Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Twins’

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.

Pujols_

Tonight, for the first time (and perhaps the last time for many years), the St. Louis Cardinals will face Albert Pujols. In the year and a half since the best player in at least a generation is St. Louis left for LA Angels, and invoked a large range of emotions in his wake.

In the time since he’s left, there has been a contradiction of sorts in the emotion towards Pujols. On one hand, there’s the feeling that he betrayed the club by leaving; that his decision to leave went against the sentiment and covenant that develops between a franchise cornerstone and the fans of said franchise. On the other hand, there is the fan of the team first, that still roots for the Cardinals above all, and the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.

In many cases, there has been an odd crossover between the two segments of the fan base when the subject shifts to Pujols. There is the feeling that, regardless of the rationale in maintaining him in St. Louis, or the success since of the team itself, that Pujols should still be vilified in regards to his move. On every level possible, this makes absolutely no sense and has to end, for multiple reasons.

The reality of the situation of keeping Pujols in town show the inherent ridiculousness of why having an issue with his decision is as well. The fact of the matter is that the fan should follow with their heart, but also base reaction on reality. There was no realistic, plausible positive outcome of Albert returning to St. Louis. Yes, there would of course be a place for him to come back, but the cost would have been detrimental to everything that the club is looking to establish. If the contracts of Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafeal Furcal have looked like dead weight over the last two years, imagine what seven more years of Pujols’ inflated, yet fair, deal would have seemed like. The organization’s greatest asset has been financial flexibility, that is offset by an ability to build around 1-2 large deals. With the massive price of Pujols sitting as a boulder in the middle of the Cardinals payroll, all of the long-term success of the team would have been put at risk. Need an example? Look at the Minnesota Twins.

When the Twins signed hometown hero/MVP Joe Mauer to his eight-year, $184 million deal in 2010, the Twins had won the AL Central six of the last nine years. For the annually cash strapped Twins to pony up the funds to secure not only their best player, but a community cornerstone such as Mauer to an elite contract in baseball, it was reflected as a big deal in keeping the club’s identity concrete. Fast forward two years later, and the Twins haven’t moved out of the cellar of the division since that deal was signed, and have lost over 95 games two years in a row and are at the bottom of the AL Central again.

This is due to an inability to keep their promising youngsters in tow, and a lack of flexibility to compete in the free agent market financially. Conversely, those are the strengths of the Cardinal approach. Championship caliber rosters require large level of compensation across the board. The Cardinals are the most successful lower-medium market team in baseball because they have been business savy. The decision to not pay ahead for “reputation pay” years of Pujols enabled them to lock up their entire core to contracts that could carry them through the full prime of their careers. In other words, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are here because Albert isn’t. The ability to maintain Allen Craig and Jason Motte was done because Albert did not have to be accounted for. Because of these decisions, the Cardinals were able to be tactical in how to approach filling their needs. Between the signing of Carlos Beltran for $13M per and the expansion of time for Allen Craig, the Cardinals got in return 54 home runs and 189 RBI. Basically, the expected 2-for-1 exchange for Pujols paid off with a similar production level in the lineup, the flexibility to extend Yadi Molina $96 million and to keep free another $118 million, of which $97M was given to Adam Wainwright this spring to keep him in town. Basically, the Cardinals built another five years, at least, of competitive advantage by not keeping Pujols in tow.

And at the end, that’s what matters if you are truly a Cardinals fan: your team being competitive. If Albert had taken less, would there have been a place for him in St. Louis? Absolutely. But is it is fault for cashing in on the reward that was rightfully his for the unworldly start that his career took off with? Absolutely not. There are no bad guys in this equation, and in the end, everybody has truly walked away better for it. This is not a case of the team going from championship level, to in the tank, such as when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, due to one man’s decision. No, the greater good was served overall here.

So if anything, the next three days in Anaheim present an opportunity finally move on for the portions of the Cardinal fan base that have their feet stuck in the tar of two years ago. It is irrational to celebrate the success following the decision of Pujols and adjustment of the team, but to vilify him for the decision that he made. The time to move on is here; let carpe diem be your friend this week.

