Despite not being quite as heralded as the American League East is, the AL Central is still a very competitive division. The division champion is usually not decided until the last week of the season and, in 2008 and 2009, two teams needed to play an extra game to decide who would go on to the playoffs and who would go home. The only problem with the central is that, like Dolly Parton, it is very top heavy. The division champion will most likely be the Detroit Tigers (Despite their fall-off in 2010), the White Sox or the Twins. Kansas City has had one winning season since 1994 and the Indians have been brutal the last couple of years, despite nearly winning the ALCS in 2007. Anyway, let's get on with it.
1. Minnesota Twins
What else can you really say about the Twins? They do everything right. They preach fundamentals, develop great young talent from within, compete on a much tighter budget than some big market teams, and lose to the Yankees in the ALDS every season. There's no reason to expect any less of them this year, as they once again have fielded a great team.
Offensively, they have the new M&M boys in Mauer and Morneau (His name is fun to say in a foppish accent) and Delmon Young developed into a quality middle of the order bat last season (20+ HR and 100+ RBI). Jason Kubel might look like he wants to deflower your sister (look at the picture!), but he provides good left-handed pop from the DH spot. Throw in youngster Danny Valencia and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the Twins will have a nice little offense. Health questions do plague them a bit, as Morneau missed 81 games with a concussion last season and Mauer is constantly battling the minor injuries that come with catching over 100 games per season. Morneau could be the real #1 guy to get here if he clears his cobwebs. In his 81 games last year he hit .345 with 18 home runs.
Despite rampant Francisco Liriano trade rumors, the Twins will again boast a solid and relatively young pitching rotation. Carl Pavano might be a jerk, but he did win 17 games last year for the Twinkies. Liriano returned to ace form last year (I called it when i took him in the 21st round of my fantasy draft), Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are the same decent pitcher, and I look for big things from Brian Duensing this year too. Joe Nathan is looking to return to the closer role this season but, even if he can't, the Twins still have another established closer in Matt Capps. They lost a couple of their other middle relievers to free agency, but that really shouldn't affect them too much. Middle relievers come and go.
My Prediction? 94 Wins for the division champs.
Fantasy Notables: Justin Morneau (if his brain is fixed), Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, Carl "The Jerk" Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Baker/Slowey, Matt Capps/Joe Nathan
Fantasy Sleeper: Brian Duensing. 2010 was young Brian's first full season in the bigs, and he was impressive. As a part time starter and reliever he won 10 games and put up a 2.62 ERA. If he's in the rotation this year, he could really burst onto the scene and turn some heads.
Fantasy Poison: I would tend to stay away from Tsuyoshi Nishioka, mostly because he's Japanese. That's not meant as a racist comment. Playing in the Japanese League inflates numbers (Carl "Tuffy" Rhodes and his 55 home runs). I would leave Nishioka on the waiver wire until he shows us what he is all about.
2. Chicago White Sox
Things are looking pretty interesting on the south side these days. The White Sox seem to be right in the mix every year, only to fall just short of reaching the playoffs. Despite the team's improvements, I don't think this year will be any different. They will give the Twins a run for their money, but I don't think they're quite strong enough to unseat the Minnesotans.
Offensively, the White Sox have really put together a tough lineup. When faced with choosing either Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn from the free agent market, GM Kenny Williams chose both. Dunn jumps into a lineup that already includes some solid power bats like Konerko (.314/39/111), Carlos Quentin (26 HR) Alex "Don't Call Me Alexis" Rios (21 HR and 34 SB in 2010) and free swinging SS Alexei "The Bone" Ramirez (18 HR at SS is a big deal). If Gordon Beckham can finally develop into the player he has been hyped up to be and one of the rookie 3B (Dayan Viciedo or Brent Morel) can hold their own, their lineup projects to be pretty stacked.
