IBI Power Poll: AL Central Division Winner?
An AL Central Preview
Spring Training is quickly coming to a close, and the Cleveland Indians have clearly improved their team. The Indians have a top five manager in all of baseball, and his two World Series titles make him arguably the best. Their offense appears to be loaded, and while it isn’t like the best in the division, it will have stretches where it is. Their bullpen has the look of being one of the best in all of baseball, and there’s depth there in case things fall apart, as they tend to when you talk bullpens.
The hole for the Indians is obviously the starting pitching. I’ve documented in several spring pieces the multitude of questions that each potential starter brings to the table. If most of those questions aren’t answered in the positive, the Indians buildup to 2013 could be short-lived.
Today’s power poll is an AL Central predictor of sorts. Which AL Central Team will finish in first place? At the end of this piece, the votes should give us a good indicator on how the very educated readers here at IBI think that the AL Central will end up in 2013. We’ll re-visit this at the All-Star break.
The Cleveland Indians
The Indians brought in Terry Francona at the beginning of October, and the ball started to roll down the path of one of the most successful offseason, free-agent pushes the Indians have ever seen. Francona is a rare breed of manager who has a certain speed about it that never wavers. This professional attitude that few possess (think Joe Torre) would have improved the Indians by a few wins without any changes. Of course, there were a few.
They brought in a top five lead-off hitter in Michael Bourn. They brought in the home grown Nick Swisher. They brought in the power hitting Rob Deer..er…Adam Dunn…er…Mark Reynolds. They traded for Drew Stubbs and Mike Aviles. You add those guys to Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley and the best of the bunch, Carlos Santana, and you have a very, very good offense.
The bullpen is the clear strength, with closer Chris Perez, set-up man Vinnie Pestano and righties Joe Smith and Cody Allen, to go along with lefties Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill. There are a boatload of other relievers here as well that could have an impact as the season progresses.
The Indians have clearly reloaded.
The Detroit Tigers
The focus on the Detroit Tigers in 2012 was on its offense, and in particular, MVP winner Miguel Cabrera and slugger Prince Fielder. They are very, very good. With that said, this team begins and ends with one Justin Verlander. Verlander is so good, and has been for so long, he’s often overlooked. He’s the best and most consistently good pitcher in baseball, and I would argue that it’s not arguable.
Verlander is incredible, and the rest of the staff is pretty good as well. Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello round this group out. Left-hander Drew Smyly is waiting in the wings, if the Tigers choose to deal Porcello at some point. All six starters are very good. Past those six though, there isn’t much depth.
The offense is one of the best in baseball, and it may have gotten better. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is as good a hitter as there has been in baseball since Manny Ramirez. He is automatic. He’s not even the most impactful offensive player on the team. Prince Fielder is, and I’ll just leave it at that. Past those two, you have Austin Jackson, who could be the best centerfielder in baseball. You have former Indians, Jhonny Peralta and a returning Victor Martinez. They even went out and signed outfielder Torii Hunter from the Angels. They round out the offense with underrated Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Andy Dirks. They can hit, be sure of that.
Then there’s their pen. Their closer, for now, is Bruce Rondon, but they are hunting for another as we speak. The rest of the pen is Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Brayan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque. Yeah, it’s not good. There’s talk that Porcello could move to the pen, or lefty Drew Smyly.
A fantastic team who’s weakness is defense, urgency and the bullpen.
The Kansas City Royals
The Royals may be the scariest team in all of baseball, and I get the feeling they are going to be the trendy sleeper pick in 2013 to win the division or a wildcard slot. Remember this though…they haven’t had a winning season in nearly ten seasons, and haven’t been to the playoffs since the mid-80’s. But boy…are they talented.
Their offense is loaded with major prospects. Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler are all highly thought of current or former prospects that are in varying degrees of success in their major league careers. Take your pick there with who you think will be the best, but my money is on little-talked-about catcher, Salvador Perez, who I think will ultimately be the best catcher in baseball. Boy, there really are questions there though. Can they all put it together? If they do, boy, oh boy will they be good.
Their rotation made major strides in the offseason. They dealt the top prospect in all of baseball to bring in James Shields and Wade Davis. They also traded for Ervin Santana and signed Jeremy Guthrie, to give them a solid core. Bruce Chen should fill out the rotation.
The bullpen will have an interesting look as well. Greg Holland moved into the closer role last year and pitched very well. Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Luis Mendoz and former first round pick Luke Hochevar will round out a solid pen.
This is the year they should break out…
The Chicago White Sox
The Indians were in first place to start the 2012 season. The White Sox took over, and had command of the division for much of the rest of the year…until September. They are an interesting club, who could be very, very good.
The offense for the White Sox begins with Paul Konerko, who has been playing since 1957. Alex Dunn saw a resurgence after a rough 2011 season. Alex Rios also rebounded to have a big year as well. Throw in an underrated Alejandro De Aza and another potential slugger in Dayan Viciedo, and you have the root of a very good offense. There are holes there though, and questions as well, as guys like Dunn and Rios have seen drop offs in recent years.
The rotation is anchored by Jake Peavy, who proved that he was still an ace, and Chris Sale, who as a rookie looked very, very good. Jose Quintana, John Danks and Gavin Floyd round out a rotation that isn’t the best in the league, but should be good.
Addison Reed is the closer, and will be backed by Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Matt Lindstrom and Nate Jones. While Reed seemed to balance them out, there are some questions here. This team seems to be an unknown, with questions all over the place.
The Minnesota Twins
What has happened to the Twins? They have been really bad over the past couple of years after dominating the Central for much of the 2000’s.
Their offense will be led once again by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham, who all are or can be very good. They also have an intriguing rookie in Austin Hicks, who just might end up as the rookie of the year. Past that, though, is a host of players that don’t have a whole lot of upside. Jamey Carroll is starting at second base, and while I love Carroll, he was a questionable starter when the Indians had him, in 2009. I do like Ryan Doumit though, but not enough to change my mind about the offense. They weren’t good offensively last year, and they dealt Denard Span and Ben Revere.
I can’t even begin to tell you about their rotation. Their “ace” is Vance Worley, and they back him up with Scott Diamond, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson. There are other guys, like Liam Hendriks, who could be a factor, but boy, does this staff make the current Indians’ rotation look like the 1954 Indians’ rotation.
The bullpen may be even worse. Their closer is Glen Perkins, who isn’t bad, but when you’re described as “not bad,” that isn’t exactly a glowing report. He was awesome the second half of last season though, so perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh. Past him are Brian Duensing, Jared Burton, Josh Roenicke, Alex Burnett and Tyler Robertson. It’s a curious group, but like me, you’ll have to look them up to find out just how average they are.
Who wins the division? You make the call:
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Indians staff isn't good, but it isn't half as bad as folks are making it out to be. Salazar won't make this club, and won't be discussed until August. My guess is they want him around 150 innings this year, so they won't be bringing him up in August. Their rotation needs improvement for sure, but they can win plenty with what they've got if they just find consistency.
The Royals staff is better than ours...and has more upside...but their offense, while potentially talented...isn't a lock, as you seem to suggest. So much inconsistent youth. Yost has underachieved with the Royals...especially last year. If they don't win this year...he'll be out of a job. I do like him though.
The Tigers are undoubtedly the team to beat, but they aren't a lock because of that lack of urgency...but Verlander...so good...
I think the Central will be alot better then most people expect it to be.