2017 AL Central Division Preview: Tribe Looks to Repeat as Detroit Looms | Def Pen
AL Central
Sep 16, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) pitches during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

 

Ah, the American League Central. What ever happened to this juggernaut of division? The 2015 World Series Champions Kansas City Royals didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season as the Detroit Tigers World Series window appears to be closing. While it appears to be a one-team race in the Central, 2017 looks to be a year filled with intrigue for the once-dominant division.

First Place: Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians have experienced quite the turnaround. Once the laughingstock of the American League, the Tribe has rebounded quickly to become one of the best teams in baseball. The culmination of the years of suffering came with a World Series berth in 2016, and ultimately, a heartbreaking loss.

Starting Rotation

It’s pretty amazing when you consider the Indians competed at a high enough level to make it to the World Series without the help of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Now in 2017, the rotation should feature these two electric arms and Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are solid arms that fill out the 4th and 5th spots, with youngster Mike Clevinger a capable swingman. Make no mistake, when healthy, the Indians have a top-5 rotation in baseball.

Bullpen

Cleveland made it known they were gunning for the World Series when they acquired Andrew Miller. Luckily, he’s still locked up for the next two seasons. The Indians have another elite arm in Cody Allen to lock down the eighth inning ahead of Miller. Bryan Shaw and Boone Logan fill out the heart of Cleveland’s talented bullpen. The presence of Mike Clevinger is an understated boost for the pen, as he can be a vital swingman for the Tribe. With two elite arms at the back end, his bullpen ranks among the best in the game.

The Rest of the Bunch

The Indians will once again field one of baseball’s top offenses in 2017. GM Mike Chernoff added slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a lineup that scored the 5th most runs in all of baseball last season. The lineup will feature young star Fransisco Lindor, the always dependable Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez, who had a breakout 2016. Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley are just icing on the cake for the Tribe, who by all accounts, have a scary lineup.

Prospects To Lookout For

The Indians gave up two elite talents in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield when they acquired Andrew Miller, but there is hope in the system. Outfielder Bradley Zimmer, the No. 25 prospect in the game, will look to make an impact in spring training and solidify his status as a likely midsummer call-up. First baseman Bobby Bradley has big time power and could force the organization’s hand at some point.

 

AL Central
Detroit Tigers Baltimore Orioles of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Second Place: Detroit Tigers

I’m going on the record to say that I think the Detroit Tigers will take the second spot in the AL Central this season. However, it won’t be easy. With the passing of owner Mike Ilitch, who tried so hard to bring a ring to Motown, it will be a lot harder for the Tigers to be true playoff threats.

Starting Rotation

The Tigers starting trio of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, and Jordan Zimmermann ranks among the best in the game. Somehow, they seemed to be overlooked. Verlander finished second in Cy Young voting last season, while Fulmer emerged as one of the AL’s best arms en route to capturing Rookie of the Year honors. While Zimmermann had a down year in 2016, there’s reason to think he can rebound, as the righty averaged a 3.19 ERA the three seasons prior. The unproven, but still young Daniel Norris will have a chance to show why he was worth trading David Price for.

Bullpen

Detroit’s bullpen has been a weakness for the last couple of years, and 2017 looks to be the same. Besides closer Fransisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson are the two best options. While those two are quality arms, the rest of the group doesn’t offer much optimism after a combined ERA of 5.00 last season. The emergence of Bruce Rondon could be a key X-factor for the Tigers down the stretch.

The rest of the Bunch

The Tigers were 11th in the league last season when it came to runs scored with 750. The club had the major leagues third best team average with a fantastic mark of .267. 2017 should bring some similar numbers. The lineup will return future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez. Manager Brad Ausmus and the front office will be hoping Justin Upton can rebound after a disappointing first year in Detroit. The middle infield will be comprised of the talented duo of Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, one of the best hitting second basemen in the game.

Prospects to Lookout For

To be quite honest, Detroit has one of the weakest farm systems in the MLB. Four of the team’s top five prospects aren’t expected to reach the majors until 2019 at the earliest, which is a testament to the system’s deficiencies. Steven Moya, a hulking outfield prospect, hasn’t gotten a lot of time at the MLB level yet, but if he harnesses his strength and size, he could be a building block.

 

AL Central
Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon (Source: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America)

Third Place: Kansas City Royals

Winning the World Series feels a lot longer than two years ago for the Kansas City Royals, who have suffered a rapid fall from grace since. After not qualifying for the playoffs in 2016, the team heads into 2017 with a lot of questions surrounding a roster that may not stay intact for much longer.

Starting Rotation

Kansas City will head into 2017 with a starting staff that is, well, not very exciting. Danny Duffy will headline a staff followed by the up and down Ian Kennedy and Jason Vargas. The offseason addition of Jason Hammel was a solid move that will bring stability to an otherwise shaky rotation. Adding Nathan Karns was an under the radar move, but one that should be looked at with optimism, as Karns has shown flashes of solid production.