Pitching is a little less solid for the White Sox. Jake Peavy is one of the better pitchers in the game, but the last pitch he threw detached his arm from his shoulder. This is something to worry about. Mark Buehrle will do his usual 200 innings of solid, yet unspectacular (unless he throws another no-no) innings. Gavin Floyd has hit his ceiling, and it isn't that impressive. John Danks could be the real star of this staff. The tall lefty quietly put together 3 consecutive good seasons and, at age 26, is just entering his prime. The bullpen got rid of a few extra pounds this winter when Bobby Jenks heard Boston had some "wicked good lobstah" and decided to sign with the Red Sox. Matt Thornton or Chris Sale should step right into the closers role without missing a beat. Newly acquired Jesse Crain should solidify their middle relief as well.
My Prediction? 92 Wins and another October spent reading about the playoffs in the Tribune.
Fantasy Notables: Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko (expect a slight dropoff from last year), Carlos Quentin (if healthy he could put up 30-35 homers), Alexei Ramirez, Alexis Rios, John Danks, Jake Peavy (if his arm doesn't literally fall off), Matt Thornton/Chris Sale
Fantasy Sleeper: Dayan Viciedo. If he gets the chance to start, "The Tank" might hit some balls all the way back to Cuba.
Fantasy Poison: A.J. Pierzynski. He's 34, he's coming off arguably his worst offensive season ever, and he's a douche bag. Stay away from AJ.
3. Detroit Tigers
Last year, the Tigers took a step backwards. After taking the Twins to extra innings in the 163rd game of the season (talk about bonus baseball!) in 2009, they barely finished at .500 in 2010. This happened for a few reasons. The offense was bad. Other than Miguel Corona, I mean Cabrera... no one on the team had more than 15 home runs, and that was part time player Ryan Rayburn (more on him later). Brennan Boesch's out-of-nowhere first half turned into a nowhere second half. Magglio Ordonez missed nearly 80 games and was rewarded with a $10MM (plus incentives!) contract. Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen will get hurt at some point. Rookie Austin Jackson provided some hope for the future, but also a lot of breezes from his swings and misses (170 Ks). The one smart move the Tigers made this off-season was to sign Victor Martinez to catch and protect Miguel Courvoisier... I mean Cabrera. That signing should provide dividends from day 1.
Justin Verlander headlines an otherwise unspectacular starting rotation. He's good for 17-20 wins and 200+ strike outs. Max Scherzer had a nice breakout last season and could also rack up 200 Ks, but the rest is only so-so. Porcello will be trying to bounce back from the dreaded sophomore slump, with Phil Coke and Brad Penny attempting to provide some decent innings on the back end. The best thing that happened to the Tigers' rotation was the dumping of Jeremy Bonderman. He's the worst. Jose Valverde should provide a solid option a the closer spot but the rest of the bullpen will be pretty useless once Joel Zumaya's arm flies off into the third row (my over/under for that is august 13th).
Prediction? 80 wins... better luck next year. I'm really looking forward to seeing how many cigarettes Manager Jim Leyland smokes this year though.
Fantasy Notables: Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez (power is mostly gone, but could hit over .300 if healthy)... um... Austin Jackson? Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Fantasy Sleeper: Without a doubt, don't miss out on Ryan Rayburn's breakout season. 25 home runs is not out of the question. From August 8th on, he hit .347 with 12 home runs. Over a full season, that could turn into something special.
Fantasy Poison: I would give this nod to Carlos Guillen. Despite being very talented, the guy simply cannot stay on the field. I don't see that changing at age 35.
4. Cleveland Indians
I'm not going to lie to you, friends. When i started writing this, I was going to pick cleveland to finish last in the division. Then, i looked at the Royals roster. Even the Indians can't finish that badly.
Offensively, the star of the show will continue to be Right Fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo Choo will hit .300 and he'll put up over 20 homers and steal 20 bases. Every year he creeps closer to 100 RBI too. He's truly a special talent, although I would love to see him go back to stealing 30 or 40 bases like he did as a minor leaguer. That would put him over the top. The other bright spot in this lineup will be 2nd year Catcher, Carlos Santana. Aside from being one of the premier rock and roll talents of the last 40 years... wait is that not the same guy? Oh... In that case, he's got all the tools to be a top 5 fantasy catcher in this league for years to come. I can't wait to see what he does over a full season. Grady Sizemore is still looking to regain his status as a sure fire first round pick, but injuries will delay the start to his 2011 season. Can he put it all back together? Youngsters Jason Donald and Matt Laporta will attempt to hold down the corners, but we can't be sure what kind of lineup presence they'll provide.
