Division Prediction: AL Central
What is going on, ball boys and girls? As always, I hope you guys are doing super well. Going into spring training, I wanted to gather all the divisions to predict the division's outcomes. I also wanted to predict the most likely CY Young, MVP, and ROY from each division. For each team in the said division, I will give you a breakout candidate, rebound candidate, an impact NRI(non-roster invite), and one Rookie to watch.
Without further ado, let's talk about the AL Central!
Chicago White Sox: 95-67
Minnesota Twins: 92-70
Cleveland Indians: 85-77
Kansas City Royals: 70-92
Detroit Tigers: 61-101
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MVP: 3B Jose Ramirez is without a doubt a top-2 player next to 1B Jose Abreu in the division. Ramirez is due for his MVP this season after 3rd place finishes in 2017 and 2018 and 2nd place in 2020. He is too good not to win it this year with no Lindor on the team. If Ramirez can give us his usual 25+HR, 90+RBI, .280+/.350+/.485+ at the plate and be a stud in the field and get the Indians into the playoffs, he is a lock.
Other candidates: DH Nelson Cruz, OF Luis Robert/Eloy Jimenez, 1B Jose Abreu
Cy Young: The AL Central is loaded with top-tier pitchers. Bieber won it last year, and the trio of Lynn, Keuchel, Giolitto will win the White Sox a ton of games. I think the real Cy Young winner is a member of the Twins. It's not Jose Berrios, but it's close. It's Kenta Maeda. After a 2nd place finished in the Cy Young in 2020, Maeda was dominant on the hill. With an improved bullpen behind him, a better offense/defense behind him. I think he will build off his 2020 and could win it in 2021.
Other candidates: Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolitto, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Berries, Shane Bieber, Zac Plesac, Mike Minor, Casey Mize
Rookie of the Year: RHP Jordan Balazovic from the Twins is your Rookie of the Year in the NL Central. Yes, he has yet to pitch above the A level, but with a career 3.32ERA over 227.2IP and the Twins needs for a back of the rotation piece. Why not? He had his contract selected, he will be in camp, and I see no reason why not.
Other candidates: 3B Spencer Torkelson
Players to Watch: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are already so good, and it's hard to say who will break out next. Give me Dylan Cease here. The 25yo is coming off a "full season" of work where he pitched to a 4.01ERA/6.36FIP over 58.1IP. With Lynn and Kuechel's presence in the clubhouse and a new manager in La Russa, the chances Cease takes a massive leap are without a doubt. The offense is great, the defense is excellent, and those two factors alone help any young pitcher.
The White Sox need a rebound from INF Leury Garcia. Yes, Garcia comes in and does the job that needs to get done. However, he could be much better in terms of OBP with a career of .293. If Garcia can contribute at a league-average level of .340, the White Sox may be a win or two better.
The NRI you need to watch out for is C Jonathan Lucroy, mainly because he is the only one worth noting. However, Lucroy is a savvy vet that can call a great game. The career has been on the downhill since 2017, but I think the 34yo backstock won't let it go any further.
The Rookie you need to pay attention to on the White Sox is INF Andrew Vaughn. Suppose the Chi Sox want to move Abreu into a full-time DH role. Vaughn will get his reps at 1B. After being the #3 pick in 2019, he hit .278/.384/.449 in 245PA in A/Rookie Ball.
Players to Watch: Twins
The breakout is coming for OF Jake Cave. Injuries have slowed the now 28yo Cave to this point in his career. But looking at the 113AB in 2020, which he posted a .221/.285/.389 slash line in isn't encouraging. It was 2020 and a weird season. Go back to 2019 when he posted a .805OPS over his 228PA, and you have a great player. Barring and health setbacks, Cave will be fantastic in 2021.
