KC Hopes to Remain the Royalty of the AL Central

Joe Clark

In part 2 of Pantherbook’s 7 part MLB Preview, we take a look at the AL Central

AL Central

  • Kansas City Royals (95-67)


This is essentially the same small ball Royals team that won the World Series last season. While they lost Johnny Cueto to the San Francisco Giants in Free Agency, the Royals signed Ian Kennedy, a capable replacement for Cueto, especially considering Cueto struggled for KC last season. The Royals boast pitching depth that is some of the best in the league, with Edinson Volquez, Kennedy, Yordano Ventura, Chris Young, and Kris Medlen forming the Royals starting rotation, with Danny Duffy and Miguel Almonte ready to step in in case of injury. The Royals lineup is still one of the best in the bigs, with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon, whom the Royals almost lost in free agency all returning alongside Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez. Perez, the reigning World Series MVP, is a top 3 catcher in baseball and is a remarkably durable presence behind the plate. Hosmer, Cain, and Gordon form the basis of the Royals small ball lineup that beat the Mets stellar rotation in the World Series last season. With Wade Davis, Joakim Soria, and Kelvin Herrera returning in the bullpen, this is a scary Royals team that has a good chance to repeat as World Series champions.

Detroit Tigers (85-77)

With the signings of Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton this season, the Tigers have put themselves in the position to rebound from their 74-87 season last year. Zimmermann helps stabilize a previously shaky rotation, and gives the Tigers 6 guys who are at least decent MLB starters right now, while Upton is the stabilizing force the Tigers lineup needs to go along with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. With Justin Verlander, Zimmermann, and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers have one of the best rotations in the league. With Mike Pelfrey, Shane Greene, and Daniel Norris, the Tigers boast depth in their rotation too. They also have a very solid lineup, with Cabrera, V. Martinez, Upton, and JD Martinez. If Nick Castellanos can lower his strikeouts and boost his OBP (career .304) the Tigers will have a very dangerous lineup. New GM Al Avila made upgrading the bullpen a focus this offseason, and with the additions of Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, and Justin Wilson, the Tigers have a scary bullpen. Look for the Tigers to compete for a wild card this season.

  1. Minnesota Twins (84-78)

The Twins were one of the biggest surprises of the season last year, as their 83-79 finish was unexpected from a team expected to be one of the worst in the league last season. The Twins return the bulk of their solid, albeit unspectacular rotation. Ervin Santana was suspended for the first 80 games last season due to a violation of the league’s steroid policy, and he could be a huge for the Twins this year. Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, and Ricky Nolasco all join Santana in the Twins’ rotation. The only notable offseason addition that the Twins made was the acquisition of Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park. He is expected to DH for the Twins and fill in at first when Twins legend Joe Mauer needs a day off. Brian Dozier also returns to man 2B, and the Twins will hope he can get his batting average up-his power his undeniable (69 HR over the last 3 seasons) but he struggles to consistently hit (.240/.322/.425 in that same span). Everyone’s eyes in Minnesota this year will be on the young outfield duo of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Buxton, the #2 prospect in baseball heading into this year, was rushed to the majors due to injuries at the big league level last season, and he struggled at the plate and with injuries, an issue that has plagued him his entire career. He has Andrew McCutchen-esque tools, and with a good season from him the Twins could squeak out an extra win or two. Sano is known as a power hitter, and with 50 HR potential he could be one of the most fun young sluggers to watch. He had 18 HR in only 335 plate appearances last season, and he even boasted a .269/.385/.530 slash last season. Give him 550 at bats, and Sano could do damage this season. This is a good young team, and expect them to contend for a wild card this year and some division titles in the future.

  1. Cleveland Indians (83-79)

The Indians are an interesting team. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, they have 3 phenomenal young pitchers who would be quite dangerous in a playoff series. The Indians just have to get their first. I liked their offseason, where they didn’t lose anyone major and picked up Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe on cheap contracts to solidify 1B and 3B. Napoli struggled last season, and his high K rate scares teams who think he’s in the midst of a major decline, but in a part time role with the Rangers last season, he hit .295/.396/.513 with 5 HR and 10 RBI in 91 plate appearances, and if he can at least come close to replicating that production every day (.260 with 20 HR) the Indians will have gotten a lot of value out of their relatively meager (for the MLB) $7 million investment. Uribe spent 2015 with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets, and his time with the Mets rebuilt his value, as he stabilized the Mets shaky infield, playing a solid 3B when David Wright was out with injuries and providing a nice bat off the bench. The $4 million he’s making this year could also turn to be a bargain for the Indians. Where the Indians may find trouble is their outfield. Michael Brantley is one of the most underrated players in baseball, but injury concerns have hampered his production at times, and he will start the season on the DL. Abraham Almonte, who was decent for the Indians after they got him from San Diego at the deadline, will miss the first 80 games of the season due to a steroid suspension, and the Tribe will have to rely on rookie Tyler Naquin to produce. If his spring training performance is any indication (.415/.456/.811) he will produce, and produce a lot. Taking too much stock in spring training stats is a risky proposition though, and Naquin has never appeared in an MLB game. He will be someone worth watching this year. In right, the Indians have Lonnie Chisenhall, who despite an outstanding first half of 2014 is incredibly average, and Marlon Byrd who could be an intriguing piece off the bench and in the lineup while Chisenhall starts the season on the DL. Byrd probably deserves more credit for what he brings in terms of power (72 HR since 2013). He’s only making $1 million this year, and like Uribe and Napoli, could be a bargain. The crown jewel of the Indians roster this year is SS Francisco Lindor. Lindor was fantastic in 99 games last season, hitting .313/.353/.482 with 12 HR, 51 RBI, 12 SB, and with his fantastic defense he was worth 4.6 WAR. With Lindor, Brantley, and their fantastic rotation, the Indians could be a solid team this year. The central has quietly become a very strong division, and look for the Indians, along with the Twins and Tigers, to compete for a wild card spot.

  1. Chicago White Sox (77-85)

Despite having two of the best pitchers in baseball in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the White Sox are a team with more questions than answers. They went out and acquired Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, but a questionable rotation (After Sale and Quintana they have the promising Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, and John Danks) limits the Sox. The Sox also lack infield depth, with their only infielders being MVP candidate Jose Abreu, Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins, Frazier, and Tyler Saladino. In their outfield, FA acquisition Austin Jackson is expected to man CF, moving Adam Eaton to LF. With the sudden retirement of Adam LaRoche, the White Sox will be forced to play Avisail Garcia in left everyday, while moving the aging Melky Cabrera to DH. At catcher, they’ll need ex-Tiger Alex Avila to return to his 2011 form (.298/.389/.506 with 19 HR and 82 RBI) but his numbers since then have been downright bad (.224/.334/.360 with 35 HR and 155 RBI in 1,489 plate appearances). I doubt he makes it out of the season as the Sox starting catcher, as backup Dioner Navarro has been consistent with the bat the last few years with the Cubs and Blue Jays (.276/.328/.360 with 30 HR and 123 RBI in 978 plate appearances since 2013). Their bullpen is decent, with David Robertson closing out games with Jake Petricka, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, and Nate Jones also names to watch. The White Sox are a good team, but question marks in the back of their rotation and throughout the lineup will limit the ceiling for the White Sox this season.