Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ranking the AL Central, Position By Position

With the signing of Prince Fielder, everyone is talking about Detroit making a deep playoff run and possibly winning the World Series in 2012. Yeah, that sounds nice over here. But before we can worry about that, the team needs to win their second straight AL Central title first. Something tells me the Wild Card won’t be coming from the Central this year.

Today, I thought I’d see how the Tigers stack up, position by position, around the AL Central. Think of it as an early “Know Thy Enemy” piece on the whole division. Keep in mind that there are still a lot of free agents out there, so these things could change. Of course, that would require the ChiSox and Twins adding to their already bloated payrolls and/or the Indians and Royals actually spending money on their baseball teams.

Perish the thought.



CATCHER
1. Minnesota: Joe Mauer
2. Detroit: Alex Avila
3. Cleveland: Carlos Santana
4. Chicago: AJ Pierzynski
5. Kansas City: Salvador Perez/Brayan Pena

A healthy Mauer is the best catcher in the game. And their backup, Ryan Doumit, might be the third best catcher in the division. Avila needs to follow up his All-Star 2011 season with another to show he belongs among the elite. Santana has shown flashes of greatness, but hasn’t put it all together yet. Pierzynski is a better Fox analyst than catcher nowadays. And KC is, surprise, going with a youth movement at catcher this year.

FIRST BASE
1. Detroit: Prince Fielder
2. Chicago: Paul Konerko
3. Kansas City: Eric Hosmer
4. Minnesota: Justin Morneau
5. Cleveland: Casey Kotchman

Prince is the cream of the crop. Konerko remains possibly the most unknown great player in the game. Hosmer is a rising star. Morneau doesn’t know what city he is in on any given day, but if his head ever clears, look out. Kotchman is okay, but not better than these sluggers.

SECOND BASE
1. Chicago: Gordan Beckham
2. Cleveland: Jason Kipnis
3. Kansas City: Johnny Giavotella/Chris Getz
4. Detroit: Ramon Santiago/Ryan Raburn/Brandon Inge
5. Minnesota: Alexi Casilla

Beckham is the best of a less than impressive class here. Kipnis is a Tiger killer in the making…the Luke Scott of second basemen. KC’s duo has a little potential left, but aren’t anything special. The Tiger platoon isn’t going to wow anyone, either. Casilla is gawd-awful.

SHORTSTOP
1. Cleveland: Asdrubal Cabrera
2. Chicago: Alexei Ramirez
3. Detroit: Jhonny Peralta
4. Kansas City: Alcides Escobar/Yuniesky Betancourt
5. Minnesota: Jamey Carroll

Asdrubal is a crybaby, but the best shortstop in the division, bar none. Ramirez and Peralta are close, but Alexei gets the slight nod from me. Not sure what’s going on in KC this year, but Jamey Carroll shouldn’t be starting at shortstop in the Major Leagues. No clue what the Twins are thinking there.

THIRD BASE
1. Detroit: Miguel Cabrera
2. Minnesota: Danny Valencia
3. Kansas City: Mike Moustakas
4. Chicago: Brent Morel
5. Cleveland: Jack Hannahan/Lonnie Chisenhall

Cabrera is Superman. Valencia needs to step up with so many bats leaving Minneapolis in the offseason. Moustakas is still learning. Morel is meh. And I can’t believe Cleveland didn’t do anything to improve at third in the offseason. Inge would be an upgrade for them.

LEFT FIELD
1. Kansas City: Alex Gordon
2. Detroit: Ryan Raburn/Delmon Young/Andy Dirks
3. Cleveland: Michael Brantley
4. Chicago: Alejandro de Aza
5. Minnesota: Ben Revere

Gordon went from a failed George Brett clone to the best left fielder in the division. The rotating door of Detroit’s corner outfield spot will hit, at least. Brantley is missing something. De Aza is young and could be a surprise. Revere is terrible, though.

CENTER FIELD
1. Cleveland: Grady Sizemore
2. Minnesota: Denard Span
3. Detroit: Austin Jackson
4. Chicago: Alex Rios
5. Kansas City: Lorenzo Cain/Mitch Maier

When healthy, Sizemore is outstanding. Good thing for Detroit is that he rarely is. Span’s another that’s battled injury problems, but very good when at 100%. Jackson needs to get back to what worked his rookie year at the plate, though his defense remains superb. Rios is washed up. And KC is going with unproven kids again.

RIGHT FIELD
1. Minnesota: Josh Willingham
2. Cleveland: Shinn-Soo Choo
3. Detroit: Brennan Boesch
4. Kansas City: Jeff Francoeur
5. Chicago: Dayan Viciedo/Kosuke Fukudome

Willingham is better than I’ve been giving him credit for. Choo is looking to rebound from a rough year. Boesch has never put together a full season and I remain unconvinced that he’s the answer. Francoeur had a nice comeback year last season, but his arm remains the only thing about him that’s above average. Chicago…ugh. Can’t believe they let go of Carlos Quentin.

DESIGNATED HITTER
1. Kansas City: Billy Butler
2. Cleveland: Travis Hafner
3. Chicago: Adam Dunn
4. Detroit: Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn
5. Minnesota: Trevor Plouffe

Butler is the only guy here that’s not a question mark. He’s simply a great hitter. Hafner’s a beast when healthy, but he breaks down a few times every year. Dunn isn’t as bad as 2011 showed…that would be impossible. Detroit’s going to have a different DH every day, so it’s hard to rank them here. And “Plouffe” is French for “dog doo”. If he was my team’s top DH on the depth chart, I would hang myself. I expect Mauer to play a decent amount at first and Morneau to DH a lot for them, though.

