Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Indians’

Cabrera_

Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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Matt_Garza

The outside looking in can seem the furthest away the closer you are. And while it is impossible to build a team around just one addition, acquiring the right finishing touch can make all of the difference in the world from one year to the next. For the teams that finished either within firing range of a division title (or should have), the Winter Meetings provide a chance to go the extra mile towards winning the race.

But what’s left to do that with? Free agents have been flying off the shelf quicker than at any point in recent history. And while Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joe Nathan are all gone does not mean that the opportunity to make an instant upgrade to what’s returning is. The slight move can be the right move, and here are a few options that a few competitors that finished on the brink of a title could make to close the ranks that eluded them last summer…

Washington Nationals—Omar Infante: For the Nats, it is about adding both depth and rounding out their lineup to secure it is in place for an immediate run. As they showed, in the last month of the season, they are capable of turning it on and playing as well as any team in the NL, but were caught too thin and injured to do so far too often. Infante represents an upgrade at one of their few questionable positions, and also provides depth all throughout the infield and in the outfield if needed.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Kendrys Morales: The general feel is that Morales will need to have the DH spot open to play from, but for the Pirates who have lost Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones, adding the type of power bat that he represents in-between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez upgrades them put them on par with the Cardinal club they are chasing. The price may be high, but the value would be worth it, and with Morales likely to last a while due to the draft pick compensation tied to him, they likely could get him at much more friendly rate within a month or so.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Jesse Crain/J.P. Howell: Shin-Soo Choo is the best fit for the club, but a bidding war with the Rangers could be looming for his services, which Arizona would surely loose. Instead, reallocating those resources towards two premier bullpen arms would both save money and support their emerging staff. The duo of Crain and Howell would give the Diamondbacks a very formidable late inning group to match the late-game units in LA and San Francisco.

Tampa Bay Rays—Corey Hart: They’ve said that they do not have interest in the rehabbing former Brewer, but revisiting him would be a smart move. He provides a power option to support Evan Longoria and Wil Myers in the heart of the order and can play both first base and right field, which gives Joe Maddon the type of lineup flexibility he loves to deploy. What’s more, he won’t be overly expensive due to injury concerns, so he fits right into the pocket where the Rays like to stay—the shallow part.

Cleveland Indians—Grant Balfour: The secret strength of the Indians last year was a deep bullpen, but with Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers all departed, that stash is depleted. Balfour has been through the trials of the postseason the previous two seasons, and would provide a much needed (yet very ironic) calming presence to the Indians as they look to get over the hump and keep up with the Tigers.

Los Angeles Angels—Matt Garza: While the A’s and Rangers have been busy, the Angels have been waiting to find the right way to make an impact add to their starting pitching. Yesterday’s trade brought some young talent to the mix, but this is a team in need of a stragetic impact add. During the past two winters, they have only achieved half of that equation,  but bringing Garza aboard would give them one of the best #3 pitchers in baseball (finally back in the role that he made his name in with the Rays behind James Shields and David Price) and would give them a much needed boost in the match up department from the mound behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. He won’t make an 18-game difference by himself, but at this point, the Angels have to either keep adding or blow it up…and option B isn’t in play.

For more on the free agent market (and where these guys likely do end up), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Justin+Verlander+Miguel+Cabrera+Kansas+City+jOMIn3GJU5Zl

The American League Central went a little differently than expected last year. Yeah, the bad teams were that and the good teams were that, but it took a lot longer road to figure it. The Chicago White Sox were legit for much of the season, behind an MVP-caliber early effort from Paul Konerko, Chris Sale’s emergence and bounce back campaigns from Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. In a division that was supposed to clearly belong to the Detroit Tigers, it seemed like a coup was on deck.

That was until Miguel Cabrera went into overdrive. The Tigers third baseman went on a second-half tear, and finished up the season by pulling his club to not only a division title, but to the World Series, and secured a first in 45 years Triple Crown for himself as well.

2012 Finish

1.                   Tigers (88-74)
2.                   White Sox (85-77)
3.                   Royals (72-90)
4.                   Indians (68-94)
5.                   Twins (66-96)

A year later, and the Tigers are perhaps better equipped than they left off, but it is not the same AL Central either. The Royals made a big, gamblers splash in the offseason, and are rounding into shape as legit competitors. Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians were a surprise aggressor on the open market, and have handed new manager Terry Francona a lot of weapons to utilize. For the first time in years, former MVP Justin Morneau is back to join Joe Mauer at the core of the Twins attack, and the White Sox are still in the fray as well. The Tigers had to fight their way to top last season, and if a similar bumpy road comes in front of them this time around, will a third consecutive division title be there for the taking this year?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer-Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder-Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis-Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera-Tigers

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar-Royals

Left Field: Alex Gordon-Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson-Tigers

Right Field: Josh Willingham-Twins

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler-Royals

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander-Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields-Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale-White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy-White Sox

Righty Relief: Vinnie Pestano-Indians

Lefty Relief: Tim Collins-Royals

Closer: Chris Perez-Indians

Top 10

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Alex Gordon, Royals
  6. James Shields, Royals
  7. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  8. Billy Butler, Royals
  9. Chris Sale, White Sox
  10. Austin Jackson, Tigers

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers already could do serious damage with Cabrera and Fielder coming in behind Austin Jackson. Yet now the rich will get richer with Victor Martinez back from injury and Torii Hunter taking swings from the two spot, the Tigers 1-5 everyday lineup is ridiculous. Don’t sleep on the Royals either, with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all primed for breakthrough seasons.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Martinez)
  2. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Rios)
  3. Twins (Mauer/Willingham/Morneau)
  4. Royals (Butler/Perez/Moustakas)
  5. Indians (Kipnis/Swisher/Santana)

There may not be a better 3-4-5 in baseball, depending on how well Martinez rehabs. However, the rest of the division is in good shape in the midst of their orders as well. The Indians are the relative worst in the division, with Nick Swisher, who hit 24 home runs last season, at the core of it. The entire fortune of the Twins rests on what Mauer, Willingham and Morneau are capable of pulling off each day.

