Way-Too-Early AL Central Preview

 Predictions time!

Yeah, these things can change. Surprise releases, injuries, trades, late free agent signings, someone new steps up…all that is possible. But I’m impatient and have nothing better to write about.

So I thought I’d rank each team at each position based on the projected starters. These rankings are based on my uninformed opinion on how I think each guy will perform this season, plus some thought put into recent performances by the players.  Each position's player comes from the depth charts on each team's official web site.

I should also have a goofy points system, too, I guess. We’ll go 10 pts for 1st place, 7 for 2nd, 5 for 3rd, 3 pts for 4th, and 1 point for 5th. Then we’ll add them all up and see how the Tigers stack up against the rest of the AL Central. Make sense? No? I hate you…

We’ll figure it out. Jump with me…


1-Twins: Joe Mauer
2-Indians: Carlos Santana
3-White Sox: AJ Pierzynski
4-Royals: Jason Kendall
5-Tigers: Alex Avila

Analysis: Mauer’s by far the best here. If anyone argues that, they are a moron. I think Santana’s going to be the Indians’ best player by the end of this year. AJ’s a jerk, but you know what you’re going to get from him. Kendall’s winding down, but he can still make contact, especially against Detroit. Avila needs to step it up this year to prove that he can be relied upon to be a legit MLB starting catcher.  I have my doubts still.

Running Point Total: Twins-10, Indians-7, White Sox-5, Royals-3, Tigers-1


1-Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
2-Twins: Justin Morneau
3-White Sox: Paul Konerko
4-Royals: Kila Ka’aihue
5-Indians: Matt LaPorta

Analysis: Cabrera’s the best no matter what the media thinks of him now. Morneau’s right behind him in AL first basemen, assuming he heals from his concussion. Konerko’s older, but still steady. Ka’aihue’s name is a mystery to Rod Allen, but he’s a rising star. LaPorta is a former 1st round pick that has struggled to hit in the majors so far.

Running Point Total: Twins-17, Tigers-11, White Sox-10, Indians-8, Royals-6


1-Twins: Tsuyoshi Niskioka
2-White Sox: Gordon Beckham
3-Tigers: Carlos Guillen
4-Indians: Orlando Cabrera
5-Royals: Chris Getz

Analysis: Niskioka is the Japanese hired gun the Twins acquired in the offseason. He hit .346 in Japan last year and has a career average of .293 along with a good defensive reputation. Beckham has been the top White Sox prospect for a while and this could be his breakout year. Guillen would be ranked higher, but he goes on the DL every time he happens to sneeze. Cabrera was never that great, and has lost another step or two the past couple years. Getz is a borderline major leaguer.

Running Point Total: Twins-27, White Sox-17, Tigers-16, Indians-11, Royals-7


1-Twins: Danny Valencia
2-Tigers: Brandon Inge
3-Royals: Mike Aviles
4-White Sox: Brent Morel
5-Indians: Jason Donald

Analysys: Valencia did well is his first year in the bigs hitting .311 for the Twins. I hate to do it, but I think he’s the best of this group. I grudgingly put Inge second, due to his amazing defense. Aviles could be the best third baseman in the Central if he could stay healthy. Morel is a career .305 hitter in the minors and will be given his chance at the show this year by the Sox. Donald is listed as the third baseman for the Tribe this year, despite only playing second and short last year. He didn’t impress much last year, though.

Running Point Total: Twins-37, Tigers-23, White Sox-20, Indians-12, Royals-12


1-White Sox: Alexei Ramirez
2-Tigers: Jhonny Peralta
3-Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera
4-Royals: Alcides Escobar
5-Twins: Alexi Casilla

Analysis: Try spelling all of these guys’ names correctly without looking. I dare you. Ramirez is the best of this group in my opinion. Peralta hopes to be reborn in Detroit this year after looking good following the trade with Cleveland last year. Cabrera’s a decent player when healthy. Escobar is young, came over in the Zach Greinke deal, and his hit well in the minors. Casilla has split time in his career in Minnesota so far and hasn’t hit much.

