2013 Season Preview: A.L. Central

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Kansas City Royals

December 12, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore (left to right), newly acquired pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, and manager Ned Yoast pose for photos after the press conference at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Cleveland, Kansas City made the most offseason moves in this division. Whereas the Indians’ primary moves came at the plate, however, the Royals made improvements by bulking up on pitching. Their blockbuster came in December when they shipped of top outfield prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for starter James Shields and reliever-turned-starter Wade Davis. Another trade import was Ervin Santana from the Angels, who was down last year but has the potential to be a #2 or #3 man in the rotation.

On the offensive side, the Royals made low-key moves for relatively weak bats. Veteran catcher George Kottaras will serve as backup to young Salvador Perez, and Elliot Johnson may compete for second base time with Chris Getz. A couple notable low-risk minor league investments are former Mets hero Endy Chavez and former MVP Miguel Tejada, who is looking to make a comeback at age 38 (39 in May).

Shields, Santana, Davis, and Jeremy Guthrie are expected to make up most of the KC rotation, while Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, and young Will Smith competing for the #5 spot. Greg Holland filled in nicely as a closer after Jonathan Broxton was traded to Cincinnati in the summer, and the rest of the bullpen looks pretty solid with young guns Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, and Aaron Crow, who could all get a shot at the closer role if Holland falters.

Rookie to Watch: Christian Colon, IF – Even without Wil Myers in the mix, the Royals’ farm system still holds reputation as the best in the bigs. There are so many blue-chippers it’s hard to pick just one, but middle infielder Christian Colon looks to be the one most likely to make the final jump next. With average hitters Johnson and Getz reaching their peak, Kansas City will look to Colon to be their long-term answer at second base. Described by Baseball America as an offensive second baseman, the 23-year-old hit .301 in the minors last year, primarily in Double-A. He’s had a rough Spring Training thus far, but he turns 24 in May, and the Royals will want to see what he’s got sooner rather than later. If all goes well, he could establish himself as the next big addition to KC’s budding infield.

Final Analysis: KC’s biggest question mark remains their young and inconsistent offense. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are expected to anchor the Royals for years to come, but each experienced growing pains in their first full seasons in the bigs, hitting .232 and .242, respectively. Billy Butler has no question marks around him, so at least one bat is guaranteed to produce. The Royals’ playoff drought will reach 28 years after this season, but with strong pitching and a fertile crescent of a farm system, the future finally looks bright in Kansas City. A 72-90 record was good enough for third place in the Central last season, but while the team will most definitely improve, possibly even sport a winning record, third place should be their expected final stop in 2013. If Hosmer, Moustakas, and the rest of their young bats start hitting, though, their ceiling could rise and they could overtake the Indians for second place.

Minnesota Twins

Mar 8, 2012; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire (35) watches his team as they take on the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What can one say about the Minnesota Twins? Not much, I’m afraid. With ex-MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau taking up 40% of their $94 million payroll, there’s not much flexibility and not much of a chance to bring in quality free agents.

With what little they could do, the Twins addressed their major rotation problems by bringing in three former National Leaguers: free agents Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, as well as Vance Worley in a trade from the Phillies. Rich Harden was also brought in on a minor league deal as potential insurance. The Worley trade cost them emerging outfielder Ben Revere, and centerfielder Denard Span was shipped to Washington for highly-touted pitching prospect Alex Meyer. The offense will suffer accordingly, but Correia, Pelfrey, and Worley should help the Twins fill out a decent starting rotation that already includes Scott Diamond and Cole De Vries.

Rookie to Watch: Kyle Gibson, P – Gibson ascended through the Minnesota farm ranks rather quickly, making the jump all the way to Triple-A from Rookie ball by the end of 2012. He was shelled in his two Rochester starts, so the organization may have rushed him, but with the big club flailing the way they have the past two years, it’s not entirely unexpected. If the Twins are struggling by the end of the summer, which in all likelihood they will be, Gibson may get a chance to see what he’s capable of in a low-risk situation similar to what Matt Harvey got in New York last year and what Zack Wheeler is likely to get this summer.

Final Analysis: Ho-hum, I say. Minnesota is one of the most boring teams in baseball: not much offense, an average rotation, a below average bullpen, and are staring at teams that, while maybe not drastically improved, at least made some effort to get ahead. In the race to the bottom of a weak division, the Twins will take the cake for the third straight year, and unless the White Sox do some major deconstruction in the next offseason, I don’t see them finishing any higher in the foreseeable future.

The Division’s Best

Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (middle) poses with a triple crown trophy with MLB former player Hank Aaron (left) and commissioner Bud Selig (right) before game three of the 2012 World Series against the San Francisco Giants at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Top Hitter: Miguel Cabrera – Triple Crown winner. Protected by Prince Fielder, who himself is protected by Victor Martinez. Need I say more?

Top Pitcher: Justin Verlander – The best pitcher in baseball missed out on another Cy Young last season for the simple fact that his outstanding stats weren’t as good as his MVP stats of 2011. The 30-year-old Verlander is in his prime and dominant as ever. No one in the Central comes close.

Top Rookie: Trevor Bauer – The 3rd pick in the 2011 Draft is ready to set fire to the big river. His emergence at the top of Cleveland’s rotation will highlight the Indians’ surprise second place finish in 2013.

Top Comeback: Victor Martinez – V-Mart may start out slow after missing all of last season, but hitting behind Cabrera and Fielder is an immense plus. The only question here is not whether he wins Comeback Player of the Year but by how much.

Check back tomorrow when numbers man Dan Haefeli profiles the teams of the newly-expanded American League West.

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