2009 MLB Previews: AL Central

Total Pro Sports – The Central Division figures to be a very competitive division. Each team has a chance to win this division and even take the Wild Card, and yes that includes the Kansas City Royals, who sports some nice young players, although they are still a long shot to do anything including a .500 record isn’t out of the question.

Here’s a look at each team heading into the 2009 season.

1. Cleveland Indians

It’s very hard picking the Indians to win the division when you figure the Tigers will have a bounce back year, and the White Sox and Twins are always competitive. Here is how their roster stacks up.

Their starting rotation is a little sketchy and if they don’t produce this year it will be because of the starting 5. Cliff Lee comes back after his Cy Young Season, and we will see if he can repeat on his one year success. Without CC Sabathia in the rotation, the success of Lee is key for any chance Cleveland has for a Division title. Fausto Carmona holds down the 2 spot and should rebound from a shaky season. After those two it’s anyone’s guess. The fact Carl Pavano was able to get a guaranteed contract baffles me. Reading Joe Torre’s “Yankee Years” furthered my belief that he has to be one of the worst teammates in baseball history.  After that they have Anthony Reyes, Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers and former Jays Prospect Zach Jackson, who was involved in the Lyle Overbay trade a few years back. Now with this many questions in the rotation you wouldn’t think they could win the division, but I like the kids they have, decent options, and also Not one team in this division has a starting 5 that blows me away like teams in the AL East. Their Bullpen gained a boost with the signing of Kerry Wood, who takes over the Closer position. Continuing with former Jays, Vinnie Chulk is trying to make the team and if you can believe it, they also have Tomo Ohka in camp. A long shot to make the team, especially if you look at his Spring Training ERA which is in the double figures.

Batting: This team is a very well rounded batting team, but head into the season with a few question’s. Will Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner get back to their power ways after a dreadful ’08 season? When will we see prize Matt Laporta make the leap to the majors?  This team has some nice bats in the form of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and if healthy and back to form Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner. The wild card is Laporta. He was the acquisition in the Sabathia trade. His numbers in the minors have been good. In 477 at bats he has knocked out 34 dingers, 105 RBI’s and had a .285 batting average. If he doesn’t start with the big club, he will be there sometime this year.

Defence: The Team defence doesn’t change much from last year. They are deep at catcher with Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez. Shoppach would be a starter on some teams in the majors. Andy Marte has been a bust so far and looks to have lost any chance of gaining the 3rd base position, especially after they brought in Mark DeRosa, who provides solid “d” at the corner spot.

2.  Detroit Tigers

Just before last year, the Tigers made “the trade” of the off-season, acquiring Big Hitter Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for prized prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. After getting  both Willis and Cabrera, they were both signed to long term deals. So far Cabrera has worked out while Willis has been an absolute disaster. After this trade was made, the Tigers were the popular pick to win the AL Central and even the World Series. But the bats went to sleep, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander couldn’t build on past success, and after starting the 2008 season 0-7, the Tigers couldn’t recover. Detroit’s payroll last year was a ghastly 137 million dollars, the third highest in baseball. In 2009 they come back with roughly the same cast. They have a team to contend for both the Central and Wild Card, but things will have to go well for that to happen.

Pitching: The Tigers look good in the starting rotation. Kenny Rogers is gone and they bring back Verlander and Bonderman, hoping for bounce back years. In a trade with Tampa Bay, they acquired Edwin Jackson who should be in the 3 or 4 spot. After that there is some competition. Armando Galaraga comes back after a solid rookie campaign.  Nate Robertson has got the inside track on the 5th spot in the rotation but is being pushed by prized prospect Rick Porcello. Picked late (27th) in the 2007 draft purely because he’s a Scott Boras client, Porcello looks ready to dominate the Major Leagues. But what scared away teams from drafting him because he’s a Boras client is the same reason the Tigers will likely keep him in the minors until June, when his service time get’s pushed back, meaning he becomes a free agent one year later. In the Bullpen, much of the same cast is returning. Joel Zumaya hopefully comes into camp healthy after many injuries have set him back the past couple years. Gone is Todd Jones, and in comes Brandon Lyon, who will be given the closers role.

Batting: This team is stacked with hitters. Even guys who don’t hit home runs hit for average such as Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson. Gerald Laird takes over at catcher, and should provide a decent bat. Brandon Inge moves back to 3rd, where he will be a weak spot when it comes to the batting lineup. The other concern is Gary Sheffield, coming off an average year, he is a year older.

Defence: Gerald Laird should provide solid defence behind home plate. Curtis Granderson covers a big area of that Comerica Park outfield, where he will need to help out Magglio Ordonez who isn’t the best outfielder in the “bigs”. Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco provide a solid middle infield. The corner spots leave much to be desired. Cabrera will become the DH of this team after this year, once Sheffield is off the books, and that can’t come soon enough. Brandon Inge isn’t a bad fielder, but he’s not one of the best either. He will need a strong season in order to prevent the Tigers for looking to outside help at that position.

