Minnesota Twins (94-68 in 2010)
Won AL Central, Lost ALDS
Will justin Morneau fully recover from his concussion?
Not wanting to fix what was not broken, the Twins all but stayed pat this winter. They managed to retain Carl Pavano and, by extension, great starting pitching depth, and brought back Jim Thome to keep their bench firm. Wisely, they passed on overvalued free-agent relievers, even their own guys.
The offense will be good again but you have to wonder what they will get from an infield featuring three near-rookies in Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Depth is always a strength for these guys but the bench is a bit less intimidating this year with punchless Ben Revere waiting if needed to fill in for sluggers like Jason Kubel or Delmon Young.
Justin Morneau: Dude can hit the cover off the ball, when he can see straight. After missing such a substantial amount of time due to a concussion, though, Morneau is still struggling to consistently see straight. If he returns at full strength by May 1 or so, the team will score plenty of runs and be in great shape. Otherwise, the offense lacks a bit of punch.
Prediction: 92-70, first
Chicago White Sox (88-74 in 2010)
Second in AL Central
Adam Dunn brings his home run power¬† to Chicago
Dunn and Paul Konerko will launch about 75 homers all by themselves, especially in their hitter-friendly digs at U.S. Cellular Field. A solid bounce-back season from Gordon Beckham seems very likely, and Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios are underrated. Still, there are at least three critical holes in the lineup.
On the pitching side, Jake Peavy's spring progress is nothing but encouraging. Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson are perpetual regression risks but this team has depth. Do not confuse the arrival of Crain for a bullpen upgrade, though, as he is roughly on par with Bobby Jenks and considerably worse than J.J. Putz.
Chris Sale: The White Sox elected to bring him out of the bullpen this season, but Sale can still be a high-impact pitcher. If he closes successfully or becomes a dominant left-handed set-up man, Chicago has depth and youth in its pitching staff. If not, they are much more vulnerable. Might Sale be called on if the talented but thin starting rotation suffers injury or other attrition?
Prediction: 85-77, second
Detroit Tigers (81-81 in 2010)
Third in AL Central
Victor Martinez left the Red Sox to sign with the Tigers.
Adam Everett, I guess.
Detroit and the Dodgers spent big money very early this winter to retain key players and add Martinez, but since then they have stood pat and now they look like only a marginally better team than they were last season.
The caveat there is the possibility for big years from Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn and Rick Porcello. One or two breakout performances could put this team right back into contention.
Miguel Cabrera: Well, duh. If he keeps his brain inside his head and the alcohol in the cabinet, he is the MVP favorite and the Tigers have a top-five offense in the American league. If he goes off the tracks, so does the team.
Prediction: 84-78, third
Cleveland Indians (69-93 in 2010)
Fourth in AL Central
Can Grady Sizemore bounce back and lead the Indians' offense?
The Indians get their budding star at catcher back when Carlos Santana returns to the lineup this spring. His rookie season was cut short by a collision at home plate, but otherwise, he looked special. He is the future for this team. Shin-Soo Choo is the present. The offense has a high-ish floor but a low ceiling; they have depth at a number of spots.
Pitching is the same story. Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco look like the same moderately talented pitcher at different stages of development. Each gets ground balls and has good stuff but none is a potential ace.
Grady Sizemore: Not a bad ace to hold up your sleeve, Sizemore could bounce all the way back and go 20/20 with a .360-plus OBP and good defense in center field. Alternatively, he could never see the field, or he could play all of six ineffectual weeks. If the former happens, the Indians are a strong offensive team. If it's the latter, the team is in trouble.
Prediction: 71-91, fourth
Kansas City Royals (67-95¬† in 2010)
Fifth in AL Central
Billy Butler should be one of the few bright spots on the Royals this season.
Look, no one expects the Royals to win this year. That's not the goal here. Maybe Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer reaches the big leagues and makes an impact, but it seems too soon. Maybe Kyle Davis or Luke Hochevar reaches his absolute ceiling and pitches like a standard No. 2 starter, but that seems fuzzy, too. Joakim Soria and Billy Butler will be good. Make the most of that, Royals fans.
Escobar: The crown jewel of the Greinke deal could be this slick-fielding shortstop who has three above-average tools in his glove, arm and speed. If his bat comes to life at all, the Royals can confidently build around him up the middle and focus on developing their great young hitters.
Prediction: 62-100, fifth