Everything you need to know about the AL Central

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The AL Central is quietly shaping up to be one of the more fascinating divisions in baseball this season. Two of the best teams in the Junior Circuit - the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins - will most likely be battling for divisional domination in what should be a fun and heated rivalry. But don't overlook the young Cleveland Indians or plucky Kansas City Royals, who both have their sights set on surprising the baseball world.

Here's everything you need to know about the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

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2020 record: 35-25 (T-2nd in AL Central)
Payroll: $167M
O/U win total: 83
World Series odds: +1200
3-year trend: 2018 (4th); 2019 (3rd); 2020 (2nd)
Highest projected WAR: Yasmani Grandal (4.5)
X-factor: Nick Madrigal
Key Injuries: Adam Engel, Eloy Jimenez
Prospect to watch: Andrew Vaughn (MLB.com: No. 14)
Winter report card: A-

Projected Lineup

1 Tim Anderson SS 2.2
2 Yasmani Grandal (S) C 4.5
3 Jose Abreu 1B 1.6
4 Yoan Moncada (S) 3B 3.0
5 Luis Robert CF 3.1
6 Adam Eaton (L) RF 1.3
7 Andrew Vaughn LF -1.5
8 Zack Collins (L) DH 0.1
9 Nick Madrigal 2B 2.4


Yermin Mercedes C/IF 0.0
Jake Lamb (L) 3B/1B 0.0
Leury Garcia (S) IF/OF 0.0
Billy Hamilton (S) OF 0.0

The White Sox offense's explosive core returns mostly intact. Anderson - a former batting champion - and Abreu - the reigning AL MVP - continue to serve as the anchors of this unit, while youngsters Moncada and Robert should continue to grow into even more powerful impact bats. But Chicago will be missing one major piece for most, if not all, of the year in Jimenez, who ruptured his pectoral muscle trying to steal a homer late in camp. Jimenez's bat will be replaced by that of Vaughn, who drew rave reviews with his spring performance. But that's a lot to put on the shoulders of a rookie first baseman who hasn't played above High-A and might have to learn to play left field on the fly.

This White Sox lineup is talented enough to withstand Jimenez's injury, especially if Vaughn lives up to the hype, but the absence of their young slugger will significantly test the team's depth. Chicago still has a great group of hitters, but the margin for error just got thinner.

Projected Rotation

Lucas Giolito 172 4.05
Dallas Keuchel (L) 185 4.57
Lance Lynn 191 4.21
Dylan Cease 133 4.67
Carlos Rodon (L) 116 4.78


Liam Hendriks 68 3.34
Aaron Bummer (L) 62 3.30
Evan Marshall 60 4.12
Garrett Crochet (L) 53 2.76
Codi Heuer 58 3.99
Matt Foster 56 4.52
Jose Ruiz 8 4.66
Michael Kopech 109 4.30

The White Sox added Lynn via trade to complete a very talented trio atop the rotation, alongside Giolito and Keuchel. Giolito came into his own last year and should continue to grow into the ace of this staff. Both Lynn and Keuchel help as steady innings-eaters, and that's important considering the club's No. 4 and 5 starters are a bit weaker.

Hendriks, the reigning AL Reliever of the Year, was Chicago's biggest free-agent acquisition and will be a huge boost as the anchor of the bullpen. Crochet, the 11th overall pick in last June's draft, will be the unit's most important left-hander. Keeping Kopech in the bullpen is wise for now, seeing as he hasn't pitched since 2018.

Cleveland Indians

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2020 record: 35-25 (T-2nd)
Payroll: $62.7M
O/U win total: 86
World Series odds: +3500
3-year trend: 2018 (1st); 2019 (2nd); 2020 (2nd)
Highest projected WAR: Shane Bieber (5.3)
X-factor: Zach Plesac
Key Injuries: Cam Hill
Prospect to watch: Triston McKenzie (MLB.com: No. 51)
Winter report card: C-

Projected Lineup

1 Cesar Hernandez (S) 2B 1.7
2 Eddie Rosario (L) LF 1.6
3 Jose Ramirez (S) 3B 5.1
4 Franmil Reyes DH 1.4
5 Josh Naylor (L) RF 1.0
6 Jake Bauers (L) 1B 0.3
7 Roberto Perez C 1.6
8 Andres Gimenez (L) SS 1.3
9 Ben Gamel (L) CF 0.1


Austin Hedges C 0.9
Amed Rosario SS/OF 1.2
Jordan Luplow OF 0.6
Yu Chang IF 0.0

Even with Ramirez still holding steady at third base, this lineup took a monumental hit when the team traded Francisco Lindor. Still, there are some potential bright spots here beyond Ramirez. Naylor - part of the return for Mike Clevinger last summer - is the young outfielder Cleveland's been seeking for several years and is looking to build on his brief but outstanding performance in the wild-card series. The powerful Reyes brings some huge punch to the middle of the order, while Eddie Rosario - a free-agent signing - owns stellar career numbers at Progressive Field.

