2017 American League Central Projected Standings:
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Kansas City Royals
- Minnesota Twins
- Chicago White Sox
Cleveland will repeat as divisional leaders this year, after making it to the World Series last year but blowing a 3-1 against the Chicago Cubs. But after making a huge splash in free agency this year in signing Edwin Encarnacion, the team is looking for vengeance. When the team acquired CL Andrew Miller at the annual Trade Deadline last year, yes they had to give up a huge part of their farm system and prospects, but also gained a player that in twenty-six games, was responsible for a 1.6 WAR, which is insane. Also, last year they were without Michael Brantley, who when healthy, can be a huge factor for the team. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he combined for a 10.2 WAR and hit for a combined .318.
All around the field, they look like a very superb team that can win 100+ games, which worries me because the team is so young, with an average age of 28.8. In the infield, left to right, there is Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and former catcher Carlos Santana. In the outfield, from right to left, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin, and Michael Brantley. The team is also lead by their number one starter Corey Kluber, who last year posted a 18-9 record with a 3.14 ERA. The main story however is Lindor. The twenty-three year old hit .301 last year along with fifteen homeruns and seventy-eight RBI’s. But, he is much more of a factor in the playoffs, hitting .310 and slugging .466. However the player to watch this year for Cleveland is going to be Edwin Encarnacion and how he adjusts to his new home in Cleveland. He had been with Toronto since 2009 and had a hell of a career while he was there. He’s projected to hit forty homeruns with over 100 RBI’s.
Last year, the Tigers finished second in the AL Central, behind the very dominant Indians team. Now, Detroit does have the man power and talent to be the front-runners in the Central, but with the Indians present, this is why I have them at second in this division. If the Indians were to somehow collapse this season and not display what they had last year, this is where the Tigers will lead. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Michael Fulmer, who last year went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA over 159 innings. Fulmer beat out Gary Sanchez and Andrew Benintendi who were both looking like superstars towards the end of last season. Justin Verlander last year was “cheated” out of the Cy Young last season as he was beaten by former teammate Rick Porcello. Despite Porcello having a better record, Verlander had a lower ERA, pitched in more games, gave up less amount of hits, and had more strikeouts.
In his first year with Detroit, Jordan Zimmerman did not have a Jordan Zimmerman with the Nationals type of year. He had almost a five ERA and almost lost more games than he won. A silent but great move for Detroit this year was exercising Francisco Rodriguez’s $6 million option for this upcoming season. He will now stabilize the Tigers bullpen later in games. With the former Triple Crown winner in Miguel Cabrera, Cabrera seemed like he would have been traded last year, but with seven years and $220 million remaining on his contract he was virtually untradeable. Now, they still have tons of power with Nick Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, and Justin Upton all still on the team. But their main problem this season is going to be consistently hitting. One player to watch this season is going to be Fulmer and if he has the infamous “sophomore slump.”
Kansas City Royals:
This team was and are still facing tragedy as one of their best prospects was killed in an automobile accident in the off-season. Yordano Ventura was looking like he would be a superstar, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA over his four years with the team. Despite winning the World Series just two seasons ago, the team that was beginning to look like a dynasty has now entered rebuilding mode. They were also sellers in the off-season, trading away one of the games best closer’s in Wade Davis. But, in return, they also acquired the power-hitting right fielder in Jorge Soler. Now, on paper, this team in the field looks like a winner, with players like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alex Gordon.
This team could also make a run in the middle of the season, which could propel them to the second spot in their division. If the team wants to be good, they should start by selling. Not a total and complete fire sale, but just to get rid of some of their payroll. Argumentatively, they could keep everyone and see how everything plays out this year. The one thing that does worry myself and fans is their pitching staff. With the loss of Ventura, their new “ace” is twenty-eight year old Danny Duffy, who last season went 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA. Duffy will also be accompanied by Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel, and Nathan Karns in their starting rotation. One player to watch this year will be catcher Salvador Perez. Perez, last season had a bit of a dip in average, hitting twenty points less than last season.
After coming off of a season where they lost 103 games, the Twins are officially in rebuild mode. Since 2011, the team has finished below .500, in five of the past six seasons. Second basemen Brian Dozier’s name was being circulated all throughout the off-season, being linked to a potential trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dozier would have been an amazing fit in LA, but the Twins refused to trade as the Dodgers did not want to give enough. A development that has been an ongoing issue in Ervin Santana’s career, is that he produces a fantastic ERA, but doesn’t get the run support from his offense to get the win. Last year he put up a great 3.38 ERA, but went 7-11 and gave up 168 hits.
But, if the Twins were to catch fire, they could catch up to my projected third place Royals. Former first round pick and now first basemen, Joe Mauer is going to have to lead this team of youngsters to prepare them for the future. Mauer, who is a career .308 hitter, hasn’t hit above .300 since the 2013 season where he hit .324. The team will also need big seasons from the power-hitters Max Kepler and Miguel Sano. The two combined for forty-two homeruns last season and helped the team limp to the finish line. They also both have really low averages, with Kepler hitting .235 and Sano hitting .236. One player to watch this season will be prospect Byron Buxton. Buxton has a very promising career ahead of himself if he can stay on the field. Last year, he finished with a very mediocre .225 average with only ten homeruns and thirty-eight RBI’s. Buxton is fast, plain and simple, and in order for him to stay on the Twins’ lineup, he needs to get on base and then steal.
Chicago White Sox:
Last but not least, there is the Chicago White Sox, who are going to be in a race for last this season against the Twins. Despite the White Sox having a little bit of a better team, I still think that the Twins can get it together and collect more wins than the Sox. The Sox had a fire sale and traded away two major pieces that were on their roster in Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. They traded Sale for four of the Red Sox’s prospects in their farm system, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Victor Diaz, and Luis Alexander Basabe. Also, in the Eaton trade, they acquired Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, and Reynaldo Lopez. Similar to the Yankees, they decided to start stock-piling for the future and propelled themselves to a top-five farm system.
The team has massive wholes on the field and in their pitching rotation. Their starting five consists of Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez and Derek Holland. Not terrible, but also not good. Shields and Holland are two of my main concerns, two guys who looked really good at one point in their careers, but are now washed up and getting older. The team also has two third basemen on the roster, Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier, which will force Lawrie to move over to second. They will also be accompanied by former Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu. One player to watch this year will be Melky Cabrera and how he pans out. Cabrera is entering his third year with the Sox, where he has hit .284 with an overall 4.0 WAR in that span of time.