Table Setters

  1. Tigers (Jackson/Hunter)
  2. Royals (Gordon/Escobar)
  3. Indians (Bourn/Cabrera)
  4. White Sox (De Aza/Keppinger)
  5. Twins (Mastroianni/Carroll)

Once again, the Tigers rule. Jackson was a terror last season, hitting double digits in doubles, triples and home runs, and topped 100 runs scored for second time in three years. By adding Bourn, the Indians add the most dynamic stolen base threat in baseball over the past five years. Alejandro De Aza is coming into his own as well, getting on-base at .329% clip.

Bench

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Quintin Berry is capable of producing anywhere in the Detroit outfield, and Ramon Santiago is capable at every position in the infield. In Cleveland, Terry Francona will be able to split time in multiple areas, with a very diverse bench of Mike Aviles, Ryan Rayburn and Lou Marson.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Royals
  4. Indians
  5. Twins

Justin Verlander, winning of 41 games since 2011, is a great start, but Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and the resigning of Anibal Sanchez gives them a glutton on riches. A bounce back effort from John Danks would go a long way towards giving the Sox one of the better AL rotations. The addition of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis has completely revamped the Royals attack as a team.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander/Scherzer)
  2. White Sox (Sale/Peavy)
  3. Royals (Shields/Guthrie)
  4. Indians (Masterson/Jimenez)
  5. Twins (Worley/Correia)

While there’s no question who’s the top dog in the D, Sale and Peavy are both capable of anchoring a very competitive club, as they proved last season in combining for 28 Chicago W’s. The Twins see a lot of potential in Vance Worley, as he inherited the top spot in their rotation from the second he was acquired. The Indians have a ton of potential, which has struggled to move past being only that in the inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson

Bullpen

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. Tigers
  4. Twins
  5. White Sox

One of the quietest, dominant units in baseball is the KC pen. They have 4 hurlers in Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera that can throw pure smoke. They are very versatile, and can be deployed in a variety of situations. Vinnie Pestano finished second in the AL in holds last season for Cleveland, while Glen Perkins limited left-handed hitters to a .192 average in Minnesota.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Twins
  5. Tigers

The biggest Achilles for the Tigers is the fact their defensive often makes their potent lineup and pitching staff work too hard for wins. That’s not a problem that the Royals, as Gordon and Francouer are arguably the best defensive corner outfielders in baseball, while Escober, Hosmer, Moustakas and Getz are the best defensive infield in the game. The White Sox 70 errors were the fewest in MLB as a team.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

There’s not a bad runner on the team in KC, save for Billy Butler, but he’s not paid for that gig. In Cleveland, Bourn and Stubbs are fast enough to play a two-man outfield if needed (I’m sure of it). Between Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, DeWayne Wise and DeAza combined for 81 steals a year ago, and the best team defensive percentage .

Manager

  1. Jim Leyland, Tigers
  2. Ron Gardenhire, Twins
  3. Terry Francona, Indians
  4. Robin Ventura, White Sox
  5. Ned Yost, Royals

Leyland and Francona have a combined four World Series wins, and are two of the greatest motivators in the game…albeit in very different fashions. Ventura jumped from college baseball analyst to an 85-win MLB rookie manager last year. Also, there’s a reason why there’s no talk of trouble around Gardenhire despite two consecutive 90-loss seasons; it’s scary to think how bad it could be WITHOUT him.

Finances

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Tigers played it cool for the most part on the market, outside of keeping their club intact for another run. They’ll need to hold funds back for the always needed in-season addition mid pennant chase most likely, especially with their current bullpen condition. The Indians had a surprisingly aggressive spending run this offseason, which could see them as sellers if it doesn’t payout by mid-summer.

Impact Additions

  1. James Shields (Royals from Rays)
  2. Michael Bourn (Indians from Braves)
  3. Nick Swisher (Indians from Yankees)
  4. Torii Hunter (Tigers from Angels)
  5. Wade Davis (Royals via trade)

The Royals made the ballsy move of the winter in trading everybody’s top prospect in Wil Myers to the Rays for Shields and Davis. It is a huge “win now” move from a franchise that hasn’t been in a position to do that in some time. The Indians core was rebuilt starting with Swisher, and later Bourn. Add in Trevor Bauer and Mark Reynolds, and it was an interesting winter in AL Ohio.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Salvador Perez,Royals
  2. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  3. Jason Kipnis, Indians
  4. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  5. Greg Holland, Royals

The time is finally here for the Royals window of competition to open. A key component will be Perez rising up to the elite producers at catcher this summer. He’s hit .311 in first 115 games, and should rise over 20 homers as well. If Hosmer can rebound from his down sophomore effort, the everyday lineup will have a lot more punch. Kipnis has a chance to ascend into the upper tier of second basemen in baseball this season.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Indians-MLB)
  2. Bruce Rondon (Pitcher, Tigers-MLB)
  3. Nick Castellanos (Third Base, Tigers-AAA)
  4. Aaron Hicks (Center Field, Twins-MLB)
  5. Francisco Lindor (Shortstop, Indians-A)

The biggest question mark for any serious competitor may be the Tigers’ closer situation. Rondon blew through the minors, and has been in the mix for the final frame in the Majors as well. If he takes on the role this year, he could be in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year. Hicks has blown up on the scene this spring and looks ready to step in and live up to his former Top 10 prospect potential.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Central is a division in transition…in the middle. Kansas City has improved each of the last three seasons, and is primed to make a major leap to league-wide respectability. This is due in part to the focus of management to add impact players to their maturing core, as well as a very balanced development of young talent both developed and acquired over the past few years. A run into the Wild Card picture should be expected, and a surge similar to last year’s Oakland Athletics should shock nobody.

