MLB Preview: AL Central
The American League Central was the weakest division in baseball last season as the only one with just one team finishing above .500. However, 86 wins got the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs as a Wild Card team in the American League. Still, winning the division guarantees home-field advantage in the first round. The Cleveland Guardians look poised to repeat. Is there a team who could take them down in 2023? Let's break down the AL Central.
Catchers: Mike Zunino, Cam Gallagher/Bryan Lavastida
Zunino will be the starter with either Gallagher or Lavastida backing up. Bo Naylor will be starting the season at Triple-A Columbus. Zunino is a good defensive catcher and while he isn't a very good hitter, he did have a career-high 33 home runs for the Rays in 2021. Naylor should be up at some point this season.
Naylor will try to build off of a solid year in 2022. The 25-year-old had 20 home runs and drove in 79 but struggled against lefties. The rest of the infield is the strength of the Guardians as Gimenez, Ramirez, and Rosario finished first, second, and fourth on the team in WAR with Gimenez taking home his first Gold Glove.
Kwan and Straw both won Gold Gloves last season with a combined 32 DRS. Straw had an off year at the plate and will be looking to bounce back from a .221 batting average. Gonzalez is the power hitter of the bunch and could hit 20 home runs in a full season as he hit 11 in just 91 games last year.
Bieber and McKenzie were two of only 12 pitchers last season to have 190 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. Quantrill is a solid number three. He limits hard contact and lets his defense do the work. Civale and Plesac round out the rotation.
Enyel De Los Santos
This group is deep. Clase and Karinchak are nasty at the back end. However, Morgan, Sandlin, Stephan, and De Los Santos were all excellent last season. Morris will likely be the long man and spot starter. Herrin is the lone left-hander in the bullpen as Sam Hentges is dealing with shoulder inflammation and may miss the beginning of the season.
Kansas City Royals
Catchers: Salvador Perez, MJ Melendez
Perez will handle the majority of the catching duties with Melendez playing some outfield, DH, and spelling Salvy behind the plate every five days or so. Freddy Fermin remains an option but despite his hot spring, he could begin the year in the minors for more regular playing time.
SS-Bobby Witt Jr.
While Pasquantino and Witt Jr. are already written into the Opening Day lineup, second base and third base are still not etched in stone. Massey looks like he will be at the keystone for the Royals. He will be 25 years old when the season starts and is hitting a robust .375 in the spring with a trio of bombs and a couple of steals. This may be Dozier's last chance. He has been disappointing since signing a four-year deal with KC back in 2021. If the former first-round pick can't get it done, Nicky Lopez or even Nate Eaton could find regular time at the hot corner.
Olivares is looking to make his mark for a full season for the first time. Isbel will be starting in centerfield at least until Drew Waters is able to return which may be at the end of April. Right field is not locked in, although Eaton seems to have the inside track. Taylor will bounce around where he is needed, and Reyes will mostly just DH against lefties.
Greinke enters his 20th season. He is just 118 strikeouts from 3,000 which will be something to watch this year. Singer will be looking to build on an impressive 2022 when he was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA. The rest of the rotation will just eat innings.
It will be an interesting battle for the closer spot, but Matt Quatraro may use a committee to start the season. Surely, this group cannot be any worse than they were last year.
Catchers: Eric Haase, Jake Rogers
Haase will be the main guy. He has some pop and should hold it down behind the plate as a solid backstop.
The former first-pick overall wants to start over. Last year's version was not good. It would be a huge boost to the Tigers' rebuild to know that Tork is the guy they drafted. Schoop and Baez are locked in as veterans, but Maton may have to fight off Matt Vierling and Cesar Hernandez for time there.
Greene is a superstar in the making. Unfortunately, the rest of the outfield looks a bit weak. The Tigers are hoping Meadows can get back to his Rays days. Baddoo had a great couple of weeks in 2021 and has been nothing since. Carpenter may be something, and he has looked good in the spring. There is not really much that Miggy can do at this point except ride off into the sunset after this year and wait for his call from Cooperstown.
With his personal issues behind him, E-Rod should be back on track as the ace of the staff. After a year in Seattle's bullpen, Boyd will get another crack at the Detroit rotation. If Turnbull can pitch a whole season, he could be a solid starter. Unfortunately, Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize will be unavailable for most, if not all, of 2023.
Lange looks like the man at the end of the game. The rest of this bunch is decent. Alexander can start while Cisnero and Foley could be solid as setup men.
Catchers: Christian Vazquez, Ryan Jeffers
This will be more of a split than most teams. While Vazquez is coming off of a World Series, Jeffers is younger and likely the future behind the plate for the foreseeable future. I see a 60/40 split.
Miranda may be the first baseman to start the season. Alex Kirilloff is dealing with his wrist injury, and it hasn't gone well. Polanco and Correa have spots. There is a question with Miranda moving to first as to who will play third. Gordon seems like a logical choice, but the Twins have Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano in tow.
OF-Michael A. Taylor
Gallo is obviously a reclamation project. The Twins are hoping the non-shift will help. Buxton is an MVP candidate if he can play a full season. Kepler will be traded at the deadline.
Ryan is working on a new pitch and Lopez brings some youth to a staff that needs a boost. Gray is on a contract year and Mahle and Maeda are looking to bounce back. This staff could be really good or really bad.
This group is good. Duran is a beast. Pagan is still good and Jax and Thielbar underperformed their FIP last year. This squad should be a strength for Minnesota in 2023.
Chicago White Sox
Catchers: Yasmani Grandal, Seby Zavala
Grandal will be the main guy behind the plate if he can stay healthy. However, he has only started 140 games at catcher over the last two seasons. This will be an opportunity to get Zavala more work. He looked pretty good defensively last year and held his own at the plate.
Vaughn is moving into the spot vacated by Jose Abreu. Although he still hasn't gotten to where the White Sox would like, Vaughn is only entering his third season and showed considerable improvement over 2021. Moncada looked like he was on the verge of superstar status in 2019 and then took a few steps back. He is still only 27.
After hitting 20 home runs as a rookie in 2017, Benny's power has waned. Still only 28, he has a chance to get back into double digits in both homers and steals. Robert has the talent to be an MVP candidate if he could take the next step. Colas will be interesting as the 24-year-old gets his shot after tearing up three levels of the minors last year.
This staff could be great or awful. There has been a ton of variance with each of these players. Recently, every one of these pitchers has either been victimized by the home run or walked too many hitters. How the White Sox finish will ultimately depend on how good these five can be.
With Liam Hendriks and Garrett Crochet likely done for the year, there will be a committee to open the season. New manager Pedro Grifol will have his work cut out for him in deciding who to use after the fifth inning.
Overview and Prediction
The Guardians took the division last year. Yes, they had a healthy team across the board which is something that is hard to count on year to year. Nevertheless, they are the most talented team overall in the AL Central. They pl, have an excellent staff, and have a good mix of speed and power. The Twins who lost the most games in the majors to injury last season are hoping the return of Maeda and the addition of Lopez will bolster their rotation. Buxton is a beast when he plays which has been spotty over his career. The White Sox have explosive talent in Robert and Jimenez, but their rotation and the loss of two key guys in their bullpen is concerning. Detroit and Kansas City are rebuilding and while they have some intriguing youngsters to watch, they really won't be going anywhere until their young pitchers are locked in and their hitters come through.
Cleveland Guardians 95-77
Minnesota Twins 88-74
Chicago White Sox 85-77
Detroit Tigers 71-91
Kansas City 68-94
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