American League Central Preview Capsules

Thu, Mar 14, 2024
MLB News (AP)

American League Central Preview Capsules

Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:

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MINNESOTA TWINS

2023: 87-75, first place, lost to Houston in Division Series.

Manager: Rocco Baldelli (sixth season).

Opening Day: March 28 at Kansas City.

He's Here: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Manuel Margot, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Justin Topa, LHP Steven Okert, RHP Jay Jackson, RHP Josh Staumont.

He's Outta Here: RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Kenta Maeda, 2B Jorge Polanco, OF Michael A. Taylor, INF Donovan Solano, RHP Emilio Pagan, INF Nick Gordon, RHP Tyler Mahle, OF Joey Gallo.

Top Hitters: 3B Royce Lewis (.309, 15 HRs, 52 RBIs in 58 games), SS Carlos Correa (.230, 18, 65), CF Byron Buxton (.207, 17, 42 in 85 games as DH), RF Max Kepler (.260, 24, 66), 2B Edouard Julien (.263, 13, 37, .839 OPS in 109 games).

Projected Rotation: RH Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66 ERA, 234 Ks in 194 IP), RH Joe Ryan (11-10, 4.51, 197 Ks in 161 2/3 IP), RH Bailey Ober (8-6, 3.43), RH Chris Paddack (5.40 ERA in 2 relief appearances after recovering from Tommy John surgery), RH Anthony DeSclafani (4-8, 4.88 in 99 2/3 IP for Giants).

Key Relievers: RH Jhoan Duran (3-6, 2.45 ERA, 27 saves, 84 Ks in 62 1/3 IP), RH Griffin Jax (6-10, 3.86, 4 saves), LH Caleb Thielbar (3-1, 3.23), RH Brock Stewart (2-0, 0.65, 1 save in 27 2/3 IP).

READ MORE American League West Preview Capsules American League East Preview Capsules National League West Preview Capsules

Outlook: Free agency took some bite out of their rotation, with Gray and Maeda departing for other clubs, but the Twins remain in solid position to defend their division title with their AL Central competitors posing less of a collective threat than any of MLB's other divisions. The payroll has been trimmed in response to a dip in regional television revenue, but the low-key acquisitions of Santana and Margot ought to give the lineup a boost of experience, durability and fielding expertise. Most vital to Minnesota's success will be better health and production from stars Buxton and Correa. Buxton is returning to CF after knee trouble limited him to DH duty in what was mostly a lost season. Paddack, who recovered from Tommy John surgery in time to join the bullpen for the playoffs, will be counted on to help solidify the rotation. DeSclafani and Topa arrived in a trade that sent Polanco to the Mariners, with Julien appearing ready for a full season of action after an impactful rookie year. If Lewis stays healthy, the Twins have a superstar in the making. Lopez and Duran make for a formidable pair of aces for the rotation and bullpen, respectively.

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DETROIT TIGERS

2023: 78-84, second place.

Manager: A.J. Hinch (fourth season).

Opening Day: March 28 at Chicago White Sox.

He's Here: RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Jack Flaherty, RHP Shelby Miller, LHP Andrew Chafin, OF Mark Canha, 3B Gio Urshela, 2B Colt Keith.

He's Outta Here: DH Miguel Cabrera, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, RHP Michael Lorenzen, C Eric Haase, INF Nick Maton.

Top Hitters: DH Kerry Carpenter (.278, 20 HRs, 64 RBIs, .811 OPS), 1B Spencer Torkelson (.233, 31, 94), RF Riley Greene (.288, 11, 31, .796 OPS).

Projected Rotation: LH Tarik Skubal (7-3, 2.80 ERA), RH Kenta Maeda (6-8, 4.23 with Twins), RH Jack Flaherty (8-9, 4.99 with Orioles and Cardinals), RH Reese Olson (5-7, 3.99), RH Casey Mize (7-13, 4.29 in career; hasn't pitched since April 2022) or RH Matt Manning (5-4, 3.58).

Key Relievers: RH Alex Lange (7-5, 3.68 ERA, 26/32 saves), RH Jason Foley (3-3, 2.61), RH Shelby Miller (3-0, 1.71 with Dodgers), LH Andrew Chafin (3-4, 4.73 with Diamondbacks and Brewers).