Running Point Total: Twins-38, Tigers-30, White Sox-30, Indians-17, Royals-15


1-Twins: Delmon Young
2-Tigers: Ryan Raburn
3-White Sox: Juan Pierre
4-Indians: Michael Brantley
5-Royals: Alex Gordon

Analysis: Young’s easily the best of the group here. Raburn gets my 2nd place nod based on his ability to carry the team when he’s hot at the dish. I hate Juan Pierre, but his 68 stolen bases last year shows that he still has value. Brantley was part of the CC Sabathia deal and is .303 hitter in the minors and is still only 23 years old. Gordon was supposed to be the next George Brett in Kansas City, but has resembled the next Bob Hamelin instead (without the power).

Running Point Total: Twins-48, Tigers-37, White Sox-35, Indians-20, Royals-16


1-White Sox: Alex Rios
2-Tigers: Austin Jackson
3-Twins: Denard Span
4-Indians: Grady Sizemore
5-Royals: Melky Cabrera

Analysis: This has been the toughest ranking so far. Alex put up the best numbers of the group last year and looks like the Rios of old since being freed from Toronto. AJax was superb in his rookie season and will hopefully build on that in 2011. Span took a step back last year hitting only .264 with an OPS+ of 85. He remains dangerous to the Tigers, though. Sizemore would have been easily the best three years ago, but injuries and a Curtis Granderson-like affection for the long ball has hurt him. Cabrera is horrible and if he were starting for my team, I’d hang myself. Also, we have way too many Cabreras in our division.

Running Point Total: Twins-53, White Sox-45, Tigers-44, Indians-23, Royals-17


1-Indians: Shin Soo Choo
2-Tigers: Magglio Ordonez
3-White Sox: Carlos Quentin
4-Twins: Michael Cuddyer
5-Royals: Jeff Francoeur

Analysis: Choo is the last really good player the Indians have left until Santana develops. Expect him to be dealt by the end of the year…sorry Indians fans, couldn’t resist. Ordonez continues to hit and play better defense than you’d expect, despite injuries and getting older. Quentin is a butcher on defense, but has immense power. Cuddyer is solid, but unspectacular. Francoeur was good when he first came up with Atlanta, but has been in a downward spiral and bouncing around the league ever since.

Running Point Total: Twins-56, Tigers-51, White Sox-50, Indians-33, Royals-18


1-White Sox: Adam Dunn
2-Tigers: Victor Martinez
3-Royals: Billy Butler
4-Indians: Travis Hafner
5-Twins: Jason Kubel

Analysis: Dunn’s simply a beast and an on base machine. VMart is going to be sorely needed protection for Cabrera in the Tigers’ lineup. Butler is a great hitter that goes unnoticed in Kansas City. Hafner is one of the most injury prone players in baseball despite never playing in the field. Kubel hits the occasional home run, but is an average player overall. He’ll split time with an aging Jim Thome for the Twins at DH.

Points so far: White Sox-60, Tigers-58, Twins-57, Indians-36, Royals-23


1-Tigers: Will Rhymes, Ramon Santiago, Don Kelly, Brennan Boesch/Casper Wells
2-Twins: Jim Thome, Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert, Drew Butera
3-White Sox: Mark Teahan, Omar Vizquel, Alejandro De Aza, Ramon Castro
4-Indians: Shelley Duncan, Austin Kearns, Jayson Nix, Lou Marson
5-Royals: Mitch Maier, Wilson Betemit, Lorenzo Cain, Brayan Pena

Analysis: I’m surprised, too, but I really think the Tigers have the most well-rounded bench despite not really having an impact hitter to come off of it. Thome’s probably the best non-regular in the AL Central and he gets the Twins into 2nd here. The Sox have a good mix of veterans and young players as backups. The same can be said for Cleveland to a lesser extent. As usual, KC brings up the rear.

Points so far: Tigers-68, White Sox-65, Twins-64, Indians-39, Royals-24


1-Tigers: Justin Verlander
2-Twins: Francisco Liriano
3-White Sox: Mark Buehrle
4-Indians: Fausto Carmona
5-Royals: Luke Hochevar

Analysis: JV is by far the cream of the crop in the Central with Zach Greinke leaving the division. Liriano is great when healthy, but he may end up traded if you believe the rumors floating around about him. Buehrle is good, but is talking retirement soon. Carmona is Jeckyl and Hyde. Hochevar would be lucky to be a #3 on the other staffs. He’s still young, though.

