With baseball season quickly approaching, its time to look at the players who could be difference makers for their team. Here are the MVP's and prospects to watch for in the AL Central this season.
Chicago White Sox
After a disappointing 2019 season where they finished 72-89, the White Sox front office decided to be aggressive and go after big names in free agency. Chicago inked Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel to contracts and traded for former Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara.
The White Sox are looking to have a solid year ahead of them, but will be stuck in the race for 3rd due to the fact that the Indians and Twins are high-power teams that win ball games by simply scoring a lot of runs.
MVP: Yoan Moncada (3B)
Since coming over to Chicago from Boston in the Chris Sale trade, Moncada has steadily improved every season. Last year, Moncada increased his batting average by almost .100 after hitting .315 in 132 games
This White Sox team will be fun to watch and I predict that the Cuban switch-hitter Moncada will provide plenty of that entertainment both at-bat and at the hot corner.
Prospect: Michael Kopech (RHP)
Interestingly enough, Kopech was the other large piece of the trade that sent Chris Sale to Boston. It must be hard for Boston now knowing what Moncada and Kopech have become.
Kopech is very similar to Toronto’s Nate Pearson. Both are young righties who throw absolute missiles and have 80-graded fastballs. Kopech however, has some MLB experience appearing in four games going 1-1 with a 5.02 ERA and 15 strikeouts in only 14.1 innings.
Look out for Kopech earning his role in the starting rotation soon after he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Cleveland is a team that is looking to be a playoff contender for years to come. From top to bottom (maybe besides catcher) this team is going to give opposing teams nightmares.
The rotation of Mike “Sunshine” Clevinger, All-Star game MVP Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco who is fresh off beating leukemia is one of the best in the American League and maybe one of the best in the whole MLB.
All four of their infielders are switch hitters which put pitchers at a disadvantage and their bullpen featuring the dominant left-hander Brad Hand is in place for many holds and saves.
The Indians finished last year 93-69 which was good enough for second in the AL Central but they unfortunately did not reach the postseason because of strong competition in the American League.
MVP: Francisco Lindor (SS)
Again, this roster is stacked and there is a good chance that any player from a veteran like Carlos Santana or a young rising star like Jose Ramirez or Franciso Lindor can lead this team. Lindor has to be the favorite however.
Lindor is a durable and consistent player who has a career batting average just south of .300 at .288 while playing in 717 of a possible 757 games since entering the league in the last four months of the 2015 season. Lindor has to be the favorite to lead the Indians because his numbers don’t lie.
Prospect: Nolan Jones (3B)
After dealing Francisco Mejia in the Brad Hand trade, the Indians farm system has been particularly weak. Jones is a promising third baseman that scouts love because even at 22 years old, he is a great hitter. Whether it is for power or contact, Jones has succeeded at every level at getting on base.
Jones has a particularly strong eye and drew a minor league leading 96 walks last season in only 126 games. Jones is projected to be an average defender at third, but has a strong arm which should keep him there for now. If Cleveland can retain their young core, they will only get better once Jones is called up.
Last year was a special year for the Twins. Out of nowhere, a team that wasn’t expected to do much broke a very special record. In 2018, the New York Yankees set a season record by a team in hitting 267 homeruns in 162 games. The Twins smashed that record last season by hitting 307 home runs, beating out the Yankees by one.
Like their division rival Indians, the Twins have a very solid lineup with above average players at every position. Their outfield of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario is one of the league's best trios and the power hitting infield of Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver provide plenty of offense against both left and right handed pitching. This team is gonna score a lot of runs and they have a star studded rotation and bullpen to maintain any lead necessary.
MVP: Eddie Rosario (OF)
Rosario has been a very consistent hitter over the course of his five year career, averaging a batting average of .279. Last season, Rosario drove in a career-high 109 runs while smashing 32 home runs which was also good enough for a new career high. The Twins may not have super star players, but last year their effort as a team led them to a division title. It is obvious no team will be able to hit over 307 home runs in 60 games to break the Twins’ record, so Rosario and his teammates will keep the crown for another year.
Prospect: Nick Gordon (2B/SS)
Gordon is one of the older prospects in the Twins’ farm system, but he is about ready to make the jump. Gordon has struggled climbing through the minor league ranks, but has finally begun to show constant improvement which may lead to a call up in the near future.
Gordon projects as an average, every day/platoon middle infielder but may have a spot on the Twins soon since second base is one spot where Minnesota lacks an everyday starter.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are one of two very weak teams in the AL Central, the other being the Detroit Tigers. Kansas City finished the 2019 with a 59-103 record which somehow put them in fourth place in the AL Central.
The Royals have a tough roster, there are a few guys who stand out like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield but the rest of the squad are guys who would most likely be bench bats anywhere else and both the rotation and bullpen lack a bonafide stud.
While Kansas City has plenty of pitching prospect working their way to the majors, they need guys who are going to perform now instead of rolling the dice and waiting five or more years to hope a three man rotation and a few flamethrowers for the bullpen appear out of a few 19 year olds in Single A. The Royals will be fighting with the Tigers and Orioles for best of the worst this season.
MVP: Jorge Soler (OF)
Soler was the sole bright spot last season for the Royals and his home run numbers should provide the league with plenty of highlights. Soler doesn't just hit home runs, he hits moonshots. Soler hit 48 home runs last season, which was more than his career total leading up to 2019.
Soler will have plenty to improve upon heading into 2020. He struck out in 30 percent of his at-bats, which is quite common for players who are known solely for power hitting. Expect a strong 60-game season from Soler, but I wouldn’t suggest watching 60 Royals games.
Prospect: Bobby Witt Jr. (SS)
Witt Jr. was the NO. 2 pick in last year's draft behind the Orioles’ Adley Rutschman. Witt has had no problem hitting for power throughout his whole career and the Royals paid him for said power. He received the third highest slot bonus in the history of the draft and has kept himself among the MLB rankings ever since.
Witt currently sits at NO. 10 in all of baseball but is definitely a few years out. Luckily for Witt, he is one of the youngest top prospects in the top 100 so definitely has time to improve, he will be the top prospect in baseball soon enough.
If it wasn’t for the Orioles losing 223 games in the last two seasons Detroit would be the worst team in the league record-wise in that span. The Tigers have only won 111 games over the past two seasons and somehow finished third in the Central in 2018 thanks to poor seasons from the White Sox and Royals.
Unlike the other low-tier teams in the league, the Tigers have a great farm system filled with bats and arms that should make the team a whole lot better soon. The Tigers roster is very below average and lacks a superstar or any kind of star at any position, but again the farm system looks to be very promising.
MVP: Miguel Cabrera (1B)
Miggy is an all-time great. Two-time MVP, 2003 World Series Champ and seven-time Silver Slugger. Cabrera is definitely running out of time in the league, but he has been a consistent hitter over the last few seasons. Cabrera’s last Silver Slugger award was in 2016, he was 33 years old.
Cabrera hit .285 last season and only missed 26 games, not bad for a 36 year old. Expect Miggy to finish his career with a bang as he welcomes in a new generation of Tigers to the Motor City.
Prospect: Casey Mize (RHP)
Mize is arguably the best pitching prospect in the league right now. Between Mackenzie Gore, Nate Pearson and Mize, it is hard to pick a clear best player. Mize was the first overall pick in 2018 and has risen through the Tigers system rapidly as he is expected to make his debut in Detroit sometime in 2020 as a 23 year old.
Mize has shown great control of the strike zone even with a splitter and slider that have distinct movement along with a fastball that sits around 95 MPH. Mize has ace potential and the lackluster rotation that is already in Detroit needs him.