The American League enters the 2023 season with the reigning World Series Champion in the Houston Astros and the expectation of competitive races in the three divisions. While the Astros may be taking a step back, the battle to unseat them will depend on how successful other Junior Circuit clubs were in addressing their needs over the winter.
In the second of the three division previews, we will take a look at three aspects of each team from the American League Central; the overall direction and outlook for the club, the most important player for them to have success, and the prospect that could bloom at the Major League level during the 2023 campaign.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox (81 – 81, 2nd place)
Direction – Up
A disappointing season for the South Side boys, as injuries hampered their rotation and lineup. Veteran manager Tony LaRussa is gone and the White Sox hope for better luck and health in 2023.
Most Important Player – Eloy Jimenez
With the departure of former MVP Jose Abreu, there is more on the 26-year-old slugger to fill the void in the middle of the order. After hitting 31 homers as a rookie in 2019, Jimenez did not exceed 300 at-bats or 20 long balls in the last two seasons.
Impact Prospect – Luis Robert Jr.
One of the most touted prospects in baseball at one point, Robert hit .338 in limited at-bats in 2021, but his numbers plummeted last season due to a series of injuries. If the White Sox are to contend, they will need the young center fielder to take a major step forward.
Cleveland Guardians (92 – 70, 1st place, lost in AL Division Series)
Direction – Hovering
The Guardians have to be categorized as significant overachievers in 2022, winning the Central Division when most experts thought they would not get to .500. It is likely that Terry Francona’s crew has a reality check.
Most Important Player – Andres Gimenez
Cleveland has an excellent rotation and bullpen that should keep them in contention for the division or a wildcard spot, but they must generate more offense. The club did add slugger Josh Bell in free agency, but the majority of their improvement will have to come from within. Gimenez was acquired from the NY Mets in the Francisco Lindor deal and posted a career-high .297 average and 17 HRs, prompting the Guardians to lock up the 24-year-old on a seven-year, $106.5 million deal.
Impact Prospect – Daniel Espino
A righty who can reach over 100 mph, Espino’s issue is health. The 22-year-old has top-of-the-rotation stuff but suffered a shoulder injury in spring training. Along with Tanner Bibee, it is possible that the young fireballer could come up late in the season or could be used as an enticement for another club in a trade for offensive help before the deadline in July.
Detroit Tigers (66 – 96, 4th place)
Direction – Aimless
The only positive aspect of last season was the 3000-hit accomplishment of future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, otherwise, the Tigers made little progress, struggled to generate offense, and had numerous injuries to their pitching staff.
Most Important Player – Spencer Torkelson
Considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Torkelson may have been rushed to the majors, as he struggled at both AAA Toledo and barely stayed over the Mendoza line with the Tigers last season. Detroit will not win the Central in 2023, but they need the young slugger to become the franchise cornerstone they imagined when they selected him first overall in the 2020 Amateur Draft.
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Impact Prospect – Riley Greene
Similar to Torkelson, Greene has been moved up the organizational chain quickly, hitting over .300 in AA and AAA in 2021, but his numbers in AAA and with the Tigers in 2022 were pedestrian (.253, 5 HRs, in 376 ABs). The 22-year-old outfielder will get a lot of rope this season and good spring training numbers are cause for optimism.
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Kansas City Royals (65 – 97, 5th place)
Direction – Is there one??
When you are at the bottom, you could say there is nowhere to go but up, but the Royals don’t seem to be doing much to chart an upward course after trading veterans Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield at the deadline for prospects.
Most Important Player – Bobby Witt Jr.
A second-generation major leaguer, Witt sped through the minors and hit .254, with 20 HRs and 30 steals in his rookie season with the Royals in 2022. The 23-year-old is leading off and will be the centerpiece of the franchise, but the question is how long it will take to build around him or will they build him?
Impact Prospect – MJ Melendez
The 24-year-old played mostly catcher as a rookie, splitting time with veteran Salvador Perez. Melendez hit 18 HRs as a rookie, and can also play the outfield, but might be the heir apparent to the 33-year-old Gold Glove backstop.
Minnesota Twins (78 – 84, 3rd place)
Direction – Up
Minnesota’s offseason was puzzling, as they traded AL batting champion Luis Arraez to Miami for starter Pablo Lopez when their rotation was already deep, but the strength of their pitching will be the primary reason for them contending for the division, as many thought they would last year.
Most Important Player – Carlos Correa
After failed signings with San Francisco and the Mets, Correa re-signed with the Twins on a six-year contract. The 28-year-old hit .291 with 22 homers last season, and Minnesota will need him to maintain that production, as well as his Gold Glove-level defense.
Impact Prospect – Royce Lewis
A prospect that took longer than expected to blossom, Lewis hit .313 in AAA and earned a promotion to the Twins, but after some initial success, the 23-year-old suffered a second torn ACL in June. Lewis is staying behind in Florida for extended spring training and could be back with the Twins by June, which would help them fill the hole created by trading Arraez.
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