Tuesday, February 26, 2019

2019 AL Central Division Preview

We are now at the point in the Major League Baseball calendar where exhibition games have commenced, teams are looking at how to fill out their 25-man roster, and the regular season is on the horizon. Although a few marquee free agents remain, I’m at a point where I feel good about how what could potentially be baseball’s worst division, is going to play out. The incumbent division winning Cleveland Indians are ready to defend their throne and it’ll be on a challenger to emerge.

Including current PECOTA projections (as of February 26, 2019) next to predicted records, here’s how this writer has the standings for the American League Central playing out:

1. Minnesota Twins 92-70 (83-79)

No team has done more in the division to take strides forward than the Twins for 2019. While that’s great in a vacuum, no team was also able to make bigger moves than Minnesota as well. I’ve dug deeper into why I think this is realistic in a secondary piece here, but the front office must be hoping what they’ve done is enough. Despite what’s being billed as a “wait and see” type approach, I’m all in on the Falvey and Levine being vindicated in their decision making.

2. Cleveland Indians 89-73 (96-66)

Quite opposite of the Twins, arguably no team within the division has gotten worse than the Indians. Cleveland loses Michael Brantley as well as Edwin Encarnacion. They’ve replaced the latter with Carlos Santana, but there’s no outfield to speak of, and significant reliance on repeat performances. Trevor Bauer, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor all posted career year’s in 2018, all while Cleveland mustered just 91 wins. Lindor will miss the beginning of the season, and despite the rotation still being among the best in baseball, it’s hard not wondering what else to fall in love with surrounding this team.

3. Chicago White Sox 73-89 (70-92)

One of the trendiest teams in baseball right now, the White Sox are being lauded for their stellar farm system. There’s no denying that Eloy Jimenez is a stud, and he’s backed by names like Kopech, Cease, and Robert. The first starter on that list is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery though, and there’s always an incredible amount of volatility when it comes to top prospects (ask Twins fans about that.) Manny Machado would’ve moved the needle for this franchise, but instead of going all in, Kenny Williams signed friends and family hoping that would be enough. Chicago will get there, and an 11-game jump in the win column from 2018 is no small task, but that’s about where the fun ends.

4. Kansas City Royals 69-93 (72-90)

Welcome to the dreaded middle ground. It was great for the Royals that they popped up and won a World Series, as the fanbase could be looking at mediocrity or worse for quite some time. The big-league club is void of any real star potential, and the farm system is among the worst in baseball. Kansas City can’t spend big with it making any sort of a difference, but they’ve also yet to hit on any prospects that put them in a better light going forward. If you’re a Royals fan, the highlight of the season is June 3rd when Dayton Moore will have the second overall pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft.

5. Detroit Tigers 62-100 (67-95)

If Kansas City is considered the dreaded middle ground, then Detroit is trending in a much better direction. The Tigers have a strong farm system headlined by pitching stalwarts, and they also hold the 5th overall pick this summer. There’s still plenty of questions surrounding both Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd, and Detroit is hoping to see Nicholas Castellanos take yet another step forward, but there’s some building blocks here. Miguel Cabrera is on his way to Cooperstown, but Niko Goodrum has provided some immediate intrigue in the infield. This team won’t be good in 2019, but they could certainly flip the script in the coming years.