2021 A.L. Central Preview

 

A week closer to the start of the MLB season we will now cover the American League Central to cover the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins and White Sox.  This division has the young and fun to watch White Sox and the high powered offense of the Twins with the other teams in some sort of rebuilding phase. These articles will coincide with the division that we preview on the podcast that week. We will be starting in the west then and working our way east across the divisions. In this article I will highlight the team’s offseason losses and additions, some prospects that may make an impact this season, my player to watch, my projected team record, and finally my projected division standings.

 

Cleveland Indians

The Indians finished last season 35-25 getting one of the wildcard spots in the postseason. They had a huge loss this offseason trading Francisco Lindor to the Mets. They lost Adam Cimber, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco via trade; declined the options of Carlos Santana and Brad Hand as well as lost Oliver Perez, Domingo Santana, Santy Leon, Delino DeShields, and Tyler Naquin. They added Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Isaiah Greene, Josh Wolf via trade and Eddie Rosario, Heath Hembree, Brian Shaw, Blake Parker, Ben Gamel and Billy Hamilton via free agency.

The Indians have 3 top 100 prospects in the pipeline third baseman Nolan Jones(36), RHP Triston McKenzie(51) and SS Tyler Freeman(98). Jones and McKenzie will likely feature in the Indians lineup and rotation this upcoming season while Freeman is a year away. Jones will most likely start the year in the minors and come up in June or July to keep him for the extra year of service time and McKenzie will likely start the year as the four starter in the rotation. McKenzie had a good showing last season in eight appearances he had a 3.24 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

My player to watch for the Indians is newly acquired Eddie Rosario. Coming from a team in the Twins with all the lineup protection in the world Rosario comes to a team with little protection in the lineup in Franmil Reyes, Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez. I expect him to keep up his production but it will be a bit harder not having as much support around him as well as opportunity with a lineup and team that may struggle.

I believe that the Indians will have a rough year after trading the centerpiece of their team to the Mets as well as not having much depth in their bullpen.  Beiber had a good year last year but can he repeat and they are lacking a true number two in the rotation. They are a young rotation that will look to grow and become more established. They have young pieces in Gimenez, Naylor, Rosario, Clase and Reyes all under 24 along with their entire rotation. They could be a team for the future if some of these young players can breakout. I think they will finish 76-86.

 

Kansas City Royals

The Royals enter the season finishing with a 26-34 record last season, they have lost Franchy Cordero and Khalil Lee via trade and Matt Harvey, Ian Kennedy, Mike Montgomery, Kevin McCarthy, Glenn Sparkman, and Maikel Franco to free agency and Alex Gordon to retirement. They added Andrew Benintendi via trade and Mike Minor, Michael Taylor, Carlos Santana, Erving Santana, Wade Davis and Hanser Alberto via free agency.

The Royals have 3 top 100 prospects in SS Bobby Witt Jr.(7), and LHP’s Daniel Lynch(29) and Asa Lacy(30). MLB pipeline has Witt and Lacy projected for a 2022 ETA while Lynch is projected for this season. With most prospects that are borderline making the opening day roster Lynch will probably start the season in the minor then get called up in late May or June to control his service time. Lynch has a plus fastball and slider with decent control. He could be a good addition to the staff that has young pitchers in Bubic and Singer to create a solid young core on the mound.

My player to watch is Adalberto Mondesi [the Royals] starting shortstop who has been in the MLB since he was 20 years old and has not been able to stay healthy and play over 110 games. I have watched him play and he has the stuff to be an all-star player if he can stay healthy and be consistent. He can fly so all he has to do is get on base to make an impact and he is an above average defender at the shortstop position. I am looking for him to stay healthy and have a good season having additional support in the lineup with the additions of Benintendi and Carlos Santana.

The Royals made an interesting move in acquiring Andrew Benintendi from the Red Sox when they are not necessarily competing for the playoffs. It makes sense because they have to replace Alex Gordon who was a rock in Left Field for the past 14 years due to his retirement. They added some depth to their lineup but do not truly have a number 1 starter or a true star in their lineup yet. They are still rebuilding but look better than last season.  They will finish 73-89.

 

Detroit Tigers

Review/Loss/Add

The Tigers are coming off of a season in which they finished 23-35 finishing last in the AL Central. This offseason they have lost Jordan Zimmerman, Ivan Nova, Austin Romine, and Nick Ramirez via free agency and added Ian Krol, Jose Urena, Dustin Garneau, Robbie Grossman, Erasmo Ramirez, Derek Holland, Wilson Ramos, Greg Garcia, Renato Nunez and Nomar Mazara. They added some players who are actually MLB talent players to at least make their roster on paper look better.  They added players that you actually know the names of. They are rebuilding so we will see what will come of this season.

The Tigers have 5 top 100 prospects all falling in the top 30 being 3B Spencer Torkelson(3), RHP’s Casey Mize(11) and Matt Manning(25), LHP Tarik Skubal(24) and OF Riley Green(21). There is a lot of promise in these prospects and they will all be up within the next season or so. This year it is projected that Mize, Manning and Skubal will all be with the MLB club while Torkelson and Greene are a year away but I can see them both come up at some point this season. People were calling for Torkelson to come up last season only a few months after being drafted. These guys are going to be exciting to watch and it could prove a bright future is coming for the Tiger with these five guys.

My player to watch for the Tigers is their crown jewel pitching prospect Casey Mize. Mize drafted 1,1 in 2018 has a nasty pitch mix and has all the hype surrounding him after throwing a no-hitter in his first AA start two years ago. I know that he came up last season and did not perform well but of his 5 starts 4 were against two of the top 5 offenses in the game in Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox. This year with some experience under his belt and a full spring training he will be better prepared and look more like the player we think he will be.

