This year's AL Central division race figures to be as tight as ever.
One thing that has remained stagnant throughout the years is the balance in the lineups of each organization, and this year is no different within the top three clubs.
The Minnesota Twins are looking for their seventh division title in the last 10 years, and they have a solid lineup that can carry them back to October.
The Chicago White Sox added a slugger in Adam Dunn and are looking to contend as they have in years past.
The Detroit Tigers are growing and developing and figure to carry a strong lineup deep into the season.
The Cleveland Indians are maturing and have a few relevant players, but they might be a year or two off of contending.
The Kansas City Royals gave up their best position player in David DeJesus, but a couple offseason additions might help them win about 70 games.
I decided to compare all the lineups and their starters using a simple formula for the five teams, one being the best and five being the worst.
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Carlos Santana, Indians
3. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
4. Alex Avila, Tigers
5. Jason Kendall, Royals
This was the easiest race to sort in the entire lineup. There is a clear-cut first, second and third in the division for the players behind the plate.
Joe Mauer is far and away the best catcher in all of the majors and figures to have another great season.
Carlos Santana has been showing flashes of potential, and I believe he will put together a full season, and a solid one at that.
A.J. Pierzynski's 34-year-old body is beginning to take a toll on him and he is slowly ready to decline.
Alex Avila had a decent sophomore campaign and will produce numbers while splitting time with newly-acquired Victor Martinez.
Jason Kendall, at 36 and on his fifth team, is slated at the everyday catcher spot after recovering from rotator cuff surgery.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2. Justin Morneau, Twins
3. Paul Konerko, White Sox
4. Matt LaPorta, Indians
5. Kila Ka'aihue, Royals
This position has some of the most talent and productivity, except for maybe right field and the designated fielder slot.
In this division we see three of the top seven or eight first basemen, and two young talents who will eventually put up huge numbers.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the best three hitters in baseball today, and eight years into his career he is still only 27. He hit .328 with 38 dingers and 126 runs batted in, making it one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory.
If Justin Morneau gets back to his pre-concussion form of 2010 when he batted .350, he will be involved in late-season MVP discussions.
Paul Konerko had a great year last season, and it really is a shame to see him third on this list considering the talent on it, but I believe someday he will be a surefire Hall of Famer.
How's that for a bold statement?
One of the pieces in the Sabathia-to-Milwaukee trade, Matt LaPorta is finally doing a solid job, and he will start the season at first base.
Kila Ka'aihue of Kansas City is relatively unknown but ended 2010 on a hot finish.
1. Carlos Guillen, Tigers
2. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
3. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins
4. Jason Donald, Indians
5. Chris Getz, Royals
The second basemen of the AL Central have a lot to prove, other than a proven veteran. The other four enter 2011 with a to-do list the size of a elephant.
Carlos Guillen is the best second baseman here hands down, entering his 19th season as a professional baseball player. He did a great job dealing with his position switch from third to second in 2010.
The eighth overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Gordon Beckham needs to improve his .252 batting average, as well as his power hitting.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a Japanese import, won the Japan Series last season and will be expected to contribute from the first game on. Look for the Twins to bat him second behind outfielder Denard Span.
Jason Donald and Chris Getz begin their sophomore seasons with their respective clubs (the Indians and the Royals) with a large task at hand, and that is keeping their starting positions.
1. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
2. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
3. Alcides Escobar, Royals
4. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
5. Alexi Casilla, Twins
While this position isn't great, I think it's safe to say that there are only two above average at short in the division.
The extraordinarily clutch Alexei Ramirez will try to match a 2010 that saw him drive in 70 and whack 29 doubles.
Jhonny Peralta took his talents all 169 miles that separates Cleveland from Detroit. He will be expected to do great things in his first full season as a Tiger.
Alcides Escobar, fresh off the Greinke-to-Milwaukee trade, will be expected to be Kansas City's everyday shortstop, and I believe he is up to the task.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Alexi Casilla both scare me, as they can sometimes be inconsistent, and Casilla sometimes wouldn't even hit a basketball with his bat.
Additionally, I believe he is the only true uncertainty in the Twins' everyday lineup now that Nick Punto is not starting.
1. Danny Valencia, Twins
2. Brandon Inge, Tigers
3. Mike Aviles, Royals
4. Jayson Nix, Indians
5. Brent Morel, White Sox
The best word to define this group of third basemen is "uncertainty." All five face some sort of it as we gaze upon the horizon that is the 2011 MLB season.
Danny Valencia finished third in Rookie of the Year despite playing half the season. He hit .311 with seven homers and 40 ribbies from late June on.
Inge has been consistent throughout his 10-year career in Detroit, but as he gets older the game could wear off on him.
