PTBN’s 2014 American League Central Preview

This is Part Two of Place to Be Nation’s Major League Baseball division previews, focused on the American League Central. As you will see, I’ve altered the approach a bit*, but hopefully the insights that you enjoyed in Part One will shine through here, too, albeit in smaller samples.

*Being overly excited for an opportunity to write about my favorite sport and wanting to make a strong impression, I believe that Part One, while I’m very proud of it, was an over-extension of myself. I’ve got a day job, after all.

Just as before, teams are listed in predicted order of finish.

Miguel Cabrera looks to continue putting up torid numbers
Miguel Cabrera looks to continue putting up torid numbers

DETROIT TIGERS

2013: 93-69, won A.L. Central

Key additions: 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Rajai Davis, RP Joe Nathan, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Ian Krol, SS Alex Gonzalez

Key losses: 1B Prince Fielder, SP Doug Fister, SS Jhonny Peralta

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen (with key 2013 stats) — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [1]

Rotation [1]

Bullpen [4]

2B Ian Kinsler (R)

.277 BA, 31 2B, 15 SB

Justin Verlander (R)

13-12, 3.46 ERA, 217 K in 218 ⅓ IP

Joe Nathan (R)

1.39 ERA, 43 SV, 73 K in 64 ⅔ IP

CF Austin Jackson (R)

.272 BA, 99 R

Max Scherzer (R)

21-3, 2.90 ERA, 240 K in 214 ⅓ IP; 2013 Cy Young

Joba Chamberlain (R)

4.93 ERA, 38 K in 42 IP

1B Miguel Cabrera (R)

.348 BA, 44 HR, 137 RBI; 2013 MVP

Anibal Sanchez (R)

14-8, 2.57 ERA, 202 K in 182 IP; led A.L. in ERA

Al Alburquerque (R)

70 K and 34 BB in 49 IP

DH Victor Martinez (S)

.301 BA, 36 2B, 83 RBI

Rick Porcello (R)

13-8, 4.32 ERA, 142 K in 177 IP, best K/9 of career (7.22) in 2013

Phil Coke (L)

43 H and 21 BB in 38 ⅓ IP

RF Torii Hunter (R)

.304 BA, 37 2B, 84 RBI

Drew Smyly (L)

6-0 in 63 relief appearances, 2.37 ERA, 81 K in 76 IP

Ian Krol (L)

22-8 K to BB ratio, 3.95 ERA in 27 ⅓ IP

C Alex Avila (L)

. 227 BA, 11 HR, 47 RBI

3B Nick Castellanos (R)

.276. 18 HR, 76 RBI for Toledo AAA MudHens

LF Rajai Davis (R)

.260, 45 SB in 51 attempts

SS Alex Gonzalez (R)

.177 in 118 plate appearances

Strengths: Starting rotation, overall lineup, right-handed power, up-the-middle defense

Weakness: Bullpen, lineup balance, corners defense, organizational depth

Best case scenario: The lineup repeats last season’s dominance (first or second in MLB in Batting Average, Total Bases, Slugging, On-Base, Runs Scored and Runs Batted In); Cabrera remains healthy playing 1B and wins his third MVP; the rotation stays healthy and someone (Sanchez?) earns the team’s third Cy Young in four seasons; Nick Castellanos wins the Rookie of the Year; the team doesn’t miss injured SS Jose Iglesias; the bullpen steadies as Chamberlain finds new life in Motown and Krol justifies (sorta) the Doug Fister trade; the team stays healthy so as not to test the flimsy organizational depth any further. The team wins its fourth straight Central division crown and makes an October run for Detroit’s first World Series championship since 1984.

Worst case scenario: The spring injuries that have taken out Defensive Wizard* shortstop Jose Iglesias (shin fractures, out all season), left fielder and Gold Glove finalist Andy Dirks (back surgery, out three months), and reliever Bruce Rondon (elbow surgery, out all season) continue to strike down a talented group and the team attempts to contend with replacement-level fodder such as Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez, Don Kelly, Kevin Lobstein, and other names that sound like a made-up law firm; Cabrera falls victim to more “dye-a-bo-lick-al sab-o-tagey” and misses significant time; Hunter, Victor Martinez, and other start to show their age; Justin Verlander’s 2013 is really the beginning of the end, and a non-contending team in July is forced to trade Max Scherzer before he hits free agency.

*I’m capitalizing it because he’s THAT good.