Maybe it’s the most ironic Independence Day yet, and if you don’t get the gist of that, give a Twins fan a call and ask them how their two years have been since their “Decision” went the other way.

 

For more on the Cardinals and the return of the King, 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.

A familiar face has found themselves back on top of baseball’s premier division, and atop the Power Poll’s 10th incarnation as well. This was aided by so-so weeks by nearly every other elite club in last week’s poll, and the great West Coast swing by the Yankees in route to passing up the Red Sox and holding back the Rays as well.

In the National League, the Phillies couldn’t win anything that didn’t involve Doc Halladay somehow, and the Giants slowed the Cardinals potential rise to the top of the charts as well. Overall, it was a very competitive week, that featured a return to form by the Rangers, who enter the top 5 for the first time in over a month and also the waking up of sleeping giant…or more appropriately, Cardinal over the weekend.

Pujols became the best closer in baseball this weekend, ending two games with over 800 feet worth of home runs.

 

That and more in the CHEAP.SEATS’ weekly rundown of all 30 in big league baseball.

1. Yankees (5): The Yanks return to the top of the list due to mix of rounding back into form at the plate from the heart of the order; Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are starting their annual mid-summer assaults now. But Bartolo Colon’s resurgence has given them a much needed extra boost on the hill which has alluded them all year.

Teixeira is beginning to heat up with the weather, like every year, and the Yanks are coming up with him.

2. Phillies (1): The Phils hit their first real rough stretch of the year, dropping four consecutive road shows against the Nationals and Pirates. They picked up the bookends of the week which (no surprise) Roy Halladay started.

3. Cardinals (3): With two-walk off homers under his belt this weekend to beat the rival Cubs, and five in the last week, Albert Pujols looks as if he’s starting to come back into his usual other worldly form. Right on time too with Matt Holliday joining the Disabled List for the next two weeks

4. Rangers (8): The revival in Texas is full “swing” ahead, however this time it’s not lead by their bats alone. C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Holland and Alexi Ugando gave up just one run over 32.2 innings last week while building a 5-game winning streak over the Rays and Indians.

5. Red Sox (4): They opened the week in bad shape dropping three to the White Sox, but Carl Crawford becoming an RBI machine over the last week (8 in the last six games, 3 game winners) sparked a turnaround that keeps them one game behind the Yanks.

6. Indians (2): Dropping all four games of a set in Texas, the Indians have finally hit their first snag of the year. With Shin Soo-Choo battling the after effects of a DUI arrest and Travis Hafner still weeks from returning from the D.L., they will have to be on the defensive in the protecting their steadily decreasing lead in the A.L. Central.

7. Giants (10): GM Brian Sabean’s comments concerning revenge over Buster Posey’s injury have gotten the most headlines, but the Giants themselves made some encouraging news as well. In the course of winning three of four in St. Louis they moved back into first place in the West and showed signs of life after Posey.

8. Brewers (12): They keep climbing up the rankings, thanks in no small part to Ryan Braun. Despite sitting most the game with a sore shoulder, he homered to win the game as a pinch hitter and subsequently pull the Brewers into control of the early Wild Card watch as well.

With 13 homers, .308 average and 42 RBI, Braun has become an MVP front-runner while propelling the Brewers back into several races in the N.L.

9. D’Backs (9): They cooled down last week, but still are a game out from retaking first place in the West. Most encouraging is that some of the bats that hadn’t thawed out all year are starting to come around, such as Kelly Johnson (.366 average, six home runs and 13 RBI over his last 10 games).

10. Rays (7): In a star-studded rotation, the youngster of the batch has stepped to the forefront. Jeremy Hellickson notched his staff leading seventh win in Seattle and stopped their four game losing skid in the process.

11. Marlins (6): Mike Stanton (13 home runs) and Gaby Sanchez (.321 average) have held this club together, but they have taken it as far as it can go without a productive Hanley Ramirez (.210 avg and 4 homers). Whether it is health or slump fighting, they have to get something from their perennial All-Star soon if they are to not repeat last weeks horrid performance (5 losses to) soon.

