AL Central Preview Capsules
Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
Manager: Rocco Baldelli (second season).
2019: 101-61, first place, lost to Yankees in Division Series.
He’s Here: 3B Josh Donaldson, RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Tyler Clippard, C Alex Avila, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Matt Wisler, RHP Jhoulys Chacín.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Brusdar Graterol, RHP Kyle Gibson, 1B C.J. Cron, 2B Jonathan Schoop, C Jason Castro, LHP Martín Pérez, RHP Ryne Harper, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, RHP Sam Dyson.
Projected Lineup: RF Max Kepler (.252, 36 HRs, 90 RBIs), SS Jorge Polanco (.295, 22, 79, 40 doubles), 3B Josh Donaldson (.259, 37, 94, .379 on-base percentage with Braves), DH Nelson Cruz (.311, 41, 108, .639 slugging percentage in 120 games), 3B Miguel Sanó (.247, 34, 79, 159 strikeouts in 105 games), C Mitch Garver (.273, 31 HRs, 67 RBIs, .630 SLG in 93 games), LF Eddie Rosario (.276, 32, 109), 2B Luis Arraez (.334, 4, 28 in 92 games), CF Byron Buxton (.262, 10, 46, 30 2Bs, 14 steals in 87 games).
Rotation: RH José Berríos (14-8, 3.68 ERA, 195 strikeouts, 200 1/3 innings), RH Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51, 178 Ks, 159 IP), RH Kenta Maeda (10-8, 4.04 ERA, 169 Ks, 153 2/3 IP with Dodgers), LH Rich Hill (4-1, 2.45 ERA, 72 Ks, 58 2/3 IP), RH Homer Bailey (13-9, 4.57, 163 1/3 IP with Royals and Athletics) or RH Jhoulys Chacín (3-12, 6.01 ERA, 103 1/3 IP with Brewers and Red Sox) or RH Randy Dobnak (2-1, 1.59, 28 1/3 innings).
Key Relievers: LH Taylor Rogers (2-4, 2.61 ERA, 30/36 saves, 90 Ks, 69 IP), RH Sergio Romo (0-1, 3.18, 3/5 saves, 27 games with Twins and 2-0, 3.58, 17/18 saves, 38 games with Marlins), RH Tyler Duffey (5-1, 2.50, 82 Ks, 57 2/3 IP), RH Trevor May (5-3, 2.94, .184 batting average against), RH Tyler Clippard (1-0, 2.90 ERA with Indians), RH Zack Littell (6-0, 2.68, 37 innings).
Outlook: After swatting a major league record 307 home runs last season on their way to the AL Central title with the second-most wins in club history, the Twins raised the bar with the high-priced addition of the big-swinging, slick-fielding Donaldson. Then came the trade with the Dodgers that landed Maeda for prized 21-year-old pitching prospect Graterol, adding a proven arm with recent World Series experience to the rotation behind All-Stars Berríos and Odorizzi. Now the key will be maintaining that momentum and keeping the virus from spoiling the good vibes. The starting pitching is deeper than last year with the addition of Maeda, Bailey and Hill, who has benefited as much as anyone in Twins camp from the virus-delayed start to the season. Hill is fully recovered from elbow surgery and expected to be ready for the rotation right away. Michael Pineda still has 36 games to serve on his suspension for using a banned diuretic, but he’ll present another accomplished starting pitching option come September. The biggest unknown on the position-player side is Buxton, who had major shoulder surgery last year, but like Hill has been helped by the four-month delay with extra time to heal. Numerous injuries over his five-year career have squashed his tantalizing potential, but a healthy Buxton this season would make the lineup all the better. He hurt his left foot during an intrasquad game this month and was carted off the field, another reminder of how good health is never a guarantee. The spotlight will also fall on Sanó in his transition to first base. Sanó tested positive for COVID-19 upon reporting to camp, as did backup catcher Willians Astudillo, putting him behind in his tuneup for the season.
2019: 93-69, second place.
Manager: Terry Francona (eighth season).
He’s Here: 2B Cesar Hernandez, OF Delino DeShields, RHP Emmanuel Clase, C Sandy Leon.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Corey Kluber, 2B Jason Kipnis, OF Yasiel Puig, RHP Tyler Clippard, OF Leonys Martin, LHP Tyler Olson, RHP Dan Otero, C Kevin Plawecki, RHP Danny Salazar, RHP Nick Goody.