Outlook: The Tigers seem to have a shot to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014, potentially taking advantage of a relatively weak division and an improved team. Detroit will lean on Skubal to anchor what could be a solid rotation with Maeda and Flaherty added to replace Rodriguez and Lorenzen. The health of Mize, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2018, and Urshela, coming back from a broken pelvis, may prove to be pivotal. Torkelson, the top pick in 2022, will have a chance to be a designated hitter more often with Cabrera's retirement. Parker Meadows, a dynamic 24-year-old center fielder, and Keith, who was given a guaranteed deal worth at least $28 million without facing a pitch in the majors, will be intriguing to watch. The franchise is trying to be patient with underperforming shortstop Javier Baez, who enters the third season of a $140 million, six-year contract, after his .593 OPS in 2023 was the second-lowest of his career.

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CLEVELAND GUARDIANS

2023: 76-86, third place.

Manager: Stephen Vogt (first season).

Opening Day: March 28 at Oakland.

He's Here: RHP Scott Barlow, C Austin Hedges, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Ben Lively, OF Estevan Florial.

He's Outta Here: Manager Terry Francona, SS Amed Rosario, RHP Aaron Civale, RHP Cal Quantrill, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, DH Josh Bell, C Mike Zunino, 1B Kole Calhoun, RF Oscar Gonzalez.

Top Hitters: 3B Jose Ramirez (.282, 24 HRs, 82 RBIs, league-leading 22 IBBs), 1B/DH Josh Naylor (.308, 17, 97), LF Steven Kwan (.268, 5, 58, 36 2Bs, 21 SBs), 2B Andres Gimenez (.251, 15, 62, 76 runs), C Bo Naylor (.237, 11, 32 in 198 at-bats as rookie).

Projected Rotation: RH Shane Bieber (6-6, 3.80 ERA, 21 starts due to injuries), RH Tanner Bibee (10-4, 2.98, 141 Ks in 142 IP as rookie), RH Triston McKenzie (0-3, 5.06 in 4 starts due to elbow injury), RH Gavin Williams (3-5, 3.29, 16 starts as rookie), LH Logan Allen (7-8, 3.81, 24 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Emmanuel Clase (3-9, 3.22 ERA, AL-best 44 saves, MLB-high 12 blown saves), RH Scott Barlow (2-6, 4.37 in 63 games for Royals and Padres), LH Sam Hentges (3-2, 3.61 in 56 games), RH Eli Morgan (5-2, 4.01 in 61 games), RH Trevor Stephan (7-7, 4.06 in 71 games).

Outlook: It's a new start for the Guardians under the 39-year-old Vogt, a journeyman All-Star catcher who has never managed at any level. He's got big shoes to fill in replacing the beloved Francona, a future Hall of Famer and the winningest manager in franchise history. There are bound to be some growing pains. Cleveland is counting on Bieber and McKenzie to bounce back from injuries and Bibee and Williams to take another step forward. With the exception of Ramirez and Josh Naylor, the Guardians lack power, making it essential for them to manufacture runs and play solid defense. Of course, playing in the wide-open AL Central is a plus and possible path to the postseason for a franchise without a World Series title since 1948.

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX

2023: 61-101, fourth place.

Manager: Pedro Grifol (second season).

Opening Day: March 28 vs. Detroit.

He's Here: SS Paul DeJong, RHP Michael Soroka, RHP John Brebbia, C Martin Maldonado, RHP Chris Flexen, RHP Steven Wilson, LHP Tim Hill, RHP Erick Fedde, C Max Stassi.

He's Outta Here: RHP Dylan Cease, SS Tim Anderson, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Mike Clevinger, RHP Gregory Santos, LHP Aaron Bummer, C Yasmani Grandal.

Top Hitters: CF Luis Robert Jr. (.264, 38 HRs, 80 RBIs, .857 OPS), 1B Andrew Vaughn (.258, 21, 80), LF/DH Eloy Jimenez (.272, 18, 64), 3B Yoan Moncada (.260, 11, 40).

