The second week of our baseball preview takes a look at the Central divisions in both the American and National Leagues.

Catch up on last week's AL and NL West division previews while you're at it, and look for the East divisions next week.

Opening Day is 21 days away! That's the real Opening Day, not this silly start to the season in Australia!

AL Central 

2013 final standings:

  1. Detroit  93-69
  2. Cleveland  92-70
  3. Kansas City 86-76
  4. Minnesota 66-96
  5. Chicago 63-99

To say this division is top heavy is quite the understatement.  Kansas City was supposed to challenge for the division last year, but really didn’t at any point look like playoff contenders;  along with Minnesota and Chicago who are in complete franchise rebuild mode (read: not any good).  The final standings indicated that the Indians were serious challengers for the division, but all summer long they really didn’t give that vibe off either.  They don’t seem to be interested in bringing in any pitching help to push them over the hump.  Detroit is clearly the class of the division even without Prince Fielder and Doug Fister


Detroit Tigers

Projected Starting Rotation:

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Anibal Sanchez
  4. Rick Porcello
  5. Drew Smyly

This team could afford to give away a guy who would be a 2nd starter on most other big league rosters in Doug Fister, for a backup infielder and a couple prospects.  That’s saying something about how they feel going into the season!  Justin Verlander’s “core surgery” went well as he doesn’t seem to be all that far behind in his preparation for the season.   He will be looking to put a middling season behind him and grow on solid postseason outings.  Last year’s Cy Young winner Max Scherzer seems like he is in position to receive a lucrative contract extension from the team soon.  Both Verlander and Scherzer are power arm strikeout guys; guys GM’s build rotations around; which it looks like Dave Dombrowski is doing.  Last year Anibal Sanchez justified his big free agent contract by leading the league in ERA and winning 14 games.  Look for some regression to league average ERA, but perhaps a few more wins this year facing other teams’ weaker 3rd starters.  Rick Porcello is a ground ball pitcher who will benefit from a strengthened infield defense, and is a good bet to win 14 games.  Drew Smyly’s breakout season made management feel comfortable enough to trade Fister and have the lefty take his spot in the rotation.   

The Bullpen is remade with new closer Joe Nathan, as last year’s attempt to go it without a true back end stopper fell flat.  The also brought in Yankees cast off Joba Chamberlain, who when motivated can reach 98 on the radar.  The team retains Al Alburquerque, lefty Phil Coke and last year’s spring training closer Bruce Rondon.  The group is devoid a long relief man, but with that starting rotation new manager Brad Ausmus probably feels like he can get away with not giving that roster spot away.  Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were released in the offseason. 

The lineup loses Fielder but gains Ian Kinsler, who will play better defense, and teamed with SS Jose Iglesias and rookie Nick Castellanos at 3B will make Miguel Cabrera tolerable at 1B.  The organization is still waiting for someone to take over the left field job full time between Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Rajai Davis.  Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter had solid years, but Hunter is 38 and Jackson had some injury issues.  Victor Martinez started out slowly on his way back from a blown out knee, but ended the year with a .301 average and 83 RBI.  He should be fully healthy and look to pick up some of the production lost with the Fielder trade.  This team was led by Miguel Cabrera in nearly every offensive category and ranked in the top 2 in the majors in batting average, runs scored, on base percentage and slugging.  Even if they fall to 9th in each category, this team will win 90 games and the division. 

Former Tiger catcher Brad Ausmus begins his first year at the helm after Jim Leyland retired.  Ausmus has no previous managerial experience so he will be learning on the job.  Mike Matheny of the Cardinals proved this can be done and done successfully as this team has World Series hopes this season.  With the promotion of Castellanos the farm system does not another top prospect should injuries hit. 


Cleveland Indians

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Justin Masterson
  2. Zach McAllister
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. Corey Kluber
  5. Shaun Marcum/Trevor Bauer/Josh Tomlin

The Indians bid adieu to Ubaldo Jiminez and his inconsistent fastball this season, and look to replace him with young phenom Danny Salazar who showed well late in the year, and got the wild card play in game start against Tampa.  Cleveland may have to limit his innings total this season as he pitched a total of 134 last season.  The team ranked 27th in the league with just 73 quality starts; for a team that won 90 games that’s impressive and a bit lucky.  Justin Masterson enters arbitration season #1 looking to build on 14 wins, 3 complete games, 3 shutouts and 193 strike outs in the same amount of innings.  Zach McAllister looks to stay healthy this season as he made only 24 starts last year.  Corey Kluber was a nice surprise coming on late in the year to finish with 11 wins.  The 5th starter spot comes down to injury reclamation project Shaun Marcum and inconsistent prospect Trevor Bauer.  If neither player takes the job, Josh Tomlin is expected to be fully healthy from Tommy John surgery and could provide a boost to that spot. 