The rebound needs to come to 1B Miguel Sano. Sano is a great slugger, as we have seen in recent seasons. But when you hit 13HR and post a 0.0WAR and .757OPS because you lead the MLB in strikeouts. It is not a good look. Sano's problem has always been the strikeouts that have held him back. The Twins window is closing on them to run the AL Central. Sano needs to step up and prove his worth.
The NRI to watch on the club is OF Keon Broxton. To go along with Buxton in the OF, the fleet-footed Broxton would give the Twins another excellent defensive piece. He does have 20DRS in 349 games played in the OF. However, he isn't great with the bat in his hands, and much like Sano strikes out way too much.
The Rookie to watch on the Twins is, of course, my ROY winner RHP Jordan Balazovic.
Players to Watch: Indians
The breakout is coming from RHP Zach Plesac. Despite the trouble he got into during the 2020 season, he still posted a 2.1WAR, 2.28ERA/3.39FIP with 57K over 55.1IP. Plesac is just good and will be an excellent #2 option behind Bieber in the 2021 season.
The rebound season is coming for Rosario. Yes, both INF Amed Rosario and OF Eddie Rosario. Both have shown tremendous upside with the bat and ability to be threats in the lineup, and both struggled in 2020. I am a believer in these two new additions to the Indians lineup.
The NRI to watch this spring is a pair of OF in Billy Hamilton and Ben Gamel. Both haven't been great options; both have been very average players. Both carry above-average ceilings. The Indians will need to show off in spring ball to make the roster and show they can help the Indians contend in 2021.
The Rookie to watch for the Indians is C Bo Naylor. Naylor has yet to play above Class A. However, he did get invited to camp and is a top 5 prospect for the club. The 20yo Naylor had a .243/.313/.421 slash in 453PA in 2019.
Players to Watch: Royals
The breakout is coming for 2B Whit Merrifield. The 32yo showed well enough in 2020 to get me to believe in him. Slashing a .282/.325/.440 in 248AB. Two full seasons, playing in every game has me all-in on the 32yo. I believe in him, do you? Also, don't sleep on SS Adalberto Mondesi.
The rebound is coming for OF Andrew Benintendi. The newly acquired OF needed a change of scenery. I think the Royals are a great fit for the 26yo. He brings a young vet presence to a team that has 12/30 top prospects in camp this spring. Don't be surprised when Benintendi is bringing wins to KC.
The NRI to watch for the Royals are two pitchers. SP Ervin Santana and RP Wade Davis. In their late 30's, both are ties to KC, and both want to go out on a high note.
The Rookies to watch this season are SP Asa Lacy and INF Bobby Whit Jr. Both of these players have the immense talent to give the Royals. I am most interested in Lacy as he got an invite to camp and was the Royals' top choice in last season's draft. It will be interesting to see if he showed enough at the alternate site to win a job this spring.
Players to Watch: Tigers
The breakout season is coming for OF JaCoby Jones. After posting a 0.6WAR with a .268/.333/.515 slash in just 97AB. I am a fan of the 28yo Jones. Jones has done nothing but improves in his time at the MLB level going from a .214/.214/.321 slash in his first taste of MLB action. Jones is my favorite OF on these young Tigers.
The rebound season is coming for OF Nomar Mazara. The 25yo Mazara posted a -0.1WAR with a .228/.295/.294 slash in 136AB, and the White Sox decided it was best to move on. The power dropped off for Mazara in 2020 after 19+HR from 2016-2019. With a rebound in the HR department, Mazara will be an excellent piece for the Tigers long-term.
The NRI to watch is INF Renato Nunez. The 26yo has hit 43HR over the last two seasons and was a surprise non-tender by the O's this winter. He is a subpar defender at both corner INF positions. But the option of having a slugger at the DH spot for the club is fascinating.
Who else would I put at the Rookie to watch other than INF Spencer Torkelson? I wouldn't be allowed to blog if I choose anyone else. Tork is destined to be the Tiger's next Miggy. I thought they would give him a shot in 2020, but I guess we will all need to settle on seeing him in 2021.
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