Opening Day is only four hours and five minutes away and I could not be more excited. The beautiful ballparks, the ballpark hot dogs, and most importantly, watching baseball… at home, but that is just the world we live in. Let’s take a look at the AL Central, this division really only has two teams that could contend for the title, but there is lots of exciting talent to pay attention to. With that being said, I am gonna show you the players to watch for in this lackluster division.
Over the past two seasons, Liam Hendriks has proved himself to be among the league’s most elite closers. In the off-season, Hendriks was one of the biggest names on the market, and the White Sox managed to land him. He dealt with a bit of a medical situation this pre-season but he is said to be back and ready to go. The White Sox are already one of the scarier teams in this division and the ability to land one of the league’s most premier closers is huge.
In 2020, Hendriks posted a 1.78 ERA and a very impressive 0.67 WHIP. In 25 innings of work out of the pen, he also managed to strike out 37 batters and on walk three. That is one of the best strikeout to walk ratios that I personally have ever seen, and one of the best last year. Although I am taking the 60-game season stats with a grain of salt, he was absolutely dialed.
If the 32-year-old pitcher can maintain his incredible performances in each of the last two years, he can easily be considered the best closer in the game. This is vital to have a guy that you can rely on to go out in the ninth and get you three outs to win you the game.
Cleveland Baseball Team: Triston McKenzie
The Cleveland Baseball Team made a huge deal to send superstar shortstop Fransisco Lindor to the New York Mets this off-season. This didn’t leave much to watch out for or look forward to for the 2021 season. They went from a contender a couple of years ago to potentially contending for a top-five pick in the draft. One player to watch out for this year is Triston McKenzie.
Last year McKenzie got a chance to slot in the rotation and prove his worth, and he seized that opportunity. He threw 33 innings in eight games with an ERA sitting at 3.24 and keeping his WHIP under one. In those eight games, he had two wins and one loss but managed to strikeout 42 major league hitters and only walk nine. For a rookie those are great numbers, he didn’t get a huge sample but he got a taste and I think he will be hungry for more in this full season.
I love looking at a pitcher’s K/BB ratio because I believe without actually watching the games it is the most accurate and easiest stat to see how their command is looking and at a K/BB ratio of 4.67 his command is great. That number puts him around names like Ryu, Woodruff, and Luis Castillo, not bad company to be in at all.
Detroit Tigers: Spencer Torkelson
I know, I know, I know, he isn’t starting with the Tigers at the start of the season, but it is the Tigers, they really didn’t have many options. Although, after shaking off some rust, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Torkelson in a Tigers’ jersey by the time the fall rolls around. He is a very exciting prospect but he didn’t have a great spring going 1 for 26.
Torkelson will be starting the season in West Michigan playing for the Whitecaps, Detroit’s high Class-A team. He is just one step below AA baseball, and after a little while it is inevitable before the first overall pick gets out of West Michigan into Erie, Toledo, and finally making it all the way to Detroit, and I think that most of this progression is going to happen this season.
Playing for the Arizona State University Sun Devils the 21-year-old third basemen batted .340/.598/.780 with six home runs and 11 RBIs. The patience and the eye at the plate for this youngster isn’t as common as it used to be in today’s game. He had 31 walks and only 15 strikeouts in 17 games. He was under a strikeout per game and just under two walks per game and I believe that this eagle eye he has will be his key to success, and if he can play up to his skill level says he can in the minors, it will be almost no time before we see Spencer Torkelson in the show.
Kansas City Royals: Andrew Benintendi
The Kansas City Royals are another team that isn’t looking too hot this season. Benintendi was brought in via a three-way trade with the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox. After suffering an injury at the start of September last season the Red Sox shut down Benintendi and passed him off the Royals.
Benintendi was always an exciting player to watch when he was in Boston because he was an excellent defender that made great catches, as well as having a great arm. His bat wasn’t the greatest but he was always a decent hitter. His batting average has never dipped below .266 in his career since breaking into the scene in 2016. He has had two seasons with over 70 walks and has never had his OBP go below .300 in his entire career.
Benintendi was a great player for Boston, and I am sure that he will be vital to the rebuild that is going on in Kansas City, and will be one of the few bright spots on that roster this year. My only concern is the same as everyone’s, will Benintendi be able to stay healthy? Has he properly rehabbed his injury? Durability is a huge factor for me and I want him to play the whole season but he will definitely be exciting to watch when he is healthy.
Minnesota Twins: J.A. Happ
Happ is coming off of a decent shortened season playing with the New York Yankees and signed with Minnesota this off-season. The Twins’ rotation is looking like one of the stronger starting five in the AL. It is likely that Happ will start off in the latter half of the rotation to begin the year. If Happ can find the same success with the Twins as he did the Yankees do not be surprised to see him up in the front have of the rotation by the time September baseball rolls around.
Happ is a veteran player this year that has the potential to make the Twins’ become an even bigger contender in the AL. The lefty pitcher will be turning 39 at the end of the 2021 MLB season. Everyone knows that he can produce good numbers but the question now comes down to his durability at such an old age, well for MLB standards that is.
In the shortened-season last year Happ had two wins and two losses, pitching in nine games. In his nine starts, he only pitched 49.1 innings, less than six per game, but his numbers were among the best. Happ had an ERA of 3.49, with a WHIP of just a smidge over one. His strikeout to walk ratio was just under three to one which means at least one thing, he still has his command. Although he didn’t fare as well in Spring Training this year with an ERA of over nine, and his WHIP is well above two. Now, keep in mind that he only pitched in 8.2 innings, but Happ is one of the biggest keys to the Minnesota Twins’ success this year if he can stay healthy and pitch like the J.A. Happ we all know and love.