Behind them, the margin between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians is close. Where Cleveland is strong at the plate, Chicago is tough one the mound. The margin of difference could come down to the better equipped system of the Indians vs. the barren Sox farm. The Indians have the pieces to add to their push from within, while the Sox do not. Cleveland’s lack of pitching will keep them from truly pushing the Tigers, but a rise 10 game improvement or should be in the cards.

The Twins are in the midst of a long and drawn out rebuilding phase that has finally hit its bottom floor, and is ready to look up again. An influx of youngsters around their lineup should make things exciting occasionally, but frustrating more often than not. Another 90-loss year is on deck.

That just leaves the Tigers in the end, and the question is more not where they’ll finish in the first 162, but if they finally have the legs to win the last four of the last series of the season. They are a study in extremes: huge bats/terrible defense, great starters/questionable bullpen end. These are the type of issues that separate a club from the other elite teams in the league in the end, not so much the division. They will win the Central by more games than any other divisional champ, and could produce both an MVP, Cy Young winner, Comeback Player of the Year and maybe even a Rookie of the Year. Those would-be accolades aside, the difference is in the details for Leyland’s club. And it will take the full stretch of games to see if this “win now” club gets over itself, to rise above everyone else.

The 2011 AL Central was a tale of two halves. The Minnesota Twins were ravished by injuries, and “completed” for the league’s worst record instead of a third straight Central crown. The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians played the opposite game early in the year, going from the outhouse to the penthouse and battling for the top of the division, until the Chicago White Sox entered the fray as well. But then the Tigers woke up, and never laid their heads down again.

2011 Finish

  1. Detroit Tigers (95-67)
  2. Cleveland Indians (80-82)
  3. Chicago White Sox (79-83)
  4. Kansas City Royals (71-91)
  5. Minnesota Twins (63-99)

Propelled by Justin Verlander’s unstoppable run that ended up with 25 wins and becoming the first dual MVP/Cy Young winning starting pitcher since 1986, as well as batting champion Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers went unconscious. They built up a 38-16 in August & September, and won the division by 15 games. All the while, Chicago’s huge offseason signing Adam Dunn had perhaps the worst season in MLB history (high strikeout total than batting average), the Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau missed a total of 173 games for Minnesota, the Royals caved in to their youth and the Indians couldn’t keep up for the long haul.

Now a year later, the Tigers still have their foot on the gas, and adding slugger Prince Fielder to their attack and enter the season in better shape than they ended the last in. How will the rest of the division cope? Will it still be up for grabs like it was for the first half of its story a year ago, with one the newly rehabbed and matured teams snatching the ring? Or will the defending Champs pick up where they left off, plus some?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder, Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

Shortstop: Astrubal Cabrera, Indians

Left Field: Alex Gordon, Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson, Tigers

Right Field: Shin-Shoo Choo, Indians

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler, Royals

The rich got a lot richer with Fielder coming to Detroit...in every possible way that statement can be applied.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers

Starting Pitcher: John Danks, White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Justin Masterson, Indians

Starting Pitcher: Doug Fister, Tigers

Bullpen Righty: Joaquin Benoit, Tigers

Bullpen Lefty: Tony Sipp, Indians

Closer: Jose Valverde, Tigers

Best Players

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Jose Valerde, Tigers
  6. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  7. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  8. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
  9. Alex Gordon, Royals
  10. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians

Mauer is a .323 career hitter with three batting titles all before the age of 30.

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers run away with this even after losing their second best bat for the year in Victor Martinez. It’s hard to believe that Fielder could leave Ryan Braun behind and find a better guy to hit behind, but he has done it in Cabrera. Add Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Brendan Boesch to the mix and it’s scary in the D. The Indians have Kipnis and Carlos Santana primed to have big breakthrough seasons. The Royals now have two legit power bats in Hosmer and Mike Moustakas that are ready to launch their developing lineup into a new level of productivity this year.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Verlander is the class of AL pitchers, and Doug Fister found the perfect ballpark for his ground ball-inducing style in Comerica. The Indians have a lot of depth in their rotaton, and if Ubaldo Jimenez can recapture his NL form, they will be formidable match for the Tigers. Francisco Liriano has looked like he shook off whatever curse he had last year this spring, and would be a big boost for Minnesota’s fortunes if he keeps it up.

25 wins, a no hitter, a Cy Young and an MVP; Verlander turned his 2011 alone into what stands for a great career for most.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander & Scherzer)
  2. Indians (Jimenez & Masterson)
  3. White Sox (Floyd & Danks)
  4. Royals (Hochevar & Sanchez)
  5. Twins (Pavano & Baker)

Verlander himself may be better than most of the other combos in this division, but Scherzer is capable of greatness himself, if not consistency. The same goes for Jimenez, and Masterson is developing into one of the game’s best. Hochevar and Sanchez have huge ceilings and could be one of the most surprising duos in the game. If the White Sox keep Danks and Floyd together all season, the payout could be great, but that’s a big if.

