MLB 2020 Season Preview: AL Central

Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson looking to replicate MVP season ...
Josh Donaldson (Hannah Foslien | Getty Images)
  1. Minnesota Twins (Last Year: 101-61) 37-23

The Twins were put on this Earth to lose to the Yankees in no more than four games in the ALDS, but they’ll be really good on offense up until then. After smashing 37 home runs with a 6 WAR for Atlanta last season, Josh Donaldson joined the Twins for 4 years and $92 million. He joins a lineup which hit an MLB record 307 home runs last season, led by Nelson Cruz’s 41. Cruz is back as the DH, along with outfielders Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, first baseman Miguel Sano (who is back from being sidelined with COVID), and catcher Mitch Garver, all of whom hit over 30 home runs last season. Second baseman Jonathon Schoop left to sign with Detroit, and will be replaced with Luis Arraez, who hit .334 as a utility man last season. Utility man and all around delight Willians Astudillo is currently sidelined with COVID, but former number one prospect Byron Buxton should be ready for opening day.

The Twins made moves to upgrade a mediocre pitching staff behind Jose Berrios from last season. Berrios is a two time All-Star who has been very good the last couple of years, and another step forward could vault him into ace territory. Returning behind him is Jake Odorizzi following the best season of his career, with a 3.51 ERA and almost 4 WAR. The Twins then raided the Dodgers pitching staff, trading for Kenta Maeda and signing Rich Hill. Maeda was solid as both a starter and reliever last season, and Rich Hill was terrific in an injury shortened season. They also signed Homer Bailey after a solid season in KC and Oakland with the hope that he will not revert back to his (pun unintended) homer-happy self. Michael Pineda could also give this staff a boost when he returns from a PED suspension in September. The bullpen is anchored by closer Taylor Rogers, easily the best weapon out of that bullpen. Beyond him, the Twins are counting on veterans like Sergio Romo, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Tyler Clippard to recapture previous successes in their careers. If they can’t do that or something close to it, this bullpen might doom the Twins before the Yankees get the chance to.

2. Chicago White Sox (72-89): 32-28

The White Sox won just 72 games in a bad division last season, but I think they could be primed to make a playoff push. They signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion to DH after a 34 home run 2019 season and added catcher Yasmani Grandal, a 2019 All-Star who finished 15th in NL MVP voting. They also traded for outfielder Nomar Mazara from Texas, an outfielder who came into the league with a lot of potential but plateaued after a top five rookie of the year season in 2016. If the Sox can tap into that potential, he adds a formidable force to their lineup. Those three join a lineup including former top prospect Yoan Moncada, who just recovered from coronavirus and hit .315/.367/.548 in 132 games last season, and the always entertaining Tim Anderson, whose huge bat flips sometimes mask that he was worth 3.7 WAR and hit .335 last season. Jose Abreu remains the first baseman in the middle of the lineup after cracking 33 home runs last year and Leury Garcia is slated to open the season at second base, though he is versatile enough to play anywhere on the infield or the outfield Prospect Nick Madrigal could force Garcia to move off of second base sooner than expected. Eloy Jiminez will man left field following a fourth place showing in the AL Rookie of the Year Race, but the X-factor for this team is outfielder Luis Robert. Robert is a consensus top ten prospect in all of baseball, early rookie of the year frontrunner, and will be the everyday center fielder for Chicago this season. 

Highly touted prospect Michael Kopech opted out of the 2020 season after missing the 2019 season due to Tommy John Surgery, but the White Sox are in a good spot with their rotation. Lucas Giolito finished 6th in Cy Young Voting last season, striking out 228 batters with a 3.4 ERA. He’s joined by veteran southpaws Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez, both (at minimum) serviceable rotation arms. The White Sox are also counting on a bounceback year from Reynaldo Lopez, who was quite solid in 2018, as well as a breakout year from young pitcher Dylan Cease, who struggled in his rookie season but has top of the rotation stuff. Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores Jr. will be depth options should one of the starters go down. The White Sox bullpen is also a strength this year. Alex Colome returns as closer alongside setup man Aaron Bummer, who dominated last season. Chicago also snatched Steve Cishek from across town, and he’ll join Bummer as part of the bridge to Colome this year. Kelvin Herrera was signed to a two year deal before last season and really struggled in year one. If he can regain his form, this White Sox bullpen might go from good to dominant.

3. Cleveland Indians (93-69): 32-28

While the White Sox improved, the Indians remained pretty stagnant. Cleveland lost Yasiel Puig and Jason Kipnis in free agency but returns most of their starting lineup from a season ago. They signed Cesar Hernandez to fill the void at second, but Hernandez was below average offensively last year and is seemingly declining. Domingo Santana was signed from Seattle to slide into left, but, while Santana has some pop, his value at the plate is completely undone by his incompetence as an outfielder. Four time All-Star Francisco Lindor is the heart and soul of this team, and will be the best player in this lineup as long as he is healthy. His contract is due to expire after the 2021 season, so if this season goes south he may quickly become trade bait. Jose Ramirez has been a streaky player the last couple of years, but when he is on he’s an MVP caliber player. Carlos Santana will hit cleanup after a 34 home run season and catcher Roberto Perez hit 24 homers in a career year. Franmil Reyes can also mash, and after being acquired at the deadline from San Diego, will have a full year at the DH spot. Oscar Mercado finished 8th in the Rookie of the Year voting last season and will man center, while league average hitter Tyler Naquin will play left after returning late last season from a torn ACL. Delino DeShields was acquired as part of the Corey Kluber trade but is on the shelf with COVID, which hurts the Indians depth a bit.

