Posts Tagged ‘Salvador Perez’

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Spring Training is coming around again, and thus means that all is preparing to be well in the world. The best of the best in the game are dusting off the tools of their trade and preparing to get back to business around the diamonds of Major League Baseball.

And in what has become an annual tradition here in the CHEAP SEATS, it is prime time to take stock of the best of the best in the game today at each of those roles around the field. Over the next month, the top 10 players at each position in the game will be pitted against each other and ranked to determine who the best is today.

Where else better than to start such a countdown than at the nucleus of any baseball team: with the catcher? In recent years, there has been an ebb and flow at the top of the catching mountain between the defensive mastery of Yadier Molina and the comprehensiveness of Buster Posey. While a few others have jockeyed for position, they have proven to be an air-tight duo.

 

10. Stephen Vogt, Athletics (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .261/.341/.443, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 21 doubles; 32% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .265/.327/.432, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 12 doubles

It was a tale of two halves for Vogt during his breakout 2015 year. After swinging his way into an All-Star birth during a first half that saw him post 14 home runs and a .287 average, Vogt plummeted in the second half. Perhaps it was the wear and tear of playing a full slate of games behind the plate for the first time, but his numbers dipped to a .217/.280/.349 split in 51 post-ASG games and he managed only four home runs and 15 RBI in that run.

Vogt’s first half showed what he is capable of at full capacity, but it remains to be seen if he is built for the life of a dual-threat catcher.

 

9. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .234/.353/.403, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 12 doubles; 29% caught stealing, 3.34 CERA

Last Three Years: .228/.341/.395, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 13 doubles

Grandal splits some time with A.J. Ellis still behind the plate, but he is the vastly superior offensive option between the two and should see more and more time as he continues to mature as a backstop. Grandal at age 27 has battled some health issues in the past, including a shoulder injury that slowed his second half in 2015. But in being liberation of Petco Park, he predictably produced his strongest offensive year during his first full year away from it.

His eye at the plate improved last season (an increase in walks combined with a steep decline in strikeouts), which produced a career-best .353 on-base percentage. He profiles to produce plus power from behind the plate, although his switch hitting future is likely as a first baseman.

 

8.Francisco Cervelli, Pirates (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .295/.370/.401, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 17 doubles; 22% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .294/.370/.401, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 10 doubles

Cervelli followed in the footsteps of Russell Martin in becoming a former Yankee catcher who made the most of a full-time opportunity in Pittsburgh. In his first season as a frontline backstop, Cervelli proved that he could maintain his career trend of producing high on-base and extra base hit totals in a full-time role as well.

Of NL catchers that qualified for the batting title, Cervelli’s .370 on-base percentage was second behind only Buster Posey –and by a slim .009 margin. He also added in an eye-raising total of five triples, which shows a rare athleticism for the position as well. Cervelli profiles to continue to rise further and further up the power ranks of MLB catchers in the immediate sense.

 

7.Derek Norris, Padres (#10 in ’15)

2015: .250/.305/.404, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 33 doubles; 34% caught stealing

Last Three Years: .256/.333/.405, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 23 doubles

While he did not make a return to the All-Star Game again in 2015, Norris still produced a strong season amid his transition to the National League. He set career-highs in games played (147), hits (129), runs (65), home runs (14) and RBI (62). Albeit, these counting stat totals are dampened by an extreme fall off in his on-base percentage and a huge jump in strikeouts.

Yet this is all balanced out by the fact that he has become a much more mature backstop in the process. He threw out 17% more would be base stealers last year and guided the talented Padres staff well. Further NL familiarity could provide for his most balanced season to date this upcoming year.

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6. Brian McCann, Yankees (#7 in ’15)

2015: .232/.320/.437, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 15 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .239/.312/.432, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 14 doubles

McCann remains the most reliable and consistent power conduit at the position in the game. 2015 marked the eighth consecutive year that he hit at least 20 home runs. This should be given due deference, especially considering that the only other catchers to do this in the history of the game are Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra.

Furthering the point, it was the ninth season overall that McCann reached 20 long balls, which joins him with Johnny Bench and Gary Carter as well as the only catchers to reach that level.

His consistency is shown in the fact that he also played in 275 of the Yankees’ 324 games since he joined the club before the 2014 season, with 234 of them coming behind the plate. He’s a silently, consistent soldier amid baseball’s most spotlighted team.

