MLB Division Preview and Prediction: AL Central

After taking our best shot at predicting the AL East, it’s time to continue on with our division previews. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the AL Central, which is a pretty underrated division in terms of intrigue. The Twins, for example, made plenty of interesting moves to try to build on their 100-win season, but the Indians won 93 games last season, while the White Sox have made plenty of “win-now” type of acquisitions this offseason. So, can the Twins take care of the division for a second straight season? Let’s analyze each of these teams’ outlook for the upcoming season: White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals, and Twins.

1st Place: Minnesota Twins

Photo Cred: Star Tribune

Projected Record: 97-65

Overall Rank: 7th

Lineup Rank: 5th

Rotation Rank: 16th

Bullpen Rank: 11th

Lineup Depth: 3rd

Pitching Depth: 3rd


Max Kepler RF

Josh Donaldson 3B

Jorge Polanco SS

Nelson Cruz DH

Eddie Rosario LF

Miguel Sano 1B

Mitch Garver C

Luis Arraez 2B

Byron Buxton CF

The Twins broke the single-season home run record last season, and honestly, they figure to be even stronger in 2020. The addition of Josh Donaldson is a major one, as he immediately is the team’s best player, as he’s coming off of a 4.9 fWAR season despite getting off to a slow start in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz were each All-Stars last year, while Mitch Garver and Max Kepler also could’ve been in the own rights. Heck, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are former top prospects who are at worst everyday players, but could emerge as stars at any given point, while Luis Arraez’s elite contact ability makes him a compelling option at second base. Plus, by moving Sano to first base by adding Donaldson at third, as well as having Buxton and Kepler in the outfield, the team’s defense should be much improved. Whether it’s power, on-base ability, defense, or overall athleticism, this Twins lineup has everything a group of position players should offer.


Jose Berrios

Jake Odorizzi

Kenta Maeda

Homer Bailey

Randy Dobnak

Can Jose Berrios finally emerge as the Twins’ ace in 2020? The 25-year-old has shown flashes in the past, but still hasn’t put it all together yet. Still, he’s a more than serviceable starter, and the same can be said about Jake Odorizzi, trade acquisition Kenta Maeda (an underrated addition), and Randy Dobnak; Michael Pineda (suspension), Lewis Thorpe (needs to prove himself), Rich Hill (injury) are also solid options that’ll factor into Minnesota’s 2020 starting rotation plans. Therefore, although the Twins may not have one high-end starter, they have 7-8 quality options, and in my opinion, that may be a better strategy- they’ll be able to handle the wear and tear of a long 162-game season.


Taylor Rogers

Sergio Romo

Trevor May

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Clippard

Zack Littell

Cody Stashak

Matt Wisler

Taylor Rogers is clearly the top dog in the bullpen for the Twins, and honestly, the lefty is arguably a fringe-top-five reliever in all of baseball. Besides Tyler Duffey, who burst onto the scene last season with a 2.94 xFIP, as well as Tyler May, the rest of the bullpen provides a little less certainty. I’m actually pretty bullish on Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard, who each suppressed hard contact at a terrific rate, but their production could fall-off at any point, and Matt Wisler and Zack Littell are fine options, yet not completely reliable at the moment. There is enough high-end talent mixed with depth for this bullpen to be a fringe top-ten unit, but I could definitely see them making a move to add a reliever (and a starter) at the trade deadline.


I’ve been very impressed with the Twins front office in the past couple years, and a major reason why is how talented even the team’s role players are. Players such as Alex Avila, Williams Astudillo, and Jake Cave are quality backup options at their respective spots, while Marwin Gonzalez remains a fine utility player. As far as the pitching is concerned, we’ve already discussed how many options they have in their rotation, but with relievers such as Blaine Hardy, Fernando Romero, and Devin Smeltzer (starter/reliever) in the organizational pipeline as well, the bullpen depth is also strong. Heck, it’s not impossible that top outfield prospect Alex Kiriloff could make his major-league debut this season, should Eddie Rosario struggle for a second straight season.