Points so far: Tigers-78, Twins-71, White Sox-70, Indians-41, Royals-25


1-Tigers: Max Scherzer
2-White Sox: Gavin Floyd
3-Twins: Carl Pavano
4-Indians: Justin Masterson
5-Royals: Kyle Davies

Analysis: Max Scherzer was dominant after coming back from a stint in Toledo last year. Floyd’s solid and overlooked in the Sox rotation. Pavano’s great against Detroit, but average against the rest of the league. Masterson was the Indians’ big get in the VMart trade to Boston a couple years ago. Davies sucks.

Points so far: Tigers-88, White Sox-77, Twins-76, Indians-45, Royals-26


1-White Sox: Jon Danks, Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson
2-Twins: Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn/Kevin Slowey
3-Tigers: Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, Brad Penny
4-Royals: Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro,, Sean O’Sullivan
5-Indians: Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin

Analysis: The White Sox have great depth in the rotation assuming they all stay healthy. If Peavy rebounds, he’s an ace. The Twins have a bunch of guys with big league experience. The Tigers 3-5 guys could be great, but they have a lot of questions. KC beats out Cleveland just by Jeff Francis’ prescence.

Points so far: Tigers-93, White Sox-87, Twins-83, Indians-46, Royals-29


1-Twins: Joe Nathan
2-Royals: Joakim Soria
3-Tigers: Jose Valverde
4-White Sox: Matt Thornton
5-Indians: Chris Perez

Analysis: I gave Nathan the nod despite him missing last year to injury. That’s how much I fear the man. Soria’s great and may not be long for Kansas City. Valverde’s the best closer Detroit’s seen since Willie Hernandez in 1984. Thornton is probably a sleeper to be the top guy here, but he’s entering his first year as closer. Perez is not a guy I’d count on to lock down games.

Points so far: Tigers-98, Twins-93, White Sox-90, Indians-47, Royals-36


1-White Sox: Chris Sale, Jessie Crain, Will Ohman, Tony Pena, Sergio Santos, Lucas Harrell
2-Tigers: Joaquin Benoit, Joe Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Brad Thomas, Daniel Schlereth, Robbie Weinhardt
3-Twins: Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins, Pat Neshak, Jeff Manship
4-Indians: Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Jenson Lewis, Aaron Laffey, Vinnie Pestano
5-Royals: Blake Wood, Jesse Chavez, Kanekoa Texeira, Greg Holland, Robinson Tejeda, Bruce Chen

Analysis: Lots of good arms for the Sox and I have them narrowly better than the Tigers for now. The Twins used to have this part locked up, but they took a hit in the offseason. Cleveland and KC just have a bunch of guys out there with Perez being the only guy I’d want on my team out of the bunch.

Points so far: Tigers-105, White Sox-100, Twins-98, Indians-50, Royals-37


1-Twins: Ron Gardenhire
2-Tigers: Jim Leyland
3-White Sox: Ozzie Guillen
4-Indians: Manny Acta
5-Royals: Ned Yost

Analysis: Ha, bet you thought I was done. Or maybe not. You can’t overlook the managers, in my opinion. They don’t affect the game as much as I think most people give them credit for, but I do think they have in impact nonetheless. Gardenhire’s one of the best managers I’ve ever seen. Leyland drives me crazy, but his players will run through a wall for him…at least in the first half of the year. Ozzie’s crazy, but he has a World Series ring. Acta and Yost…I flipped a coin. Acta won.

Final Points Total: Tigers-112, Twins=108, White Sox-105, Indians-53, Royals-38

There you go. It looks like I’m picking the Tigers to narrowly win the AL Central over the Twins and White Sox. Granted, if I ranked each pitcher, the White Sox might have pulled it out. Luckily for Tiger fans, I’m lazy.

In all honesty, it’s a three team race and should be interesting. Any of them could easily win it. Can’t wait for it to unfold.