ACE
1. Detroit: Justin Verlander
2. Cleveland: Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Chicago: John Danks
4. Minnesota: Francisco Liriano
5. Kansas City: Luke Hochevar

Verlander is the best by a mile, here. Jimenez didn’t work out like Cleveland expected to last year, but he’s still an excellent pitcher. Danks is no Mark Buehrle. Liriano is the Jeckyl and Hyde of starters. And Hochevar has yet to live up to his hype.

REST OF ROTATION
1. Detroit: Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Turner/Below
2. Chicago: Floyd, Humber, Sale, Peavy
3. Cleveland: Masterson, Tomlin, Lowe, Huff
4. Minnesota: Pavano, Baker, Blackburn, Marquis
5. Kansas City: Chen, Sanchez, Paulino, Duffy

Detroit could choose you or me as their 5th starter and they’d still have the best staff in the Central. Chicago comes in second, but if Peavy ever gets back to where he was, they could overtake the Tigers. Justin Masterson is great, but the rest of the Tribe staff is weak. It doesn’t get much worse than the Twins staff this year...but Kansas City somehow managed to do it.

CLOSER
1. Detroit: Jose Valverde
2. Kansas City: Joakim Soria
3. Cleveland: Chris Perez
4. Chicago: Matt Thornton
5. Minnesota: Matt Capps

People continue to doubt Valverde, but he does nothing but get the job done. Soria had a rough 2011, for him, but he’s too good not to rebound. Perez is a solid closer with bad hair. Thornton has great stuff, but will they trust him this year if he struggles again? Capps doesn’t scare anyone the way Joe Nathan did for years with the Twinkies.

BULLPEN
1. Cleveland: R. Perez, Sipp, Pestano, Smith
2. Detroit: Benoit, Dotel, Coke, Schlereth
3. Kansas City: Broxton, Crow, Collins, Mijares
4. Chicago: Crain, Ohman, Reed, Axelrod
5. Minnesota: Perkins, Burnett, Swarzak, Oliveros

The Cleveland pen was outstanding for most of last year, but can they repeat it? Dotel improves the Tiger group that will get even better when Al Alburquerque returns at midseason. If Broxton makes a full comeback, KC’s bullpen will be much more impressive than their weak starting rotation. Chicago’s group scares no one. And Minnesota’s won’t get anyone out.

MANAGER

1. Minnesota: Ron Gardenhire
2. Detroit: Jim Leyland
3. Cleveland: Manny Acta
4. Kansas City: Ned Yost
5. Chicago: Robin Ventura

I’d take Ron Gardenhire as my team’s manager over anyone. Leyland is much, much better than anyone in Detroit will ever give him credit for. Acta’s better than Cleveland fans think, too. Yost is just there. And Ventura has yet to manage a MLB game. Hopefully Nolan Ryan beats the piss out of him when they visit Texas.

Do I think the Tigers will win the Central this year? Barring JV, Mig, and Prince all dying of cholera, yes. This division is bowling shoe ugly, after the Tigers, and I expect them to run away with it. If KC had any starters, things might be different. But anyway…

Predicted Final Division Standings:

1. Detroit
2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. Kansas City
5. Minnesota

…but I can see any combination of numbers two through five happening. Health and luck should determine the also-rans, but the Tigers just have too much talent not to run away with it.

/knocks on wood repeatedly

12 comments:

ZoomBabyZoom said...

I think the White Sox finish 2nd. Believe Dunn and Rios to both bounce back enough to offset losing Quentin. And Cleveland had almost everything go right for them last year and still weren't that good. 

Sutelc said...

In spite of the weak starting pitching I still woudn't be surprised to see KC finish 2nd or 3rd.  That line-up can rake when it gets going.  In any other division that wouldn't be enough, but in the central it might be.

H2OPoloPunk said...

Good call. Pretty much agree on all accounts, though if AlAl returns, we clearly have the best bullpen.

BW said...

Literally laughed out loud in a dead silent office when I read the "This division is bowling shoe ugly" part... Thumbs up, nice piece.

Tom said...

really good post, rogo.  BYB is jealous

EightMileCats said...

I don't know...  If there is one thing Cleveland has in spades its the pen. I still think the Jiminez trade was a huge mistake for them.  Last year was a fluke...  sure, they will be a force in another year or so, but those 2 pitchers should've been part of it.  Ubaldo had one amazing half season... and some meh ones.  And, to top it off... name one pitcher who left the high altitude of Colorado after age 27 and went on to any success...  I think that (lack of) atmosphere destroys arms.

Jay Hathaway said...

I agree.  Their rotation is obviosuly horrible, but remember how their hitters took it to us a few times late last season?  Vicious litte bastards!

Uhhh said...

Best shortstop in the game? Tulowitzki stopped playing baseball. Thanks for the update.

SRogo said...

 In the division. Not the game. Thanks for paying attention.

Biff Mayhem said...

Ventura has yet to manage a MLB game. Hopefully Nolan Ryan beats the piss out of him when they visit Texas.

Biff Mayhem said...

I laughed audibly. He's the only guy to get 7 hits off Ryan in a game.

Crashcrad66 said...

I hate to say it, but I think KC is grooming a whole batch of Tiger killers in that lineup. They're already killing me with that half-assed amish facial hair...