Cleveland traded Trevor Bauer at the deadline last season and then followed that up by trading Corey Kluber to Texas in the offseason, but they still have a strong rotation. Mike Clevinger and Shane Beiber both have ace potential and can build off of strong 2019 seasons. Clevinger had a 2.71 ERA and struck out 12 batters per 9 innings, while Bieber struck out 259 batters, finished 4th in the Cy Young voting, and won MVP of the All Star Game. Former ace Carlos Carrasco will slot into the number three spot in the rotation after battling and defeating Leukemia. Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac are solid 4th and 5th options as well, and prospect Logan Allen can provide depth throughout the season. Brad Hand is a stud closer and will anchor a solid bullpen, and he’s joined by stable veterans Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez, and James Hoyt. The X-factor for this bullpen might be rookie James Karinchak. Karinchak struck out 74 batters over just 30 innings in the minors last season and added 8 more K’s over 3 hitless innings when he was called up in September. With Emmanuel Clase (acquired from Texas in the Kluber trade) suspended for the season for PEDs, Karinchak and those veterans become even more important for Cleveland’s playoff hopes.

4. Kansas City Royals (59-103): 23-37

The Royals have lost over 100 games in each of the last two seasons but have a decent offense. Alex Gordon was the lone free agent from last year’s lineup, and they brought him back with a $4 million deal. Gordon was fine last season, but a far cry from what he was during the Royals pennant runs in the mid 2010s. The biggest weapons on this team now are Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, and Jorge Soler. Merrifield has led the Majors in hits over the last two years, Mondesi led the league in triples and stole 43 bases last year, and Jorge Soler broke out in a big way with an AL leading 48 home runs. All star catcher Salvador Perez missed all of 2019 with Tommy John surgery but is healthy and ready to go from the jump this year. Hunter Dozier hit .279/.348/.522 and locked down the third base job, and Ryan McBroom takes over at first this year after a solid season in a utility role. Former Padre Franchy Cordero will try to tap into his potential as the everyday center fielder, and second year player Nicky Lopez will take over at second with Merrifield shifting to right. The Royals big prospects like Bobby Witt Jr. and Kyle Isbel are still a couple of years away, so any depth is coming from AAAA guys and veteran retreads.

The Royals pitching staff is bad. Last year’s opening day starter, Brad Keller, will miss opening day after being sidelined with coronavirus. Keller had a 4.19 ERA in 165 innings last season, the best ERA on the staff. Knuckleballer Jakob Junis threw a staff high 175 innings last season, and he is also on the shelf with COVID-19. In their absence, southpaw Danny Duffy will start on opening day, followed by veteran Mike Montgomery. Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman also figure into the rotation throughout the season if not at the start of the season. Keller and Junis’s IL stints may also open the door for top pitching prospect Brady Singer to become a mainstay in this rotation for now and the future. Former first round pick Foster Griffin may also factor in as depth should these IL stays persist. The Royals traded reliever Tim Hill to the Padres last summer, weakening an already weak bullpen. Veteran Ian Kennedy remains the closer following a decent 2019 and, should he continue that success, will likely be a trade chip before the August 31st deadline. Former closers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal were brought in as well, but neither has been particularly effective over the last couple of years.

5. Detroit Tigers (47-114): 17-43

The Tigers added some pop to their lineup with CJ Cron and Jonathon Schoop, but this season is gonna be a real struggle. Along with Cron and Schoop, Cameron Maybin and Austin Romine were signed to an outfield spot and behind the dish. These would be better moves if they were coming off the bench or splitting time, but all four are expected to start and play big roles for this team. Miguel Cabrera has been a below average player for the last three years and hoping for more at 37 is a fool’s errand. JaCoby Jones, Christin Stewart, and Jeimer Candelario were all negative WAR players last season and, while Niko Goodrum was a lone bright spot, he was still a below average offensive player. None of their major offensive prospects will be ready for 2020, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It just might be a few years away.

Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris will both start the season on the IL, so Matthew Boyd will get the opening day start after going 9-12 with a 4.56 ERA in 2019. Behind him are free agent signing Ivan Nova and young starters Spencer Turnbull and Tyler Alexander. Nova last had an ERA under 4 in 2016 and Spencer Turnbull went 3-17 last season. While I will never judge a pitcher by their win/loss total, going 3-17 can’t be great for a young pitcher’s confidence. Michael Fulmer slots into the 5th spot after missing all of 2019. The 2016 Rookie of the Year has battled ineffectiveness and injuries but could be a bright spot if healthy. HOWEVA (Stephen A. Smith voice), the future of the rotation could arrive this season. Top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning are both on the Tigers’ player pool and should both debut during the dog days of this short season. In the interest of ending on a positive note, I won’t mention the Tigers bullpen in this preview.

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