After taking a look at the strongest division, it’s time to preview the weakest division in the MLB: the AL Central. None of these five teams are true World Series contenders, but the top two are serious playoff contenders thanks to the rest of the division being filled by three rebuilding clubs with little MLB talent. Indians or Twins? Who comes in first? Who finishes last? Let’s discuss.
First Place: Cleveland Indians
Projected Record: 86-76
Francisco Lindor SS
Jose Ramirez 3B
Jake Bauers 1B
Carlos Santana DH
Leonys Martin CF
Jason Kipnis 2B
Jordan Luplow LF
Tyler Naquin RF
Roberto Perez C
The good news: the Indians have a superstar duo of Francisco Lindor that may the best one-two punch in all of baseball. The bad news: the rest of the lineup is an abomination. While Lindor and Ramirez should continue to be MVP caliber players, Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers are the only other two players who possess any sort of optimism offensively. Leonys Martin and Roberto Perez are fine defensively at their positions but are well below average hitters. Meanwhile, Jason Kipnis doesn’t look to have any juice left, and whomever the Indians use as their corner outfielders will be either unproven or well past their prime. There is star power in this lineup, but it’s extremely thin and top-heavy, which could turn out to be a problem.
If the Indians are going to make the playoffs this season, they are going to have to rely on their strong rotation. Corey Kluber is starting to regress, but he’s still a shoo-in for 200 effective innings. Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco are also well above average starting pitchers and could be aces on several teams. Even though STEAMER projects Mike Clevinger to take a major step back this season, he does have a 3.07 ERA and 3.69 FIP over the past two seasons. The sleeper of this group is Shane Bieber, who is just 23-years-old and posted a 3.23 FIP in 114.2 innings last season. This is a very deep group, and though they’ll have to carry the Indians to a division title, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be able to.
The dominant bullpen that led the Indians to the World Series in 2016 has been demolished; the Indians’ bullpen is significantly weaker after losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in free agency. Brad Hand, acquired from the Padres mid-season last year, is a terrific option as the closer and shouldn’t cause any worry for the Indians. The rest of the bullpen, however, is a major red flag. Though Adam Cimber, Tyler Olson, Nick Goody, and Dan Otero are all decent choices out of the bullpen, none are more than mediocre middle relievers. The best bet for an effective setup man would be Danny Salazar, with a career 3.56 FIP and 10.5 K/9, but he presents major injury concerns. Though there is some potential in this bullpen, the reality is that it will likely be average at best.
There is currently zero major league depth for the Indians, which is a critical issue. However, position player prospects Bobby Bradley (1B) and Yu Chang (SS) are close to MLB ready, while top prospect Triston McKenzie may be able to fill a spot in the bullpen late in the season.
In any other division, the Indians are likely not a playoff team. However, in the AL Central, the duo of Lindor and Ramirez, combined with their stacked rotation, is enough to get them into the playoffs. However, unless they make significant improvements in a hurry, they’re a first round exit at best.
Second Place: Minnesota Twins
Projected Record: 85-77
Max Kepler RF
Miguel Sano 3B
Eddie Rosario LF
Nelson Cruz DH
CJ Cron 1B
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Jorge Polanco SS
Jason Castro C
Byron Buxton CF
The Twins lineup could either be a major strength or a major weakness, that’s how much inconsistency is present offensively. Though Nelson Cruz provides tremendous stability to the team, the rest of the lineup is filled with players that need to improve. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jonathan Schoop all had down seasons next season and must bounce-back in order for Minnesota to make a playoff push. I’m a huge fan of Max Kepler and believe he’s bound to break out this season, and him combined with Eddie Rosario and CJ Cron’s power could form a lethal lineup. That’s the goal, but there’s also the chance that no one bounces back, Kepler doesn’t break out, while Rosario and Cron can’t expand upon their promising 2018 campaigns. Only time will tell how Minnesota’s offense will fare in 2019.
The uncertainty present with the lineup also can be seen in the rotation. Jose Berrios has had back to back solid seasons with a 3.90 FIP or lower, but is he ready to take the next step and become the ace of this staff? As of now, he looks like more of a #3 starter than a front-line starting pitcher. The same can be said for Kyle Gibson, who has failed to expand upon his 3.80 FIP from 2014 so far. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda hasn’t pitched since 2017, while Jake Odorizzi has been a below average pitcher for the last three seasons (4.65 FIP). The cap it all off, Martin Perez had a 5.72 FIP last season and did not have one pitch that was rated as at least average based off of runs above average. There’s potential at the front of the rotation with Berrios, Gibson, and Pineda. However, if they fail to exceed expectations, this rotation could falter thanks to its lack of depth.