Bold, but still unlikely Prediction: Tigers sign Stephen Drew to a 3-year, $38-million contract to play shortstop this year.

Eric Hosmer is a darkhorse MVP candidate after a great 2013
Eric Hosmer is a darkhorse MVP candidate after a great 2013

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2013: 86-76, 3rd in A.L. Central

Key additions: 2B Omar Infante, SP Jason Vargas, OF Norichika Aoki, OF Jason Maxwell

Key losses: SP Ervin Santana, OF David Lough

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen (with key 2013 stats) — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [3]

Rotation [3]

Bullpen [1]

RF Norichika Aoki (L)

20 2B, 20 SB, .356 OBP

James Shields (R)

13-9, 3.15 ERA, 196 K in 228 ⅔ IP

Greg Holland (R)

47 SV, 1.21 ERA, 103 K in 67 IP

2B Omar Infante (R)

.318 BA, .345 OBP, 10 HR

Jason Vargas (L) 9-8, 4.02 ERA

Aaron Crow (R)

7-5, 3.38 ERA, 44 K in 48 IP

1B Eric Hosmer (L)

.302 BA, 34 2B, Gold Glove winner

Jeremy Guthrie (R)

15-12, 4.04 ERA, 211 ⅔ IP

Tim Collins (L)

3.54 ERA, 52 K in 52 ⅓ IP

DH Billy Butler (R)

.289 BA, 27 2B, .374 OBP

Danny Duffy (L)

2-0, 1.85 ERA, 22 K in 24 ⅓ IP

Kelvin Herrera (R)

5-7, 3.86 ERA, 74 K in 58 ⅓ ERA

LF Alex Gordon (L)

.241 BA, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 11 SB, Gold Glove winner

Yordano Ventura (R)

3.52 ERA in three starts, 11 K in 15 ⅔ IP

Luis Coleman (R)

3-0, 0.61 ERA, 32 K in 29 ⅔ IP

C Salvador Perez (R)

.292 BA, 25 2B, 79 RBI, Gold Glove winner

3B Mike Moustakas (L)

.233 BA, 12 HR, 42 RBI

CF Lorenzo Cain (R)

.251 BA, 14 SB, Gold Glove finalist

SS Alcides Escobar (R)

.234 BA, 22 SB, Gold Glove finalist

Strengths: Bullpen, defense, speed

Weakness: Offense, starting pitching

Best case scenario: The bullpen doesn’t regress from its amazing 2013 (A.L. bests 2.55 ERA and .217 opposing batting average); the rotation approaches its 2013 totals again (3.87 ERA, 986 ⅔ innings from starters); Aoki and Infante upgrade the top of the lineup enough to make Hosmer, Butler, Gordon, and Perez a feared middle of the order; Moustakas figures something out at the plate; the team contends for its first playoff spot since 1985 all season long, earning a wild-card berth.

Worst case scenario: The bullpen regresses significantly; all of the starters implode and KC ends up with a team ERA north of 4.50; whatever caused Moustakas (.287), Escobar (.259), and Cain (.310) to post such wretched on-base percentages afflicts Aoki (career .355 OBP) and Infante (.345 last year with Detroit); the team finishes sub-.500 for the 10th time in 12 seasons.

Bold, but still unlikely Prediction: Eric Hosmer ends up with Top-5 MVP finish.

Carlos Santana makes the switch to third base for the Tribe this year
Carlos Santana makes the switch to third base for the Tribe this year

CLEVELAND INDIANS

2013: 92-70, 2nd in A.L. Central

Key additions: OF David Murphy, RP John Axford, RP Josh Outman

Key losses: SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, OF Drew Stubbs

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen (with key 2013 stats) — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [2]

Rotation [2]

Bullpen [2]

CF Michael Bourn (L)

.263 BA, .316 OBP, 23 SB

will begin season on DL

Justin Masterson (R)

14-10, 3.45 ERA, 195 K in 193 IP, 3 CG

John Axford (R)

4.02 ERA, 65 K in 65 IP

1B Nick Swisher (S)

.341 OBP, 22 HR, 27 2B

Zach McAllister (R)

9-9, 3.75 ERA, 101 K in 134 ⅓ IP

Cody Allen (R)

6-1, 2.43 ERA, 88 K in 70 ⅓ IP

2B Jason Kipnis (R)