12. Tigers (16): The streaky Tigers turned it on again at the right time with the Indians taking a dip, and now are within striking range at taking control of the A.L. Central this week. The potential return of Magglio Ordonez from an ankle injury could be the final piece they need in arming up to overtake the Tribe.

13. Braves (11): Last week they couldn’t make up ground on Philly or Florida because neither would lose? Well this week they did, and the Braves lost right along with them and missed a prime opportunity to get into the mix in the East.

14. Reds (14): Jay Bruce is leading the N.L. in home runs with 17 and Joey Votto is it’s leading hitter at .338, but they’ll only go as far as their starters will allow them still and that’s a major question mark as they continue to play musical chairs with the rotation.

15. Mariners (17): The march of the Mariners continues, and they continue to be one of the hottest teams in either league (haven’t lost a series since the second week of May), despite being one of its most lopsided (2nd in Quality Starts with 30, but last in batting average at .230).

Felix is in a familiar position from last season again, where every run squeaked out for him is a big deal.

16. Angels (13): Mark Trumbo (11 home runs) has supplied a solid power threat in a lineup that needs one, but they are still struggling to find consistency and have dropped below .500 despite having a rotation in the top 10 in the Majors in team ERA, quality starts and batting average against.

17. Blue Jays (16): The unlikely support from Corey Patterson (.292 average) and Adam Lind (.326 average) have made the Jays far more than just a one man highlight act via Jose Bautista. They are in the top 5 in all of baseball in batting average and runs scored.

18. Dodgers (21): Despite all of their team struggles, Matt Kemp continues to put in an MVP-caliber effort. His 48 RBI lead the N.L. and 16 homers come in at second best.

19. White Sox (26): The Sox are slowly pulling it together and could be a player in an A.L. Central that is beginning to balance itself out, but they’ll need was more from the their biggest offseason signing in Adam Dunn (.179 average, 5 homers) if they are going to crash the party for very long.

20. Pirates (20): Kevin Correia isn’t winning in the same style that his other contemporaries in the wins column are (3.40 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 76.2 innings), but he still is tied atop the N.L. in the stat along with Roy Halladay and Yovani Gallardo at eight. Could he hang around and make a play to be the first Pirate to lead the league for a full year since John Smiley in 1991?

21. Mets (23): Jose Reyes has been a one-man show for much of the year, but Angel Pagan has returned from the D.L. a different man than he was before it, hitting in all eight games since returning at a .394 clip, and giving an often flat Mets offense another spark at the top of it.

Pagan's hot return to the Met lineup is both welcomed and needed, as they (once again) have little healthy support.

22. Rockies (18): An interestingly mundane stat: since taking two of two from the Giants on May 16-17, they have dropped each series they have been a part of, but have only been swept once in the process.

23. Padres (27): Chase Headley is on a 15-game hitting streak currently and is the latest Padre to begin to wake up at the plate, and now they are on the verge of being able to pull out of last place in the West for the first time in a while.

24. A’s (19): The scheduling Gods did not smile upon Oakland last week, first sending them to visit the Yanks and then back home to meet the Red Sox. Their East Coast fling with two of baseball’s best netted them the current six-game losing streak they’re riding.

25. Orioles (22): In a bit of rare potentially long-term good news in Baltimore, Brian Matsuz will make his season debut this week and it couldn’t come at a better time: no Orioles starter has been able to net back-t0-back wins in the last month.

26. Nationals (28): Party crashers: something fired up the Nats as they took the fight to two division leading clubs last week in the Phillies and D’Backs, taking 2 of 3 from Philly, followed by splitting a four game set in Arizona after scoring 5-runs in the top of 11th inning on Sunday afternoon.

27. Royals (25): They single-handedly gave the Twins more victories last weekend than they were able to muster in nearly the entire month beforehand. That was the second of their recent string of bad news following  the demotion of their formerly All-Star caliber closer Joakim Soria after blowing his third save within a week.

28. Astros (29): They are on the verge of pulling themselves out of the bottom of the Central standings for the first time in a while, with it being a mixture of their brief brush with success (4-game win streak), albeit against the Cubs who could be replacing them in the division’s cellar.