Bullpen

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

Valverde didn’t waste a save opportunity last season and returns to anchor a Tiger bullpen with a lot of quality arms. Chris Perez’s health is big for Cleveland, and Chicago’s pen will have a lot of guys settling into new, if not still temporary roles. The Royals pen had a chance to be a real strength, but potential Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria may have them scraping for another year for consistency.

Tablesetters

  1. Tigers (Jackson & Boesch)
  2. White Sox (De Aza & Ramirez)
  3. Royals (Gordon & Giovantella)
  4. Indians (Brantley & Kipnis)
  5. Twins (Span & Carroll)
 

There are a lot of unconventional duos atop lineups in this division, but each has strong potential. Boesch will benefit from hitting in front of Cabrera & Fielder, and if Austin Jackson raises his on-base percentage past…. He could lead the AL in runs scored. De Aza has the potential to be a Juan Pierre clone, and if Minnesota cuts Denard Span lose more in an attempt to raise his trade marketability; he could put up big steal numbers. Gordon led the AL in doubles last season, and added 17 Steals as well.

Heart of the Order

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Young)
  2. Royals (Hosmer/Butler/Francouer)
  3. Indians (Choo/Santana/Hafner)
  4. Twins (Mauer/Morneau/Willingham)
  5. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Morel)

Pairing a Cabrera, who has averaged 35 homers over the last five years, with Fielder, who has averaged 40 a summer over the same time, is flat terrifying. It places the middle of Tigers order at the top of all of baseball just from its 3-4 alone. Hosmer is primed to be among the great hitters in the game already, and Carlos Santana brings nearly as precocious of a stick to Cleveland as well. The perhaps no lineup is more dependent on “ifs” than the White Sox on Dunn, and the Twins on both Mauer and Morneau.

Dunn is showing signs of turnaround this spring from his horrendous 2011 debut on the South Side.

Depth

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago give the Tigers two very versatile players to plug in all over the place, and Gerald Laird is an important pick up to spell Avila, who wore out at the end of last season. In KC, Yuliensky Betancourt, Chris Getz and Mitch Maier will all provide sparks to KC, all before they dig into their substantially deep minor league crop as well. Kosuke Fukodome could be an important sub in Chicago.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

The Royals feature a Gold Glover in Gordon in right, as well as rightful winners (in my opinion) from a year ago in the right field and shortstop in Jeff Francouer and Alcides Escobar. They can cover the field well at every position. Chicago runs out a very good infield defense, headed by Alexei Ramirez. The Tigers crutch will be an underwhelming defense to match the output their offense puts on the board.

Escobar is one of the game's finest defenders at any position, and was the top prize gained for Zack Greinke.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Twins
  4. Indians
  5. Tigers

The young Royals have young legs as well. Gordon, Escobar and Johnny Giovantella can move. Even Hosmer stole 10 bases as a rookie, so KC is not afraid to find ways to take the extra base. De Aza and Ramirez can be firestarters in Chicago, as can Denard Span, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll for the Twins.

Manager

  1. Tigers
  2. Twins
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. White Sox

Giving Jim Leyland an abundance of talent is almost always the recipe for success, and he’s got as much this season as he’s ever had in Detroit. The Twins are coming off of a brutal 2011, but Ron Gardenhire is among the absolute best minds in the game, and if he has a healthy team, they could be a big surprise. Robin Ventura will go from ESPN College World Series commentator, to head of the Sox bench this year.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Addison Reed (Pitcher, White Sox)
  2. Salvador Perez (Catcher, Royals)
  3. Mike Montgomery (Pitcher, Royals)
  4. Jacob Turner (Pitcher, Tigers)
  5. Chris Parmalee (First Baseman, Twins)

Reed sits in the mid to high 90’s and projects as the future closer of the team since Chris Sale has moved to the rotation and Sergio Santos was traded away. Perez hit .331 in a brief call-up at the end of the season, but after tearing his MCL this spring, it will be until after the All-Star break that he can return.

Finances

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Indians have been aggressive in improving their roster since their surprising start, and stay, around the top of the Central last year. While they didn’t make a big splash in the winter market, they don’t seem to be afraid to go after whatever they may need. The Tigers have 3 players making $20 annually now, but being as close as they are to a title, they probably won’t be shy about future smart moves either.

Jimenez landing in Cleveland was a product of the Indians' new found aggressive approach on to the market.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  2. Mike Moustakas, Royals
  3. Luke Hochevar, Royals
  4. Brendan Boesch, Tigers
  5. Danny Valencia, Twins

The future is nearly now for the Royals and the first wave of their extremely talented minor league crops are poised to make an impact in KC this summer. Hosmer is looking more and more like a Joey Votto-type and could have his first type of season the former MVP as made routine this summer. Moustakas will see benefit from his many plate appearances a year ago, and Hochevar was quietly one of the most successful second half pitchers in the AL last year.

Impact Additions

  1. Prince Fielder (Tigers from Brewers)
  2. Jonathan Sanchez (Royals from Giants)
  3. Josh Willingham (Twins from A’s)
  4. Jonathan Broxton (Royals from Dodgers)
  5. Derek Lowe (Indians from Braves)

Fielder’s winter patience paid off in the form of a massive nine year, $214 million dollar deal that instantly changed the AL forecast. Sanchez has a ton of potential, and the hard throwing lefty will bring championship experience to the young Royals.  The steady Willingham (20+ homers four of the last six years) should fit into the middle of the Twins lineup nicely as a replacement for All-Star Michael Cuddyer.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Last year, the Tigers closed the gap on the Indians in July, and ran away in August. This season however, they should have such difficulties. But a team that returns virtually everyone else, along with an improved bullpen and a 50 homer candidate in Fielder, it is primed to have one of the best seasons in franchise history. However, it won’t be a path that they walk to easily, because nearly every other team in the division has improved in its own, if yet a bit more understated, way.

