Friday, March 26, 2010

MLB Preview #6
American League Central

Minnesota Twins

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Denard Span CF
Orlando Hudson 2B
Joe Mauer C
Justin Morneau 1B
Mike Cuddyer RF
Jim Thome DH/Delmon Young LF
Jason Kubel LF/DH
JJ Hardy SS
Nick Punto/Brendan Harris 3B

Scott Baker
Kevin Slowey
Carl Pavano
Nick Blackburn
Francisco Liriano
Brian Duensing

The Twins simultaneously upgraded at shortstop and center field by trading Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy. Denard Span's defense is arguably on par with Gomez', plus Span has a much better bat. The Twins will need all the range Span can give them if he's going to be sharing an outfield with Kubel and Cuddyer. Presumably, we'll see the Kubel/Thome combination against righties, and Young/Kubel or Young/Thome against lefties. Despite all their moves, including the addition of an increasingly league-average Orlando Hudson, the Twinkies still have a hole at third base. Whether that's filled by no-longer-a-prospect Brendan Harris or the good glove/no hit Nick Punto will probably depend on the matchup.

Jose Morales will be Joe Mauer's injury insurance this year, while Matt Tolbert will be waiting to take innings from Harris, Punto, and the other infielders.

Minnesota's pitching rotation has always been full of young talent, and this year is no different. However, for those who didn't pay attention to baseball for the past few years, it may come as a surprise that Scott Baker is the staff ace and Francisco Liriano is fighting to even make it into the rotation. The addition and retention of Carl Pavano will help this club's playoff run. Notre Dame product Jeff Manship will also try to work his way into the mix after making his Major League debut last year.

The Twins may have lost Joe Nathan for the season, but the bullpen has always been the Future Closers of America club. Veteran Jon Rauch will step in for the time being, but Minnesota may still look for a trade. Rauch will be supported by Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, and Jesse Crain.

Cleveland Indians

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Grady Sizemore CF
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Russell Branyan 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Jhonny Peralta 3B
Matt LaPorta LF
Lou Marson C
Luis Valbuena 2B

Jake Westbrook
Fausto Carmona
Justin Masterson
Aaron Laffey
Mitch Talbot
David Huff

Even this optimistic Indians fan was surprised by CHONE's prediction of a second place finish for the Tribe. Still, they have the weapons to do it if everything comes together correctly. Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore are the stars, and the supporting cast is starting to come together nicely. Much was made of Sizemore's drop to the second spot in the lineup, but many projection systems say that's where a team's best hitter should hit. The decision will be much easier to swallow if Asdrubal Cabrera can again hit like he did last year. With Russell Branyan and Travis Hafner, the big issue as always will be health. Branyan has yet to play this spring, which could lead to Austin Kearns taking his spot on opening day. Meanwhile, Lou Marson will play the Josh Bard to Carlos Santana's Victor Martinez to start this season.

All signs point to the Indians keeping Michael Brantley in the minors to start the season, even with Branyan's injury. The idea is to delay Brantley's arbitration clock. It could mean that Trevor Crowe starts the season with the parent club, since he can back up all three outfield positions. Mike Redmond was added as a veteran presence not only for a young pitching staff, but also for a young catching unit. It looks like Redmond will be Fausto Carmona's personal catcher as the latter looks to get back on track. A number of players are fighting for the backup infield spot, including the infamous Andy Marte, new acquisition Anderson Hernandez, and non-roster invitee Mark Grudzielanek.

Only three spots are set in the starting rotation at this point. Jake Westbrook will pitch opening day, followed by Carmona, followed by Justin Masterson. The last two spots will go to two of Aaron Laffey, Mitch Talbot, and David Huff, with Talbot expected to win a place by default since he is out of options. But as on any rebuilding team, there will be plenty of pitchers earning starts on this team. Jeremy Sowers will fight injuries and ineffectiveness in what may be his last hurrah with the team, while Carlos Carrasco will try to prove he's had enough minor league seasoning to get the call.

Rumors that Kerry Wood would be traded to the Twins to replace Joe Nathan were quickly squashed when it was discovered that Wood himself would lose two months due to injuries. That just turns Chris Perez, Future Closer into Chris Perez, Current Closer. Perez will be aided by a number of pitchers looking to prove themselves after ineffective 2009 campaigns, including Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, and Jensen Lewis. Rule V pickup Hector Ambriz will also try to contribute from the pen.