The bullpen would benefit from Tomlin being eased back into the big leagues in a long relief role as neither Bauer nor Marcum figures to be that guy.  John Axford figures to start the season as the closer taking over for the mercurial Chris Perez.  If he falters the team has young Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, along with Vinnie Pestano as options.  Marc Rzepczynski is the late inning lefty.  This is a solid group that covered up for the starters last season and may have to do so again this year. 

The lineup will be leadoff by the Michael’s-Bourn and Brantley.  Jason Kipnis enjoyed a solid year at the plate leading the team in RBI’s and runs scored.  Carlos Santana will protect him in the lineup; he just doesn’t know where he will play in the field as he has been supplanted behind the plate by Yan Gomes and at 1B by Nick Swisher.  This leaves him with an opportunity to take 3B duties from bust Lonnie Chisenhall.  If that doesn’t work he slides to full time DH, which the team would like to avoid simply because he is still only 27 years old.  The team is looking for Asdrubal Cabrera to stay on the field a bit more than his 136 games last season, which leaves utility man Mike Aviles in his best role as a fill-in starter.  Free agent David Murphy joins the team to play right field and not provide much offense.   Off the bench is the ageless wonder Jason Giambi and his slump breaking golden thong. 

Manager Terry Francona did a masterful job in his first season as the Tribe’s skipper.  He will have to fill some holes in spring training, but with this much talent this team could again contend for the wildcard in the American League.  The farm system has a diamond in SS Francisco Lindor, who could be up with the big club by midsummer or sooner if an injury hits.  He has the talent to take someone’s job and just needs the opportunity. 


Kansas City Royals

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. James Shields
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Jeremy Guthrie
  4. Danny Duffy
  5. Wade Davis/Kyle Zimmer/Bruce Chen

James Shields headlines this group after turning in a solid first year in Kansas City.  He isn’t the same pitcher that threw 11 complete games in 2011, but he does eat innings and keep his team in games as evidenced by his 27 quality starts.  This team is intent on getting the draft pick compensation for Ervin Santana as they are not willing to give him the multiyear contract (and salary) he wants.  Without him in the rotation this team is banking on solid contributions from Jeremy Guthrie, which is probably a mistake despite his throwing 211 innings last year.  His ERA and Whip are more towards the bottom end of league average.  Jason Vargas comes in as a lefty soft tosser who gets guys out but has trouble staying healthy.  Speaking of troubles with health, 25 year old Danny Duffy came back at the end of 2013 from Tommy John surgery and will be counted on to reach his potential as rotation stalwart.  The team probably wants Bruce Chen to carry over his solid September into this year in order to send Wade Davis back to the bullpen where he has shown he belongs.  Kyle Zimmer is the organization’s top prospect and will land in the rotation at some point this season. 

The bullpen is anchored by solid and consistent closer Greg Holland.  Luke Hochever has finally found his niche in the organization after failed attempts at starting as a reliable setup guy.  Aaron Crow has experience as does Luis Mendoza.  As stated, this group looks better with Wade Davis occupying an inning or two and not starting. 

The lineup has some talent, but not enough thump to make playoff noise.  The team obtained Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee to play right field and get on base at the top of the lineup.  Omar Infante was surprisingly signed to shore up a weak middle infield and likely will bat 2nd in the order in front of 1B Eric Hosmer, who started last year ice cold but ended on an upswing with a slash line of .300/17/79.  Full time DH Billy Butler also underperformed last season, and the club needs him to move back to his career numbers in average, slugging percentage and OPS.  Alex Gordon put up workman like numbers in 20 home runs, (led team) 81 RBI and 91 runs scored.  Catcher Salvador Perez continues to improve his hitting stats and handle the pitching staff well earning an all-star nod last year.  Mike Moustakas is entering what might be a make or break year for the 25 year old 3B, which sounds crazy but his regression the past two years is noteworthy.  Alcides Escobar won’t light the batting box on fire, but he did steal 20 bases last year and plays solid defense. 

