AL Central 2012 Preview

Posted: April 6, 2012 by Kodi in MLB

The AL Central saw a lot of transactions in the offseason but the rich got richer

After the Tigers signed Prince Fielder they became the clear favorite to win the division

but can a team like the Indians, Twins, White Sox or Royals catch them off guard?

Chicago White Sox

The 2011 season was supposed to be the year that the White Sox went “all in” as General Manager Kenny Williams put it. The team had invested over $127 million on the clubs roster and they were looking to make one final push to get back to the World Series. The White Sox were barely into the month of May and they were already 11 games under .500. They were able to scramble their way to 3 games above .500 in August but never played to their full potential and finished the season with 79 wins and 16 games back of the division Champ. The White Sox underwhelmed their south side fans and it led to big changes in the organization with hitting Coach Greg Walker stepping down and Manager Ozzie Guillen leaving for Miami.

The White Sox were looking forward to seeing what their newly acquired slugger, DH Adam Dunn, could do for the team offensively but he had a terrible season. From 2001-2010 Adam Dunn averaged 86 runs, 35 HR’s, 88 RBI, 99 walks and 163 strikeouts per season while hitting .250/.381/.521. Last year Dunn scored 66 runs, hit just 11 HR’s, knocking in 42 RBI, walking just 75 times and striking out a White Sox record 177 times while hitting a miniscule .159/.292/.277. Nobody could have expected such a dramatic shift in production from Dunn but it seems to be a reoccurring situation for Chicago. The White Sox had great rookie seasons by SS Alexi Ramirez in 2008 and 2B Gordon Beckham in 2009 but since then they have been unable to recreate similar statistics, not to mention disappointing seasons from Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios and Juan Pierre. The one bright spot for the White Sox was 1B Paul Konerko’s great season hitting 31 HR’s and recording 105 RBI leading the team in both categories.

The pitching staff in Chicago has been anchored by Mark Buerhle for over a decade and once again he was the White Sox only and most reliable starter. He pitched over 200 innings for the 11th straight season and lead the 6 man starting rotation with a 3.59 ERA and 13-9 record. John Danks was supposed to step up and become the new leader of the White Sox pitching staff but after he lost his first 8 decisions while recording an ERA above 5.20 there was little hope. Danks will get another chance this season as Mark Buerhle left town following Manager Ozzie Guillen to south beach. The White Sox had trouble with their bullpen in the past but last season that was not the case. The Sox were the beneficiaries of incredible seasons by Chris Sale and Jesse Crain who both had ERA’s below 2.79 and WHIP’s below 1.24. Sergio Santos was the Closer last season. After his departure new Sox Manager Robin Ventura will be giving that Closer role to Matt Thornton as Crain doesn’t have the mental fortitude to hand such a role and Chris Sale has been promoted to the starting rotation.

The White Sox are coming off a unacceptable season after investing so much money in their roster to end up with a losing record. There have been some interesting moves in the offseason that will allow young players to have more of an impact. If Chicago’s key players can play closer to their full potential while getting productive seasons from young talent like OF’s Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo they may find themselves in the race for the AL Central. The biggest question for the White Sox will be how well their starting pitching performs under Danks, a bionic Jake Peavy and a young Chris Sale moving from the bullpen to the rotation. I can easily imagine the Sox being in the middle of things during August but think they are destined for another 3rd place finish.

2012 Transactions:

Acquisitions: Util Conor Jackson, OF Kosuke Fukudome, 1B Dan Johnson, OF Delwyn Young, C Hector Gimenez, P Daniel Webb, P Myles Jaye, P Pedro Hernandez, P Simon Castro

Departures: OF Carlos Quentin, P Mark Buerhle, P Sergio Santos, P Jason Frasor, OF Juan Pierre, IF Omar Vizquel, C Ramon Castro,

Projected Lineup:

1 CF Alejandro De Aza

2 3B Brent Morel

3 DH Adam Dunn

4 1B Paul Konerko

5 C A.J. Pierzynski

6 RF Alex Rios

7 SS Alexei Ramirez

8 LF Dayan Viciedo

9 2B Gordon Beckham

Bench:

C Tyler Flowers

IF Eduardo Escobar

IF/OF Brent Lillibridge

OF Kosuke Fukodome

Projected Rotation:

1 LHP John Danks

2 RHP Jake Peavy

3 RHP Gavin Floyd

4 LHP Chris Sale

5 RHP Phil Humber

Bullpen:

Closer: LHP Matt Thornton

Setup: RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Addison Reed

Middle Relievers: LHP Will Ohman, RHP Nathan Jones, LHP Hector Santiago

Long Reliever: Zach Stewart

Key Prospects:

