Today we are going to look at the “Key” player for each American League Central team. The AL Central is very top heavy, and the top three teams—White Sox, Twins and Tigers—figure to battle it out for the division title throughout the year.
In this division, the player who can come back from injury or provide and unexpected punch will be especially important. This division might be decided by one or two games, so one player can make a huge difference.
Chicago White Sox: Jake Peavy. I don’t think anyone expects Peavy to resemble the 200-inning, 9.5 K/9 pitcher he was when he was a member of the San Diego Padres, but if the White Sox can get 140 innings out of him, they will be a better team.
The White Sox have good starting rotation depth even without Peavy. Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd and John Danks are a formidable foursome. But imagine Peavy as their No. 5 starter? Not too many teams have that quality in the five spot. Even a mediocre Peavy was good for two more wins than the average Major League starter last season.
Peavy will most likely make his debut around late-April/early-May and anything he can give the White Sox in 2011 will be a big time plus.
Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau. Here is what I find fascinating. The Twins have played so well without Morneau in the lineup the past two years, that Morneau has almost become underrated in terms of players. He has missed the past two postseasons, and it’s almost as if he was an afterthought.
This is Justin Morneau, not some Rudy Poo off the street. When healthy, Morneau is one of the best players in the AL. If the Twins are going to once again make the postseason, I think they need Morneau healthy for a full season. A team can go to the well only so many times.
Morneau only played in 81 games last season because of a concussion suffered in July. The Twins will be extra careful with him, but it appears all systems are "go" for Opening Day.
If he can play in 150-plus games in 2011, the Twins will once again be very tough to beat.
That is why Coke is so important to the Tigers’ season. I wrote about Coke making the transition from reliever to starter about a month ago, and I believe he will make a successful one. If the Tigers have a third starter to pair for Verlander and Scherzer, then they will be talking in 2011.
But if Coke can’t make the transition for some reason, then all of a sudden the Tigers’ rotation becomes a hot mess.
Cleveland Indians: Grady Sizemore. Sizemore played in only 106 games in 2009, 33 games in 2010 and had microfracture surgery in June. The Indians are bringing Sizemore along slowly this spring and will have him begin the season on the 15-day DL.
Despite that, he is still only 28 years old, and it’s not like microfracture surgery is a career ender. Just look at Amar’e Stoudemire—he is doing just fine playing a much more grueling sport on the knees.
Do I think Sizemore will ever return to his 2007–2008 form? That might be a stretch. But I do think he will be healthy enough in 2011 to be a produce a .260/.345/.435 slash line with 15-20 HRs and 15 SBs.
I also think it’s important for Sizemore to comeback for the Indians because he could be a free agent (Indians have an $8.5 million option on him) at the end of the 2011 season. If Sizemore proves to be healthy, the Indians might be able to get something for him in July.
Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon. 2011 is going to be a pretty miserable year for the Royals. It’s going to be really bad. But sometimes you have to bottom out to get where you need to be. And that is what will happen to the Royals this season.
With their array of top prospects, the Royals are expected to be ready to compete in the 2013 or 2014 season. Whether or not Alex Gordon is a part of those competitive teams will be dependent on what he does this season.
Gordon was the second pick in the 2005 June Draft and has been nothing short of a bust so far. Now at the age of 27, it’s make or break time for him. If success was based off of what a player did in spring training, then Gordon’s 2011 season would already be a masterpiece.
Gordon is hitting .343 with six HR’s in 70 ABs this spring. If he is able to carry this success over to the regular season, it will give Kansas City some much needed hope for the future.
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