Projected Lineup: 2B Cesar Hernandez (.279, 14 HRs, 71 RBIs in 161 games with Phillies), 3B Jose Ramirez (.255, 23, 74, 129 games due to injuries), SS Francisco Lindor (.284, 32, 74, 22 steals, Gold Glove), 1B Carlos Santana (.281, 34, 93, 108 walks, 110 runs), RF Franmil Reyes (.239, 37, 81, 156 strikeouts), LF Oscar Mercado (.269, 15, 70, 118 games as rookie), DH Domingo Santana (.253, 21, 69 in 121 games with Mariners), C Roberto Perez (.239, 24, 63, Gold Glove), CF Delino DeShields (.249, 4, 34, 24 steals in 118 games with Rangers).
Rotation: RH Shane Bieber (15-8, 3.28 ERA, 259 strikeouts, All-Star MVP) RH Mike Clevinger (13-4, 2.71) RH Carlos Carrasco (6-7, 5.29, returned after being diagnosed with leukemia), RH Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.81), Aaron Civale (3-4, 2.34 in 10 games), Adam Plutko (7-5, 4.86).
Key Relievers: LH Brad Hand (6-4, 3.30, 34 saves in 39 chances), LH Adam Cimber (6-3, 4.45, 1 save, 68 games), RH James Karinchak (1.69 ERA in five games as rookie), LH Oliver Perez (2-4, 3.98, 67 games), RH Jefry Rodriguez (1-5, 4.63 in eight starts), Nick Wittgren (5-1, 2.81 , 4 saves, 55 games), Emmanuel Clase (2-3, 2.31 in 21 games with Rangers, serving 80 game drug suspension).
Outlook: For the first time since 2015, the Indians didn’t win the AL Central last season and missed the playoffs. Their window for possibly ending baseball’s current longest World Series drought grew to 71 years. A slow start coupled with a puzzling slump by Ramirez, numerous injuries and some bad luck, contributed to Cleveland finishing behind the Twins. The decision this winter to trade two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber creates a major hole at the top of the rotation, but either Bieber or Clevinger is capable of filling the void. Lindor’s tricky contract situation — he’s signed through 2021 — makes it imperative for the Indians to come out strong in the abbreviated season or they could be forced to trade the All-Star shortstop before the new Aug 31 deadline. Francona will likely move Lindor from the leadoff spot to No. 3, where he could put up even bigger numbers.
Chicago White Sox
2019: 72-89, third place.
Manager: Rick Renteria (fourth season).
He’s Here: C Yasmani Grandal, LHP Dallas Keuchel, LHP Gio González, 1B-DH Edwin Encarnación, RF Nomar Mazara, RHP Steve Cishek.
He’s Outta Here: INF Yolmer Sánchez, C Welington Castillo, RHP Iván Nova.
Projected Lineup: SS Tim Anderson (.335, 18 HRs, 56 RBIs, led majors in batting), 3B Yoán Moncada (.315, 25, 79), 1B José Abreu (.284, 33 HRs, 123, led AL in RBIs), C Yasmani Grandal (.246, 28, 77 with Milwaukee), DH Edwin Encarnación (.244, 34, 86 with Seattle and New York Yankees), LF Eloy Jiménez (.267, 31, 79), RF Nomar Mazara (.268, 19, 66 with Texas), CF Luis Robert (..328, 32, 92 at Class A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte), 2B Leury García (.279, 8, 40) or Nick Madrigal (.311, 4, 55 with Class A, Double-A and Triple-A).
Rotation: RH Lucas Giolito (14-9, 3.41 ERA, 228 Ks, 176 2/3 innings), LH Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75 with Atlanta), RH Dylan Cease (4-7, 5.79), RH Reynaldo Lopez (10-15, 5.38), LH Gio González (3-2, 3.50) with Milwaukee.
Key Relievers: RH Alex Colomé (4-5, 2.80, 30/33 saves), RH Kelvin Herrera (3-3, 6.14), LH Aaron Bummer (0-0, 2.13), RH Steve Cishek (4-6, 2.95, 7 saves).
Outlook: The White Sox believe they are ready to end a string of seven straight losing seasons and challenge for their first playoff appearance since Tampa Bay beat them in the 2008 AL Division Series. Free agent deals for Grandal, Keuchel, González, Encarnación and Cishek strengthened the lineup, rotation and bullpen. Anderson, Moncada, Jiménez and Abreu anchor a deep batting order, and Robert is a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox have the makings of a solid rotation, if Cease (5.79 ERA in his first 14 major league starts last season) and Lopez (major league-leading 110 earned runs allowed) develop consistency. They won’t have promising pitching prospect Michael Kopech, who was trying to come back from Tommy John surgery and opted not to play this season. Moncada also went on the 10-day injured list for unspecified reasons on July 10.
Kansas City Royals
2019: 59-103, fourth place.
Manager: Mike Matheny (first season).
