Wednesday, March 23, 2005

MLB Preview 6: AL Central

Minnesota Twins

Shannon Stewart LF/DH
Lew Ford DH/LF
Justin Morneau 1B
Joe Mauer C
Jacque Jones RF
Torii Hunter CF
Mike Cuddyer 3B
Jason Bartlett/Nick Punto SS
Luis Rivas 2B

Johan Santana
Brad Radke
Kyle Lohse
Carlos Silva
Joe Mays
Matt Guerrier
JD Durbin
Boof Bonser

Ugh. What can you say about this lineup, other than that it's built to play pinball in that dome of theirs. My lineup makes halfway decent sense, but Rivas will probably inexplicably move up to second (or inexplicably be allowed to play in the first place, if that's your opinion of him). The bench features Juan Castro, Augie Ojeda, and, of course, Matt LeCroy. If and when Joe Mauer goes down, Minnesota has two very capably backups - Mike Redmond and Corky Miller. Boy is this team lucky it plays 81 games at home every year.
The rotation looks good if Lohse has a decent year. They're getting Mays back, and Durbin is a Baseball America Top 100 prospect (as is Mauer, technically, due to the injury bug last year). Boof Bonser may not see much MLB time this year, if any, but I just wanted to give him the proper shout-out. The bullpen is again solid. Joe Nathan will again be set up by the likes of Juan Rincon and JC Romero, and by BA Top 100 Jesse Crain.

Chicago White Sox

Scott Podsednik LF
Aaron Rowand CF
Frank Thomas DH
Paul Konerko 1B
Jermaine Dye/Carl Everett RF
Joe Crede 3B
AJ Pierzynski C
Juan Uribe SS
Willie Harris 2B

Mark Buehrle
Freddy Garcia
Jose Contreras
Jon Garland
Orlando Hernandez
Felix Diaz
Dustin Hermanson

Well it's a lineup built for speed. If and when "Big Frank" goes down, you can put Harris at leadoff or Uribe at the 1 or 2 and move everyone else down - and the lineup then looks much nicer (but Pierzynski still looks like a jerk either way). The bench features established catcher Ben Davis and... are you ready? Give me a T! Give me a Mo! Give me a Timo!
The rotation features a great 1-2 punch (at least when Buehrle remembers that getting people out is a good thing). After that - well, it's really up to Contreras and Hernandez. After them, it's pretty thin. Of course, if the bullpen can ride Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino, and Shingo Takatsu, maybe no one will notice starters 3-5.

Cleveland Indians

Coco Crisp CF
Ronnie Belliard 2B
Travis Hafner DH
Victor Martinez C
Juan Gonzalez LF
Casey Blake RF/3B
Ben Broussard 1B
Aaron Boone 3B
Jhonny Peralta/Brandon Phillips SS

CC Sabathia
Jake Westbrook
Kevin Millwood
Clifford Lee
Scott Elarton
Jason Davis
Jason Bere
Denny Stark
Brian Tallet
Billy Traber
Kyle Denney
Jason Stanford
Francisco Cruceta
Jeremy Guthrie