Minnesota has looked to the waiver wire to find bullpen help in the past, and they did the same this offseason, claiming Matt Wisler. Although the 27-year-old posted a putrid 5.61 ERA, his 3.83 xFIP sheds a better light on the type of pitcher he is, given the poor luck (.341 batting average balls in play) he dealt with as a member of the Padres and Mariners. In his first season working strictly out of the bullpen, he dramatically improved his strikeout rate (11.05 K/9) and chase rate (37.1%), due in part to his revamped pitch usage; he threw his ineffective fastball far less in 2019, and instead relied on his slider 70.2% of the time. As they’ve done in the past, I believe the Twins have struck gold with a zero-risk bullpen acquisition, as Wisler is on track to be one of their top options in the bullpen in 2020.


Honestly, there aren’t any players that I truly believe will “disappoint” as a member of the Twins in 2020, so we’ll take a shot on their relievers taking a step back. Zach Littell is coming off of a 2.68 ERA season, but his low strikeout rate (7.78 K/9) and average ground ball rate (38.5%) concerns me, especially since he allowed hard contact (50.5%) more than half of the time. There’s just not a lot that Littell does well, and with that, Minnesota should have another reliever ready to go in case he falters for them this season.


Playing in the AL Central definitely played a role in the Twins winning 101 games last season, but their projected strength of schedule (.488) isn’t that much easier than the other American League contenders, so they won’t have that in their favor in 2020. In the end, I still see them a slight step behind of the Rays, Astros, and Yankees, but if they were able to make a midseason pitching acquisition, that could easily change. Regardless, outside of the Dodgers in the NL West, they’re as close to a lock to win their respective division as any other division frontrunner.

2nd Place: Cleveland Indians

Photo Cred:

Projected Record: 86-76

Overall Rank: 16th

Lineup Rank: 19th

Rotation Rank: 6th

Bullpen Rank: 10th

Lineup Depth: 21st

Pitching Depth: 28th


Cesar Hernandez 2B

Carlos Santana 1B

Francisco Lindor SS

Jose Ramirez 3B

Franmil Reyes RF

Roberto Perez C

Domingo Santana DH

Oscar Mercado CF

Greg Allen LF* (Jordan Luplow)

As long as the Indians have the duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on the left side of their infield, their lineup will be respectable, especially with Carlos Santana, Cesar Hernandez, and Roberto Perez (catcher) rounding out the infield. Rather, the issue for Cleveland is their outfield, which is simply a mess at the moment. Franmil Reyes is a powerful slugger who has a lot of upside, but he’s not strong defensively, and besides him, there aren’t any other capable everyday outfield options. Therefore, despite having the game’s best shortstop and a top-ten third baseman and first baseman, Cleveland’s collection of position players as a whole ranks as merely average.


Shane Bieber

Mike Clevinger

Carlos Carrasco

Aaron Civale

Zach Plesac

Assuming Mike Clevinger doesn’t miss more than or start are two after having surgery on his meniscus in, the Indians could have two Cy Young candidates between him and K/BB ratio guru Shane Bieber. However, after that, Cleveland has a lot of uncertainty in their rotation. Carlos Carrasco is coming off a disappointing season in which he dealt with health problems, Aaron Civale only has 57.1 major-league innings (although they were high quality innings), and Zach Plesac had very concerning peripherals last season. Simply put, the drop-off between the top two is massive, and should Clevinger miss more time than expected, the Indians could definitely be in trouble with regards to their rotation.


Brad Hand

Nick Wittgren

James Karinchak

Oliver Perez

Adam Cimber

Emmanuel Clase*

Hunter Wood

Adam Plutko

Brad Hand is one of the game’s more consistent relievers, but in my eyes, the best reliever for the Indians is James Karinchak, whose otherworldly strikeout rates should translate tremendously in the MLB. Plus, with relievers such as Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez, James Hoyt, Phil Maton, along with Emmanuel Clase when he returns from his back injury, Cleveland doesn’t have to be overly reliant on that back-end duo to throw too many innings. Obviously, it’s not a “lockdown” bullpen, but should Cleveland have a lead late in games, they’re in a very good position, which is critical for them; if they’re going to compete in the tough American League with their deficiencies, they need to win as many one-run games as possible.