29. Twins (30): They are currently riding their longest win streak of the season, and get Francisco Liriano back from the D.L. this week. Unfortunately their only consistent hitter on the year, Jason Kubel, had to replace him there.

30. Cubs (24): Not only are they in the midst of a week-long losing streak, but Carlos Zambrano is back to his usual tricks. After losing his start on Sunday in St. Louis he not only criticized closer Carlos Marmol, but the entire franchise as well. Clearly there is a lot wrong here, but not sure if that’s the right place (or person) to go pointing them out.

Follow me on Twitter for more on the world of batted balls, rants and info on the fly at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

The AL Central has been under lock and key for the last few seasons, with all rights coming through Minnesota. The back-to-back division champions have had the steadiest core of any (successful) team in the division, and because of that they have been the class of the middle of the AL. To contrast every bit of consistency in the Twin Cities, there has been frustration in Chicago and Detroit. After each reached the World Series (with Chicago winning in 2005) in the middle of last decade, they have battled inconsistencies from their benches and superstars, and haven’t been able to mount much of an attack at dethroning the champs.

2010 Final Standings

1. Minnesota Twins (94-68)
2. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
3. Detroit Tigers (81-81)
4. Cleveland Indians (69-93)
5. Kansas City Royals (67-95)

The tides are shifting here. The Tigers and White Sox both made aggressive changes to their existing rosters, but if anything characterizes the Central and its potential, is what is missing and what could be. Each team in the division has an impact player whose participation is in question. The Twins’ Justin Morneau is returning from a concussion, which is always risky. The White Sox Jake Peavy could be the best pitcher in the division, but is still on the mend from multiple arm surgeries that have kept him from making his full impact since joining the Sox two years ago. The Indians are in a similar situation with the continual return of Grady Sizemore, and the Royals are waiting for their entire future to show up via the minor leagues. However, Tigers’ issue could be the most severe. They are dealing with yet another off field alcohol-related legal issue from MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, whose presence, or lack thereof, could change everything. There’s a lot to be revealed in the Central, and how these clubs look now could be completely different by the end of the summer.

Cabrera's bat almost landed him an MVP a year ago, but his legal issues may keep him from making a repeat performance.

ALL DIVISION TEAM

Catcher: Joe Mauer-Minnesota Twins

First Base: Miguel Cabrera-Detroit Tigers

Second Base: Gordon Beckham-Chicago White Sox

Third Base: Brandon Inge-Detroit Tigers

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez-Chicago White Sox

Left Field: Delmon Young-Minnesota Twins

Center Field: Alex Rios-Chicago White Sox

Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo-Cleveland Indians

Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn-Chicago White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander-Detroit Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano-Minnesota Twins

Starting Pitcher: Carl Pavano-Minnesota Twins

Starting Pitcher: Fausto Carmona-Cleveland Indians

Verlander routinely surpasses both 18 wins...and 100 mph on the gun.

Bullpen Righty: Matt Capps-Minnesota Twins

Bullpen Lefty: Rafael Perez-Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joakim Soria-Kansas City Royals

BEST PLAYERS

1. Miguel Cabrera-Tigers
2. Joe Mauer-Twins
3. Justin Verlander-Tigers
4. Paul Konerko-White Sox
5. Adam Dunn-White Sox
6. Joakim Soria-Royals
7. Victor Martinez-Tigers
8. Justin Morneau-Twins
9. Alexei Ramirez-White Sox
10. Shin-Soo Choo-Indians

Shin-Soo Choo is a great talent (.300/20/90) on a team where it doesn't get to make a big difference.

There is a ton of top shelf talent here at the top of this division, although it is gathered mostly on three rosters. Cabrera and Mauer are among the top five players in all of baseball, with 2009 MVP Mauer being by and far the best catcher in the game. Cabrera had the best statistical season of any player in the AL a year ago. Verlander has had three seasons of at least 18 wins in the last four years. Dunn could quickly become the biggest power threat in the AL. Soria is one of the top closers in the game, picking up 43 saves in 67 Royals wins a year ago.