.284 BA, .366 OBP, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 30 SB

Danny Salazar (R)

2-3, 3.12 ERA, 65 K in 52 IP

Vinnie Pestano (R)

4.08 ERA, 37 K, 21 BB in 35 ⅓ IP

3B Carlos Santana (S)

.268 BA, .377 OBP, 39 2B, 20 HR

Corey Kluber (R)

11-5, 3.85 ERA, 136 K in 147 ⅓ IP

Bryan Shaw (R)

7-3, 3.24 IP, 73 K in 75 IP

C Yan Gomes (R)

.294 BA, .481 SLG, 31 extra-base hits in 293 at-bats

Trevor Bauer (R)

1-2 in four starts

Marc Rzepczynski (L)

0.89 ERA, 20 K in 20 ⅓ IP with Cleveland (7.84 ERA in 11 games with St. Louis)

DH Ryan Raburn (R)

.272 BA, .357 OBP, 18 2B, 16 HR in 243 at-bats

LF Michael Brantley (L)

.284 BA, 10 HR, 17 SB

SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)

.328 OBP, 35 2B

RF David Murphy (R)

.220 BA, 13 HR, 51 R

Strengths: Young, promising rotation; bullpen depth

Weakness: Defense, overall offense, regression, lack of rotation depth

Best case scenario: The team proves 2013 wasn’t a fluke; Masterson becomes an ace, while Kluber, Salazar, McAllister and Bauer grow into solid mid-rotation options, filling the Indians’ staff with solid production from front to back; Carlos Santana (this one) plays better defense at third base than this one; Swisher, Murphy, Cabrera, and Bourn help construct a solid lineup around Santana and Kipnis; Gomes hits 25 homers, makes an All-Star Team, and becomes a superstar due to his Brazilian roots; Kipnis continues to grow into Craig Biggio 2.0; the bullpen remains a potent weapon, buffering the strides made by the rotation; the team wins a Wild Card spot.

Worst case scenario: All of the young pitchers behind Masteron fail to get better; Bauer records another rap about his struggles; Carlos Santana is hot garbage at third base, leading to a logjam at first base and DH; Swisher struggles and morphs from The Ultimate Bro into a petulant child; the bullpen blows up entirely; the team finishes closer to Minnesota and Chicago than they do Detroit.

The always consistent Joe Mauer leads a rebuilding Twins squad
The always consistent Joe Mauer leads a rebuilding Twins squad

MINNESOTA TWINS

2013: 66-96, 4th in A.L. Central

Key additions: SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Jason Kubel

Key losses: C Ryan Doumit

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen (with key 2013 stats) — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [4]

Rotation [4]

Bullpen [3]

CF Alex Presley (L)

.276 BA, .313 OBP

Ricky Nolasco (R)

13-11, 3.70 ERA, 165 K in 197 ⅓ IP

Glen Perkins (L)

2-0, 2.30 ERA, 36 SV, 77 K in 62 ⅔ IP

2B Brian Dozier (R)

.244 BA, 33 2B, 18 HR, 14 SB

Phil Hughes (R)

4-14, 5.19 ERA, 121 K in 145 ⅔ IP

Jared Burton (R)

2-9, 3.82 ERA, 61 K in 66 IP

1B Joe Mauer (L)

.324 BA, 35 2B, 11 HR, Gold Glove finalist at C

Kevin Correia (R)

9-13, 4.18 ERA, 101 K in 185 ⅓ IP

Brian Duensing (L)

6-2 ERA, 3.98 ERA, 56 K in 61 IP

LF Josh Willingham (R)

.208 BA, 14 HR

Mike Pelfrey (R)

5-13, 5.19 ERA, 101 K in 152 ⅔ IP

Anthony Swarzak (R)

3-2, 2.91 ERA, 69 K in 96 IP

3B Trevor Plouffe (R)

.254 BA, 14 HR, 22 2B

Kyle Gibson (R)

2-4, 6.53 ERA, 29 K in 51 IP

Casey Fien (L)

5-2, 3.92 ERA, 73 K in 62 IP

RF Oswaldo Arcia (L)

.251 BA, 17 2B, 14 HR in 351 at-bats

DH Chris Parmalee (L)

.228 BA, 8 HR in 294 at-bats

C Josmil Pinto (R)

.342 BA, 5 2B, 4 HR in 76 at-bats

SS Pedro Florimon (S)

.221 BA, 9 HR, 15 SB

Strengths: Joe Mauer, prospects that are coming soon, bullpen, defense

Weakness: Lineup around Mauer, starting pitching

Best case scenario: Everyone stays healthy; Nolasco repeats his 2013 performance for the Dodgers and Marlins; Hughes’ fly-ball tendencies are tamed away from Yankee Stadium and he settles in as a solid No. 2; the bullpen repeats its 2013 performance (5th in the A.L. with a 3.50 ERA, .240 opposing batting average); Pinto hits, Arcia hits, and prospects Miguel Sano (at 3B) and Byron Buxton (in CF) make an impact; the team finishes .500.