Although the Indians have a lot of depth players in the outfield, that doesn’t make up for the fact that they don’t even have starting-caliber players in their everyday lineup, and should any of their infielders miss time due to injury, they aren’t well-positioned to overcome that. Plus, although they’ll have some relievers waiting in the organizational pipeline in case of injury, their starting pitching assembly has shrunk in recent years, which is very worrisome for a low-budget team without a lot of resources. Having a lot of depth was once a major strength of their team, but now it’s safe the say that is no longer the case for the Indians.

BREAKOUT PICK: James Karinchak

Fangraphs recently awarded Karincahk with an 80-grade fastball, and between that and his slider, his upside as a reliever is massive. He struck out over 21 batters per nine innings last season, and although he does have some minor control issues, should be able to overcome those potential limitations due to that unprecedented bat-missing ability. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was considered one of the top relievers in all of baseball at this time next year.


With the injuries to Corey Kluber (now in Texas) and Carlos Carrasco, the Indians were desperately in need of an unexpected breakout from their rotation, especially after trading Trevor Bauer. Aaron Civale may be that for them this season, but in the case of Zach Plesac, they need to be bracing themselves for massive regression. The 25-year-old posted suboptimal strikeout (6.85 K/9) and walk (3.11 BB/9) rates last season, allowed a decent amount of hard contact, and with that, had well below-average expected statistics. Rather than maintain his 3.81 ERA next season, I’m expecting that number to be much closer to his 5.06 xFIP  from 2019, which illustrates the quality of pitcher he is much better.


Ownership will never spend enough money for them to keep Francisco Lindor or their other stars, but somehow, the Indians continue to win on a consistent basis. I still expect them to be very competitive throughout the season, and finish with the best record of non-playoff teams in the American League, but given the amount of depth they’ve lost in recent years, I’m not anticipating that they win 90 games for a fifth straight season.

3rd Place: Chicago White Sox

Photo Cred: Chicago Sun-Times

Projected Record: 76-86

Overall Rank: 21st

Lineup Rank: 15th

Rotation Rank: 28th

Bullpen Rank: 23rd

Lineup Depth: 6th

Pitching Depth: 11th


Tim Anderson SS

Yoan Moncada 3B

Jose Abreu 1B

Yasmani Grandal C

Edwin Encarnacion DH

Eloy Jimenez LF

Luis Robert CF

Nomar Mazara RF

Leury Garcia 2B

The White Sox were very aggressive this offseason, and counting top prospect Luis Robert, will have four new everyday players in their lineup in 2020. Yasmani Grandal is the headliner, as in my opinion, he’s the game’s best catcher based on his plate discipline and defense, though Edwin Encarnacion also deserves mention as one of the better designated hitters. Outside of that, however, I believe that the White Sox lineup is pretty overhyped. Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez are powerful presences at the plate, but both are very limited defensively, and expecting Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada to build on their complete unsustainable 2019 statistics would be extremely foolish. Furthermore, outside of Grandal and Encarnacion, there is a clear issue with plate discipline on this team, starting off with a leadoff hitter who refuses to draw a walk, and ending with Robert- the Cuban sensation has legitimate five-tool talent, but if he struggled to draw walks and not strikeout at the minor-league level, how bad could it get as a major leaguer? The White Sox will hit a lot of home runs this season, yet at the end of the day, they still figure to post a suboptimal on-base percentage, and with that, won’t be able to maximize on their talent.


Lucas Giolito

Dallas Keuchel

Gio Gonzalez

Reynaldo Lopez

Dylan Cease

In one season, former top prospect Lucas Giolito went from posting a 6.41 ERA to a 3.41 ERA, and most likely, he’ll be able to put up comparable numbers in 2020. Yet, that’s where Chicago’s rotation takes a massive hit. Dallas Keuchel was brought in on a lofty three-year contract, but he has shown clear signs of regression in recent years, while Rio Gonzalez can’t be asked to be more than a #5 starter. Yet, given Reynaldo Lopez’s constant struggles, the unproven nature of Dylan Cease, and the current and past injury issues regarding Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon, they’ll have to rely on those veterans to be much more than they’re capable of being. The young pitchers still have some upside, but at the moment, I’m pretty confident in saying that the White Sox have one of the league’s worst rotations; without a strong enough lineup, you can’t see yourselves as a playoff contender with the amount of problems they’ll have with run prevention.


