***All projected rosters according to Baseball Prospectus***

 

1 - Detroit Tigers (91-71)

Projected Starting Lineup:

2B - Ian Kinsler

RF - Torii Hunter

1B - Miguel Cabrera

DH - Victor Martinez

CF - Austin Jackson

C - Alex Avila

3B - Nick Castellanos

LF - Don Kelly

SS - Jose Iglesias

Projected Bench:

C - Bryan Holaday

IF/OF - Steve Lombardozzi

OF - Rajai Davis

OF - Ezequiel Carrera

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Justin Verlander

2 - Max Scherzer

3 - Anibal Sanchez

4 - Rick Porcello

5 - Drew Smyly

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Joe Nathan

SU - Bruce Rondon

SU - Joba Chamberlain

MID - Ian Krol

MID - Al Alburquerque

MID - Phil Coke

LR - Luke Putkonen

The Detroit Tigers have dominated the American League Central since 2011 and that trend is sure to continue here in 2014. Once again their roster seems to be head-and-shoulders above any other team in the Division. While Detroit's championship window of opportunity may be closer to shutting than staying open, they are still very much in the race for the American League pennant.

The big move of the offseason for the Tigers was the deal that sent 1B Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler. Kinsler immediately provides the Tigers with a consistent spark in the lineup as only teammate Miguel Cabrera has scored more runs in the past three seasons than the newly acquired second baseman. Fielder provided good protection for Cabrera in the lineup, but was downright feeble in the playoffs. As I have already stated, Detroit does not have forever with this core, they want to win now and Kinsler has a postseason batting average of .311 with a .422 OBP.

Of course anything that has to do with the Detroit Tigers has to point to Miguel Cabrera.  The two-time defending MVP has established himself as not only the most dominant hitter in the game today, but one of the more impressive ones in recent memory. His ridiculous OBP mixed with a stellar batting average and ability to lead the league in home runs obviously makes him a constant triple crown candidate as he won it in 2012 and if not for some injury issues towards the end of the 2013 season, he would have been competing for an improbable back-to-back triple crown achievement. With a move to first base now and a less strenuous defensive position, Miguel Cabrera's value skyrockets even more -- if that was even possible.

The rest of the lineup is sprinkled with veteran and young upstarts looking to solidfy themselves as major leaguers. Torii Hunter resurrected his seemingly on-the-decline career in 2013 with his first All-Star nod since 2010. Victor Martinez has extended his career immensely with a full-time move to designated hitter as he played in 159 games last year and raked. He will likely be the clean-up hitter for Detroit this year and provide the protection for Miggy -- expect Martinez's RBI numbers to be very substantial this season. Jose Iglesias was acquired last year and played fantastically for the Tigers. Nobody questioned this future Gold Glove shortstop's fielding, but he showed plenty of ability to get on base as well. New 3B Nick Castellanos will be a very prominent Rookie of the Year candidate (rated number 11 on MLB's Top 100 Prospects list).

The top three of the rotation (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez) have the ability to blow away any lineup in baseball. It is more so about the supporting cast and their ability to stabilizie not only the staff in the regular season, but the playoffs as well. Despite somewhat pedestrian numbers on paper, Rick Porcello continues to show flashes of brilliance with a spectacular strikeout rate and an underrated ability to yield groundballs. He is still only 25 years old. On the other side of the age spectrum in the bullpen, Detroit addressed their biggest Achilles' heel by adding closer Joe Nathan who is an insane upgrade over the remedial bullpen arms Detroit entrusted late-inning leads to a season ago.

The playoffs are a lock for the Tigers, what really matters is how they perform come October.