 

5. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .264/.326/.391, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 20 doubles; 28% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .284/.349/.443, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 33 doubles

Injuries kept Lucroy out of the lineup for a little over a month last season and also slowed his production at the plate from hitting full mass until late in the year….just in time for a concussion to end his year prematurely. However that should not erase the memory what he was capable of doing at full speed just two years ago. The master pitch framing technician finished in the top 5 in NL MVP voting, after producing a .301 average to go along with 66 extra base hits.

With his health abiding, as well as a stated desire to play for a contender (something that he will not be a part of in Milwaukee) this year should an audition year of sorts for the 29-year-old backstop, as he either vies for a trade or simply proves that he still is who we (or perhaps “I”, based on this ranking) think he is.

 

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (#4 in ’15)

2015: .260/.280/.426, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 25 doubles; 31% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .270/.297/.420, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 26 doubles

The most constant presence amid the Royals’ rise to the top of the baseball world, Perez is by and far the game’s top young backstop and has continued to affirm that position. He will enter the season at only 25 years old, but has taken home the past three AL Gold Gloves at his spot and has been an All-Star thrice in as many seasons as well. During this run, he has topped 70 RBI and 25 doubles in each year, and has reached a new career-best in home runs in each season thus far, with 21 representing his new peak.

Considering the high volume of innings he logs (he has logged 2,440 innings behind the plate in the past two years) he could stand to do much better with his patience at the plate (he walked 13 times in 553 appearances last year –Buster Posey walked that many times in the month of September last year). However, he is a big, tough, formidable two-way threat, who’s best days are still ahead of him.

 

3. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#5 in ’15)

2015: .240/.329/.351, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 23 doubles; 44% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .250/.351/.421, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 21 doubles

Martin took well to his new surroundings in Toronto last season, and was a major catalyst in breaking the Blue Jays’ 20+ year drought. He turned a career-year offensively, with new personal bests in home runs (23) and RBI (77), well as a six year best in slugging percentage. It was the fifth straight year he topped 60 RBI, and also marked the 4th time in five years that he hit 15 or more homers while posting an OPS of greater than .700.

But where Martin makes his biggest impact is between the lines via intangibles. He makes a pitching staff better when it is throwing to him, as well as limits the ability to take the extra base. The soon to be 33-year-old cut down an AL-best 44% of would-be base thieves, while working the Jays staff to a 3.88 ERA as well.

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#2 in ’15)

2015: .270/.310/.350, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 23 doubles; 41% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .291/.334/.407, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 29 doubles

2015 was probably the most difficult season that Molina has had to endure in his career. A ligament injury in his thumb shortened both his regular season, as well as his postseason (and one that has carried into his 2016 start as well). This was after struggling through the season with lingering issues from a knee injury suffered the year before. The result was a five year low in offensive output across the board nearly, albeit still producing a respectable 61 runs batted in, 23 doubles and working his way to seventh consecutive All-Star Game.

However, what did not diminish was his perennially unparalleled defensive impact. Molina won his eight consecutive Gold Globe by catching 41% of would be base stealers (only 37 runners attempted to steal on him all year), converting 9 double plays and allowing only four passed balls. Add in the fact that Cardinal pitching worked a MLB-best 2.80 ERA when he was behind the plate in route to a 100-win season, and it goes to prove that impact comes from far more than just the clearest parts of a box score.

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#1 in ’15)

2015: .318/.379/.470, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 28 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .308/.371/.470, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 30 doubles

The class of the position by far, few players combine more raw talent with inherent leadership and intangible presence than Gerald Posey does. His perennial standard has reached such a clip that they are better compared to those already in Cooperstown than most of his peers, and he still yet to reach his 30th birthday. Buster led all MLB catchers in hits (177), batting average (.319, 4th in the National League), RBI (95) and OPS (.849). All of this combined saw him produce just over six Wins Above Replacement –three more than any other catcher.

Already the owner of three World Championships, an MVP, a batting title, three All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers and a .310 career average (the 4th highest of all-time for a player that has been primarily a catcher), it would seem that Posey has it all. And that’s because he does, but he is only halfway through the race and is just now approaching his prime.

 

Just a bit outside: Travis d’Arnaud, Mets; Yan Gomes, Indians; Matt Wieters, Orioles; Miguel Montero, Cubs

To catch up on last year’s picks for top catcher, click here.

 

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Catcher is a position that is tough to define in terms of what makes one particular player more valuable than the next, simply because so much goes into making up a great catcher. Is it how he handles a bat or how he handles his pitching staff? Is it the impact he makes on cutting down base runners or his glove work? Do inherent leadership intangibles play into it or is it just raw production?

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There is much to be considered when checking the stock of the position around the game, but for certain there is a plethora of types of catchers making their impact around the game currently. The best of which make an elite contribution in at least two different areas, followed by a group that may be elite in one and then another that specializes in doing one better than the others.