Alex Colome

Aaron Bummer

Steve Cishek

Evan Marshall

Kelvin Herrera

Jace Fry

Jimmy Cordero

Carson Fulmer

Plus, it’s not as though the White Sox bullpen will be able to make up for their deficiencies in the rotation. Relievers such as Alex Colome, Steve Cishek, and Kelvin Herrera aren’t the players they once were, yet the team will rely on them to turn back the clock in 2020. I’m a huge fan on Aaron Bummer’s ability to get ground balls, but it’s unlikely he has another ERA in the low 2.00s, and the same goes for Evan Marshall. Well, unfortunately for Chicago, those are they’re only capable relievers, as after that, I’m not sure they have another reliever capable of being even a passable option. At the moment, pitching coach Don Cooper figures to be in for a very long reason.


On the bright side, Kopech and Rodon may be able slot into the rotation at some point once their finished with the rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, which is important given the long injury history with several of the team’s starting pitchers. Furthermore, James McCann and Zack Collins are decent backup catchers, while Danny Mendick can challenge Leury Garcia at second base. That is, until top prospect Nick Madrigal makes his debut, which could be a turning point for them; his elite contact ability, plate discipline, and defense in a nice complement to the current lineup.


Cease was the 2018 Minor League Player of the Year, and with strong spin rates on his fastball and breaking ball, he has all the tools to be a front-line starter. In 73 innings pitched last season, he produced a very poor 5.79 ERA, but showed promise with a 3.49 xFIP in September. He’s a player that the White Sox are counting on, and to some extent, should pitch up to his capabilities this season.


Alex Colome and Yoan Moncada are two players that I expect to take major steps back in 2020, but neither projects to regress in same dramatic fashion than Tim Anderson. The 26-year-old’s .328 expected weighted-on base average (xwOBA) much more reflects how he is as a hitter, as he won’t be able to repeat a .399 batting average balls in play with a 39th percentile hard-hit rate and 48.6% ground ball rate. Also, since he has probably the worst plate discipline (2.9% BB, 45.2% chase, 21.2% K) and is a below-average defender by every metric, I’m not sure what value he provides. Either way, the fact that he remains the team’s lead-off hitter, and a supposed “face” of this team speaks to ill-fated nature of this current White Sox roster.


As many tend to be with teams who spend a lot of money in free agency, no team may be as hyped up right now than the White Sox. Yet, I don’t believe they utilized their resources well in free agency, and between their issues with plate discipline, defense, and pitching, don’t have the makings of a playoff contender at all. Their record may be boosted slightly by taking advantage of the bottom two teams in the division, but 76 wins is the most I can predict for a team with many more questions than answers.

4th Place: Kansas City Royals

Photo Cred: The San Diego Union-Tribune

Projected Record: 63-99

Overall Rank: 27th

Lineup Rank: 26th

Rotation Rank: 29th

Bullpen Rank: 25th

Lineup Depth: 25th

Pitching Depth: 29th


Whit Merrifield CF

Aldaberto Mondesi SS

Alex Gordon LF

Hunter Dozier RF

Jorge Soler DH

Salvador Perez C

Ryan O’Hearn 1B

Maikel Franco 3B

Nicky Lopez 2B

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger Jorge Soler fan than me, especially after his incredible 2019 season. Yet, he’s a designated hitter, which limits his value, and certainly doesn’t make him the ideal centerpiece of a team without much supporting talent. It shocks me that the Royals still haven’t traded Whit Merrifield, and it appears they’ve missed their mark, if his clear signals of regression appear to be legitimate. Between him, Hunter Dozier, and Aldaberto Mondesi, they’re hoping on a lot of players to once again outperform their metrics, which seems unlikely. After that, Ryan O’Hearn, Maikel Franco, and Nicky Lopez are all unproven, but even if they pan out, they’ll likely not be much more than mid 1-win players, which doesn’t mean much. Plus, although Salvador Perez’s return from Tommy John surgery is a nice story, the simple fact of the batter is he’s a below-average hitter and defender, and has been worth less than 1 WAR in three of his last four seasons. At the moment, the Royals have a couple of productive players, but it’s a mix of aging players and unproven youngsters with not much upside; they’re not going to get on-base or hit for much power, and that’s clearly a problem.


