The start of a new baseball season is so refreshing. It’s a clean slate for all 30 teams. It brings on different hopes and expectations for every club. More importantly, it’s an equal shot at competing for The Commissioner’s Trophy in October.
The American League Central will be an interesting division to watch this season as three teams undergo major rebuilds. The Indians and Twins look to be the only two teams poised to contend, with the gap between the two as potentially pretty close.
Without further ado, here’s a preview of the AL Central for the 2018 season. NOTE: Roster, rotation, and bullpen predictions provided by rosterresource.com.
1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians are still the best team in the division — aided by rebuilds from the Tigers, White Sox and Royals — but that gap is closing with the Minnesota Twins not far behind. Regardless of losing a handful of key contributors in year’s past this winter, Cleveland should go on to win its third straight AL Central title.
Players to Watch For: Yonder Alonso, Tyler Naquin, Trevor Bauer.
Alonso came to the Tribe via free agency in December and will be expected to fill the power void that Carlos Santana left. He hit a career-high 28 home runs and 67 RBI last season with the Athletics and Mariners. Naquin is a bit of a headscratcher and really needs to rebound in ’18. He finished third place in the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year vote with a slash line of .296.372/.514 over 116 games. He appeared in plenty of the 2016 run to the World Series, including five of the seven games versus the Cubs. In 2017, he played in just 19 games with the big league club. He’ll start Opening Day against the Mariners in left field.
If Bauer could build off of an impressive ’17 campaign, he and Corey Kluber would serve as one of the best one-two punches in baseball. He’s been a consistent innings-eater for skipper Terry Francona in the last four years and looks poised to do so again.
2. Minnesota Twins
The Twins surprised many by playing in the AL Wild Card game last season and look ready to make more damage this season. The Indians are the favorite to run away the division, but the Twins should really give them a run for their money. Manager Paul Molitor has a really solid club in Minnesota, and even more so considering the offseason they had.
Players to Watch For: Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios, Brian Dozier.
Berrios was good in ’17, but he’ll be great this year. He’s just 23 with over 200 major league innings pitched already under his belt. He won 14 games last season with a 3.89 ERA and is knocking on the door of becoming one of the game’s best young arms. Brian Dozier will be Brian Dozier this season for Molitor and the Twins. He’s smacked more than 23 home runs in each of his last four seasons and will strive for the first 100 RBI campaign of his career this year. These three play a huge role if the Twins want to contend for something greater than an appearance in the Wild Card game in ’18.The AL Central features two win-now contenders and three rebuilders; meaning there will be a fun race to both the top and the bottom of the standings.Click To Tweet
Projected Rotation (as of now):
3. Chicago White Sox
Three out of the five teams in the Central are currently undergoing rebuilds. The White Sox however are the furthest along and not far from competing at all. They blew it all up a few seasons ago and acquired a ridiculous amount of highly-touted prospects. They stumbled to their fourth consecutive fourth place finish in the division last summer with a 67-95 record. Though winning 80 games would be considered a bit of a stretch, they will surely be better than they were just a year ago.
Players to Watch For: Yoan Moncada, Matt Davidson, Lucas Giolito.
Moncada really didn’t live up to his highly-anticipated first season with the White Sox in ’17. He hit just .231 and struck out in nearly 38 percent of his trips to the plate. Regardless, he was one of the baseball’s best prospects coming into ’17 and should come into his own as a big leaguer this year. Davidson is slotted as the cleanup hitter for manager Rick Renteria after slugging a team-leading four home runs in the Cactus League. He launched 26 over 118 games last year and will bring a lot of pop to the White Sox if he’s able to stay healthy.
Giolito looks poised for a breakout year after he impressed in seven starts with the big league team last summer. He struck out 17 batters in 17.2 IP this spring, limiting hitters to a .169 BA. He’s the No. 2 starter behind James Shields to open the year.
4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals were kind of thrown into a rebuild mode when Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain left. Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar returned, but those two were major contributors in Ned Yost‘s lineup over the last few years, including the World Series title in 2015. Jon Jay and Lucas Duda are serviceable replacements, but they won’t replicate the numbers of Hosmer and Cain. The starting rotation is similar to last year’s, with the exception of Jason Vargas. Vargas signed with the Mets in February after he won a career-best 18 games for Kansas City last season. It’s not realistic to see them playing into the postseason this year.
Players to Watch For: Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Drew Butera.
With the departures of Cain and Hosmer, Merrifield has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse. He’s knocking on the door of major-league stardom after posting a .288 average and an AL-leading 34 stolen bags. Soler has not panned out to be the big league slugger many thought he would be. He battled injuries last season and was up-and-down with the Royals and Triple-A Omaha in ’17. This is a big year for the 6-foot-4 slugger who could really benefit from a lot of playing time in a suddenly sparse Royals outfield.
Well, Butera is now the team’s Opening Day catcher after it was learned Wednesday Salvador Perez will miss 4-6 weeks with a torn MCL. Entering his ninth season in the bigs, Butera has always been a glove-first kind of catcher and does not mimic the offensive production Salvy provides. Regardless, Butera will serve as the team’s starting catcher until Perez returns.
5. Detroit Tigers
Detroit is entering a new era of baseball in 2018. General manager Al Avila and Co. have settled on waving the white flag and rebuilding from the ground up. It was a move that was needed to be done, but one in which will hold off on contending for at least the next three years. The Tigers will look to reestablish themselves this season, as Michael Fulmer, Jeimer Candelario and Nicholas Castellanos emerge as the club’s new poster boys.
Players to Watch For: Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jeimer Candelario.
We know what the first two can do, which is provide plenty of thump in the middle of the order when healthy, but it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Miggy and V-Mart both looked like their old selves this spring, which would make Ron Gardenhire‘s life a lot easier in his first season as Tigers’ skipper.
Martinez tied Castellanos in the spring with a team-high five home runs, while Cabrera scorched the ball all spring. He batted .368 and drove in 13 runs. Candelario drew plenty of attention in his first go-around Lakeland. He showed pop at the plate and sparkled with the glove at third as Gardenhire gushed about him. Expect these three to be top contributors to a lineup in desperate need of some power.