Headed into 2015, there are seven players that appeared on this list a year ago, which shows the fact that it is a cornerstone position. Basically, when a team gets a good catcher, it is smart to hang on to them. Of the three debuting backstops, each is coming out of his third full season and is on the heels of a breakout season.

Here are the top 10 players behind the dish headed into 2015 for CSP, with their rank from the previous year included:

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#2 in 2014): It has been and ebb and flow for who is the top backstop in the game between Posey and Yadier Molina over the past few years, but Buster inched forward to the top again in 2014. The glue to game’s most cohesive unit in San Francisco, when Posey turned it on, his team rode the momentum all the way to a third World Series in his six year career. He hit .354 after the All-Star break and finished fourth overall in the National League with a .311 mark.

2-year average: .303 average/.838 OPS/18 HR/80 RBI/162 hits/.993 Fld%/30% CS

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): His defensive capabilities at this point have hit legendary levels. Yadi won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and second Platinum Glove awards in 2014, when he cut down an MLB-best 48% of would-be base stealers. Only Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench have taken home more of the honors than him at this point. Since 2007 with his presence in tow, the Cardinals have experienced 50% less stolen base attempts than the MLB average. That is the mark of an elite game-changing presence.

2-year average: .303 average/.784 OPS/10 HR/59 RBI/138 hits/.997 Fld%/45.5% CS

3. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#7 in ’14): He broke out in a major way last summer and firmly entrenched himself as arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He led the MLB in doubles with 53, and in the process set a single-season record for catchers, with the 46 that came while he was behind the plate. Overall he hit .301 on the year and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote.

2-year average: .291 average/.817 OPS/16 HR/76 RBI/161 hits/.993 Fld%/23.5% CS

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (Same in ’14): His walk-off single that started the Royals record run through the postseason was his highlight moment of the year, but Perez was the most important mainstay for the Royals in 2014. He led all catchers in games started behind the plate with 143, and won his second Gold Glove in as many years in the process. He also drove in 70 runs for the second straight year and hit .333 in the World Series.

2-year average: .275 average/.722 OPS/15 HR/74 RBI/148 hits/.992 Fld%/33% CS

5. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#10 in ’14): He was one of the most sought after properties on the free agent market this year simply for the fact that he is the quintessential multi purpose catcher. He does a bit of everything well: he makes a staff better, plays at a Gold Glove-level with the glove, provides clubhouse leadership and swings a dependable bat. If he can work the same magic in Toronto that he did in Pittsburgh, the Jays will have finally found their elusive missing piece to get into the American League East race.

2-year average: .256 average/.764 OBP/13 HR/61 RBI/104 hits/.996 Fld%/28% CS

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6. Matt Wieters, Orioles (#5 in ’14): He was off to his best year as a pro before elbow surgery shortcut his 2014, hitting .308 over 26 games. Now he faces a return behind the plate on the mend from Tommy John surgery, but with a pedigree that includes three-All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves by the age of 28, it is not a bad bet to make that Wieters will be able to rediscover his way.

2-year average (’12-’13): .247 average/.726 OPS/22 HR/81 RBI/127 hits/.995 Fld%/37% CS

7. Brian McCann, Yankees (#3 in ’14): It would be fair to say that he had a down year in first season in pinstripes due to the fact that he posted a career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, but in reality he still had a solid season. He led all American League catchers in home runs (23) and RBI (75) and an upswing is reasonable to expect in 2015.

2-year average: .242 average/.735 OPS/22 HR/66 RBI/103 hits/.996 Fld%/30.5% CS

8. Yan Gomes, Indians (Not Ranked): Probably the member of this list that flies the furthest under the radar, Gomes is credited as calling one of the best games behind the plate in the American League and was a major reason for the success of the understated Indian rotation. In addition, he led all AL catchers in WAR at 4.4 and was second in both home runs (21) and RBI (74) at the spot as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.801 OPS/16 HR/56 RBI/110 hits/.993 Fld%/36.5% CS

9. Devin Mesoraco, Reds (Not Ranked): He had been touted as their catcher of the future for a few years now, and Mesoraco came into his own in 2014. The 26-year-old connected for 25 home runs and worked a .359 on-base percentage in his first year as a full-time starter, despite missing time in early in the year due to injury. He also made his All-Star debut and recently notched a $28 million dollar extension as incentive to keep it up.