Brad Keller

Danny Duffy

Jakob Junis

Mike Montgomery

Jesse Hahn

It’s remarkable how similar the projections are for Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, and Jakob Junis are, but since it involves a 4.63 FIP or higher for all three, that’s far from ideal for the Royals. Meanwhile, Mike Montgomery and Jesse Hahn will are reclamation projects at this point, but neither has experience enough past success anyways to see the true upside in that. Kansas City’s rotation struggled mightily last season, especially with striking batters out, and since they’ve made no changes, I’m not expecting much to be different. If prospects Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch make their debuts sooner than anticipated, that’ll change, but as far as their current five-man rotation is concerned, I’m not optimistic at all about its outlook.


Ian Kennedy

Scott Barlow

Greg Holland

Tim Hill

Trevor Rosenthal

Josh Staumont

Randy Rosario

Glenn Sparkman

The Royals have opted not to eat the salary necessary to trade Ian Kennedy, which is a shame, as he’s actually transformed himself into a solid reliever that should be on a playoff contender, while Tim Hill and Scott Barlow offer various levels of intrigue. However, that’s all the Royals really have with their current bullpen. They’ll try to help resurrect the careers of Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal, yet for whatever reason, they apparently don’t have room for 24-year-old Richard Lovely, who is the type of lefty reliever that should be given the opportunity to develop. Just like their lineup, the bullpen features an odd mix of converted starting pitchers, bounce-back candidates, and a couple potential trade-chips, though at the very least, it’s the only core aspect of their team that doesn’t rank in the bottom-five league wide.


Hopefully, if the Royals need an outfielder to fill in, they turn to the still-promising Brett Phillips over Bubba Starling, who had just a 47 wrc+ and -0.5 fWAR last season. Obviously, this isn’t a team that is going to have much to offer in terms of position player depth, and unless they promote their pitching prospects sooner than expected, below-replacement level pitchers such as Glenn Sparkman, Jorge Lopez, and Erik Skoglund are the best they have to offer if one of their starting pitchers deal with an injury. That’s far from ideal, to say the least.

BREAKOUT PICK: Richard Lovelady

Lovelady, ranked as the 12th prospect in the Royals farm system based off of my rankings, not only has an excellent fastball-slider pairing, but has also maintained strong walk rates at every level he’s pitched at. The near-.100 gap between his wOBA (.393) and xwOBA (.295) illustrates the extremely fraudulent nature of his 7.65 ERA in 20 MLB innings last season, especially since he induced ground balls at a terrific 50% rate.


Hunter Dozier and Brad Keller are players that I’m not as high on as others, but neither are considered to be building blocks for the team moving forward. Whit Merrifield, on the other hand, is generally considered a top-50 player in all of baseball, yet he didn’t crack my top-ten center fielders list. In my eyes, I see a 31-year-old without a standout skill who had better production than what his metrics indicated he should’ve had; plus, he relies on high batting average on balls in play, which tends to be the type of play-style that declines most with age. Additionally, now that he’s moving to center field, he merely projects as an average defender there, and he’s coming off a rough (99 wrc) second-half. Perhaps this is more of a player being overvalued than predicting him to disappoint this season, but I’m definitely expecting some more regression from Merrifield in 2020.


The Royals are in danger of losing 100 games for the third straight seasons, and although their farm system is filled with intriguing pitching prospects, you would’ve wished that they could’ve been farther along their rebuild. Yet, the front office continues to remain too loyal to players such as Merrifield, insistent on relying on players past their prime, such as Perez and Gordon, while they’ve yet to bring in pitchers capable of striking batters out. Add in the questionable hire of new manager Mike Matheny, and it’s safe to say that I remained skeptical about the future of the Royals under general manager Dayton Moore.