Pitching-wise, the Indians have Fausto Carmona. Fausto had a great bounce-back year in 2010, showing the talent he showed when he nearly won the Cy Young in 2007. The rest of the staff is pretty young and unproven, so it remains to be seen who will step up. Maybe they'll even call up top pitching prospect Alex White if all else fails. On draft day, however, stick to Fausto. He won't be on the waiver wire like he was last year when yours truly picked him up in early April. I know, Liriano in the 21st round and Carmona off the scrap heap? How did I not win my league? The Indians bullpen will probably be terrible, which is going to make it hard for Chris Perez to get a ton of saves, but Perez will be very good when he gets on the hill.
Anyway, My prediction? 72 wins. They're still shitty (a-thank you).
Fantasy Notables: Shin-Soo Choo (earlier than you probably think), Carlos Santana (Oye Como Va, in the middle rounds), Grady Sizemore (worth a late pick if you want to gamble on his health), Asdrubal Cabrera (No homers, but he'll do some other stuff), Fausto Carmona, Chris Perez.
Fantasy Sleepers: Matt Laporta was once the most highly touted prospect in the Brewers system. He was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade. It's about time they start getting something back on that investment. Laporta might finally be ready to break out. Justin Masterson migh finally put it all together too, so keep an eye out for him in 2011.
Fantasy Poison: For some reason people keep giving Orlando Cabrera starting gigs on Major League teams. I know 2B is a weak position, but don't do it.
5. Kansas City Royals
Now we reach the soggy bottom of the division. I do believe the Royals could have a bright future. They have stacked minor league system. Fifteen years of mostly finishing in last place will do that. At some point, like the Rays, you'd think they'd put together a few good years in there somewhere.
Not really sure where to start with this team. Still just only 24 years old, Billy Butler has the potential to put up some real power numbers this season. Scouts have been saying his power will come for the last few years. He's been good for hitting over .300 with 15-20 home runs, but a man of his robust stature really should be putting up closer to 30 homers. Maybe 2011 will be the year he finally does it. Mike Aviles will hit .300, but it will be a pretty useless .300, like last year when he hit .304 and his OPS was only .748. He needs to hit for a little more power. The really intriguing hitters for the Royals are probably going to start the season at AAA, but watch out for Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer when they get that call-up. They can mash.
So... Gil Meche retired and they traded away Zach Grienke. Not really much else left to say about the Royals pitching staff. Their second best pitcher in 2010 was Bruce Chen... He's now 6th in the depth chart according to MLB.com. So... uh... yeah. Go Royals? As always, if the Royals can actually win a game, Joakim "Why So" Soria will be one of the better relievers in the game.
My Prediction? 62 wins, 100 losses, but a bunch of excitement when the Moustakas Rides (that's copyrighted by me) start flying out of Kauffman Stadium in June.
Fantasy Notables: Billy Butler (would be better if he taps into that power supply stored in his significant gerth). Mike Aviles (desperate times... as they say), Joakim Soria (He might save all 60 of the Royals wins in 2011).
Fantasy Sleepers: The Kids. Kila Ka'aihue will be given a chance to solidify 1B. Eric Hosmer might not be far behind if the Hawaiian fails. Mike Moustakas win third base job out of spring training despite having all of 52 AAA games under his belt.
Fantasy Poison: So many to choose from! I Give this award to the other 20 members of this roster. If it's not Butler, Soria, Aviles or one of the kids, don't bother drafting them. They'll all be available on the waiver wire, which is where they should stay.
There you have it, friends. The Uruguayan perspective on the AL Central. Stay tuned for the AL West, which is coming soon!
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