RHP Addison Reed

RHP Nestor Molina

SS Tyler Saladino

RHP Simon Castro

OF Trayce Thompson

LHP Hector Santiago

Cleveland Indians

There wasn’t a soul outside of Cleveland that could have expected what the Tribe did at the beginning of the 2011 season. The Indians broke a franchise record going 21-9 and on May 23rd Cleveland held a 7 game lead in the division. The Indians hot start would eventually sizzle and the club was 59-73 from that point and would finish 2nd in the division a full 15 games behind Detroit. The Tribe was an entertaining team to watch especially in the 9th inning at home where the club recorded 18 walk-off hits, 7 of those being homers and the greatest was a Grand Slam by Travis Hafner against the Blue Jays. The most entertaining moment of the season came at the expense of the Indians however when they were no-hit by Angels pitcher Ervin Santana late in July. The Indians did finish 2nd in the division something they haven’t done since losing the ALCS in 2007.

The Indians offense was never going to scare anyone and ranked in the bottom third of the American League in nearly every statistical category. The only thing that was more surprising then the Tribe’s hot start was the impressive season by SS Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabbie led the team in RBI and batting average knocking in 92 while hitting .273 and was 2nd on the team in HR’s with 25. Catcher Carlos Santana led the team with 27 HR’s in his first full season in the Majors and looks to be a promising young star for the club. Injuries plague a lot of teams but it seems that the Indians are always spurned and CF Grady Sizemore once again proved to the world that he is a porcelain doll. Sizemore, Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Travis hafner all played in less than 95 games last season. Cleveland needs to stay healthy and they could be dangerous in a division that’s top heavy.

Cleveland’s pitching rotation go a major upgrade when the team traded for former Rockies RHP Ubaldo Jimenez before the deadline. Jimenez was struggling at Coors Field and hoped a change of scenery would turn things around and the Indians thought that Progressive Field was the perfect fit. Jimenez is the big name in the starting rotation but Cleveland’s real Ace is Justin Masterson. In 2011 was the only starting pitcher with an  ERA below 4.25, he had a 3.21, and led the team with 158 strikeouts. The Indians are hoping that the addition of RHP Derek Lowe will fit as a stop gap in the rotation but to rely on a 38 year old coming off of a 9-17 season with an ERA north of 5 doesn’t seem like a good investment. The Indians bullpen doesn’t blow you away but they did have great seasons from their setup guy Joe Smith and their new Closer Chris Perez. Smith led the team with a 2.01 ERA while Perez came in and Saved 36 games while posting an ERA of 3.32.

The Indians surprised everyone with their white hot start last season but injuries affected their momentum and they fell into a slump they couldn’t break. They did finish 2nd in the division for the first time in a few years and have the roster to produce similar results The Indians have a solid roster but like most teams their success rate depends on the pitching staff. I am skeptical about the effectiveness of Ubaldo Jimenez and think that the Tribe decimated their farm system to get him. If he can produce like he did in the first half of 2010 nobody will ask any questions, but if he struggles mightily and old man Derek Lowe doesn’t pan out this team could be stuck in mediocrity. I think that the Indians could challenge the Tigers for the division but will fall short once again and finish in 2nd.

2012 Transactions

Acquisitions: P Derek Lowe, OF Felix Pie, OF Aaron Cunningham, IF Andy LaRoche, P Rob Tejeda, IF Chin-Lung Hu, P Chris Ray, P Jeremy Accardo, OF Ryan Spilborghs, P Kevin Slowey, P Dan Wheeler,  IF Casey Kotchman, P Jairo Asencio

Departures: P Chad Durbin, OF Kosuke Fukudome, DH Jim Thome, , P Chris Jones, P Joe Martinez, P Jeremy Sowers, 1B Nick Johnson, IF Luis Valbuena, P Cory Burns

Projected Lineup:

1 CF Michael Brantley

2 SS Asdrubal Cabrera

3 RF Shin-Soo Choo

4 C Carlos Santana

5 DH Travis Hafner

6 1B Casey Kotchman

7 LF Chelley Duncan

8 2B Jason Kipnis

9 3B Jack Hannahan

Bench:

C Lou Marson

IF Jason Donald

IF Jose Lopez

OF Aaron Cunningham

Projected Rotation:

1 RHP Justin Masterson

2 RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

3 RHP Josh Tomlin

4 RHP Derek Lowe

5 RHP Jeanmar Gomez

Bullpen:

Closer: Chris Perez

Setup: RHP Vinnie Pestano, LHP Tony Sipp

Middle Relievers: RHP Joe Smith, LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Dan Wheeler