Bullpen

Long gone are the days of Greg Holland and Wade Davis running the back end of the Royals’ bullpen. However, flamethrower Kelvin Herrera will be locked into the closer’s role, while the always dependable Joakim Soria will be the main setup man. Surprisingly, 25-year-old Matt Strahm dazzled in 21 appearances last year with a sparkling 1.23 ERA. Like it has in the past, the bullpen might end up carrying this team.

The Rest of the Bunch

While Alex Gordon is locked up through 2020 and Salvador Perez through 2021, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas are all free agents after 2017. Yikes. There’s little chance that Kansas City will be able to resign all three, if any, of their big ticket free agents. So, what does that mean for 2017? Make it happen. While the World Series will be the goal, it’s hard to imagine a team with this starting staff making it past the first round of the playoffs. While the lineup certainly will produce, will the Royals be able to make the most of what will most likely be the last season we see Cain, Hosmer, and Moose in blue and white? Stay tuned.

Prospects to Lookout For

Kansas City is another team with a farm system that is devoid of premier talent. With Raul Mondesi Jr. shedding his prospect eligibility, that leaves three of the organization’s top five prospects above the age of 25. That’s not a good sign for a team that appears ready to lose their top stars in free agency. Matt Strahm, who excelled in limited action, is the team’s top impact prospect right now. Hunter Dozier is a fantastic hitting prospect, but he’ll need to seriously clean up his defense, as he committed 22 errors at third base last season.

 

AL Central
Chris Sale (David Banks/Getty Images)

 

Fourth Place: Chicago White Sox

GM Rick Hahn finally went through with the inevitable this offseason, as he traded off stars for a huge return of elite prospects. While the benefits won’t hit the major league level just yet, the long-term gains seem primed to be well worth it.

Starting Rotation

Believe it or not, the White Sox’s rotation won’t be as bad as you may think. Jose Quintana is now the unquestioned ace of the staff after the trade of Chris Sale. He’ll lead a staff followed by the 2014 third overall pick, Carlos Rodon, who will need to step up in his third full year in the majors. James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez, and Derek Holland will round out the staff. If Rodon improves his game, while Shields, Gonzalez, and Holland do just enough, the rotation might surprise some people.

Bullpen

David Robertson will again be taking the ball in the ninth inning for the White Sox come 2017. Behind him, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings will be the primary 7th and 8th inning guys. Behind these three, the rest of the bullpen is filled with a lot of unknowns. However, Michael Ynoa had a 3.00 ERA in 23 appearances last season.

The Rest of the Bunch

The White Sox fielded baseball’s 20th best offense last season, and that will probably stay around the same this year. Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu will once again be the main sources of power for the Sox, as the duo combined for 65 home runs and 198 RBI’s last season. Besides them, Avisail Garcia, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie will be the remaining threats in an otherwise mediocre lineup.

Prospects to Lookout For

Rick Hahn dealt away Adam Eaton and Chris Sale in return for four of the game’s top-50 prospects, according to MLB.com. Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito highlight a Chicago system that is suddenly one of the game’s best. The best part for Chicago? Moncada, Lopez and Giolito are all Major League ready and should become mainstay’s on the team for years to come.

Fifth Place: Minnesota Twins

 

 

The Minnesota Twins suffered through a horrific 2016 campaign, finishing the dismal year with a 59-103 record. As Yankees manager Joe Girardi would say, it’s not what you want. Despite the disappointing 2016 season, Minnesota does have a good amount of young talent that translate it’s talents to the MLB in the near future.

Starting Rotation

This is without a doubt the Twins biggest weakness. Last season, the staff had a collective ERA of 5.08, second worst in the majors. Ervin Santana led the staff last season as the “ace” with a solid 3.38 ERA, but he lacked run support with his record of 7-11.Kyle Gibson finished last season with a 5.07 ERA. On the bright side, prospect Jose Berrios has got the stuff to develop into a solid starter, despite his rocky start to MLB ball last season.

Bullpen

Closer Glen Perkins is really the only name worth mentioning here, as the former All-Star is a great arm in the back of the pen for the Twins. 36-year-old Matt Belisle crafted a 1.76 ERA through 40 games last season, so that’s a bright spot. Every other arm in the bullpen had ERA’s north of 3.50, not good.

The Rest of the bunch

Will this be the year former super prospect Byron Buxton finally breaks out and becomes the star everyone thought he’d be? Twins management is praying it is, and they’ll give him every chance to succeed. The team still has star Brian Dozier, but if the team is done by early summer, a trade might be necessary. Young sluggers Miguel Sano and Max Kepler give the Twins optimism, though, as the duo looks to be a solid source of power, with 42 combined homers last season.

Prospects to Lookout For

Minnesota’s system is weakened due to the fact that Sano, Berrios, and Kepler have shed their prospect eligibility. Most of Minnesota’s top names won’t be Major League ready until 2018 or 2020, which isn’t a great sign for the Twins. If the team decides to trade Dozier, then this might be different.

 

 

 

 

 

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