Chicago White Sox

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Juan Pierre LF
Gordon Beckham 2B
Carlos Quentin RF
Paul Konerko 1B
Alex Rios CF
Andruw Jones DH
AJ Pierzynski C
Alexei Ramirez SS
Mark Teahen 3B

Mark Buehrle
Jake Peavy
Gavin Floyd
John Danks
Freddy Garcia
Dan Hudson

The White Sox started with a good concept: a young core of Beckham, Quentin, and Ramirez complemented by veterans Konerko and Pierzynski. But the additions of Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Mark Teahen were questionable at best. (I'll let the reader decide where Alex Rios falls in this equation.)

Chicago's reputation as an aging team was reversed somewhat by the loss of Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. However, all credit gained in those moves was lost in the acquisitions of Omar Vizquel, Mark Kotsay, and Ramon Castro to man the bench.

CHONE has four White Sox starters - Buehrle, Peavy, Floyd, and Danks - posting 3.5 WAR seasons. That depth is matched by few teams in this league, if any. The only question is the fifth spot, which will either go to journeyman Freddy Garcia or youngster Dan Hudson.

Since it became a regular division contender in the 2000s, Chicago has always had a steady bullpen. Former Seattle closer JJ Putz will now be setting up Bobby Jenks. The duo will be joined by Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink.

Detroit Tigers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Johnny Damon LF
Carlos Guillen DH
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Brandon Inge 3B
Gerald Laird C
Scott Sizemore 2B
Adam Everett SS
Austin Jackson CF

Justin Verlander
Rick Porcello
Jeremy Bonderman
Max Scherzer
Eddie Bonine
Nate Robertson
Dontrelle Willis

Are the Tigers rebuilding, or aren't they? By letting go of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco in favor of calling up Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore (in addition to trading Edwin Jackson for Max Scherzer), it seems Detroit is favoring the future over the present. Why then sign Johnny Damon. Regardless of how you slice it, this is a batting order whose offense falls off sharply after the top five. Sure Detroit will have a solid defense with Laird, Everett, Inge, and now Damon, but will they hit well enough to match it?

On the bench, Ramon Santiago is back once again as the Tigers utility infielder. Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn will fight for a backup role in the outfield, although both could see decent playing time if age catches up to Ordonez and Damon, or lack of experience catches up to Jackson.

There's Verlander, and then there's everyone else. Handing Rick Porcello the second spot in the rotation is risky, especially since the 21-year-old is due for some regression after an impressive 2009. Jeremy Bonderman and Max Scherzer have locked up rotation spots, although there's some question as to whether the latter is ready yet to be a starter. The fifth spot is still open, although recent indications give the job to Nate Robertson over Bonine or Willis.

The Tigers went outside of the organization to pick up closer Jose Valverde. He'll be set up by Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner, and former Yankee Phil Coke. Daniel Schlereth, a top prospect and son of the ESPN football commentator, will also try to win a spot in the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Scott Podsednik LF
David DeJesus RF
Rick Ankiel CF
Jose Guillen DH
Billy Butler 1B
Alberto Callaspo/Chris Getz 2B
Alex Gordon 3B
Jason Kendall C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Zack Greinke
Gil Meche
Luke Hochevar
Kyle Davies
Brian Bannister
Robinson Tejada

The Royals claim to preach getting on base. But then they surround their homegrown talent with signings like Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall, and Yuneski Betancourt. Even Rick Ankiel isn't the hitter he once was. Go figure, then, that David DeJesus, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon are the only players CHONE predicts to play above replacent level this year.

As with most mediocre teams, the Royals have a number of so-so players fighting it out for bench spots. Mike Aviles, Mitch Maier, super-utilityman Willie Bloomquist, and White Sox castoffs Josh Fields and Brian Anderson all look to make the club this year.

In 2009, Zack Greinke had a legitimate argument for league MVP. This year, he'll look to make another run at the trophy that has traditionally gone to position players. Supporting him are decent starters in Meche, Hochevar, and Bannister, and passible candidates in Davies and Tejada.

Rule V pickup Joakim Soria surpassed everyone's expectations. But for every Soria there are dozens of Kyle Farnsworths, Juan Cruzes, and Anthony Lerews - players moved to relief because they could never live up to the hype.