It's funny, the Centrals in both the American and National Leagues are the weakest of each league.  We could very well have a repeat of last year where the Detroit Tigers are expected to be the top dogs but fail to live up to expectations as other teams battle for the division.  Last year, I bought in on the Tigers and for much of the season, I looked silly.  I'm prepared to do so again here in 2013.

 

1 - Detroit Tigers (91-71)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Austin Jackson

RF - Torii Hunter

3B - Miguel Cabrera

1B - Prince Fielder

DH - Victor Martinez

LF - Andy Dirks

SS - Jhonny Peralta

C - Alex Avila

2B - Omar Infante

Projected Bench:

C - Brayan Pena

IF - Ramon Santiago

IF - Danny Worth

OF - Quintin Berry

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Justin Verlander

2 - Doug Fister

3 - Max Scherzer

4 - Anibal Sanchez

5 - Rick Porcello

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Bruce Rondon

SU - Joaquin Benoit

SU - Phil Coke

MR - Al Alburquerque

MR - Octavio Dotel

MR - Brayan Vilarreal

LR - Darin Downs

It seems like every year the Tigers underperform.  Even though they ultimately made the World Series last year, I still got a sense that they could have been better.  They have arguably the best overall pitcher in baseball with Justin Verlander. as well as the best hitter in the game - last year's MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.  There's no reason why this team shouldn't win the division by almost 10 games.

That being said, two guys don't make a baseball team.  Prince Fielder and Cabrera make up one of the more deadlier 1-2 punches in baseball with their hitting abilities, while Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez along with Verlander could make up one of the better rotations in the American League.  Victor Martinez is a huge addition to he lineup after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury and Austin Jackson is one of the better center fielders playing today.  Torii Hunter proved last year that he still can be an above average player in baseball and earned himself a nice new contract in Detroit. 

The real question here is the bullpen.  Let me introduce you to Bruce Rondon - the Tigers' closer coming into Spring Training.  He's 22-years old and throws extremely hard.  He hardly has a strangle hold on the job, but it's not like anyone else on the roster would be a more suitable candidate with Jose Valverde gone.  It's very rare to have such a young arm lead the bullpen for a top team like this one, but keep an eye out on him for Rookie of the Year consideration should he flourish.  It would make for a heck of a story for a kid who has never pitched in the majors to become a successful closer for a World Series contender.

2 - Cleveland Indians (83-79)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Michael Bourn

SS - Asdrubal Cabrera

2B - Jason Kipnis

1B - Nick Swisher

C - Carlos Santana

DH - Mark Reynolds

LF - Michael Brantley

3B - Lonnie Chisenhall

RF - Drew Stubbs

Projected Bench:

C - Lou Marson

1B - Jason Giambi

2B/OF - Ryan Raburn

IF/OF - Mike Aviles

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Justin Masterson

2 - Ubaldo Jimenez

3 - Brett Myers

4 - Zach McAllister

5 - Scott Kazmir

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Chris Perez

SU - Vinnie Pestano

SU - Joe Smith

MR - Nick Hagadone

MR - Cody Allen

MR - Rich Hill

LR - David Huff

I wrote up initial drafts for these previews around a month ago.  I was extremely hard on the Indians and tore them a new one.  Then they signed Michael Bourn and I decided to give their roster another look-see.  While they are certainly not viable playoff contenders, I will concede that Cleveland has a very good chance to be a competitive team once again in 2013

The rotation is an eyesore with a guy in Justin Masterson who would be a more than formidable middle-of-the-rotation type of guy being forced into an "ace" role.  This is the role Cleveland was hoping would be accepted by Ubaldo Jimenez but he has completely diminished in terms of ability the past two years.  Keep in mind, the current projections have stellar pitching prospect Trevor Bauer starting the season in the minor leagues.  If Cleveland ever returns to playoff relevance, it'll be on the arms of this young stud.  He has a lot of work to be done with his mechanics and control, but has all the makings of a potential Cy Young pitcher one day. 

Cleveland's top prospects are all in the lower minor leagues and a ways away from being on any big league rosters.  For now, their fans will have to be patient.  Bauer was rushed to the majors last year and he struggled mightily.  Cleveland needs to have a plan with their new arm and stick to it. 

Their closer, Chris Perez could be another prominent Indians player who gets traded sooner, rather than later with set-up man Vinnie Pestano waiting in the wings to man the closer role.  This is an Indians roster of the present, not the future, but they did a good job of inserting themselves into the spotlight by bringing in some noteworthy free agents.  Nick Swisher is another guy capable of really providing a lift and spark to team looking to spark a little interest and attention.  It'll be interesting to see how far newcomers like Swisher and Michael Bourn can take this team.

3 - Chicago White Sox (81-81)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Alejandro De Aza

3B - Jeff Keppinger

RF - Alex Rios

1B - Paul Konerko

DH - Adam Dunn

LF - Dayan Viciedo

SS - Alexei Ramirez

C - Tyler Flowers

2B - Gordon Beckham

Projected Bench:

C - Hector Gimenez

1B/3B - Conor Gillaspie

IF - Angel Sanchez

OF - DeWayne Wise

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Chris Sale

2 - Jake Peavy

3 - Gavin Floyd

4 - Jose Quintana

5 - Dylan Axelrod

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Addison Reed

SU - Matt Thornton

SU - Nate Jones

MR - Matt Lindstrom

MR - Donnie Veal

MR - Brian Omogrosso

LR - Hector Santiago

For much of the 2012 season, the Chicago White Sox led the American League Central.  The Tigers didn't live up to expectations and the White Sox took advantage of it.  Unfortunately, the final several weeks of the season were disastrous for Chicago's South Side team as they squandered the Division lead to Detroit and missed the playoffs.  If the Tigers struggle again, the White Sox will be battling it out with Cleveland to be the team that profits because of it. 