3.  Chicago White Sox

Pitching: The White Sox seeing the economy fall and also having a fairly cheap owner in Jerry Reinsdorf mostly stood pat this summer, losing both Joe Crede and Javier Vazquez. Not only did the Sox save $23 million in salary cap obligations to Vazquez but they also picked up a nice prospect in Jo-Jo Reyes. In losing Vazquez they lost a pit bull in the rotation, someone they could count on for 200 innings of work a season. The White Sox are trusting young pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd to pick up the slack. Both have signed new long term deals. Danks pitched just under 200 innings last season, while Floyd pitched 206. Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon are looked at for the 4th and 5th spot, and that’s where the uncertainty lies for the White Sox. Contreras has looked good in spring training, while Colon hasn’t. The bullpen has well known names, but also uncertainty tied to them. Closer Bobby Jenks often has had injury problems and comes in with question marks. Scott Linebrink has been fairly reliable over the years, but has had a tougher time in the American League than he did with the Padres in the NL. Octavio Dotel is the other well known reliever in Chicago. He has put up decent numbers the past two years, but only has thrown 100 innings in those years. If manager Ozzie Guillen has to rely too heavily on the pen’, it could be a problem.

Offense: Retaining largely the same offense as last year should provide consistent numbers once again. Every year you think Jim Thome will finally look his age, and each year he continues to hit the ball out of the park. He turns 39 this year, but hit 34 home runs last year. Paul Konerko had a horrible season last year, hitting less than 30 home runs for the first time since 2003. If he can have a bounce back year, that will be a huge boost for the White Sox. Josh Fields is a real liability, having not played a full season in the majors yet. He is taking over at third base for the departed Joe Crede and does not have enough power for a corner starting infielder. Carlos Quentin is back from injury and should continue where he left off. 2008 was a breakthrough year for him, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 100 RBI’s in a 130 games.

Defence: The White Sox don’t have the best defence in the league. A.J Pierzynski is still behind the plate. His arm strength has disappeared and teams will be running wild on him. The center-field position is a mess with career journeyman Dewayne Wise and equally weak Brian Anderson fighting for the starting spot. On the plus side Cuban Alexei Ramirez returns after a great rookie season. He has been a great find for Kenny Williams and his playoff success should give him loads of confidence for the season ahead.

4.  Minnesota Twins

Pitching: The Twins always seem to find young pitchers who get the job done. Nothing changes this year. Leading the staff will be Scott Baker and Francisco Lariano. Both have the talent but also have struggled with injuries. If they are healthy, Minnesota has a chance in this tough division, if they are injured, the Twins will be a .500 team like they always are. Kevin Slowey is the 3rd man in the rotation, and a good one at that. The Twins are hoping he can get them close to 200 innings this year. In the bullpen, it is led by closer Joe Nathan. Nathan has turned into one of the best closers in the game. Last year he posted 39 saves, with an ERA of 1.33. Handling the 8th inning will be Jesse Crain. Crain had a solid season last year, and with those two handling the 8th and 9th, the Twins should be able to hold wins late in the game.

Hitting: Everything starts and finishes with Canadian Justin Morneau. If he has a monster season, the Twins have a chance to win. Joe Crede takes over at 3rd. If his back can hold up, especially difficult on the turf played on in Minnesota, he provides an upgrade. Carlos Gomez, acquired in the Johan Sanatana trade provides speed on the base paths. Delmon Young returns for his second season in Minnesota and the Twins are hoping for a stronger second season from him offensively. Joe Mauer is another weapon offensively, but he will start the season on the DL with a bad back. If he is lost for long parts of the season this year, the Twins are in trouble.

Defence: Having to start Mike Redmond at catcher instead of Mauer is a big blow defensively. Carlos Gomez provides very solid defence in center, he can cover a huge amount of the outfield with his speed. If Crede is healthy, he is a “plus” fielder at the hot corner.

5.  Kansas City Royals

Pitching: Gil Meche and Zach Greinke headline the start of the rotation. Greinke seems to have put past demons behind him and turning into the Ace the Royals always believed he would be. Brian Bannister looks to rebound from a horrendous 2008, where his ERA was north of 5. Luke Hochevar looks to crack the rotation in the 5 spot. He will also try and rebound from a tough 2008. If the starting rotation can hold teams for 7 innings, the bullpen looks to do the rest. Closer Joakim Soria looks to be the new version of K-Rod. 42 saves last season, he is lights out in the 9th. The Royals brought in two power pitchers to get him the ball in the 9th. Kyle Farnsworth struggled with the Yankees, but the more relaxed atmosphere in K.C should do him some good. Juan Cruz was also added to the pen, his 2.61 ERA of last season will wor nicely in KC.

Batting: The Royals lacked the offense last year, and in the off season Drayton Moore addressed the problem. Mike Jacobs was traded for in the off season, he adds 25 home runs at first base. Although he won’t hit a huge amount of home runs, Coco Crisp provides speed on the bases. The Royals are hoping the 3rd season is the charm for highly touted youngster Alex Gordon. He came out of the minors as a prized prospect but still isn’t putting up the big numbers everyone expects. Jose Guillen is back for his second season with the club. He was unhappy last year, and if the same is true this year, he could become a cancer in the clubhouse. Mike Aviles looks to continue his fantastic season last year where he batted over .300 for the season

Fielding: Coco Crisp has arrived, and will provide greater defence in Center. Mike Jacobs on the other hand will not be one too provide great defence at first. Alex Gordon and Mike Aviles provide solid gloves at 3rd and Short. This team, if everything goes right, has a chance to compete in this division, they are getting closer and closer to a complete team, with some nice young talent. They have more speed, better bats and

Tags: 2009 AL Central Preview, AL Central, Chicago White Sox, cleveland indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, MLB,