What players can move the needle for their respective teams in the 2020 Major League Baseball season? Here are X factors for every team in the American League Central.
Minnesota Twins: Rich Hill
The Twins attempted to improve their starting rotation this offseason, adding Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, and Hill. The latter could be the key to Minnesota sporting one of the best rotations in baseball.
Year in and out the talking point with Hill is his health. When healthy, he’s electric, but he has made no more than 25 starts in each of the last four seasons — which is why he was attainable on a one-year deal. Hill is a pitcher of deception. His long follow through makes it challenging to pickup his delivery. Meanwhile, he logs strikeouts at a high rate and has recorded an ERA below four in each of the last four seasons and an ERA below three in two of the last four seasons.
Cleveland Indians: Aaron Civale
Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco have been hindered by injuries, and Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer were traded, which means the Indians are going to need their young arms to carry the load again next season. If Aaron Civale works off his successful 2019 stint in the big leagues, it’ll go a long way in the Indians’ quest to return to the playoffs.
Civale made 10 starts in the big leagues last season, recording an impressive 2.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He kept runners off base, caught hitters off-balanced, and was a pleasant surprise. Civale was one of many young Indians starters to turn heads in 2019, Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac being two others.
The Indians managed to win 93 games last season with midseason trades and injuries bombarding their rotation. Now they need their young arms to sustain and build off the success they found in 2019. In his first full season at the major-league level, Civale could prove to be another long-term piece to the puzzle, subsequently, enhancing manager Terry Francona‘s rotation.
Chicago White Sox: Reynaldo Lopez
The White Sox are spewing with optimism after a lively offseason and seeing their positional core make strides in 2019. However, if they’re going to make a playoff push this season they’ll need pitchers not named Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel to come into their own; Reynaldo Lopez is capable of doing as such.
Lopez had a rough 2019 campaign, as he finished with a 5.38 ERA and 1.48 WHIP while surrendering 35 home runs. At the same time, he’s just a year removed from posting a 3.91 ERA across 32 starts. At his best, Lopez has been an efficient pitcher and was previously a top prospect in the Washington Nationals organization.
Still 26, Lopez can return to his 2018 ways and be a reliable force in Chicago’s starting rotation.
Kansas City Royals: Jakob Junis
The Royals starting rotation recorded a 5.30 ERA while opponents hit .275 against their offerings last season, so there’s some room for improvement here. Such growth will have to come from the inside, and Junis is a viable candidate for a bounce-back and/or breakout season.
The right-hander posted a 5.24 ERA across 31 starts last season but was a respectable force who worked out of trouble the two seasons prior. With minimal changes made to their pitching staff this offseason, Junis should have the chance to get back on track starting every fifth day for new manager Mike Matheny‘s rotation.
The Royals have a lot of dangerous hitters in their lineup, but they need the chance to consistently hit their way to victory. Brad Keller was a steady force last season, but more reliability is needed in their rotation. An improved Junis would be a welcome development.
Detroit Tigers: Christin Stewart
The Tigers are itching for a young core to boast about; they simply have little to build around. Maybe Christin Stewart can have a standout season at the plate?
Stewart appeared in 104 games for the Tigers last season and played left field. The 26-year-old didn’t wow at the plate last season, as he hit just .233 and posted a .693 OPS, but he did total 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in a lineup where there was limited opportunity to drive in runs; the Tigers were 30th in MLB in runs (582) and 29th in total bases (2,154) and OPS (.682). Stewart also made a handful of highlight reel plays in left field.
The left-handed hitter has a smooth, level swing that allows him to smack pitches to all fields. With a full season at the corner outfield position and in the team’s everyday lineup, Stewart could get into a groove and get accustomed to big-league pitching. Him doing so could potentially give the Tigers something to be optimistic about around the diamond.