Manager Ned Yost enters his 5th year as Royals manager.  He guided the team to finish 10 games over .500 last season despite offensive shortcomings of several key starters.  He will need bounce back years from those players, and for more than one of his prospective starting pitchers to not be a tire fire for this team to improve on last year’s record.  The farm system has Zimmer who will be called up at some point, and other positional players who may need another year of full time seasoning in the minors. 


Minnesota Twins

Projected starting rotation:

  1. Ricky Nolasco
  2. Samuel Dedundo
  3. Phil Hughes
  4. Kevin Correia
  5. Mike Pelfrey/Scott Diamond

The Twins are in rebuild mode and in reality are only a couple years away from contending.  It certainly helps when you pick at the top of the draft for as many years as they have, but you have to nail those picks to enable a turn around.  The front office addressed the rotation this offseason seemingly with this timeline in mind.  Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were brought in on four and three year deals respectively.  Neither is a star, but the team needs guys to show youngsters Samuel Dedundo and company how to pitch in the big leagues.  Kevin Correia is a 33 year old vet of lean Pirate years and is being asked to replicate his 185 inning effort last season.  Mike Pelfrey and Scott Diamond aren’t high upside bets, and the team is likely to be happy with them eating as many innings as possible.  This is because the bullpen is suspect at best.  Closer Glen Perkins is a nice bet to save 35-40 games but not many more due mainly to probably not having many more leads to protect.  Brian Duensing is the veteran arm fans have heard of among a crowd of kids looking to carve out a role.  Matt Guerrier is also on the roster, but at age 35 and coming off an arm injury may not have anything left in the tank. 

The lineup is chock full of stop gap solutions at CF, SS, 3B, 2B, C and DH.  Joe Mauer moves to 1B this season to ease the wear and tear on his body.  Kurt Suzuki was signed to take over behind the plate, as prospect Josmil Pinto isn’t ready to break into the big leagues yet.  Brian Dozier at 2B and Pedro Florimon at SS are glove first guys.  Trevor Plouffe hit 24 home runs in 2012 but followed that up with 14 last year.   The outfield should see Oswaldo Arcia in right, Pittsburgh cast off Alex Presley in center and Josh Willingham in left.  The team brought in Jason Kubel from Arizona to be the DH and extra outfielder ,but after an injury plagued 2013 season just what they get out of him is in question. 

Longtime manager Ron Gardenhire has been through thick and thin with this franchise and will likely be rewarded with the opportunity to coach young stars in the making Byron Buxton, Josmil Pinto and  Miguel Sano, maybe as early as next season.  The pitching prospects aren’t as far along but have power arms in bulk, and need more seasoning to be competent full time starters.  This season is all about developing their pieces, and you don’t put a win total on that, which means they could lose 95 games.


Chicago White Sox:

Projected Starting rotation:

1. Chris Sale

2 Jose Quintana

3 John Danks

4 Andre Rienzo

5 Felipe Paulino/Erik Johnson

Last September Andre Rienzo and Erik Johnson made their big league debuts, the team hopes they make strides to supplement ace Chris Sale. Felipe Paulino, John Danks and Jose Quintana all need to improve their innings totals to help ease in new closer Nate Allen.  Ronald Belisario and Sciott Downs are the veteran arms, with Mitchell Boggs, Donnie Veal and Matt Lindstrom defining their roles as camp progresses. 

The team is hoping Jose Abreu can bring some bring Puig-esq karma to The Cell this summer.  Paul Konerko returns for his age 38 season to help get him comfortable at 1B, and to split DH duty with Adam Dunn.  2B Gordon Beckham enters his bust season, he just hasn’t fulfilled his promise with a .249 career average.  SS Alexei Ramirez hit .286 last year; he sports a career average is .277. 3B looks like a camp battle between Connor Gillespie and Matt Davidson.  Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Adam Eaton and Avisail Gracia will look to stay healthy and man the outfield. 

Manager Robin Ventura looks to be in for a long summer on the south side if the lineup can’t keep them in games as they were 29th in runs scored last year.  The farm system will put Matt Davidson and Erik Johnson on the big league roster this year.  After that there isn’t much ready for prime time unless the team sees the end for Beckham and gives Marcus Semien the everyday job.  

(Next: NL Central)