The Indians have revamped their approach via balanced moves and growth from within, and have very few weaknesses on their roster. It’s just a matter of having the rare favor of health on their side and a breakthrough season or two. With a bit more endurance, they could easily push for the division crown. The Royals have been moving along gradually, but they have some exciting young talent in the works and could easily be this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks and pull the upset special of the summer. However, the loss of Joakim Soria is a major speed bump in that effort, yet if any team could pull a big surprise move in the AL this year, it’s them.

If Dunn, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez can wake up before the White Sox go into full fire sale mode this summer, they could easily make some noise in a hurry. And take all of those same sentiments, change the names and apply them to the Twins, and the same situation applies.

But in the end, there’s no uncertainties around the team that returns the League’s MVP and Cy Young rolled in one, starts five current or former All-Stars, one of the game’s best managers and have the confidence of being the returning division champs as well. The time is now for the Detroit Tigers, and they have far less hurdles to the top than any other Central club does…and a lot more weapons to fight their way there with. The Tigers roll this year.

Come back next time as I turn my sights on the toughest division in all of sports: the AL East. Who will have the chops to breakthrough in what is sure to be the game’s best drama yet again?

 In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Welcome back to the CHEAP.SEATS’ week that was around the MLB. As usual, the lineup reads as power poll (with comparison to last week’s poll), the THREE UP/DOWN of the news around the each league, followed by a brief look at the best, the new and a bit of the worst in the around the game headed into the new week.

 

THE MLB 1-30 POWER POLL (Division Leaders in Bold)

Chase Utley and the Phillies are getting healthier...while already having the league's best mark.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (same)

2. Boston Red Sox (same)

3. New York Yankees (same)

4. Texas Rangers (same)

5. Atlanta Braves (6)

6. Milwaukee Brewers (9)

7. San Francisco Giants (5)

8. Los Angeles Angels (13)

9. Arizona D’Backs (11)

10. Detroit Tigers (7)

11. St. Louis Cardinals (8)

12. Tampa Bay Rays (10)

13. New York Mets (17)

14. Toronto Blue Jays (16)

15. Pittsburgh Pirates (12)

16. Cleveland Indians (14)

17. Cincinnati Reds (15)

18. Florida Marlins (19)

19. Chicago White Sox (18)

20. Colorado Rockies (22)

21. Washington Nationals (20)

22. Minnesota Twins (21)

23. Los Angeles Dodgers (same)

24. Oakland A’s (same)

25. San Diego Padres (same)

26. Kansas City Royals (27)

27. Chicago Cubs (26)

28. Baltimore Orioles (same)

29. Seattle Mariners (same)

30. Houston Astros (same)

 

This week in THREE UP/THREE DOWN, the biggest winners and losers among the playoff contenders are singled out for what they walked away from the trade deadline with. Who made the moves to play catch up or to further protect their spot, as well as who wasted opportunities to get stronger for a push over the last two months of the year.

THREE UP

Pence is a the perfect example of the rich getting richer and the Phils intent to go for it all.

1. Philadelphia Phillies – The rich continue to get richer. In adding Hunter Pence to their outfield, the Phillies now start a current or former All-Star at seven of their eight starting spots, and put a dangerous right handed bat behind Ryan Howard, a season-long need after the departure of Jayson Werth. This acquisition just makes their lineup potentially just as dangerous as their pitching, and furthers their standing as the games most complete team.

2. Texas Rangers – The club was committed to digging into the Padres treasure chest of relievers, and especially at Heath Bell. In the end they landed his former setup man, and arguably, the more desirable target. Mike Adams was stated as being off the trade block earlier in the week, but the Rangers upped the ante as the deadline drew closer and netted what could be their closer of the future. Along with the acquisition of Koji Uehara to the end of games, the Rangers are now a six inning proposition if they are ahead.

3. Cleveland Indians – The Indians said they were going to go for it during the deadline, and nobody going in expected them to be as serious as they came out being. Landing Ubaldo Jimenez to add a frontline starter to their rotation and Kosuke Fukodome for outfield depth shows that they were more ready to stay in the race than any other club that has lost ground over the last month. In the process, they kept both of their top two young talents in Jason Kepnis and Lonnie Chisenhall as well.

 

THREE DOWN

Verlander narrowly missed his second no-hitter of the season on Sunday.

1. Los Angeles Angels – Their terrible year on the personnel front continues, first taking on the burden of Vernon Wells’ contract last winter, and now within striking range of the Rangers (who were far from quiet) they failed to make any upgrades to either their anemic offense or back end of their bullpen.

2. Cincinnati Reds – Declared as “definite buyers” by GM Walt Jocketty, the only move they mustered was grabbing some minor prospects for Jonny Gomes. In a very much still to be decided NL Central, this failure to act could guarantee them to be onlookers the rest of the way.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks – They are still very much in the picture in the NL West race, but only managing to land Jason Marquis and Brad Zeigler aren’t exact moves that scream “takeover coming soon.”

 

 

HITS AND RUNS – AUGUST 1

Biggest Lead: Phillies – 6 games, NL East

Smallest Lead: 3 teams tied at 2

Leading Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (.357)

Top 3 Sluggers: Jose Bautista –Blue Jays (31), Mark Teixeira –Yankees (29), Lance Berkman –Cardinals, Curtis Granderson –Yankees (28)

Most Wins: Justin Verlander –Tigers & CC Sabathia –Yankees (15)

Top Stopper: Brian Wilson –Giants (33)

Biggest Debut: Jacob Turner –Tigers (July 30th)

Best/Worst Record: Phillies (68-39, .636%)/Astros (35-75, .324%)

 

For more on the day-to-day hit and misses on the MLB, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport 360.