Center field is a glaring weak spot for this lineup. Gamel - a veteran left-handed bat - and Rosario - a shortstop by trade - are likely to share the position. Both players have defensive issues in center, and Rosario's been learning the outfield on the fly. Youngsters Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer were candidates for the center-field job, but both struggled in spring training.

Projected Rotation

Shane Bieber 195 3.27
Zach Plesac 158 4.73
Aaron Civale 144 4.70
Triston McKenzie 127 4.66


James Karinchak 64 3.37
Nick Wittgren 66 4.50
Emmanuel Clase 60 3.58
Bryan Shaw 52 4.96
Phil Maton 58 4.09
Oliver Perez (L) 46 4.51
Cal Quantrill 131 4.76
Trevor Stephan 32 4.55
Logan Allen (L) 115 4.74

Bieber alone makes this a rotation to watch, but this campaign also marks the beginning of a new era for Cleveland pitching after Carlos Carrasco's departure in the Lindor trade. Plesac made great strides last year (when he wasn't running afoul of COVID-19 protocols), making him a solid sidekick for Bieber. Youngsters McKenzie, Allen, and Cal Quantrill are the wild cards. McKenzie impressed in his brief debut stretch last year. Quantrill - also part of the Clevinger trade - was thought of as the favorite to win the fifth starter job. However, his spring struggles opened the door for Allen, who had a stellar Cactus League run.

The bullpen is a bit of a mixed bag, but one bright spot is Karinchak, who struck out 53 batters in 27 innings last year. Karinchak's officially the ace of this unit. Clase, the key return for Corey Kluber, returns after serving a season-long suspension for PEDs, and he will also likely play a big role in Cleveland's bullpen. Stephan, a Rule 5 Draft pick, secured his spot with a solid spring performance.

Detroit Tigers

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2020 record: 23-35 (5th)
Payroll: $96.145M
O/U win total: 67
World Series odds: +12500
3-year trend: 2018 (3rd); 2019 (5th); 2020 (5th)
Highest projected WAR: Matthew Boyd (2.4)
X-factor: Casey Mize
Key Injuries: Spencer Turnbull
Prospect to watch: Mize (MLB.com: No. 11)
Winter report card: B-

Projected Lineup

1 Robbie Grossman (S) LF 1.1
2 Jeimer Candelario (S) 3B 1.9
3 Willi Castro (S) SS 1.6
4 Miguel Cabrera DH 0.5
5 Jonathan Schoop 2B 1.2
6 Nomar Mazara (L) RF 0.5
7 Wilson Ramos C 1.3
8 Niko Goodrum (S) 1B 0.1
9 JaCoby Jones CF 0.1


Grayson Greiner C 0.0
Akil Baddoo (L) OF -0.6
Victor Reyes (S) OF 0.5
Harold Castro (L) IF/OF -0.1

The Tigers are still rebuilding - and it shows. Veterans Ramos, Grossman, Nunez, and Mazara are the exact kind of low-cost free-agent pickups a team in Detroit's position should make, and they'll end up being critical to the club's offensive success. Willi Castro and Candelario will ideally build on their successful 2020 campaigns and continue to develop into key pieces of the Tigers' future.

Projected Rotation

Matthew Boyd (L) 172 4.49
Julio Teheran 102 5.97
Tarik Skubal (L) 127 4.37
Jose Urena 127 5.22
Casey Mize 97 5.05


Gregory Soto (L) 63 4.21
Bryan Garcia 64 4.89
Buck Farmer 61 4.74
Jose Cisnero 56 4.37
Daniel Norris (L) 78 4.21
Derek Holland (L) 53 4.45
Michael Fulmer 116 4.89
Tyler Alexander (L) 36 4.25

A lot of these pitchers are simply keeping spots on the staff warm for the youngsters on the way. Boyd - one of the last vestiges from the David Price trade - remains atop the rotation, while Detroit could deal the likes of Fulmer, Urena, and Teheran to contenders if they perform. The bullpen is an assortment of names befitting from a rebuild.

The real fun will be watching the Tigers' prized young arms progress over the course of 2021. Mize, one of baseball's top pitching prospects, and Skubal both struggled in their first tastes of the majors last summer. The pair made the rotation out of spring and will get every opportunity to continue their progress at the highest level. Another top prospect in Matt Manning is also on the way, but he might need more time in the minors after not pitching in 2020. The future of Detroit's rotation is very bright, even if the short-term growing pains are difficult.

