him one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball and a dynamic table-setter for the team's big boppers.

    Left-field belongs to Andy Dirks for the time being after he hit .322 with eight home runs in 314 at-bats last season. Whether he can produce over a full season of at-bats remains to be seen, though.


    Kansas City Royals

    LF Alex Gordon
    CF Lorenzo Cain
    RF Jeff Francoeur
    DH Billy Butler

    Long one of the more underrated hitters in the game, Billy Butler hit .313 last season while setting career highs with 29 home runs and 107 RBI.

    Alex Gordon didn't quite reach his 2011 production, but he had an AL-high 51 doubles, won his second straight Gold Glove and still posted a solid 5.9 WAR (h/t FanGraphs).

    Veteran Jeff Francoeur is looking to bounce back in a contract year, while Lorenzo Cain is looking to prove he's the long-term answer in center field after battling injury last season.


    Minnesota Twins

    LF Josh Willingham
    CF Aaron Hicks
    RF Chris Parmelee
    DH Ryan Doumit

    After losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel last offseason, the Twins did a great job replacing them with the signings of Josh Willingham (35 HR, 110 RBI) and Ryan Doumit (18 HR, 75 RBI) while saving a good deal of money in the process.

    With Ben Revere and Denard Span both traded this offseason, Aaron Hicks seized the opportunity to nail down an everyday job by hitting .350 with four home runs, six doubles and 16 RBI.

    The other spot will go to Chris Parmelee, who hit .338/.457/.645 in Triple-A last season after failing to lock down an everyday job in the majors. He could give the team another solid power bat if he can adjust to life in the majors this time around.


    Ranking the Outfielders/DHs

    1. Chicago
    2. Detroit
    3. Cleveland
    4. Kansas City
    5. Minnesota

Top MLB-Ready Prospects

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    Chicago White Sox: OF Jared Mitchell

    A two-sport star at LSU, Mitchell has moved steadily through the White Sox system. He hit .237/.358/.420 with 48 extra-base hits and 21 steals between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

    He's slowly progressed from an athlete to a baseball player, and after a strong spring in which he went 12-for-31 with three doubles, two triples and a home run he's in a good position to make his big league debut in 2013.


    Cleveland Indians: SP Trevor Bauer

    The Indians landed Bauer in a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Reds, and he enters the season as the organization's top pitching prospect.

    He fell out of favor in Arizona, but he remains a frontline talent and a potential future ace for the Indians. He won't break camp with the team, but as long as he pitches well in the minors he should be up by midseason at the latest.


    Detroit Tigers: LF Nick Castellanos

    A supplemental round pick in the 2010 draft, Castellanos split last season between High Single-A and Double-A at the age of 20 and hit .320/.365/.451 with 10 home runs.

    He still has some developing to do, but his hit tool would play at the major league level right now. If Andy Dirks struggles early in left field or an outfielder goes down with an injury, he could find himself in Detroit.


    Kansas City Royals: RP Donnie Joseph

    Acquired from the Reds for Jonathan Broxton at the deadline last year, Joseph has the stuff to be the Royals' closer of the future.

    He recorded 20 saves with a 2.33 ERA and 11.2 K/9 last season between Double-A and Triple-A, and he was impressive this spring in allowing just three hits and two runs over 10 innings while striking out 14. 


    Minnesota Twins: SP Kyle Gibson

    A first-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Missouri, Gibson was on the fast track to Minnesota until Tommy John surgery cost him parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

    Healthy once again, he remains one of the Twins' top pitching prospects and the closest to making a big league impact. A strong couple months in the minors could be enough for him to get the call.


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    Division Winner: Detroit Tigers (95-67)

    The Tigers are the class of the division, and though it took them until the final days of the season to secure a playoff spot in 2012, I fully expect them to run away with things this time around.

    Second Place: 
    Kansas City Royals (82-80)

    After shoring up their pitching staff, and with a number of players in a position to take a big step forward, the Royals could be surprise contenders this season. I think they'll come up short of a the postseason but post their first winning season since 2003.


    Third Place: Cleveland Indians (80-82)

    The Indians were expected to be big-time sellers this offseason, but instead they added a number of veteran pieces that should put them in a position to improve on last season. Still, I don't think they have the pitching to be serious contenders.


    Fourth Place: Chicago White Sox (77-85)

    A lot went right for the White Sox last season, as Alex Rios, Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn all turned in a major rebound seasons. Expect some regression from those guys; with A.J. Pierzynski gone behind the plate, they may struggle to reach .500 this year.

    Fifth Place: Minnesota Twins (65-97)

    The Twins added some pitching this offseason, but their starting rotation is still among the worst in baseball. The offense has some solid pieces, but also has gaping holes at the middle infield spots and a question mark in right field. They'll struggle to avoid 100 losses.