5th Place: Detroit Tigers

Photo Cred: The Athletic

Projected Record: 59-103

Overall Rank: 29th

Lineup Rank: 29th

Rotation Rank: 23rd

Bullpen Rank: 30th

Lineup Depth: 22nd

Pitching Depth: 9th


Cameron Maybin RF

Niko Goodrum SS

Miguel Cabrera DH

CJ Cron 1B

Jonathan Schoop 2B

Christin Stewart LF

Jeimer Candelario 3B

Austin Romine C

Jacoby Jones CF

To their credit, the Tigers have made an effort to be more competitive in 2020, as CJ Crons, Jonathan Schoop, Cameron Maybin, and Austin Romine are all veteran players the team signed to one-year deals this offseason. However, considering the Tigers didn’t have one player with a 100 wrc+ last season, it’s safe to say that they’re not adding these veterans to a strong base of players. ZiPs forecasts Jeimer Candelario to be worth 2.2 fWAR this season, which is fascinating, but unless Miguel Cabrera suddenly becomes the 2012 version of himself, this is definitely going to be one of the worst lineups in the MLB.


Matthew Boyd

Jordan Zimmerman

Ivan Nova

Daniel Norris

Spencer Turnbull

I’m a huge believer in Matthew Boyd, whom is an elite strikeout pitcher with untapped potential in my eyes, but I’m a little skeptical that he’ll ever be able to maximize on his talent in Detroit, who isn’t exactly known for their development of pitchers. Heck, both Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris are adequate back-of-the-rotation options. Yet, having two veterans in Jordan Zimmerman and Ivan Nova, who will provide the team with some innings and provide little value elsewhere, as the #2 and #3 starters illustrate the team’s shortcomings; outside of Boyd, there is little upside with the rotation as currently formed.


Joe Jimenez

Buck Farmer

Jose Cisnero

Bryan Garcia

David McKay

John Schreiber

Gregory Soto

Rony Garcia

Outside of possibly Buck Farmer and John Schreiber, the Tigers’ bullpen is essentially Joe Jimenez and a bunch of below-replacement level relievers. At the very least, Jimenez has all the tools (95th percentile FB spin) to be a reliable reliever, especially since he dealt with poor luck (.334 wOBA vs. .303 xwOBA) last season. He’ll likely be one of the top trade-chips at the trade deadline, though obviously, you need more than one reliever to constitute a bullpen.


Between pitchers such as Diego Argrazal, Zack Godley, and Tyler Alexander, the Tigers have some capable pitchers with major-league experience waiting in the wings. However, it’s top prospect and former #1 overall pick Casey Mize who Tiger fans are rightfully waiting for, though not far behind him are pitching prospects Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal. On the position player side, infield prospect Issac Parades is near big-league ready, while the team has two decent catchers to keep an eye on in Jake Rogers and Eric Haase- both may be actually better than Romine, and could work their way into the mix this season.


CJ Cron and Jimenez are other players that should have much better seasons, but in my eyes, Matthew Boyd is primed to become a true frontline starter this season. His slider has been a dominant pitch the past two seasons, based on runs above average, and in 2020, he took steps in the right direction by throwing it more, while he seemingly ditched his sinker and curveball. Add in that he dealt with some poor luck last season, and had a 3.38 xFIP in the first half last season, and teams ought to be trying to trade for him; if he throws his slider even more, he could legitimately be a dominant pitcher.


In the eyes of some, Maybin had a career renaissance last season with the Yankees, posting a 1.6 fWAR and 127 wrc+. Yet, his .337 xwOBA doesn’t line up with .363 wOBA and .365 batting average on balls in play, and at this point, he’s an average defender in the outfield. The Tigers signed to a low-risk one-year contract, but if they’re hoping for him to continue to produce at the level he was in 2020, they’d be highly mistaken.


The Tigers should be improved based off of natural improvements and some veteran acquisitions, but considering they had a Pythagorean record of 49-113 last season, that’s not saying much. I don’t think they’ll be the league’s worst team, thanks to the presence of the Orioles, but they won’t be far behind; Mize’s debut, as well as the trade markets of Boyd and Jimenez, are really the only fascinating storylines with this team.

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