The bullpen is also a possible area of concern for the Twins. Taylor Rodgers is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.33 FIP, but the rest of the relief corps is a mixed bag. Trevor May has a career 3.64 FIP, but he’s pitched in 25.1 innings since 2016. Meanwhile, Blake Parker and Addison Reed have proven to be effective in the past, but there’s reason to believe their best days are behind them. Trevor Hildenburger, Matt Magill, and Gabriel Moya all are satisfactory options out of the bullpen, but none provoke much excitement. Fernando Romero is an intriguing candidate for a bullpen spot thanks to his nasty pitching arsenal, which made him one of Minnesota’s top prospects. However, he only had a 7.3 K/9 last season, with just a 4.35 FIP. This bullpen has the chance to be somewhat of a strength for the Twins this season, but there’s also the chance it turns out to be a liability.
The Twins may have little proven major league depth in the bullpen or rotation, but both Stephen Gonsalves and Aldaberto Mejia are capable of filling in when needed. The big bonus for Minnesota is utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who signed a two-year contract with the club his offseason. Due to his ability to play practically every position, the 29-year-old should get everyday at bats and will be able to fill in for any position player that either struggles or suffers an injury.
The Twins or a “boom or bust” type of team. Either their players will play to their capabilities, or they’ll be a disappointment for the second straight season. I’m a fan of their lineup, though, and believe that it will carry them to winning record, especially in a very weak division.
Third Place: Kansas City Royals
Projected Record: 66-96
Whit Merrifield 2B
Adalberto Mondesi SS
Jorge Soler DH
Ryan O’Hearn 1B
Alex Gordon LF
Jorge Bonfiacio RF
Hunter Dozier 3B
Martin Maldonado C
Billy Hamilton CF
It’s safe to say that the Royals’ lineup won’t be keeping hitters up at night. Outside of Jorge Soler and Adalberto Mondesi, there is little power present, while only Whit Merrifield is a true All-Star caliber player. What general manager Dayton Moore is tiring to do, however, is build a team full of defense and speed. Alex Gordon, Martin Maldonado, and Billy Hamilton are well below average offensively, but all rate as tremendous defenders. On the basepaths, Merrifield, Mondesi, and Hamilton are all contenders to lead the league in stolen bases. The x-factor in this lineup is lefty slugger Ryan O’Hearn. The 25-year-old had a .597 slugging percentage in 170 plate appearances last year, but STEAMER believes he’ll regress significantly this season. Still, I think that he’s more than capable of possessing an OPS north of .800, and if he does that, he’ll fill a major void as the needed slugger in this lineup. The Royals are significantly one-dimensional towards defense, but if their young players at the top of the lineup continue to improve in 2019, their lineup may not be as bad as deficient as advertised.
The Royals rotation is also well below average. Danny Duffy has been a productive starter in the past, but he struggled to the tune of a 4.70 FIP last season. Furthermore, Jakob Junis had a hard contact allowed rate of over 40% last season, while Brad Keller’s 4.51 SIERA and 4.26 xFIP signal that he’s an average starting pitcher at best. Jorge Lopez and Ian Kennedy are just fillers, and shouldn’t be expected to be anything but poor options at the back-end of the rotation with an ERA around 5.00. Duffy, Keller, and Junis are all decent pitchers who could breakout in 2019, but this rotation will most likely be extremely thin and weak.
Though I’m more optimistic than most, the Royals bullpen looks to also be second-rate at best. Tim Hill’s 3.18 SIERA last season was impressive, and him and Jake Diekman form a solid lefty duo. The rest, however, is anyone’s guess. Wily Peralta, Brad Boxberger, and Brian Flynn have shown flashes in the past, but none project well heading into this season. Kevin McCarthy could be a decent middle reliever, but nothing more than that. Rule 5 draft picks Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis will also likely be in the bullpen, but there’s no reason to believe that they’ll make a substantial impact this season. The duo of Hill and Diekman is encouraging, but the bullpen over all is still below average.
Outside of shortstop prospect Nicky Lopez, no one from the minor-leagues will be making much of an impact this season for Kansas City. Though Brian Goodwin and Brett Phillips provide some depth in the outfield, while Chris Owings is versatile, the overall depth for the Royals as an orginzation is very light.
The Royals will be a bad baseball team in 2019. They have little power, while both their rotation and bullpen need work. However, their defense, speed, and upside is enough to prop them into third place in the division.