Long Reliever: RHP Jairo Asencio

Key Prospects:

SS Francisco Lindor

RHP Dillon Howard

SS Tony Wolters

RHP Jake Sisco

OF Luigi Rodriguez

LHP Elvis Araujo

Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers weren’t seen as the best team in the AL Central going into the 2011 season but as time progressed it was clear that they were. The club nearly made it to the World Series after winning the AL Central by 15 games. It was their first title since joining the Central in 1998 and first division title of any kind since they won the AL East in 1987. It was just their second playoff appearance since ’87 and the first time playing in October since losing the 2006 World Series after entering as the Wild Card team. The team was 95-67 under Manager Jim Leyland and had the perfect balance of good offense with great pitching. Justin Verlander was so good that he not only won the AL Cy Young award but he also became the first pitcher to win the MVP award since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens did it with Boston in 1986. If you consider the fact that Verlander won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 he became just the 2nd pitcher to ever accumulate all three major awards joining legendary Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher Don Newcombe.

The Detroit Tigers offense was led by 1B Miguel Cabrera despite the sluggers Spring Training debacle surrounding a DUI arrest. Cabrera was able to play through the controversy and led the Major League with his .344 batting average. Cabrera had 30 HR’s, 105 RBI, 108 walks, 89 strikeouts and scored 11 runs during the 2011 season and finished 5th in the AL MVP race which was won by his teammate. The Tigers also had a huge season from C/DH Victor Martinez who also knocked in over 100 RBI but Detroit lost him for the 2012 season before Spring Training reached its midway point. The Tigers will miss Martinez but it won’t be nearly as stressful because Detroit was able to sign one of the biggest free agents of the offseason. Prince Fielder signed with the club and with that move Miguel Cabrera will switch from 1B to 3B and give the Tigers the scariest 3-4 hitters in the game.

Justin Verlander is amazing. That is all. Seriously Verlander went from being a good pitcher in the AL to an absolutely amazing pitcher in the entire MLB. Verland started 34 games for the Tigers and threw over 100 pitches in every single start while recording a 24-5 record. Justin Verlander finished 2011 with the most wins, highest winning percentage, .828, most innings pitched, 251, lowest ERA, 2.40, held his opponents to a .192 average and recorded a WHIP of 0.92. He was absolutely amazing and was one of the biggest reasons for the Tigers great success last season but he didn’t do it all on his own. The four starters for Detroit who were there all season all recorded at least 11 wins and mid-season acquisition Doug Fister had an 8-1 record. Fister had a 1.79 ERA in the 11 games he appeared in for the Tigers and Detroit fans can look forward to having him all year in 2012. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello both had 14 or more wins but also had ERA’s above 4.43 and were a liability in the postseason. The Detroit Tigers led the AL in Saves mostly due to the 49 Jose Valverde recorded and never blew a Save opportunity all year long.

On paper the Detroit Tigers could be one of the best teams in the AL and could get back to the ALCS to fight for a chance to appear in the World Series but first they must win their division. Overall the AL Central looks to be pretty weak and whichever team can finish a few games above .500 may take the title. This Tigers team looks like it could win 95+ games but they have to go out and do it because we still have to play the games. From top to bottom the Tigers are easily the favorites to win this division which is surprising as they were just a middle of the road team coming into 2011. Now they are far and away the front-runners for this division and anything but returning to October baseball will be a disappointment.

2012 Transactions:

Acquisitions: 1B Prince Fielder, OF Eric Patterson, IF Niuman Romero, Util Brad Eldred, IF Brent Dlugach, P Collin Balester, P Octavio Dotel, IF Ramon Santiago, C Gerald Laird, OF Matt Young

Departures: IF Wilson Betemit, OF Magglio Ordonez, IF Carlos Guillen, P rad Penny, P Joel Zumaya, 2B/SS Ramon Santiago, P Brad Thomas,

Projected Lineup:

1 CF Austin Jackson

2 RF Brennan Boesch

3 Miguel Cabrera

4 1B prince Fielder

5 LF Delmon Young

6 DH Ryan Raburn

7 SS Jhonny Peralta

8 C Alex Avila

9 2B Ramon Santiago

Bench:

C Gerald Laird

IF Danny Worth

Util Don Kelly

OF Andy Dirks

OF Clete Thomas

Projected Rotation:

1 RHP Justin Verlander

2 RHP Max Scherzer

3 RHP Doug Fister

4 RHP Rick Procello

5 LHP Drew Smyly

Bullpen:

Closer: Jose Valverde

Setup: RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Octavio Dotel

Middle Relievers: LHP Phil Coke, LHP Daniel Schlereth, RHP Collin Balester

Long Reliever: Duane Below

Key Prospects:

