MLB Preview: American League Central

MLB Preview: American League Central

With three teams rebuilding in the American League Central, it is a two-team race between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.

richard-martinez
Richard Martinez

What was once one of the most competitive divisions in baseball has now become a division dominated by the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland has won the division for the past three seasons. The White Sox, Tigers and Royals have hit the reset bottom and are in the early stages of rebuilds.

That leaves the Minnesota Twins. They too were in the rebuild, surprising many in the baseball world and playing in the Wild Card game against the New York Yankees last season. They will be the team to try and knock off Cleveland for the AL Central title.

Here is a look at how the AL Central could shake up in 2018.

Cleveland Indians (101-61)

In 2017, Cleveland won the division by 17 games, even recording the best record in the American League.

Could they repeat the same success in 2018? It is possible. The only team in the division that can compete is the Minnesota Twins, even then it is not that close.

Led by Corey Kluber, the Indians boast one of the best rotations in the league. Even losing four of the key pieces in the bullpen in the offseason, Cleveland bullpen still looks to be strong in 2018. Newcomer Matt Belisle looks to gel well with Zach McAllister, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller.

The same could be said about Cleveland’s offense. In The offseason, Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson exited the team via free agency. The Indians signed Yonder Alonso to fill the void at first base. Alonso set a new career best in home runs (28) and RBI’s (68) while playing in the American League West.

With the production of Alonso combined with the production of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor, another 100-win season is well within Cleveland’s reach.

Minnesota Twins (88-74)

Minnesota made history in 2017, becoming the first team in Major League Baseball history to make the playoffs after losing 100 games the previous season.

The Twins were one victory away from entering the MLB Postseason as the Wild Card representative. Ultimately, they lost to the Yankees in what was a successful season. Minnesota will look to duplicate the same success in 2018.

During free agency the Twins added a couple of pitchers to help strengthen their bullpen. Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed will help Trevor Hildenberger close out games for the Twins in 2018.

As for the starting rotation, the Twins added Michael Pineda to go along with Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Phil Hughes. Hopefully, the Twins get a little more consistency from Kyle Gibson and the addition of Jake Odorizzi from Tampa should help as well.

Their biggest free agent signing of the offseason is Logan Morrison. In 149 games, Morrison hit .246, setting career highs with 38 home runs and 85 runs batted in. Morrison will fit in natural with power house that is Miguel Sano and the veteran Joe Mauer in the middle of the linup.

Chicago White Sox (72-90)

Chicago White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada (10) is greeted by first baseman Jose Abreu (79) after hitting a first inning solo homerun against the Texas Rangers. |Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports|
Chicago White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada (10) is greeted by first baseman Jose Abreu (79) after hitting a first inning solo homerun against the Texas Rangers. |Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports|

One year into the rebuild process, the future is bright for the team on the south side of Chicago. However, in 2018, it will be a season of progression. There are still plenty of talent to go around on this roster.

Jose Abreu can hit 27 to 33 home runs this season. Matt Davidson set a career high in home runs, runs batted in and batting average (granted it was his first full season in the majors after a career in the minors).

Yoan Moncada came up last season, hitting .231 in 54 games. A full season at second base will be something to keep an eye on. Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins and Seby Zavala wait in the wings to make their pro debute and could get called late in the season like Moncada did.

Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, and Zack Burdi are a couple of young arms that are waiting to get the call themelves.

This season could be a make or break year for Carlos Rodon. He will start the season recovering from shoulder surgery back in September. The former third overall selection in the 2014 draft had a record of 20-21 with a 3.95 ERA.

Detroit Tigers (62-100)

Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) congratulates first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) on hitting a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox. |Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports|
Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) congratulates first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) on hitting a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox. |Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports|

This franchise looks completely different from the franchise that won the division from 2011-2014, even making a World Series appearance in 2012.

Justin Verlander. Gone. J.D. Martinez. Gone. Ian Kinser. Gone. Justin Upton. Gone. The next name that could receive the same fate is Miguel Cabrera. That is when the true rebuild can really begin.

Michael Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann could bring in some prospects at the trade deadline later this year.

The Tigers do have some prospects in the pipeline that could see some action. There is still plenty of uncertainty regarding what the prospects could turn out to be.

Kansas City Royal (60-102)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The team that won the World Series in 2015 is on the cusp of pressing the rebuild button.

Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas left in free agency. Nine players from the 2015 World Series team still remain on the roster.

Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar will do the best they can to keep the Royals competitive in 2018. The Achilles heel for the Royals will be their starting pitching.

Danny Duffy had an off year last season, Ian Kennedy is far removed from the ace that many thought he could be, age may be catching up with Jason Hammel and the rest of the pitching staff is surrounded with uncertainty.

It is going to be tough to see a team that is used to competing reset and start all over again.

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