There have been generations of great players in Major League Baseball. Since the league’s official inception around 1869 there have been many different eras and changes to the game. It is difficult to place each great player against each other, but here is the CHEAP SEATS take on the greatest players, by position, the game has ever produced. Moving out of the middle infield, volume 7 focuses on an position where perhaps more top tier greatness has played than any other. (All stats are current of June 1, 2010)

**Center Field**

Center field is one of the most demanding positions in the game. It requires a player with a mixture of speed, instincts and a strong arm to man the position. It is also the outfield captain, who makes calls on who will make plays on balls hit into the gap. Many of the most complete players in the history of the game have player position. Many of the greatest pure athletes in the history of game have played center field and every era of the game is represented by at least one great player from the position. The genesis of the position throughout the various eras of the game and it boasts such a great variety of hitters, speedsters and fielders that it was the most closely competed position for the top spot, which can be greatly debated (and I’m sure will be)….

As controversial as he was great, Cobb's dominance at the plate & on the bases narrowly lands him the top spot.

1. Ty Cobb: Detroit Tigers (1905-1928): 90 points

–          .367 Avg. 117 HRs, 1938 RBI, .424 OBP, 4191 Hits, 2245 Runs, 892 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 0 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 12 Batting Titles, 1 Triple Crown, 2 HR Titles, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 14 awarded)

A controversial figure in sports history. Set over 90 records during his career. Highest career batting average in Major League history and held record for most hits for 57 years and runs scored for 77 years. His post 1900 (Modern Era) record of stolen bases stood for 49 years. Also committed an American League record of 271 errors by and outfielder. He hit .300 or better for 23 consecutive seasons, which remains a Major League record. He is the only player to ever record two hitting streaks of 35 games or more. Once led the American League in home runs, with all being inside the park hits, the only player to achieve this. His 724 doubles are fourth all-time. Is characterized by his extremely competitive approach to the game, which was seen as extreme to the point of dirty.

2. Willie Mays: New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-1973): 89.5 points

–          .302 Avg. 660 HRs, 1903 RBI, .384 OBP, 3283 Hits, 2062 Runs, 338 Stolen Bases

–          12 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 2 MVPs, 1 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crowns, 4 HR Titles, 24 All-Star Games

Widely considered the greatest all-around player in history. The “Say Hey Kid” is one of four players to pass 600 home runs for his career. His 24 All-Star Games are a record and his the only player to hit have 50 home run seasons 10 years apart. One of four players to ever hit 20 doubles, triples and home runs in the same season (1957). One of five players to ever have eight consecutive 100 RBI seasons. Tied for the most Gold Glove Awards ever for an outfielder. Holds Major League record of 7,095 putouts (catches for an out). Missed one and a half years to military service.

As gifted in the field as he was at the plate, Mays' greatness extended for two and a half decades.

3. Mickey Mantle: New York Yankees (1951-1968): 74 points

–          .298 Avg. 536 HRs, 1509 RBI, .421 OBP, 2415 Hits, 1677 Runs, 153 Stolen Bases

–          1 Gold Glove, 7 World Series, 3 MVPs, 0 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 1 Triple Crown, 4 HR Titles, 16 All-Star Games

An American Icon for third leg of Yankee dynasty and the greatest switch hitter ever. Holds all-time World Series records in home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42), walks (43), total bases (123) and extra base hits (26). Remains the last player to win the Triple Crown by leading both leagues in home runs, RBI and average. Frequently suffering from injuries, his potential is still greatly debated if not hindered by his health.

4. Ken Griffey, Jr: Seattle Mariners (1989-2010): 64.5 points

–          .284 Avg. 630 HRs, 1779 RBI, .370 OBP, 2781 Hits, 1662 Runs, 184 Stolen Bases

–          10 Gold Gloves, 0 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 0 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 4 HR Titles, 13 All-Star Games

One of the great all around talents ever, despite a split career that was hindered by injury on the second half of it. Led the American League in home runs in three consecutive years from 1997-99. Upon his retirement he ranked 5th all-time in home runs and is one of three outfielders to land 10 Gold Glove Awards. Only three time winner of the All-Star Game Home Run Derby. A crossover marketing star for baseball during the 1990s.

5. Joe DiMaggio: New York Yankees (1936-1951): 60.5 points

–          .325 Avg. 361 HRs, 1537 RBI, .398 OBP, 2214 Hits, 1390 Runs, 30 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 9 World Series, 3 MVPs, 0 ROY, 2 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crowns, 2 HR Titles, 13 All-Star Games

“The Yankee Clipper” holds the Major League record with a 56 game hitting streak. He is the only player to make the All-Star game in every year of his career. Hit over .350 three times in his career, with a high mark of .381 in 1939. Considered equally devastating in the field, he dominated the huge left center field in old Yankee Stadium. He lost three years in his prime to military service in World War II.

American Icons in center field, DiMaggio (R) and Mantle brought 16 total World Series to Yankee Stadium.

6. Tris Speaker: Cleveland Indians/Boston Red Sox (1907-1928): 60.5 points

–          .345 Avg. 117 HRs, 1529 RBI, .428 OBP, 3514 Hits, 1882 Runs, 432 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 3 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 1 HR Title, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 13 awarded)

One of the premier hitters of the early 1900’s, he missed many batting titles due to playing concurrently with Ty Cobb. His 792 doubles are the most of all-time and he led the American League in category eight times. Has the fifth highest average in history and batted over .380 five times. Only struck out 220 times in 10,000 plus at bats. Considered the greatest defensive outfielder of his time and his 440 outfield assists are the most ever.

