Baseball Essential 2019 Preview Series: American League Central

The Cleveland Indians have dominated the American League Central in recent memory. They’ve won the division in three consecutive seasons, and the division has only seen one team not named the Indians make the postseason in that time span which was the Minnesota Twins in 2017. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals appear to be multiple years away from posing a playoff threat. But will one of those teams surprise to emerge as a force and/or dethrone the Indians in 2019? Here is how the division will fare this season.

DETROIT, MI – JULY 27: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his fifth inning two run home run with Jose Ramirez #11 while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on July 27, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

1. Cleveland Indians

Did the Indians lose and/or trade away several prominent players in the offseason? Yes, and chances are they won’t pose a threat to win the AL pennant in 2019. At the same time, they’re still the best and most proven team in the division, have arguably the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball, and a respectable lineup. Even with the early injuries to their double-play duo of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, the Indians will capture their fourth consecutive AL Central crown.

Players to Watch for: Trevor Bauer, Shane Bieber, Jake Bauers

Bauer recorded an astonishing 2.21 ERA while totaling 221 strikeouts in the 28 appearances he made in 2018, 27 of which were starts; it will be intriguing to see whether the crafty right-hander can work off his Cy Young-caliber campaign in 2019. Meanwhile, Bieber will be entering his first full season starting for the Indians after a hot and cold rookie campaign, but with more steady outings, the young right-hander can make a formidable starting rotation remorseless. Coming over in a three-team trade with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, Bauers will have the opportunity to be a vital source of offense for the Indians — and partially fill the void created by the departures of impact-hitters such as Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, and Yonder Alonso.

Projected Lineup:

SS Eric Stamets (R)

LF Jake Bauers (L)

3B Jose Ramirez (S)

1B Carlos Santana (S)

RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)

DH Hanley Ramirez (R)

CF Leonys Martin (L)

C Roberto Perez (R)

2B Brad Miller (L)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Corey Kluber

RHP Trevor Bauer

RHP Carlos Carrasco

RHP Mike Clevinger

RHP Shane Bieber

Notable Relievers:

LHP Brad Hand

RHP Adam Cimber

RHP Jon Edwards

LHP Tyler Olson

RHP Dan Otero

LHP Oliver Perez

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- MAY 22: Eddie Rosario #20, Byron Buxton #25 and Max Kepler #26 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates against the Detroit Tigers on May 22, 2018 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Tigers 6-0. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eddie Rosario;Byron Buxton;Max Kepler

2. Minnesota Twins

The Twins had a busy offseason, adding productive and proven hitters such as Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and C.J. Cron to an offense that is already one of the most electric units in the sport. They also have one of the best young pitchers in MLB in Jose Berrios. On the other hand, the Twins have a shaky pitching staff, as a whole, and a first-year manager in Rocco Baldelli; they will finish second in the division for a third consecutive season.

Players to Watch for: Michael Pineda, Byron Buxton, Marwin Gonzalez

After missing a year and a half due to an elbow injury, Pineda will take the hill for the Twins this season, and a resurgence from the big right-hander would give them much-needed depth. Once one of the game’s most prestigious prospects, Buxton has endured an up and down MLB career and needs to play like the explosive player he has shown glimpses of in the past for the Twins lineup to pose a universal threat. At the same time, Gonzalez (who agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with the Twins in the offseason) could play multiple positions this season, and it will be intriguing to see how he performs in doing so.

Projected Lineup:

SS Jorge Polanco (R)

1B C.J. Cron (L)

LF Eddie Rosario (L)

DH Nelson Cruz (R)

2B Jonathan Schoop (R)

3B Marwin Gonzalez (S)

RF Max Kepler (L)

C Jason Castro (R)

CF Byron Buxton (R)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jose Berrios

RHP Kyle Gibson

RHP Michael Pineda

RHP Jake Odorizzi

LHP Martin Perez

Notable Relievers:

RHP Trevor May

LHP Taylor Rogers

RHP Blake Parker

RHP Trevor Hildenberger

LHP Adalberto Mejia

RHP Addison Reed

RHP Matt Magill

CHICAGO, IL – JULY 15: Yoan Moncada #10 Tim Anderson #7 of the and Daniel Palka #18 of the Chicago White Sox celebrate their win against the Kansas City Royals on July 15, 2018 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago White Sox won 10-1. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

3. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox made headlines this offseason in their recurring free-agent pursuit of star infielder Manny Machado, but they ultimately didn’t land the 26-year old. Concurrently, they have a young positional core and improving starting pitchers, but a lot would need to happen for the White Sox to make a postseason push. Nevertheless, there are individuals who can help them give the AL Central a run for its money.