LINEUP

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

The White Sox jump over the Twins here with the addition of Adam Dunn to be a top-notch power threat in the middle of an already powerful lineup, and will be a high on-base threat for Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Quentin to have on base in front of them. The Twins struggled late last season, with Morneau out of the mix, despite a strong close from Mauer, but are still one the best orders in baseball. The Tigers boosted their order tremendously by adding in Victor Martinez to protect Cabrera, and a healthy Magglio Ordonez is entering yet another contract year, so he’ll be going for it all this summer.

Adding Dunn (38 or more homers for the last 7 years) gives the White Sox an intimidating lineup.

ROTATION

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

5. Royals

The Twins were in a tailspin concerning pitching depth until Carl Pavano resigned. His return gives them a slight matchup advantage over the White Sox, but if Peavy comes back anywhere close to full strength, his addition to the Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Edwin Jackson group of healthy Sox starters gives them a clear advantage here. Consistent full seasons from Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer in Detroit give them a strong three-man top of the rotation with Verlander as well.

1-2 PUNCH

1. Twins (Liriano & Pavano)
2. White Sox (Buerhle & Peavy)
3. Tigers (Verlander & Scherzer)
4. Indians (Carmona & Masterson)
5. Royals (Hochevar & Francis)

As mentioned, before the White Sox duo takes over number one here if Peavy’s health is not a concern any longer. However on the right day, Liriano can be as unhittable as any pitcher in baseball. Carmona and Masterson have potential as well, but will need support from their questionable lineup to make a real difference.

BULLPEN

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

Soria has saved 92% of his chances in the last three years, 2nd in baseball.

This is an odd mix of groups here, as no one bullpen is particularly great. The division’s best closer, Soria, isn’t even enough for the Royals staff to be better than the worst unit in the division, as they annually have trouble getting a lead to him. The Sox have long-time setup man Matt Thornton taking over as closer, but rookie Chris Sale could make a case for the role as well. Joe Nathan returns from an elbow injury that kept him out the entire season a year ago, but if he’s healthy, no closer in baseball was more prolific than him from 2004 to 2009 (246 saves).

BENCH

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

The Sox have plenty of experience and versatility on their bench in Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahan and Dayan Viciedo. The Twins feature Jim Thome and his 589 home runs as an insurance policy/DH in the wings. The Royals don’t match up well in many areas, but a bench with Mitch Maier and Wilson Betemit gives some support if any of their starters run cold.

3-4-5 HITTERS

1. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Rios)
2. Tigers (Ordonez/Cabrera/Martinez)
3. Twins (Mauer/Morneau/Young)
4. Indians (Choo/Hafner/Santana)
5. Royals (Butler/Ka’aihue/Francouer)

This is an era where four of the five teams have a source of great strength. However, with the addition of Dunn, the Sox have 78 2010 home runs in their lineup, with Rios in the fifth spot after turning in a rebound season of .284 average, 21 home runs and 88 RBI of his own. The Tigers have a TON of hits coming from Cabrera alone, but V-Mart and Ordonez surrounding him for a full season makes this order a nightly terror. This is all before mentioning the two former MVPs the Twins have in Mauer (who has three batting titles and Morneau, and former number one pick Delmon Young. In Cleveland, a full season of Carlos Santana could make him the only clear challenge to Mauer as an offensive threat at catcher.

TABLESETTERS

1. White Sox (Pierre & Beckham)
2. Twins (Span & Nishioka)
3. Tigers (Jackson & Rhymes/Guillen)
4. Indians (Sizemore/Brantley & A. Cabrera)
5. Royals (Aviles/M. Cabrera)

Beckham started off slow last season, but hit over .300 in the second half, and if he does close to that for a full season behind Pierre (who’s 68 steals led the AL last year) the Sox will have plenty of runners in scoring position all year for their heavy hitters to bring in. Denard Span is a major terror in Minnesota, that could put up the type of season Pierre did a year ago himself. The same goes for Austin Jackson if he cuts down on his strikeouts (170) from his rookie year.