7. Billy Hamilton: Philadelphia Phillies (1888-1901): 51 points

–          .344 Avg. 40 HRs, 736 RBI, .455 OBP, 2158 Hits, 1690 Runs, 912 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series, 0 MVPs, 0 ROY, 2 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crowns, 0 HR Titles, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 8 awarded)

Third most stolen bases of all time. Four seasons of over 100 steals, including two totals of 111. Hit over .380 for three consecutive years from 1893-95. Holds the record for most runs scored with 198 in 1894. His .455 on-base percentage is the fourth highest ever.

8. Kirby Puckett: Minnesota Twins (1984-1995): 40 points

–          .318 Avg. 207 HRs, 1085 RBI, .360 OBP, 2304 Hits, 1071 Runs, 134 Stolen Bases

–          6 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Titles, 10 All-Star Games

His career average was the highest of any American Leaguer after 1950. One of two players to reach 2,000 hits in 10 calendar years. Became the fourth player to record 1,000 hits in five seasons. Career end early due to loss of vision in his right eye from glaucoma. Is the second youngest player to ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame after dying of stroke at age 45.

9. Edd Roush: Cincinnati Reds (1913-1931): 39.5 points

–          .323 Avg. 68 HR, 981 RBI, .369 OBP, 2376 Hits, 1099 Runs, 268 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 0 MVPs, 0 ROY, 2 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crowns, 0 HR Titles, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 11 awarded)

Said to have the strongest arm of his era. Recorded 30 inside the park home runs and never struck out more than 25 times in a season. Had a batting average over .330 for six consecutive years from 1920-25. Best player of the 1919 Cincinnati Reds who competed in the disputed “Black Sox” scandal of the 1919 World Series.

10. Duke Snider: Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1964): 39 points

–          .295 Avg. 407 HR, 1333 RBI, .380 OBP, 2116 Hits, 1259 Runs, 99 Stolen Bases

–          0 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series, 0 MVPs, 0 ROY, 0 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crowns, 1 HR Title, 8 All-Star Games

Third of the great New York City center fielders of the 1950’s along with Mays and Mantle. Snider was one of two players to have over 1,000 RBI during the decade. “The Duke of Flatbush” hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive years from 1953-57. Only player to hit four home runs or more in two different World Series.

Left on deck: Larry Doby, Lloyd Waner, Jim Edmonds, Hack Wilson

See past posts for scoring rubric

There is a trend in sports that “black” is a lesser color in baseball. This is a trend that is a misconception, to say the very least. In the current cultural landscape of major sports, baseball takes a big backseat to basketball and football. From the sports played growing up, to what is the dominant viewed ones, Major League Baseball is far behind the NBA and NFL is cultural relevance. In comparison to LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Kobe Bryant and Randy Moss, the preeminent African-American baseball players are far behind them in the eye of the black community.

However, there is a much wider span of participation of Blacks in Baseball currently. There are 56 African-American

Since Bonds and Griffey stepped down, many others have filled their roles.

players on active MLB rosters currently and 27 of the 30 teams have representation, with the Los Angeles Dodgers being tops with four African-American players currently. This is leads to many of the exceptional baseball players of color having a far lesser impact on the youth, and currently the participation of African-Americans in the MLB is at an all-time low, however there are a number of great examples of the legacy of African-Americans in baseball currently.

Historically, since the ground breaking movement of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American in Major League Baseball, every generation’s greats have consisted of multiple players of color in among the greats of the period. Before this leap was made possible, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston, among many others, dominated the Negro Leagues and baseball was the top sport amongst African-Americans in the U.S. Unfortunately, many of these players never got to showcase their talents on a completely level professional playing field. From Robinson in the 40’s to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks in the 50’s, the color barrier was shattered. Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson were dominant in the 1960’s and 70’s. Reggie Jackson and Joe Morgan were fixtures throughout the 1970’s as well. In the 80’s and 90’s Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr were the greatest players of the era. Historically, blacks have In the current incarnation of the game that is no exception to that.

Hank Aaron (left) and Willie Mays created great legacies of blacks in the Major League

With the 81st MLB All-Star game taking place tonight, it is a fine time to observe the current leg of African-American greats in the sport. Here are the Top 15 African-American players in the game now and many reasons to tune into the game to support the history and legacy of the game as it is continued in African-American culture.

15. Andrew McCutchen-Center fielder-Pittsburgh Pirates: McCutchen is a fast rising young outfielder for Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first season he had one game of three home runs and his first two Major League seasons has accumulated 20 stolen bases in each season. Named Baseball America National League Rookie of the Year in 2009. Widely considered the best player on the Pirates, despite having not played 200 games yet and being only 23 years old.

14. Vernon Wells-Center fielder-Toronto Blue Jays: When he has been healthy, which has been a year to year battle, Wells is one of the most productive players in all of baseball. He has been a mainstay with the Blue Jays and has become a 3-time Gold Glove Award winner for his defensive excellence, as well as a 3-time All-Star selection. He has totals of over 300 doubles and 200 home runs in his 12 year career.

13. Curtis Granderson-Center fielder-New York Yankees: One of the most well-rounded players in the game, “CJ” Granderson was traded from the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2009 to the Yankees for Austin Jackson, another young rising African-American center fielder. Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 and became the first player since 1949 to achieve that many in one season. He also became only the third player ever to accumulate 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in one season in 2007.

Black players such as CC Sabathia and Granderson join in with Alex Rodriguez and anchor the Yankees, baseball best team.