Projected Rotation: RH Michael Kopech (5-12, 5.43 ERA), RH Michael Soroka (2-2, 6.40 with Atlanta), RH Erick Fedde (6-13, 5.81 with Washington in 2022), RH Chris Flexen (2-8, 6.86 with Seattle and Colorado), LH Garrett Crochet (0-2, 3.55 in 13 relief appearances).

Key Relievers: RH John Brebbia (3-5, 3.99 ERA with Giants), RH Jesse Chavez (1-0, 1.56 with Atlanta), RH Steven Wilson (1-2, 3.91 with Padres), RH Corey Knebel (3-5, 3.43, 12 saves with Philadelphia in 2022).

Outlook: General manager Chris Getz begins his first full season with a huge task on his hands, trying to lift a team that matched the third-highest loss total in franchise history. And the odds of a quick turnaround don't look good. Chicago was second-to-last in the majors in runs and gave up more than all but four teams. The club also ranked among the worst on defense. The White Sox declined options on Anderson and Hendriks, letting them go as free agents, and made smaller additions rather than major moves in free agency. The most notable headlines involved chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's efforts to secure funding for a stadium in the city's South Loop. Cease, runner-up for the 2022 AL Cy Young Award, was traded to San Diego on March 13 for Wilson and three prospects: right-handers Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte, and outfielder Samuel Zavala.

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2023: 56-106, fifth place.

Manager: Matt Quatraro (second season).

Opening Day: March 28 vs Minnesota.

He's Here: RHP Kyle Wright, RHP Nick Anderson, RF Hunter Renfroe, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Chris Stratton, RHP Seth Lugo, LHP Will Smith, 2B Adam Frazier, C Austin Nola.

He's Outta Here: RHP Jackson Kowar, 3B Matt Duffy, RHP Brad Keller, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Collin Snider, RHP Jonathan Heasley, RF Edward Olivares, RHP Taylor Clarke, RHP Dylan Coleman, 2B Samad Taylor, RHP Max Castillo.

Top Hitters: SS Bobby Witt Jr. (.276, 30 HRs, 96 RBIs, 49 SBs), C Salvador Perez (.255, 23, 80), 3B Maikel Garcia (.272, 4, 50), OF Hunter Renfroe (.233, 20, 60 with Angels and Reds), 2B Adam Frazier (.240, 13, 60 with Orioles), 1B Vinnie Pasquantino (.247, 9, 26 in 61 games due to injury).

Projected Rotation: RH Michael Wacha (14-4, 3.22 ERA with Padres), LH Cole Ragans (7-5, 3.47 with Rangers and Royals), RH Seth Lugo (8-7, 3.57 with Padres), RH Brady Singer (8-11, 5.52), RH Jordan Lyles (6-17, 6.28).

Key Relievers: LH Will Smith (2-7, 4.40 ERA, 22 saves with Rangers), RH Chris Stratton (2-1, 3.92 with Cardinals and Rangers), RH Nick Anderson (4-0, 3.06 with Braves), RH John Schreiber (2-1, 3.86 with Red Sox), RH Matt Sauer (6-5, 3.41 with Yankees minor league teams), LH Jake Brentz (Tommy John surgery), LH Daniel Lynch IV (3-4, 4.64).

Outlook: The Royals aggressively overhauled their roster in the offseason, signing several veterans with postseason experience to help nurture a young core of promising players. Wacha and Lugo should immediately upgrade the rotation, while Ragans was a revelation after his midseason arrival in a trade with Texas. The Royals need Singer and Lyles to bounce back from tough seasons at the back of the rotation. Almost the entire bullpen is new, with Smith taking over the closer job. In the field, Witt earned MVP votes for his dynamic sophomore season, along with a franchise-record 11-year, $288.7 million contract. Most of the lineup is back intact, although Renfroe and Frazier have arrived to compete for starting jobs. The Royals hope a full season for Pasquantino, who had shoulder surgery last June, gives a big boost to their modest run production. In an AL Central that is wide open, the Royals believe they've made enough moves to compete for the top half of the division. And with ownership pushing voters for a tax referendum on April 2 to help fund a new downtown ballpark, the long-rebuilding Royals must prove to weary fans they once again are committed to winning.

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