Spring AL Central Preview
This spring I'll take a stab at having previews of all six divisions in the majors.
First off, the AL Central.
2. Kansas City
There isn't anything especially shocking here based on last year's finish. The two changes from last year's final standings were flipping the Royals and Tigers, and the Twins and White Sox. Cleveland was a pretty big surprise to be so close to winning it all last year and they get Michael Bradley (3rd in AL MVP votes in 2014), and SP's Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back from injuries that either cost them valuable parts of their 2016 seasons. They also signed Edwin Encarnacion, one of the biggest acquisitions of the whole off season to give them much needed stability and pop in the middle of the lineup.
The Royals had some hard luck last year and just finished at .500. They come back with Mike Moustakas back at 3B and add a little power to the OF with Jorge Solar who came over from the Cubs. While they tragically lost Yordano Ventura in the offseason, they strengthened the depth of their rotation with Jason Hamel and Travis Wood. I have the Tigers slipping because they have a big question mark at CF and Kinzler, Cabrera, VMart, Verlander and KRod are all year closer to retirement.
Minnesota and Chicago are both still rebuilding, although in different stages. Minnesota is at the point where their prospects are all hitting the majors (and scuffing for the most part) and the White Sox might be waiting a few months before their prospects come up and their rotation might be especially rocky, excluding Carlos Quintana. The Twins rotation looks like it will be a little more stable at the start of the year than it was a year ago, although they may have a big collapse in the second half if Brian Dozier is traded and the players that come back don't make an immediate impact at the major league level.
Miguel Cabrera (DET)
This is a bit by default because my instincts want to have Edwin Encarnacion, Lorenzo Cain, Jose Abreu, or Brian Dozier as the MVP candidate for the AL Central, but they all have a lot of circumstances against their favor. Encarnacion was the first player to come to mind but his AVGs in the .260's and .270's the last four seasons are discouraging despite the HR and RBI numbers. Cain finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2015 but regressed last year, although his 2015 still only yielded 16 homers and 28 stolen bases and that's just not eye popping enough. I'm not sure Abreu and Dozier will finish their seasons with their respective teams so I think that hurts their MVP chances.
Cabrera will be 34 years old this season and it wasn't that long ago he won back-to-back AL MVP's (back-to-back-to-back instructional video championships) including the first triple crown since the '60's. Last year he had a "down" season with a .316 AVG, .393 OBP, and the third best HR total of his career with 38 HRs. He still has all the tools to drive the ball out of the park and if he can have a good batting average season (he finished 4th in the AL, .002 away from a tie for second).
Cy Young Candidate
Danny Duffy (KCR)
This award has a little more competition with Justin Verlander just missing out on the award last year and Corey Kluber having a strong second half last year after winning it in 2014. Ervin Santana had a surprisingly solid year last year with a 3.38 ERA that finished 10th in the AL. I really like Jose Quintana this year after he finished 7th in ERA and 8th in WHIP last year, but I don't think he'll finish the season with the White Sox. Michael Fulmer is an interesting player for the Tigers who won the Rookie of the Year Award last year, but I'll wait for a little more of a sample size before jumping on his bandwagon. Jordan Zimmermann had some high points last season, but his overall numbers weren't that hot thanks to injury issues.
Last year Danny Duffy seemingly flipped a switch and started striking everyone out that stepped up to face him. His K/9 rate went from 6.8 and 6.7 the last two seasons to 9.4 in 2016. His ERA was not especially impressive at 3.51 but his WHIP was 1.14 (7th in the league). He also broke through striking out 16 in a game to set a Royals team record. He is looking like a player who will enter his 28 year old season as an ace of his team looking to dominate the league.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Yoan Moncada (CHW)
Moncada is the highest ranking rookie in the AL Central on mlb.com's prospect watch at #2. His only competition in this division come from teammates on the rebuilding White Sox. Pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer will all be vying to break into the majors this year if they can wiggle their ways into the rotation but Moncada and CF Charlie Tilson are two players that might not have trouble building a resume early in the big league season. Tilson is a speedy player who might find his way onto the stolen base leader board for the AL just because no one steals bases in the AL anymore.
Moncada is built like a running back with speed and power and he just might have a route to the majors with the release of Brett Lawrie at 2B. I wouldn't be surprised if he had a season with a .280 AVG, 20 homers, and 25 SB's.
Dark Horse Player
Max Kepler (MIN)
This is more of an eyeball test evaluation. The Twin's German born outfielder had a slow start and finish to his season but when he was hot he seemed to hit the ball further than anyone else. Something about him reminds me of a left handed version of Mike Morse but a little less lumbering. He had 17 homers and 20 doubles in just under 400 ABs last season although he hit only .234. When he wasn't in the middle of a slump he was hitting around .250. He won't be an MVP, but he could be on the verge of an All-Star season... or slump his way back to the minors never to be seen again.
Most likely to be suspended for a fight.
James McCann (DET)
I'll admit it, I'm going into this one a little blind. I know nothing about McCann or his personality, but I was thinking this would go to a catcher and Detroit has a reputation for being a tough city. Salvador Perez always seems chipper just to be a team leader and it sounds like the Twins Jason Castro will be too busy framing pitches to get into scuffles (seriously, news reports up here kept saying that was his one big strength as a new addition to the team). I also thought there might be a reliever that would throw at a hitter after a few close calls earlier in the game and the Royals have Australian Peter Moylan. I don't know anything about Moylan's temper, but he's Australian and I'm prejudiced to think he just might like a scrum. The last player I thought might get suspended is a lefty reliever on the Tigers named Daniel Stumpf. He's a lefty so you know he's unpredictable, he's also a Rule 5 player so he might be thinking he has to prove himself by sprinting out of the pen during a fight and yelling "someone's about to get Stumpf'd!"