BY: JUSTIN MILLAR (@justinmillar1)
The 2012 AL Central race is basically a race for 2nd place. The Tigers are an easy pick for the division title in 2012. Although a young team, such as the Royals or Indians, could surprise them, it is quite difficult not to pick the Tigers.
1. Detroit Tigers (projected record: 93-68)
As good as the Tigers were in 2011, they may be even better in 2012 with the addition of Prince Fielder. The Tigers have a potent offense led by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and Austin Jackson are very nice complimentary pieces as well. The offense may be great, but the defense in 2012 could be horrible. Miguel Cabrera will be moving back to his natural position at first base with a few extra years and pounds on him. I think the experiment will end mid-season with Prince moving to DH. The starting rotation is solid overall. Justin Verlander is the staff ace, and in the argument for best pitcher in baseball. He should put up another good season, probably 5-6 WAR. Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and Max Sherzer are each solid. They each come with high upside but also much risk. The fifth spot could be a question mark coming into the season as stud SP prospect, Jacob Turner, isn't ready for the majors yet and the Tigers will try to delay his arbitration eligibility. That leaves Duane Below as the likely fifth starter. It's hard to truly know what he will be like, but I wouldn't expect anything noteworthy. The bullpen likely wont be able to repeat last season's performance, but it still should be solid nonetheless.
Bottom Line: The Tigers should cruise to an easy division title in 2012.
2. Cleveland Indians (projected record: 84-78)
The Indians are an intriguing team. They kind of remind me of the Blue Jays of the last few years, a decent team that could win a weak division with no clear favorite. Unfortunately for Cleveland, they are stuck behind the Tigers. The Indians have possibly the best or 2nd best catcher in the game in Carlos Santana. Casey Kotchman is a decent option at first base if he can repeat his 2011 season. Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall should anchor the infield for many seasons to come. Asdrubal Cabrera is another potential all-star at short. The big question mark on this team will be the performance of the outfield. If Shin Soo Choo can return to form after a disappointing 2011, it would provide a big boost to the offense. Grady Sizemore is also a major question mark. Will he be able to return to his pre injury form? The Indians' rotation is actually fairly strong. Ubaldo Jiminez and Justin Masterson are each decent, no. 2 type starters. Ubaldo has the potential to be an ace if all goes well. Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin should be decent ground ball pitchers, but don't expect anything spectacular. The fifth spot will likely be rotated between Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez.
Bottom Line: The Indians could surprise some in 2012, but expect them to finish around 2nd or 3rd.
3. Kansas City Royals (projected record: 82-80)
The Royals are headed on the right track, and could compete as early as this season. This is a young and potentially great team for the next decade or so. The 2012 Royals have a very strong offense, but the pitching has yet to arrive from the minors. The offense starts off with newly signed Salvador Perez at catcher. Perez has Yadi Molina upside, in that he is very strong defensively and could hit somewhere between .280 and .300. Although he is just 22, Eric Hosmer is the anchor of this offense. He could potentially be a Joey Votto type player as early as this season. The middle infield is somewhat of a weak spot for the Royals. Johnny Giavotella likely wont be anything special at second. Alcides Escobar should provide plus defense and speed at short, but he only had a .290 OBP last season. Mike Moustakas should develop into a big time power bat at third base. 25 home runs this season is a very reasonable assumption. The outfield is strong as well. Alex Gordon should be a 5.0 WAR player, and Jeff Francoeur could be a solid 3.o WAR player if he can repeat last season. Lorenzo Cain is a bit of a question mark in center due to the fact that he played in just 6 games last season. The Royals Bullpen is actually pretty good. Joakim Soria is a strong best to rebound, and Jonathan Broxton is great insurance. 2011 all-star, Aaron Crow is also a great piece to have in the 'pen. The rotation is the real problem for the Royals to be a true threat in 2012. Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy are all decent, but each profiles as a number 4 starter. A rotation of number 4 starters likely wont land you a playoff spot.
Bottom Line: The Royals should take another step forward in 2012, but don't expect them to challenge detroit until 2013 or 2014.
4. Chicago White Sox (projected record: 78-84)
The White Sox, a popular pick in 2011, had a ton go wrong last season and the future doesn't look too bright. The White Sox offense is really dependent on bounce back seasons from Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, and Alex Rios. Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez are probably the only sure things on the offense. After trading away Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, the bullpen is a little thin. As they probably wont compete this year, Matt Thornton could be shipped out by mid-season. The rotation is rather solid considering the rest of the team. John Danks and Gavin Floyd anchor the staff. Phillip Humber and Chris Sale are each young with some potential. And Jake Peavy can be an all-star type pitcher if he can stay healthy.
Bottom Line: The Immediate future looks bleak in the South side of Chicago.
5. Minnesota Twins (projected record: 71-91)
The Twins lost 99 games in 2011, and the Twins will likely lose 90+ games again in 2012. The Twins offense is decent at best. If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can return to their MVP caliber form, then I would not be reluctant to add another 3-4 wins here, but they each have great injury risk. The rest of the infield is rather lackluster. Denard Span and Ben Revere each have a solid glove as well as speed, and Josh Willingham could provide some much needed power to the outfield. The Twins' pitching is rather weak. There really is nobody that really stands out in that rotation. Like the Royals, the Twins have a rotation of mostly 4 starters. Scott Baker could be decent, but he's never thrown over 200 innings in his career.
Bottom Line: Another last place finish seems to be likely for the Twins.
- Justin Millar (@justinmillar1)