2-year average: .257 average/.782 OPS/17 HR/61 RBI/91 hits/.995 Fld%/27% CS

10. Derek Norris, Padres (Not ranked): Although he was a part of a time share with John Jaso a year ago, Norris turned in some very respectable figures in his third year. He reached All-Star status while sporting a .270 average and connecting for 10 home runs in just over 442 plate appearances. He also carried the lowest catcher’s ERA in the AL at 3.14, and will inherit a talented new staff in San Diego to work with as well.

2-year average: .260 average/.760 OPS/10 HR/42 RBI/84 hits/.993 Fld%/21.5% CS

 

Just Outside: Miguel Montero, Cubs. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies. Kurt Suzuki, Twins.

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One of the most interesting projects of the MLB offseason is hosted, rather appropriately, on the MLB Network via their “Top 10 Right Now” program. Each player by position (or projected 2014 position) is fed through ‘The Shredder’ which dices up stats and metrics on each player’s recent performance, and then feeds out a ranked top 10 list for each position. This is debated and offset by personal lists from hosts, commentators and even the original stats and context guru himself, Bill James.

The end result is a highly interesting, yet constantly debatable rundown of the game and the best in it today. And, as usual, providing my own take on what this process is, and what goes into answering the always-debatable question of “who’s best?”

The outline: This will be an 11-part entry over the next month on the best at each position (outfield is sorted by alignment, pitchers divided into right/left handers and relievers). Decisions on ranking are made by a mixture of two-year performance (right now) and projection going ahead—with a dash of reputation. This differs in the ‘Top 100 Players’ countdown that will be coming in March, where skill and talent are worked in as well—in addition to a larger window of performance being considered.

Today, the position under the magnifying glass is one that can be defined variously, because determining the value of a catcher is a very complex job. Their ability at calling a game and leading a pitching staff is just as important as bringing their bat and glove to the dish. It is also a position that is under change, most noticeably, the absence of Joe Mauer, who is one of the most productive catchers of all-time, but is moving to first base full-time this year. There are also a handful of young up and comers, that are beginning to put the push on the upper rung backstops in the game as well.

Picking the apart the pack is tough, but of course its doable. And its time to get to the doing for 2014 here in the CHEAP SEATS…

10. Russell Martin, Pirates: Martin showing up and the Pirates holding it together down the stretch is far from a coincidence. While not the offensive performer he was at the beginning of his career, he was superb behind the dish. His .998 fielding percentage and 40% caught stealing figure were among the best in baseball.

9. Wilin Rosario, Rockies: The perfect catcher for Coors, Rosario has become the premier power hitting catcher in baseball. The 24-year-old has hit 49 in the past two years, and raised his average to .292, despite a brutal 15-109 strikeout-to-walk number.

8. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: 2013 saw a six-year low in average for the D’Back backstop, and he failed to drive in 80+ for the first time in two years, but injuries curtailed his time and an upswing should be expected.

7. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: He assumed the role of lineup axis amid Ryan Braun’s suspension and Aramis Ramirez’s injuries a year ago. The result was career-bests in seven different categories including home runs, hits and doubles.

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6. Jason Castro, Astros: He made the most of his first full-time season as a starter, making his first All-Star appearance and turned it on in a major way in September, hitting .338 and .290 overall in the second half. The arrow is pointing up for him in Houston.

5. Matt Wieters, Orioles: He topped 20 home runs for the third consecutive year and continued his strong defensive presence, throwing out 35% of would be base thieves, as well as committing only 3 errors on the year.

4. Salvador Perez, Royals: He is the owner of a .301 career average, and made his All-Star debut while winning his first Gold Glove as well. He is the core of the emergent Royals club, and the most important piece of their growing puzzle.

3. Brian McCann, Yankees: He continues to swing a big bat behind the plate, topping 20 home runs for the sixth consecutive year during his final run in Atlanta. Moving over to Yankee Stadium could do wonders for the 29-year-old, but already seven-time All-Star.

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2. Buster Posey, Giants: The 2012 MVP didn’t swing the bat at quite the same clip, but remains one of the most indispensable players in the game. He hit over .290 for the third consecutive season, and in addition to the MVP has two World Series titles, a Rookie of the Year, a batting title and has caught both a no-hitter and a Perfect Game in his first four years.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Arguably the best defensive game-changer in all of baseball, he has won six consecutive Gold and two consecutive Platinum Gloves. He threw out over 40% of stolen base attempts for the fourth time in five years last summer. Molina has rounded out his game at the plate as well, hitting over .300 for the third straight year, including a .373 clip with runners in scoring position.

Just a bit outside: Carlos Ruiz, Yan Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski

For more on the Top 10 Today and the game as it is developing, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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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.