Players to Watch for: Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada

Rodon has been a consistent force in the White Sox starting rotation, but hasn’t really improved, in terms of production, in his four-year MLB career. Perhaps this is the year he has his breakout campaign? Giolito is in the same situation. He has yet to endure a breakout season and is coming off an erratic 2018 season, low-lighted by a 6.13 ERA; the White Sox need him to turn a corner. The same goes for Moncada. The featured part of their return for trading Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox, Moncada has the potential to be a star, but has struggled to hit with consistency and limit the strikeouts. Improved plate discipline from the middle infielder could get the White Sox offense humming in 2019.

Projected Lineup:

2B Yoan Moncada (S)

RF Eloy Jimenez (R)

DH Jose Abreu (R)

1B Yonder Alonso (L)

LF Daniel Palka (R)

C Welington Castillo (C)

SS Tim Anderson (R)

3B Yolmer Sanchez (R)

CF Adam Engel (L)

Projected Rotation:

LHP Carlos Rodon

RHP Reynaldo Lopez

RHP Ivan Nova

RHP Lucas Giolito

RHP Dylan Covey

Notable Relievers:

RHP Alex Colome

RHP Nate Jones

RHP Kelvin Herrera

LHP Jace Fry

RHP Thyago Vieira

RHP Ryan Burr

RHP Ian Hamilton

PITTSBURGH, PA – APRIL 25: Jeimer Candelario #46 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with Miguel Cabrera #24 after hitting a home run in the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during game one of a doubleheader at PNC Park on April 25, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

4. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have won 64 games in each of the last two seasons and are highly unlikely to come out of hibernation with the roster they have assembled. Plus, right-hander Michael Fulmer needing Tommy John surgery is an enormous blow to the Tigers before the regular season begins. But they do have players to keep tabs on given the roles they will man in 2019, as well as some success they’ve found in the past.

Players to Watch for: Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, Matthew Boyd

The Tigers have an intriguing corner infield duo of Goodrum (27) and Candelario (25). The two combined for 35 home runs in their first full seasons starting in the big leagues, and the Tigers seem willing to roll with them in 2019. By hitting for more contact and limiting the strikeouts, Goodrum and Candelario could become driving forces to the Tigers offense. When it comes to manager Ron Gardenhire‘s starting rotation, Boyd is the name to keep an eye on. He’s coming off his first season making 30-plus starts and was able to hold his own and pitch deep into games, albeit a yawning 4.39 ERA. The left-hander will be relied on every fifth day once more this season.

Projected Lineup:

2B Josh Harrison (R)

LF Christin Stewart (L)

RF Nick Castellanos (R)

DH Miguel Cabrera (R)

3B Jeimer Candelario (R)

1B Niko Goodrum (L)

C Grayson Greiner (R)

SS Jordy Mercer (R)

CF JaCoby Jones (L)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jordan Zimmermann

LHP Matthew Boyd

LHP Matt Moore

RHP Tyson Ross

LHP Daniel Norris

Notable Relievers:

RHP Shane Greene

RHP Joe Jimenez

LHP Daniel Stumpf

RHP Buck Farmer

RHP Drew VerHagen

RHP Victor Alcantara

RHP Zac Reininger

KANSAS CITY, MO – AUGUST 29: Adalberto Mondesi #27 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated by Whit Merrifield #15 after scoring during the 4th inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on August 29, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

5. Kansas City Royals

The Royals won 58 games in 2018 and are going to be without star catcher Salvador Perez this season due to an elbow injury; it may be another really long year in Kansas City. But there are still reasons for non-Royals fans to watch their games this season.

Players to Watch for: Billy Hamilton, Ryan O’Hearn, Brad Keller

One of the best signings of the offseason was the Royals adding the speedy Hamilton. He will get the chance to start on a consistent basis, prove himself worthy of being in a lineup every day, and make highlight-reel grabs in center field. O’Hearn hit .260 while totaling an impressive 12 home runs and 30 RBIs in just 44 games played last season. In time, the two could be essential pieces to the Royals offense. Keller split time in manager Ned Yost‘s bullpen and starting rotation last season, recording an impressive 3.08 ERA. Maybe he becomes a force on the rubber starting every fifth day this season?

Projected Lineup:

SS Adalberto Mondesi (L)

2B Whit Merrifield (R)

LF Alex Gordon (L)

1B Ryan O’Hearn (R)

DH Jorge Soler (R)

3B Hunter Dozier (R)

RF Chris Owings (R)

CF Billy Hamilton (R)

C Martin Maldonado (R)

Projected Rotation:

LHP Danny Duffy

RHP Brad Keller

RHP Jakob Junis

RHP Jorge Lopez

RHP Homer Bailey

Notable Relievers:

RHP Wily Peralta

RHP Brad Boxberger

LHP Jake Diekman

RHP Ian Kennedy

RHP Kevin McCarthy

LHP Tim Hill

LHP Brian Flynn

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