He’s Here: Manager Mike Matheny, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, RHP Greg Holland, 3B Maikel Franco.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Ned Yost, INF Cheslor Cuthbert, RHP Trevor Oaks, RF Jorge Bonifacio, C Martin Maldonado, OF Billy Hamilton, 1B Lucas Duda.
Projected Lineup: CF Whit Merrifield (.302, 16 HRs, 74 RBIs, 20 SBs), SS Adalberto Mondesi (.263, 9, 62, 43), RF Hunter Dozier (.279, 26, 84), DH Jorge Soler (.265, 48, 117), C Salvador Perez (Tommy John surgery), LF Alex Gordon (.266, 13, 76), 3B Maikel Franco (.234, 17, 57 with Philadelphia), 1B Ryan O’Hearn (.195, 14, 38), 2B Nicky Lopez (240, 2, 30).
Rotation: RH Brad Keller (7-14, 4.19 ERA), LH Danny Duffy (7-6, 4.34), RH Jakob Junis (9-14, 5.24), LH Mike Montgomery (2-7, 4.64), RH Glenn Sparkman (4-11, 6.02), RH Jorge Lopez (4-9, 6.33).
Key Relievers: RH Ian Kennedy (3-2, 3.41 ERA, 30 Saves), RH Tim Hill (2-0, 3.63), RH Kevin McCarthy (4-2, 4.48), RH Jake Newberry (1-0, 3.77), RH Heath Fillmyer (0-2, 8.06), LH Richard Lovelady (0-3, 7.65), RH Josh Staumont (0-0, 3.72), RH Greg Holland (1-2, 4.54, 17 saves with Arizona), RH Trevor Rosenthal (0-1, 13.50 with Detroit and Washington), RH Chance Adams (1-1, 8.53 with New York Yankees).
Outlook: The biggest move for the Royals this season came away from the field, where longtime owner David Glass sold the franchise to a group led by Kansas City businessman John Sherman shortly before his death. The sale valued at about $1 billion became public about the time Yost announce his retirement after two World Series trips and a championship in 2015. The Royals have fallen on hard times since those heady days and it is up to Matheny to usher a young but talented group toward respectability. Mondesi, Lopez, Dozier and OF Bubba Starling already had cracked the roster and gained valuable experience last season, and a wave of pitching prospects could arrive before the end of the shortened season. With only 60 games in the pandemic-influenced sprint, the Royals think they could have more success than they would over a 162-game season. And they could potentially set themselves up for bigger things next year.
2019: 47-114, fifth place.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (third season).
He’s Here: 2B Jonathan Schoop, RHP Ivan Nova, 1B C.J. Cron, C Austin Romine, C Eric Haase.
He’s Outta Here: SS Ronny Rodriguez, RHP Drew VerHagen, LHP Blaine Hardy, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Tyson Ross, SS Gordon Beckham, LHP Matt Moore, C John Hicks, LHP Daniel Stumpf, RHP Victor Alcantara, RHP Zac Reininger, LHP Matt Hall.
Projected Lineup: RF Cameron Maybin (.285, 11 HRs, 32 RBIs with Yankees), SS Niko Goodrum (.248, 12, 45), DH Miguel Cabrera (.282, 12, 59), 1B C.J. Cron (.253, 25, 78 with Twins), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.256, 23, 59 with Twins), LF Christin Stewart (.233, 10, 40), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.203, 8, 32), C Austin Romine (.281, 8, 35 with Yankees), CF JaCoby Jones (.235, 11, 26).
Rotation: LH Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.56 ERA, 238 Ks, 39 HRs), RH Jordan Zimmermann (1-13, 6.91), RH Spencer Turnbull (3-17, 4.61), RH Ivan Nova (11-12, 4.72 with White Sox), RH Michael Fulmer (missed 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery) or LH Daniel Norris (3-13, 4.49) or LH Tyler Alexander (1-4, 4.86).
Key Relievers: RH Joe Jimenez (4-7, 4.37, 9/14 saves), RH Buck Farmer (6-6, 3.72), LH Gregory Soto (0-5, 5.77), RH Jose Cisnero (0-4, 4.33), RH David McKay (0-0, 5.47 with Mariners and Tigers), RH Bryan Garcia (0-0, 12.15).
Outlook: The Tigers were firmly in a rebuilding mode last year, and their record reflected that. The big question for 2020 is whether the team’s top prospects will play a major role. Pitchers Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal haven’t pitched above Double-A, but they’re part of Detroit’s player pool, and with the minor leagues no longer an option, it may make sense at some point to put them on the mound at Comerica Park. The Tigers also have infielder Spencer Torkelson, the top pick in this year’s draft, in the player pool. Detroit tried to add power in the offseason, acquiring Cron and Schoop. The Tigers would love to see Cabrera find his home run stroke again, but he appears to be in decline at age 37.
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