Worst case scenario: Everyone, including Mauer, gets hurt; Nolasco and Hughes fail to anchor the rotation; the bullpen regresses significantly; no one hits; the defense fades; Buxton and/or Sano fail to progress in the minors; The team loses 100 games.

Bold, but still unlikely Prediction: Buxton, Pinto, Sano, and Arcia all see significant playing time and lead the team to an over-.500 finish.

Jose Abreu's potential power brings a lot of hype to the White Sox
Jose Abreu’s potential power brings a lot of hype to the White Sox

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

2013: 63-99, 5th in A.L. Central

Key additions: 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson, CF Adam Eaton, RP Scott Downs, RP Ronald Belisario

Key losses: RP Addison Reed, SP Hector Santiago

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen (with key 2013 stats) — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [5]

Rotation [5]

Bullpen [5]

CF Adam Eaton (L)

.252, 40 R in 66 games

Chris Sale (L)

11-14, 3.07 ERA, 226 K in 214 ⅓ IP

Nate Jones (R)

4-5, 4.15 ERA, 89 K in 78 IP

2B Gordon Beckham (R)

.267 BA, 22 2B

Jose Quintana (L)

9-7, 3.51 ERA, 164 K in 200 IP

Matt Lindstrom (R)

3.12 ERA, 46 K in 60 ⅔ IP

1B Jose Abreu (R)

Played in Cuba in 2013

John Danks (L)

4-14, 4.75 ERA

Donnie Veal (L)

4.60 ERA, 29 K in 29 ⅓ IP

DH Adam Dunn (L)

.219 BA, .442 SLG, 34 HR, 86 RBI

Felipe Paulino

Did not pitch in 2013

Scott Downs (L)

2.49 ERA, 37 K in 43 ⅓ IP

LF Dayan Viciedo (R) or Alejandro de Aza (L)

Viciedo: .265 BA, 14 HR

de Aza: .264 BA, 17 HR, 20 SB

Erik Johnson (R)

3-2, 3.25 ERA, five starts

Ronald Belisario (R)

5-7, 3.97 ERA, 49 K in 68 IP

RF Avisail Garcia (R)

.283 BA, 7 HR, 7 2B in 244 at-bats

SS Alexei Ramirez (R)

.284 BA, 39 2B, 30 SB

3B Matt Davidson (R)

.237 BA, 6 2B, 3 HR in 76 at-bats

C Tyler Flowers (R)

.195 BA, 10 HR, 24 RBI

Strengths: Chris Sale atop the rotation, a strong youth movement underway, power potential

Weakness: Everything else

Best case scenario: All of Detroit’s player get hurts, all of Kansas City’s players get hurt, all of Cleveland’s players get hurt, most of Minnesota’s players get hurt, and Chicago has a fighting chance to win the Central division. All kidding aside, General Manager Rick Hahn has done a fine job of retooling his roster with some young talents. It’s just going to be a few years before this group bears fruit, though. Get comfy, South Side. Get comfy…

Worst case scenario: The youth movement stalls out before leaving the station, Abreu struggles to adjust to MLB pitchers, injuries strike the few good, established players. Hawk Harrelson talks*.

*I know I should be unbiased, and I know Harrelson’s a homer, and I don’t really watch too many Sox games, but, man, he’s awful. Although, this was fun.

Bold, but still unlikely Prediction: Matt Davidson hits 30 home runs and wins Rookie of the Year.

That’s it for the American League Central. Stay tuned for the American League West, and then we’ll head over to the National League.

Author: Joel Barnhart

A big-time baseball nerd, Joel is currently teaching English as a Second Language in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to his MLB passion, he enjoys good whiskey, good music, good movies, and good friends. He is currently engaged in an ongoing 12-year online debate over the merits of bubble wrap.