The AL Central boasts one of the closest divisional races in baseball outside of the East. The White Sox, Twins and Tigers all seem to be neck and neck throughout the year until one club finds that extra gear. The Indians and Royals fight to climb out of the cellar each year as well. It's the best of both worlds.
The division is also filled with class-act players as well as some classless ones. From Joe Mauer to Ozzie Guillen, the personalities are vast, but let's not get side-tracked here.
Figuring out how this division will play out is a tough task nonetheless and some bold predictions are in order.
Let's start this one out with a bang. The often-injured Grady Sizemore has not played a full season since 2008. He is coming off micro-fracture knee surgery and only played a grand total of 33 games in 2010.
Sizemore seemed to have all the potential in the world. He hit .290 in 2006 and scored 134 runs. He smashed 33 HRs in 2008, swiped 38 bases and knocked in 90 RBIs. He looked like a sure-fire stud and the Indians looked to be a team on the move.
In 2009, the wheels came off. After sustaining an elbow injury in Spring Training, Sizemore elected to have surgery on it one month before the close of the season. During that same time, he went under the knife to repair a hernia he sustained after straining his groin. The writing should have been on the wall.
Sizemore should be ready for Opening Day and is looking to put his injury woes behind him. At 28-years-old, he still has plenty of gas in the tank and will be looking to get back to his explosive self.
2011 will be a brand new start for the Indians center fielder.
Kila Ka'aihue—say that five times fast—is a beast of a man. The Hawaiian has some power and will be looking to bring that to the table for the Royals in 2011.
In AAA last year, Kila hit .319 with 24 long-balls. They will look to the 6'4" 235 pound 26-year-old to add pop to this lowly Royals lineup. The combination of Billy Butler and Ka'aihue will be a lethal one, as both players are deadly in the batters box.
This rookie's first year campaign will be loaded with shots into the fountains at Kauffman Stadium.
The Chicago White Sox finished 2010 with 177 home runs as a team. That was 80 less than the league-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
The Sox added another power-bat to their lineup this offseason in Adam Dunn. Dunn will bring his 38 dingers in 2010 along with him. Add that to a roster with names like Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin, and you have yourself a loaded middle of the lineup.
Dunn won't hit for much of an average—his career BA is .250—but he can launch a pitcher's mistake into the upper deck.
This crew of sluggers will catapult the White Sox to the top of the League's home run category.
The Tigers went out shopping for another bat to help protect Miguel Cabrera. The signing of Victor Martinez seemed like a smart move. He was coming off a solid year with the Red Sox where he hit .302 with 20 HRs. His defense is mediocre at best, but he would be spending more time in the DH role rather than behind the dish.
What the Tigers overlooked is the fact that Martinez can't seem to hit at Comerica Park, where he will be playing 81 of his games. Over the past three seasons, he has hit a whopping .184 with no HRs and three RBIs.
Detroit was looking to bring in another strong hitter to add to their lineup, but from the looks of it, they swung and missed with Martinez.
The 29-year-old Morneau missed much of 2010 due to a concussion, but has been symptom free this spring. Before his early exit, Morneau was hitting .345 with 18 HRs and 56 RBIs in only 81 games. That is Triple Crown caliber play during the first half of the season.
Looking to continue his dominance, Morneau will put up even better numbers come 2011. MVP honors would be a lock and a Triple Crown could be a possibility.
The great Carl Yastrzemski was the last to accomplish the feat back in 1967 with the Boston Red Sox. Don't be surprised if Justin Morneau is the next player added to that incredible list.
Matt LaPorta has never lived up to his first round, top-ten draft billing. In his two year stint in the Majors, he has hit .254 and .221 respectively and posted a miserable .307 OBP average over that time as well.
After putting on a clinic at AAA in 2009, LaPorta looked to have finally turned the corner. He hit .299 with 17 HRs in 93 games before his promotion. He played the rest of the season with the big boys, but fell a bit short. He has since continued to stumble and even was demoted back to the Minors in 2010.
Shelley Duncan has spent almost all of his time at the Minor League level since he was drafted in 2001. He finally broke onto the scene with the Yankees in 2007.
What Duncan lacks in talent, he makes up for in heart. He plays at 200 MPH each and every game and goes out there and leaves it all between the chalk. That type of mindset will help propel him past the bust LaPorta.
Sorry Matt, but Shelley just wants it more than you do.
Mike Moustakas is blossoming into one of the biggest stars in the Minor Leagues. He is making his presence felt and is ready to showcase his talents in Kansas City.
Moustakas mashed the ball in 2010, hitting .322 with 36 HRs and 124 RBIs while splitting the season with the AA and AAA affiliates. This spring, he will have the chance to let his abilities do the talking and he is looking to break the Opening Day roster.
Mike Aviles is penciled in to start at third for the Royals, but he played most if not all of 2010 at second base. He is only warming up the spot for Moustakas before he writes his name in with permanent marker.
Mike Moustakas is looking to place his name amongst the Royal greats like George Brett and Frank White. I wouldn't put it past him.
The White Sox boast the likes of two dominant hurlers who are looking to take over for the recently departed Bobby Jenks. Matt Thornton and Chris Sale will be looking to take the reins and close out games for the Sox.
Thornton, at 34-years-old, looks to be the frontrunner in this battle at the moment. He has been a more than capable setup-man over the last three years. His near 1.00 WHIP speaks wonders for his abilities as a late-inning reliever. On the other hand, he has blown 12 saves over the three years and only closed out 13.
Chris Sale is a young, hard throwing southpaw who is breathing down Thornton's neck. His 1.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 2010 is a testament to his abilities. The 21-year-old Sale boasts a plus-90 MPH fastball and a nasty slider. He has all of the tangibles, but does he has the closer mentality?
Without Jenks, the closer role is up for grabs, but both of these pitchers might hit some bumps in the road in their first go-around putting the nail in the coffin.
The Tigers have one of the best aces in the Majors in Justin Verlander. He went 18-9 in 2010 with 219 K's in 224.1 innings and finished with an impressive 3.37 ERA. His second-in-command Max Scherzer struggled at times during the season, but ultimately finished strong going 12-11 with a 3.50 ERA and 184 K's in 195.2 innings.
After that, there is a significant drop-off in the caliber of pitchers. Rick Porcello showed promise in his rookie year going 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA. He had a sophomore slump for the ages in 2011 as he finished with a 4.92 ERA and a 10-12 record. He seemed to lose that dominance he showed the year before.
Brad Penny and Phil Coke make up the back-end of the Tiger's rotation. An injury-plagued season in 2010 limited Penny to nine starts and Coke is making the transition from reliever to starter this season. Both players cannot be counted on come crunch time.
The Tigers have potential to make a postseason run in 2011, but we all know your rotation is only as strong as your number five starter.
The Twins always seem to make a run into October, but fail to catch their breath. In 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010, they have been knocked out in the Divisional Round. 2002 was the last time they advanced. This season will be a different story.
Winning the division is the easy part for the Twins as they have made it through the rigorous AL Central—even though in 2009 it took them one extra game.
With the return of Joe Nathan from Tommy John surgery, another full season from Francisco Liriano and with the resurgence of Carl Pavano, the Twins will be a force to be reckoned with. Lets not forget the return of a healthy Justin Morneau.
With up-and-coming stars like Danny Valencia and Delmon Young and the veteran leadership of Jim Thome and Joe Mauer, this team will be making noise when October roles around.