Aviles has two-plus seasons in Kansas City under his belt and 287 hits in addition a .300 average to go with it.
Jayson Nix and Brent Morel are relative unknowns who embark on their quest to notoriety.
Morel just had his first hit in the majors, a home run, on September 10th. To say he is unknown is a great understatement, and he is easily the White Sox' biggest question mark.
1. Delmon Young, Twins
2. Ryan Raburn, Tigers
3. Alex Gordon, Royals
4. Michael Brantley, Indians
5. Juan Pierre, White Sox
All five of these center fielders are decent in some aspects, and most are on the rise while just one appears on the decline. Only two of these five exceed 26 years of age.
Delmon Young's strength lies within the fact that he can hit for power, displayed by his 21-homer, 112-runs batted performance in 2010.
Ryan Raburn needed a second-half surge to hit just 14 homers, especially disappointing considering his stellar 2009.
Alex Gordon isn't that young anymore. The 26-year-old finally needs to be the second overall pick that the Royals sought out to have when they drafted him in '05.
Michael Brantley's season to make a name for himself could be this one.
Juan Pierre is 33 now, and needs to do more than break up Ted Lilly's no-hit bids to keep his spot in the stacked lineup that the Sox have.
1. Alex Rios, White Sox
2. Grady Sizemore, Indians
3. Austin Jackson, Tigers
4. Denard Span, Twins
5. Melky Cabrera, Royals
This position has such great talent that a Rookie of the Year runner-up takes the bronze in the dash that is the Center Field event.
Alex Rios is the best eight on the AL Central scorebook and started quickly last season, driving in 70 runs by the time August had started.
Grady Sizemore needs to recover from injury battles and have a strong 2011. He narrowly gets the silver in front of Austin Jackson, the Rookie of the Year runner-up who will have a strong encore this summer.
Denard Span, the Twins' speedy leadoff man, had 26 stolen bags and 10 triples in a decent season, but he needs to improve his paltry .264 average, a nearly 50 point drop from '09.
Melky Cabrera, the last Yankee to hit for the cycle, signed a one-year deal with the Royals and will be slated in the everyday position for center field.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
2. Carlos Quentin, White Sox
3. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
4. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers
5. Jeff Francoeur, Royals
Prior to this position, only three of the five teams had a first place at any given position.
Even though this team will probably not contend in 2011, they still boast a decent outfield. The top four of this list have All-Star potential.
Shin-Soo Choo had a fabulous 2010, and could be even better if he improves upon his solid 22 home runs and 90 runs batted in.
Carlos Quentin and Michael Cuddyer are two guys who can provide great defense, and hit 30 homers at the plate. Cuddyer is a great outspoken leader, and at 31 is entering his 11th season with the Twins, easily being the longest-tenured of the bunch.
Magglio Ordonez is all at once underrated, aging, and still productive at the "ripe" age of 36.
Jeff Francoeur's long journey has taken a stop in Kansas City, where he will be a decent but still uncertain everyday right fielder.
1. Adam Dunn, White Sox
2. Jim Thome, Twins
3. Billy Butler, Royals
4. Travis Hafner, Indians
5. Victor Martinez, Tigers
Here we have arrived at the last position in the designated hitter. The top two on this list have combined for more than 900 home runs in their storied careers, while the third has much to prove to hold the third position, and the last two seem to be on their ultimate decline.
Adam Dunn, at the age of 31, has already nailed more than 350 bombers in nine big-league seasons and has moved to Chicago in hopes of winning.
On his rival team is future first ballot Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who in his second year in Minnesota, will start Opening Day as the DH.
I honestly think that without Thome in 2010, a division title would not have been likely for the Twins. Billy Butler, a hard-hitter who at 24 already has 55 homers, is an interesting player.
I think that if he is consistent all year then the Royals will not finish in last place once again.
He is the X factor of Kansas City, and I look for him to become a leader in the clubhouse and have a breakout year.
As stated above, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez appear ready to finally decline. They are 33 and 32, respectively, and were teammates for seven seasons in Cleveland, Ohio.
They both need to put in good seasons in order to try to keep up with the Twins and White Sox.
Using the previous slides as a point system (1 being the best, 5 being the worst), here are the final results for all the lineups:
1. Minnesota Twins, 22 points
2. Chicago White Sox, 23 points
3. Detroit Tigers, 24 points
4. Cleveland Indians, 29 points
5. Kansas City Royals, 37 points
So the Twins take the cake by one slot, but at the same time this provides the evidence necessary to deem this season one to watch.
A lot of the lineups are similar in that they will produce, and I honestly can see it coming down to the wire with the Twins, White Sox and Tigers.
However, I believe it will be the Twins that emerge victorious because of their prior experience and the fact that they simply win.