The Tigers are young and rebuilding even with the addition of the MLB names they will still struggle to compete in this division as well with other teams in the MLB. This will be a year to get the young players like Mize, Skubal, Manning and other experience at the Major League level and prepare them for the future. They will finish 62-100, this is mostly due to the strength at the top of their division as well as nothing truly impressive about their lineup.

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are coming off a season where they finished 36-24 winning the AL Central. This offseason they lost Lamonte Wade Jr. via trade, Sergio Romo declined his option, and Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Zack Littell, Trevor May, Corey Gearrin, Tyler Clippard, Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Alex Avila, Matt Wisler, Eddie Rosario, and Fernando Romero via free agency. They added Shaun Anderson via trade and Glenn Sparkman, Luke Farrell, Derek Law, Rob Refsnyder, Tzu-Wei Lin, Hansel Robles, JT Riddle, J.A. Happ, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, Andrew Albers, Keon Broxton and Matt Shoemaker via free agency.

The Twins have 4 top 100 prospects including SS Royce Lewis(17), OF/1B Alex Kirilloff(26), OF Trevor Larnach(80) and RHP Jordan Balazovic(97). Lewis and Larnach are a year or two away while Kirilloff and Balazovic look to make a difference this season according to MLB Pipeline. Kirilloff is projected to start as the opening day left fielder. He is projected as an above average hitter and average fielder. Balazovic on the other hand will be competing to fill in at the end of the rotation against Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ. He has a plus fastball and an above average slider and control.

My players to watch this season are Byron Buxton and Andrelton Simmons. I couldn’t just pick one because I think they both will have monster years. In Buxton’s case I think he will stay healthy this season after having much time off after the shortened season and a long offseason. I think he can play 130 games this season and have his best offensive season yet.  We know that he will be an all-world defender. It's all about how much offense he can bring and if he can get on base. As for Simmons having all this depth in the lineup offensively will allow him to hit lower in the lineup and get pitches to hit. Like Buxton he is an all-world defensive player, I think he will have an optimal offensive season hitting in the bottom-3 in the lineup and getting favorable pitches to hit.

I think that the Twins are slightly underrated, we all know that they are going to mash the ball and hit tons of homeruns and score tons of runs but their underrated factor is how good I think their defense is going to be amazing. The left side of the infield is locked down by Donaldson and Simmons and 2/3 of the outfield is covered when Buxton plays. When Garver’s on he plays solidly behind the plate and Kepler can do the job in right. With this I think they will be able to help their below average pitching staff.  With that I think they will finish 95-67.

 

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are coming off a season where they finished 35-25 getting one of the wildcard spots in the postseason. This offseason they lost Dane Dunning and Avery Weems via trade, declined Edwin Encarnacion’s club option and Clayton Richard, Alex Colome, Nicky Delmonico, Jarrod Dyson, James McCann, Nomar Mazara and Carlos Rodon via free agency. They added Lance Lynn via trade and Tim Beckham, Adam Eaton, Matt Reynolds, Mike Wright, Marco Hernandez, Liam Hendriks, Nick Williams and Jonathan Lucroy via free agency.

The White Sox have 4 top 100 prospects including 1B Andrew Vaughn(14), RHP Michael Kopech(39), 2B Nick Madrigal(40) and LHP Garrett Crochet(56). All of these guys are looking to make a difference in the White Sox lineup this upcoming season. We will start with Garrett Crochet who was drafted in 2020 and pitched in the 2020 season. He pitched 6 innings, giving up 3 hits, no runs and 8 strikeouts.  He looks to be an anchor in the bullpen this season. Andrew Vaughn, drafted in 2019 is slated to be the DH this upcoming season as a first baseman by trade who is behind last year’s AL MVP Jose Abreu. Vaughn is projected to have a great bat and that’s why he’s going to be their DH this season. Michael Kopech would have made his debut last season but pulled out due to coronavirus concerns last year.  Kopech has an electric fastball with a deadly slider to make his stuff electric although he lacks control at points. He will be a nightmare for hitters bringing a fastball that can reach 105. He will fill out the backend of the rotation or be a strong bullpen piece.  Nick Madrigal is projected to hit for an amazing average with plus speed and plus fielding. He has been criticized for his small stature but if he can get on base and run he will prove them wrong. He is slated to start at second base to start the season.

My player to watch for the White Sox is Adam Eaton. Adam Eaton is returning to where he had his best MLB season to a team that is loaded top to bottom in the lineup. He now has less defensive responsibility playing in the corner and has a lot of protection in his lineup. I think he can put up numbers that were similar to when he was in Chicago the first time where he got MVP votes in 2016.

 

Preview

Like the Twins the White Sox are poised to score many runs but have some question marks when it comes to their pitching staff.  Giolito and Lynn are studs but Keuchel, Cease and Kopech are unknowns. I know Keuchel is Keuchel but he’s getting older and I don’t know if he will be able to keep it up. I think they will be going for the division and that being said I think they finish 95-67.

 

Division Standings/Round-Up

Minnesota Twins – 95-67

Chicago White Sox – 95-67

Cleveland Indians – 76-86

Kansas City Royals – 73-89

Detroit Tigers – 58-104

 

Realistically only the Twins and White Sox have any chance of making the playoffs this season due to their high powered offences and winning pedigree. The Indians, Royals and Tigers are all rebuilding and are a few years away. It will be fun to watch these high powered offences go to battle.