LHP Drew Smyly

RHP Jacob Turner

3B Nick Castellanos

LHP Casey Crosby

C Rob Brantly

LHP Andy Oliver

Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals have at times been referred to as the Pittsburgh Pirates of the American League because the team has had just 1 winning season in the past 18 years, 2003 when they were 83-79. The organization hasn’t made it to the playoffs since 1985 and has finished in second to last or dead last in 14 of the 18 seasons since joining the AL Central. The Royals were able to win 71 games in 2011 the 2nd highest record the club has had in the past 8 years. They opened up the farm system and brought a lot of great talent up to the Major League level giving Royals fans some optimism for the future.

The Royals have never really scared anyone with their bats but the club had 5 players in 2011 with 18+ HR’s and 78+ RBI. With low expectations the Royals were able to call up some of their young talent and allowed 1B Eric Hosmer and 3B Mike Moustakas get some important Major League experience. Hosmer proved that he was able to fill the lofty expectations with 19 HR’s, 78 RBI while hitting .293/.334/.465 in his first 128 games. Like a lot of young talent he lacked discipline at the plate and walked just 34 times while striking out in 82 at bats but that can improve over time. Alex Gordon led the team with 23 HR’s and seemed to find his groove after moving from 3B to LF while making room for Moustakas. Billy Butler led the team with 95 RBI and all of a sudden the Royals lineup looks intriguing.

The Royals won more than 70 games but they could have won more if they had any reliable starting pitching. When your staff is led by a 34 year old Bruce Chen you know you are going to be extremely limited in your season expectations. Chen was 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA leading all 6 starting pitchers in the Royals rotation. Luke Hochevar was supposed to be the clubs Ace and had a 11-11 record with a 4.68 ERA but led the team with 128 strikeouts. Despite Chen and Hochevar’s 23-19 record the other starting pitchers for the Royals were 15-39 and none of them will be returning to the rotation in 2012. The Royals almost dealt Closer Joakim Soria at the trade deadline last season but he stayed in Kansas City and recorded 28 Saves. During Spring Training Soria felt some tightness in his elbow and will undergo season ending surgery. Kansas City signed Jonathan Broxton in the offseason to boost their bullpen but now he will be called upon to close games.

Kansas City is an intriguing team but they are still a couple pitchers and a few years away from contending for the AL Central. The Royals will be getting their young prospects some vital playing time in the Major Leagues and we can see what they’re made of but due to their starting staff the Royals ceiling is still quite low. The only reason the Royals didn’t finish dead last in the AL Central for the 9th time since joining the Division in 1994 is because the Minnesota Twins were decimated by injuries. Kansas City is a young team with some great talent in key places but they are also lacking in many other important positions. I don’t think this is the year that the Royals get another winning season and I believe that they are going to be basement dwellers once again in 2012.

2012 Transactions:

Acquisitions: P Jonathan Sanchez, P Jonathan Broxton, P Brooks Pounders, P Diego Goris, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, P Jose Mijares, IF Kevin Kouzmanoff, OF Jason Bourgeois, C Humberto Quintero

Departures: P Rob Tejeda, P Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall, P Jeff Suppan, OF Melky Cabrera, IF Joaquin Arias, IF Yamaico Navarro, P Aaron Laffey, P Kevin Chapman

Projected Lineups:

1 LF Alex Gordon

2 CF Lorenzo Cain

3 1B Eric Hosmer

4 DH Billy Butler

5 3B Mike Moustakas

6 RF Jeff Francoeur

7 2B Chris Getz

8 C Humberto Quintero

9 SS Alcides Escobar

Bench:

C Brayan Pena

2B/OF Jason Bourgeois

IF Yuniesky Betancourt

OF Mitch Maier

Projected Rotation:

1 LHP Bruce Chen

2 RHP Luke Hochevar

3 LHP Jonathan Sanchez

4 RHP Luis Mendoza

5 LHP Danny Duffy

Bullpen:

Closer: RHP Jonathan Broxton

Setup: RHP Greg Holland, LHP Tim Collins

Middle Relievers: RHP Aaron Crow, RHP Kelvin Herrera, LHP Jose Mijares

Long Reliever: LHP Everett Teaford

Key Prospect:

LHP Mike Montgomery

OF Bubba Starling

OF Wil Myers

3B Cheslor Cuthbert

RHP Jake Odorizzi

LHP John Lamb

Minnesota Twins

I am writing an in depth complete breakdown of the Minnesota Twins in entirety in another article, check it out.

http://wp.me/p1NMHq-fV

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