The White Sox have some of the more underrated players in baseball with Paul Konerko continuing a Hall of Fame worthy career as the anchor of the offense while Chris Sale made his first All-Star team in his first season as a starting pitcher in 2012.  Their young closer, Addison Reed is confident in his abilities as he predicted he could earn up to 40-45 saves this season.  That's if manager Robin Ventura gives him the chance.  He gave up quite a few save opportunities to Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain (looking at a spot on the DL to start the season) and Nate Jones last year.  With two more stellar arms joining them in the bullpen with Matt Lindstrom and Donnie Veal, Reed better hope he doesn't have any hiccups. 

The rotation is not as solid as you would think.  While Sale is a legitimate ace and Jake Peavy is a rock-solid number two guy, Gavin Floyd is wildy inconsistent and Jose Quintana fizzled out in the second half last year.  John Danks signed a fat new contract and has been terrible since.  Danks made $8 million last year and will earn $14.25 million over the next three seasons - he'll be starting 2013 on the disabled list.

The White Sox are a nice team, they're going to compete and put forth a competitive team, but that won't fill the often half-empty U.S. Cellular Field.  Their fans want a World Series contender and likely won't be getting it this year.

4 - Kansas City Royals (78-84)

Projected Starting Lineup:

LF - Alex Gordon

SS - Alcides Escobar

1B - Eric Hosmer

DH - Billy Butler

C - Salvador Perez

3B - Mike Moustakas

RF - Jeff Francoeur

CF - Lorenzo Cain

2B - Chris Getz

Projected Bench:

C - George Kottaras

IF - Elliot Johnson

IF - Miguel Tejada

OF - Jarrod Dyson

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - James Shields

2 - Jeremy Guthrie

3 - Ervin Santana

4 - Wade Davis

5 - Bruce Chen

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Greg Holland

SU - Kelvin Herrera

SU - Aaron Crow

MR - Tim Collins

MR - Luke Hochevar

MR - Juan Gutierrez

LR - Luis Mendoza

The Royals are going to be respectable this year and here's why.  Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer.  These guys make up the core of this lineup and while Moustakas and Hosmer have had issues living up to promise while, Perez has struggled with injuries, I think 2013 is the year we see several steps forward.  One or two of those guys could be All-Stars this year. 

Salvador Perez is poised to breakout and I'm hoping to see a full season out of this young stud backstop.  I'm also all in on Eric Hosmer.  He got a chance to show off his skills in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA and I think it will have ultimately helped him quite a bit.  He was stellar in 2011 when he debuted and dreadful in 2012.  He's gonna bounce back in a big way.

The rotation is much improved with James Shields coming in to be the ace of the staff while Wade Davis attempts to start a new chapter in his career as a starter.  I absolutely believe that had it not been for the Shields trade, then we'd see Wil Myers in the Opening Day lineup rather than Jeff Francoeur.  As it stands, though, Myers is in Tampa and the Royals are stuck with arguably one of the worst overall players in baseball with Francoeur

There's going to be plenty of growing pains with the Royals - at no point this season will their fans be teased into thinking this is a playoff team, but they will be encouraged with what they see.  They should be excited to see Greg Holland man the closer role with guys like Aaron Crow and Tim Collins in the bullpen.  These are all +arm pitchers who will likely be major contributors to any competitive Royals teams in the future.

5 - Minnesota Twins (74-88)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Aaron Hicks

2B - Brian Dozier

C - Joe Mauer

LF - Josh Willingham

1B - Justin Morneau

DH - Ryan Doumit

RF - Chris Parmelee

3B - Trevor Plouffe

SS - Pedro Florimon, Jr.

Projected Bench:

C - Drew Butera

IF - Jamey Carroll

IF - Eduardo Escobar

OF - Darin Mastroianni

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Vance Worley

2 - Kevin Correia

3 - Mike Pelfrey

4 - Liam Hendriks

5 - Cole De Vries

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Glen Perkins

SU - Jared Burton

SU - Casey Fien

MR - Josh Roenicke

MR - Alex Burnett

MR - Brian Duensing

LR - Ryan Pressly

Ron Gardenhire is a manager that always seems to get the most out of his teams no matter the talent level.  He's going to have a heck of a time in 2013 attempting to garner any respect for this team. 

The lineup is putrid, plain and simple.  That being said, I respect and encourage how young Minnesota is going.  I love seeing guys like Aaron Hicks (one of Minnesota's top prospects) potentially given the opportunity to shine in the leadoff role.  There's a lot of young talent in this projected opening day roster and while they won't all flourish, I like to see the chances being given out.

Joe Mauer is the best catcher in the American League and defending batting champion, and Josh Willingham is one of the more prominent power hitters, but there's only so much two men can do on a bad baseball team.

Vance Worley and Scott Diamond both have a lot of promise with Worley potentially being one of the more improved players in baseball in 2013.  Unfortunately, Diamond - who was Minnesota's best pitcher in 2012, will likely start the year on the disabled list.  Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and Alex Burnett all had very nice years out of the bullpen in 2012 and while it's unlikely for all of them to repeat their performances, the bullpen is the most stable part of this otherwise very bad baseball team from Minnesota.

This is a wait and see franchise now as fans and the organization collectively wait to see if prospects will pan out.  It will likely take a few years for the Twins to return to relevance like they once were at as one of the more peskier and scrappy teams in baseball.

--

Follow me on Twitter! @MichaelRyne