Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 American League Central Preview

Another regular season is upon us and that means that it is prediction time for a lot of writers across the inter-web. There will be surprise teams, surprise players, and even some other surprises along the way. The unknown and unpredictability of baseball is one of the most enduring qualities of "America's Past-time."

Through out the coming week, I will be making my picks for the National League and the American League, taking a closer look at the AL Central, and selecting awards for the Twins. Here is a look at the weekly schedule so make sure to stop in all week to get yourself primed for the season to come.

2014 Preview Series
1. Detroit Tigers (Projected Record: 90-72)

The Positive: Detroit has one of the strongest rotations in baseball even with the departure of Doug Fister. Justing Verlander and Max Scherzer are a tough one-two punch. Prince Fielder and his underwhelming play were shipped off to Texas. This leaves Ian Kinsler and two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera manning one side of the infield. Joe Nathan will be a welcomed presence at the back end of the bullpen. The Tigers should clearly win the AL Central and it might come down to how long the other teams in the division can stay close.

The Negative: There are some question marks about some of the players at the back of their line-up. Will someone like Nick Castellanos be able to have a successful year? The ageless Torii Hunter is a year older and maybe this is the year his production starts to drop off. One of the team's biggest weaknesses will be the bullpen and questions will continue to swirl about how the team will get the game from their starters to Nathan in the ninth. 

2. Kansas City Royals (Projected Record: 82-80)

The Positive: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez are barely to the prime of their careers. If all of these players can start to play near the top of their potential, things could start to go right in KC. The Royals bullpen might be the strongest in the entire division. It helps to have James Shields at the top of the rotation and he might perform at the top of his game since he will be a free agent at season's end. Yordano Ventura will be a rookie to watch and he could find his name in the rookie of the year discussion.

The Negative: While the bullpen projects to be very good again, the starting rotation is dealing with the loss of Ervin Santana. Beyond Shields and maybe a surprise year from Ventura, there are lots of question marks and that doesn't exactly sound intriguing. Five players hit over 13 home runs last season but none of them hit over 19 homers and the team wasn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. A lot of national writers are picking the Royals as a team to watch this season. If everything breaks right, they could be in the wild card discussion but I don't see it.  

3. Cleveland Indians (Projected Record: 80-82)

The Positive: Cleveland is coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007 so things were riding high under new manager Terry Francona. Jason Kipnis made his first All-Star Game appearance and finished in the top 12 in the MVP voting. Carlos Santana is switching from behind the plate to the hot corner and this could help to keep his bat in the line-up on a more regular basis. Justin Masterson is one of the best pitchers in the division and the bullpen could be better with the addition of John Axford. 

The Negative: Nyjer Morgan will be the team's lead-off hitter at the beginning of the year after playing a year overseas. Michael Bourn signed a big free agent deal last offseason and he hasn't produced since he got to Cleveland. The Indians are waiting for top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to show up but expectations for him have gone down since he was the number three pick of the 2011 draft. Everything seemed to go right for Cleveland a year ago but things won't break their way in 2014. 

4. White Sox (Projected Record: 72-90)

The Positive: Things couldn't get much worse on the south side of Chicago so there's a good chance the club takes a step forward this year. Adam Eaton was brought in from the Diamondbacks to help the top of the order. Cuban slugger Jose Abreu was brought in to help supplement the offense and there have been some good players to come off that island in the last handful of years. Chris Sale could fight his way into the Cy Young discussion and he might end up being the best pitcher in the division.

The Negative: There are plenty of holes with the offense and the team has three first basemen and DH type players. It will be tough to get Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Jose Abreu in the line-up together. Beyond Sale there aren't really any other pitchers to be excited about and there isn't a ton of players coming through their farm system. Overall, it seems like the White Sox will be slightly improved but the club will still lose around 90 games. 

5. Minnesota Twins (Projected Record: 69-93)

The Positive: Joe Mauer should be in the line-up on a more regular basis with his switch to first base. Minnesota also went out and spent a significant amount of money on free agent pitching for the first time in the history of the franchise. The bullpen continues to be one of the team's strengths and the starting rotation has to improve with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes at the top. The Twins farm system is loaded and fans are waiting for the likes of Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer to make their big league debuts.

The Negative: Minnesota doesn't know what it will get this season out of young players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Josh Willingham is another year older and the club seems like they want to continue to use him on the defensive side of the ball even though he is poor in the field. Miguel Sano was on pace to debut this year but Tommy John surgery will hold him out of games until the end of the summer. It's tough to know where the Twins offense is going to come from and that's not a question you want on Opening Day. 

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