12. Matt Kemp-Center fielder-Los Angeles Dodgers: One of the most gifted overall players in baseball, there’s nowhere that Kemp doesn’t make an impact. While he may be more famous in public circles as Rihanna’s boyfriend, in baseball Kemp is known as the most well-rounded player on a Dodgers team full of them. In 2009, he won a Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence in the outfield, and a Silver Slugger Award as one of the premier hitters at his position. A legit threat to be a yearly member of the 30 home run/30 stolen base club, one of the most exclusive groups in baseball.

11. Derrek Lee-First baseman-Chicago Cubs: One of the most consistent players in baseball over the last 10 years, Lee has over 300 home runs and a World Series title in his 13 year career. He has always been a great defender at first base and moves very well for 6’5, 245 pound player. His 2005 season was one of the best of the decade, finishing with a .335 batting average and 45 home runs. His contributions don’t end on the field, as he has raised over $1 million thru “Project 3000”, which serves research towards Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a genetic vision disease.

10. Grady Sizemore-Center fielder-Cleveland Indians: Once noted for his incredible durability, playing in 382 consecutive games, Sizemore has been unable to showcase his tremendous talents in full over the last few years due to multiple elbow and knee injuries. However, when healthy, he is among the premier talents baseball has seen in many years. Although only 27 years old, he is a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner. Finished with totals of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every year from 2005 to 2008.

When he's healthy, Sizemore is one of baseball's elite talents.

9. Jason Heyward-Right fielder-Atlanta Braves: The sky is the limit for this 20-year-old Brave. Although he has played only one half of his rookie season, he has been voted to start the 2010 All-Star game and may have the most power of any outfielder in the game already. He has been compared to Daryl Strawberry in his prime and even the great Hank Aaron has said he will be one of the greats of the game. He has huge potential and could be the best power hitter of the next 10 to 15 years.

8. Prince Fielder-First baseman-Milwaukee Brewers: Speaking of great power hitters, it’s in this guy’s genes. Son of former Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder, who once hit 51 home runs himself, Prince has made his own niche as one of the great power hitters of the game. At 26 years old, he has already had a 50 homer season himself and has led the National League in runs batted in as well. He has teamed with Ryan Braun to give the Brewers arguably the best duo of hitters in all of baseball over the last 4 years.

7. David Price-Pitcher-Tampa Bay Rays: Taken as the #1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Price has given the Rays everything they could have asked for in his young career. After joining the Rays as an impact reliever in their push to the 2008 World Series, he has made the transition to All-Star starting pitcher in 2010 and currently leads the American League in wins and earned run average (ERA). The scary part is at 24 years old, he hasn’t touched his potential yet.

6. Jimmy Rollins-Shortstop-Philadelphia Phillies: A quick, disruptive base runner, Rollins is one of the most dangerous overall players in baseball. He has led the National League in triples four times and stolen 40 bases four times as well. In recent years he has become a power threat, hitting 30 home runs in 2007, on his way to the NL MVP. He has led the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008 and become a 3-time All-Star.

5. Torii Hunter-Center fielder-Los Angeles Angels: In center field there have been many great defenders, all the way from Mays to Griffey, but  Hunter doesn’t take a backseat to any of them. He has won 9 consecutive Gold Gloves in recognition of this. Since 2008, he has committed only 2 errors in over 350 games. No slouch at bat either, he has launched 250 home runs as well for the Angels and Minnesota Twins.

4. Carl Crawford-Left fielder-Tampa Bay Rays: Crawford is the most feared player on the bases in baseball. Considered the fastest player in baseball for many years, he has led the American League in stolen bases four times with 50 plus steals, and stole another 60 in 2009, yet didn’t lead the league with his career best total. In 2009, he was the All-Star Game MVP and tied a Major League record with six steals in one game. He was a tremendous overall amateur athlete as well, with offers to play guard for UCLA and quarterback for Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma and Florida in college.

3. Ryan Howard-First baseman-Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies recently inked Howard to a contract that lands him $25 million per year, and he’s earned every penny of it. He has done everything possible to be done in his career thus far, winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and following it a league leading 58 home run, 149 RBI 2006 season, that landed him the NL MVP award. Since then he has not slowed, leading the NL in home runs again in 2008 and RBI again in 08, 09 and currently in 2010. A 2008 World Series win sealed him as one of the biggest impact players in the game.

Ryan Howard (left) and Jimmy Rollins won back to back MVP's for the Phillies in '06 & '07

2. CC Sabathia-Pitcher-New York Yankees: Listed at 6’7 and a generous 290 pounds, he is one of the biggest figures in the game . The big lefty has dominated at every stop in his career. After winning the AL Cy Young Award as its top pitcher in 2007 as a Cleveland Indian, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and was virtually untouchable in his short stop in the NL, leading the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Moving on too the Yankees for 2009, he lead the AL in wins and brought the Yankees their 27th World Series. He has also been on the front lines of expanding the MLB’s efforts into spreading Little League Baseball into urban areas to increase African-American participation in baseball again.

1. Derek Jeter-Shortstop-New York Yankees: Greatness is the easiest word used to define Derek Jeter’s career.

The Yankee captain is one of the greats of all time.

The all-time leader in hits for the sport’s greatest team, a 5-time World Champion, 11-time All-Star and the most recognizable face in the game, there is nothing that Jeter hasn’t done. As the undisputed captain of the defending World Champions, Jeter is starting yet another All-Star Game in 2010. Although he is one of the greatest shortstops ever, his leadership is what sets him apart from the pack. He has only missed the playoffs once in his 16 year career, sports a .309 batting average in the postseason and has a major league record 175 postseason hits. He simply is one of the best of any generation and has been the brightest star for years on a lineup that constantly looks like the solar system.