Fourth Place: Chicago White Sox
Projected Record: 65-97
Tim Anderson SS
Yolmer Sanchez 2B
Jose Abreu 1B
Daniel Palka LF
Yoan Moncada 3B
Wellington Castillo C
Yonder Alonso DH
Jon Jay RF
Adam Engel CF
All offseason, it looked as though Manny Machado would be signing with the White Sox. Instead, he signed a ten-year contract with the Padres, and Chicago’s lineup is very thin as a result. Outside of Jose Abreu, there aren’t any proven hitters present. Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson both have tremendous upside, but neither has shown much at the major league level. Daniel Palka brings some lefty power, but he’s a defensive liability, which wipes out most of his value. Meanwhile, Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay were likely brought in as a way to recruit Machado (his close friends) but won’t bring much impact. This lineup is tremendously substandard, and as they constantly struggle to score runs, the White Sox will wish they would’ve pushed harder to sign Machado.
As bad as the lineup is, nothing can compare to how dreadful the White Sox rotation will be this season. No pitcher is projected to have a FIP below 4.50 by STEAMER, which is absurd. Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez all have potential, but all have shown little promise at the major league level. Ivan Nova will eat innings, but little else, and Dylan Covey probably shouldn’t be in a major league rotation. This rotation is awful, and even if they had signed Machado, there’s no way to compete with these five pitchers as your best options.
The White Sox made some additions to the bullpen, which looks to their strength this season. Newly acquired Alex Colome is a solid option as the team’s closer, and Kelvin Herrera should be at least average, despite several signs of regression. Nate Jones and Jace Fry were the team’s top two relievers last year and should continue to be productive. Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr are two names to keep an eye; both are young, promising relievers who could thrive in a more expanded role. That’s about it, however; this bullpen is average at best and doesn’t have the depth to carry the load of Chicago’s atrocious rotation.
James McCann is a decent backup catcher, while Leury Garcia is a fine utility player. Though there isn’t much pitching depth currently at the major league level, Dylan Cease, Alec Hansen, and Kodi Medeiros could all make their MLB debuts this season. Speaking of their prospects, Eloy Jimenez has superstar potential after posting a .961 OPS in Triple-A last season, and will likely be called up in late April after the White Sox take advantage the notorious service time rule in order to gain an extra year of control.
The White Sox are below average in every area, and therefore should not be a competitive team in 2019 after missing out on Machado. However, the expected positive influence that Jimenez and their prospects will make this season is enough to keep them out of last place.
Fifth Place: Detroit Tigers
Projected Record: 63-99
Josh Harrison 2B
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Nicholas Castellanos RF
Christian Stewart LF
Jeimer Candelario 3B
John Hicks DH
Jacoby Jones CF
Jordy Mercer SS
Grayson Greiner C
The days of the Tigers having one of the fearsome lineups are over; there isn’t much talent remaining. Miguel Cabrera, although he still has some juice left, is no longer the elite slugger he once was. Nicholas Castellanos is a terrific hitter, but he may be the worst defensive outfielder in all of baseball (-19 drs). Jeimer Candelario is a decent player, but has limited upside, while Christian Stewart and Grayson Greiner are unproven. Former Pirates Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer may be recognizable names, but they’re no longer impact contributors, while John Hicks and Jacoby Jones are arguably the worst starters at their respective position. There is some power in the middle of the lineup, but with a lack of defense and on-base skills, the Tigers’ everyday lineup is definitely amongst the league’s worst.
The Tigers rotation is in jeopardy of losing its ‘ace”; former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer was shut down after showing diminished velocity in spring training. Even if healthy, Fulmer took a major step back last season with a 4.52 anyway. Matt Boyd and highly paid Jordan Zimmerman are back-end starters at best, so Detroit shouldn’t be too optimistic about their expected production. As things stand currently, offseason additions Tyson Ross and Matt Moore will round out the rotation. While Ross has shown some flashes in the past, he’s consistent at being inconsistent, while Moore probably shouldn’t be in a major league rotation anymore. Just like their lineup, Detroit’s rotation is putrid at best; its also amongst the league’s worst.
There is some potential in the Tigers bullpen. Though he struggled mightily last season, Shane Greene posted a 3.84 FIP in 2017; a bounce-back can be expected. Meanwhile, Joe Jimenez was an All-Star last season, though he did struggle down the stretch. Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf acceptable lefty choices in the bullpen for manager Rod Gardenhire, while the rest all have some potential. Still, this bullpen isn’t going to “wow” anyone; it’s still likely a below average unit with little depth, as seen with the final four options.
The Tigers do have some sort of depth with Mikie Mahtook and Victor Reyes in the outfield, while Niko Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez have tremendous versatility. Still, none of these players provide much other than availability, which is why they aren’t starting on one of the worst teams in baseball. There’s no current pitching depth in the MLB, but pitching prospects Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, and Beau Burrows could all make their debuts this season.
The Tigers will be one of the most boring teams to watch; they have no particular strength. This season will be about trading away remaining assets, letting Cabrera move closer towards career milestones, and losing enough to earn a high draft pick; this team doesn’t have a chance of competing, despite being in the worst division in the MLB.