The lineup. I don't know how Coco will handle a full year as the leadoff guy, but he did put up great fantasy numbers last year. And, if all else fails, you could always move Belliard up to leadoff and put Crisp or Peralta second. Manager Eric Wedge toyed with the idea of batting Martinez 3rd and Hafner 4th, but he has decided to go with what worked last year. Pronk (Hafner) will hopefully continue to be Cleveland's best kept secret (who'd we get rid of for him? Einar Diaz?); in a best case scenario, Martinez will not need to share the catcher Silver Slugger with Pudge Rodriguez this year. Gonzales signed with the team as a minor leaguer, but he's looked decent in spring training this year. Blake proved himself with the bat this year, and he's said to be a "natural-born outfielder" as he makes the position switch this year. He will play 3rd base until Boone returns from his injury. Rounding out the lineup: Broussard was unbelievably clutch last year, making himself indispensable when it looked like Blake would take over at first when Boone was signed. Peralta, meanwhile, has won the shortstop job over Phillips. Phillips is a great natural fielder, but his bat has struggled since early 2003. The bench features Jody Gerut once he returns from knee surgery, center fielder to be Grady Sizemore, slugging righty Ryan Ludwick, former LA starter Alex Cora, catcher Josh Bard (easily a starter on a bad team), and strikeout king Jose Hernandez, who can play anywhere and hits well against lefties. If necessary, BA Top 100 outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is waiting in the wings.
The rotation: Sabathia showed up lighter than ever, and he's still the ace. Fantasy experts may not like Jake Westbrook this year, but he did lead the league in ERA in 2004. Millwood is a safe pickup - anything from him is a bonus. People are calling Lee a bust, but I think he basically just ran out of gas last year. Look for a comeback from him. Elarton busted out after shaking post-Colorado-pitcher-syndrome. Davis is an absolute fireballer; he'll be the #5 starter until Sabathia returns from his minor injury. Anything from Bere or Stark is a bonus, while the rest of that list presents a bright, bright future. What of the bullpen that some say cost the Tribe the playoffs last year? Bob Wickman has returned from injures to retake the closer role; he's looked great this spring. Davis and Tadano will be the long relievers. Bob Howry, Rafael Betancourt, and Matt Miller had underrated seasons last year. They'll be joined by new pickups Arthur Rhodes and Scott Sauerbeck (who missed 2004 due to injury), and returner David Riske.

Craig Monroe/Nook Logan CF
Carlos Guillen SS
Pudge Rodriguez C
Magglio Ordonez RF
Dmitri Young DH
Rondell White/Bobby Higginson LF
Carlos Pena 1B
Brandon Inge 3B
Omar Infante/Fernando Vina 2B

Jeremy Bonderman
Nate Robertson
Mike Maroth
Jason Johnson
Gary Knotts
Wilfredo Ledezma
Colby Lewis

The surprise was the release of .320 hitter Alex Sanchez, let go for not improving his defensive play. So, Detroit has options. Logan can leadoff; Monroe can't. Vina can but he's not healthy. This lineup actually looks really good (especially with the 2004 Guillen had), other than the fact Brandon Inge is the best and only option at 3rd (ok, so he has revitalized his offensive production, but "OK" doesn't always cut it at 3rd in the AL). The bench consists of Vance Wilson (now who's the backup catcher in Queens?), Omar Infante, Ramon Hernandez, and Marcus Thames.
This is a halfway decent, but not very deep rotation. The bullpen, however, is stacked with Kyle Farnsworth, Ugie Urbina, and Troy Percival.

Kansas City Royals

David DeJesus CF
Tony Graffanino 3B
Mike Sweeney 1B
Ken Harvey DH
Matt Stairs RF
Terrence Long LF
Angel Berroa SS
John Buck C
Ruben Gotay 2B

Brian Anderson
Jose Lima
Runelvys Hernandez
Zack Greinke
Jimmy Gobble
Denny Bautista
Chris George
Kyle Snyder
Mike Wood

On the other side of Missouri, the Cardinals have a "middle of the lineup" that stretches from the 2-6 spots. The Royals have a "middle of the lineup" that goes from 3-5. And this is the AL team. The moral? The bigger the "middle of the lineup" is, the better the team. I just don't know what to do here. This team isn't built for power, or for speed, or for anything. As a positive, I don't think DeJesus will be following Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran (imagine that starting outfield - decent) but of town any time soon. My suggestion? Play Eli Marrero (C, 1B, OF) as much as possible. Other than Marrero and Abraham Nunez, the only bench player of note is Chris Truby. Truby is infamous in baseball nerd circles for his associations with Satan and Albert Belle.
If Brian Anderson (who has Browns season tickets and wears #19 in honor of Bernie Kosar) can figure out how to win again (although that may have been his lineup's fault), this is a good rotation. Greinke is a great young up-and-comer, Hernandez was an ace-in-training before losing all of 2004, and Lima Time is Lima Time. The bullpen features a closer battle between the fallen closer-of-the-future Mike MacDougal and converted starter Jeremy Affeldt.

I'm going to be out of town between Monday and Thursday next week, so I'll warn you now: the first baseball lineups will be due on the message board on Friday, April 1st, but 5 pm eastern. More info to come.