Kansas City Royals

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2020 record: 26-34 (4th)
Payroll: $104M
O/U win total: 71
World Series odds: +11000
3-year trend: 2018 (5th); 2019 (4th); 2020 (4th)
Highest projected WAR: Adalberto Mondesi (2.5)
X-factor: Andrew Benintendi
Key Injuries: Mondesi
Prospect to watch: Bobby Witt Jr. (MLB.com: No. 7)
Winter report card: A-

Projected Lineup

1 Whit Merrifield 2B 1.5
2 Andrew Benintendi (L) LF 1.4
3 Carlos Santana (S) 1B 1.6
4 Salvador Perez C 2.4
5 Jorge Soler DH 1.3
6 Hunter Dozier 3B 1.1
7 Kyle Isbel (L) RF 0.0
8 Michael A. Taylor CF 0.1
9 Nicky Lopez (L) SS 0.4


Cam Gallagher C 0.3
Ryan McBroom 1B/OF -0.1
Hanser Alberto 2B/3B 0.4
Jarrod Dyson (L) OF 0.1

If the Royals live up to the billing as a pesky, surprising team in 2021, it will largely be thanks to a revamped offense. Veteran first baseman Santana was a shrewd signing whose on-base skills will fit nicely in the middle of the lineup. Benintendi, who was picked up in a trade, might be in the perfect spot to try and revitalize his career after a couple of tough seasons in Boston. The 26-year-old has never been a natural power hitter, so he'll likely enjoy Kauffman Stadium's inviting gaps. Longtime Royals contributors Merrifield, Perez, and Dozier round out what might be this division's most fascinating offensive unit.

Projected Rotation

Brad Keller 166 4.73
Mike Minor (L) 178 4.55
Brady Singer 137 4.40
Danny Duffy (L) 157 4.73


Greg Holland 58 4.57
Josh Staumont 63 4.09
Scott Barlow 65 3.96
Jesse Hahn 56 4.12
Kyle Zimmer 55 4.58
Wade Davis 53 5.10
Richard Lovelady (L) 40 4.29
Jake Newberry 40 4.95
Jakob Junis 108 4.77

A lot of the Royals' potential success hinges on their pitching staff's performance. Veteran starters Duffy and Minor will only give you so much, and they'll need help from some youngsters. Singer is a core piece of this staff long term and showed flashes of brilliance last summer. Left-hander Kris Bubic will start in the minors after a rough spring but should be back before long, but Kansas City will go with a four-man rotation in the interim. Zimmer, a former first-round pick, is now in the bullpen but could still impress enough to jump back into the rotation. The Royals are also hoping Holland and Davis - who formed a commanding duo for the franchise during their playoff runs from 2014-15 - can find some of that old magic in 2021.

Minnesota Twins

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2020 record: 36-24 (1st)
Payroll: $145M
O/U win total: 91
World Series odds: +1800
3-year trend: 2018 (2nd); 2019 (1st); 2020 (1st)
Highest projected WAR: Josh Donaldson (3.2)
X-factor: Byron Buxton
Key Injuries: None​​​​​​
Prospect to watch: Alex Kiriloff (MLB.com: No. 26)
Winter report card: B-

Projected Lineup

1 Max Kepler (L) RF 3.0
2 Josh Donaldson 3B 3.2
3 Nelson Cruz DH 1.4
4 Miguel Sano 1B 1.3
5 Jorge Polanco (S) 2B 2.2
6 Byron Buxton CF 3.1
7 Jake Cave (L) LF 0.2
8 Mitch Garver C 1.3
9 Andrelton Simmons SS 2.9


Ryan Jeffers C 1.6
Luis Arraez (L) IF/OF 2.3
Willians Astudillo C/IF/OF 0.1
Kyle Garlick OF -0.1

This much we know: The Twins are going to hit home runs. The Bomba Squad pretty much returns its entire powerful offense for 2021. Alex Kiriloff - Minnesota's top prospect who made his big-league debut in the wild-card series last September - was presumably Eddie Rosario's replacement in left field until being optioned to the minors following a dreadful spring. The club will likely recall Kiriloff at some point this season, but until then it'll be mix-and-match in left with some combination of Cave, Garlick, Brent Rooker, and maybe Astudillo. Garver struggled last year, but it's hard to know what to make of that result in the shortened campaign. Even if Garver finds his stroke again, he'll likely split time behind the plate with Jeffers. Donaldson is another important cog, despite a wonky calf limiting him in 2020. As he goes, so might the Twins.

Projected Rotation

Kenta Maeda 172.0 4.28
Jose Berrios 178.0 4.24
Michael Pineda 159.0 4.65
J.A. Happ (L) 135.0 4.72
Matt Shoemaker 108.0 4.76


Alex Colome 65.0 4.51
Taylor Rogers (L) 64.0 3.56
Tyler Duffey 62.0 4.00
Cody Stashak 58.0 4.48
Caleb Thielbar (L) 56.0 4.48
Hansel Robles 54.0 4.70
Jorge Alcala 45.0 4.46
Randy Dobnak 115.0 4.69

Maeda proved to be everything Minnesota hoped for and then some in 2020. While he did prove that he can start full time, he still hasn't done that during a 162-game season. The rotation behind him is solid enough to keep this outfit in contention. Shoemaker was very good in Toronto when healthy and could give the Twins great value if he pitches to his abilities and stays off the injured list.

Minnesota also added some big arms to the bullpen in Colome and Robles. Both right-handers have experience closing. Combined with lefty Taylor Rogers, the duo gives manager Rocco Baldelli multiple weapons in the late innings. This is not a unit to take lightly.

Everything you need to know about the AL Central
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