DEFENSE

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

Span covers tons of ground in center field, and Mauer is a Gold Glove presence behind the plate, that leads a quick infield mix that plays perfectly with their group of ground ball-inducing pitchers. Pitcher Mark Buerhle brought home a Gold Glove last year, and Ramirez could earn one this year.

SPEED

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

In Span, Alexis Casilla, Danny Valencia and even Mauer, the Twins are great at manufacturing runs on the bases. Pierre, Rios and Ramirez give the Sox strong running group as well. Alcides Escobar will add a top-notch speed threat in Kansas City, and as his contact improves, so will his stolen base totals.

Pierre led the majors with 68 steals in 2010, his third season surpassing 60 thefts.

MANAGER

1. Ron Gardenhire (Twins)
2. Jim Leyland (Tigers)
3. Ozzie Guillen (White Sox)
4. Ned Yost (Royals)
5. Manny Acta (Indians)

Gardenhire has led the Twins to six division titles in nine years on the job. The 2010 AL Manager of the Year is respected amongst his peers as a great strategist, and he’ll have the Twins ready to defend their throne against the revamped troops in the division. Jim Leyland has a spot in Cooperstown awaiting him one day, and despite his sometimes questionable tactics, Ozzie Guillen pushes his clubs hard and has results to show for it (2005 World Series as proof).

ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS

1. Chris Sale (Pitcher, White Sox)
2. Tsyuoshi Nishioka (Second base, Twins)
3. *Mike Moustakas (Third Base, Royals)
4. Danny Valencia (Third Base, Twins)
5. *Eric Homser (First Base, Royals)

Sale made it to the Majors just a few months after being drafted last year, and is already in the mix for the closer role for a contender in Chicago. Make no mistake; he is the long-term answer in the ninth inning. Nishioka hit .346 last year in the Japanese Pacific league and is the most experienced “rookie” in baseball. Moustakas & Homser are both top 10 overall prospects, and the jewels of the Royals incredible stash of talent in the minors, but only Moustakas could potentially make an impact this season for KC.

FINANCES

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

The White Sox have the most money to improve their standing if need be during a close pennant race, but with big contract commitments in place already, they could be potentially stuck with what they have. The Tigers are committed to aggressive spending right now to compete, and they could have the advantage in willingness to spend, if not actually funds.

IMPACT ADDITIONS

1. Adam Dunn (White Sox from Washington)
2. Victor Martinez (Tigers from Red Sox)
3. Joaquin Benoit (Tigers from Rays)
4. Alcides Escobar (Brewers from Rays)
5. Lorenzo Cain (Brewers from Rays)

While the new sluggers in the division get the headlines, the two young talents joining the Royals are also two of the big stories of the year, if only for the fact they were the bounty obtained for the dealing of Zach Greinke from the Royals. They are the first glances of the youth movement the Royals are on the verge of beginning, and have to pan out to justify the talent they were obtained for. Escobar has the ability to be among the best defensive shortstops in the game very soon.

PREDICTION

1. WHITE SOX
2. TWINS
3. TIGERS
4. INDIANS
5. ROYALS

A year ago the White Sox came up six games short after failing to finish a deal to acquire Dunn at the trade deadline. Instead they held on to Edwin Jackson who they acquired to help make the deal for Dunn, and instead signed him later on. Although they missed out on the playoffs last year perhaps because of this failure to act, their patience paid off and now they have both. Also, they returned two of their primary veterans in Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and moved out Bobby Jenks. All of these moves will improve chemistry, which is just as important as the talent increase. The bullpen has to prove its worth and Peavy must regain his health, but Chicago has what it takes to win the Central either way.

The Twins health issues in addition to their loses in their bullpen (three critical losses) in addition to their uncertainties across their entire infield knock them down a notch, and the Tigers are still too shallow in the pitching department to mount a major threat on first place all summer. Both clubs however could play a role in the Wild Card picture. The Indians are just hoping for good health from their big money guys, but seem to be a team with no direction right now. The Royals have a direction, but it’s not going to take off for another year when they bring up their riches of talent in the minors (nine of the top 100 prospects in baseball).

Follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for more on this and all other areas of the game.

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