 

2 - Kansas City Royals (84-78)

Projected Starting Lineup:

RF - Norichika Aoki

2B - Omar Infante

1B - Eric Hosmer

DH - Billy Butler

LF - Alex Gordon

C - Salvador Perez

3B - Mike Moustakas

CF - Lorenzo Cain

SS - Alcides Escobar

Projected Bench:

C - Brett Hayes

IF - Pedro Ciriaco

IF/OF - Danny Valencia

OF - Justin Maxwell

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - James Shields

2 - Jason Vargas

3 - Bruce Chen

4 - Jeremy Guthrie

5 - Danny Duffy

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Greg Holland

SU - Kelvin Herrera

SU - Aaron Crow

MID - Tim Collins

MID - Louis Coleman

MID - Donnie Joseph

LR - Wade Davis

The Royals finished over .500 in 2013 for the first time since 2003 and unlike that season a decade ago, it was hardly a fluke. Kansas City was 10 games over the benchmark and competed for a Wild Card spot. 2014 is their time to show they can at least make the Detroit Tigers notice them in the Division.

The Royals are a pesky team with a good mix of youngsters, veterans and young players who have been up for a while but are still fine-tuning their abilities. A jump to second place in the Division would require those players to finally flirt with their true potentials. Here's looking at you, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Lumping Hosmer in with Moustakas may not be fair as he rebounded from an atrocious sophomore season in 2012 with a very formidable one a year ago. Moustakas, on the other hand, continues to struggle despite being entrusted with full-time duties at the hot corner. I am afraid 2014 is the final shot he has to show he can get it down with the Royals.

I applaud Kansas City's additions of on-base extraordinaires Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to the top of their lineup. With Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Moustakas and Salvador Perez behind them, there should be plenty of RBI for the Royals' lineup this summer.

The rotation is a surprisingly experienced one with only Danny Duffy being considered a youngster. Duffy is returning from a devastating elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Reports from the Royals this Spring Training say the reins are off for the promising lefty and he could be a very good pitcher for Kansas City and a big reason why they compete for a playoff spot. If the Royals manage to surprise everyone and get into the postseason, they have James Shield ready and able to lead the way.

The Royals' bullpen took a huge blow last week as fantastic set-up man Luke Hochevar will miss the season as a result of the dreaded Tommy John surgery. It will be up to Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow -- two guys who struggled last year -- to step up and get the ball to Kansas City's excellent closer, Greg Holland.

A lot of things would have to go right for the Royals to nab a playoff berth, but in a very wide-open Central Division (outside of the Tigers) they have just as good a chance as anybody to finish behind Detroit.

 

3 - Cleveland Indians (82-80)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Michael Bourn

1B - Nick Swisher

2B - Jason Kipnis

DH - Carlos Santana

LF - Michael Brantley

SS - Asdrubal Cabrera

RF - David Murphy

C - Yan Gomes

3B - Lonnie Chisenhall

Projected Bench:

1B - Jason Giambi

IF - Mike Aviles

IF - Justin Sellers

OF - Ryan Raburn

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Justin Masterson

2 - Corey Kluber

3 - Zach McAllister

4 - Danny Salazar

5 - Carlos Carrasco

Projected Bullpen:

CL - John Axford

SU - Cody Allen

SU - Vinnie Pestano

MID - Marc Rzepczynski

MID - Bryan Shaw

MID - Josh Outman

LR - Josh Tomlin

Some would say you cannot even begin to quantify the value of Terry Francona to the Cleveland Indians. Actually, you can, the value is about a 23-win improvement, a Wild Card spot and a Manager of the Year award. The real difficult part for teams who get into the playoffs after abysmal years is consistency. Many teams fade back into obscurity after a flash of potential. Will Cleveland be like the Colorado Rockies of the mid-2000s or like another Oakland Athletics-type team constantly in the mix?

To say the rotation is a question mark would be an understatement. That is not to say I do not like it, I just do not trust it. Justin Masterson is one of the most underrated hurlers in the game as his opponents' plate appearances ended in strikeouts at a higher rate than Justin Verlander's. Corey Kluber was the pitching prospect who was sent to Cleveland from San Diego in the big Jake Peavy trade of 2010. The move finally paid dividends as the 27 year old flourished in 2013 and will now be the Indians' number-two starter behind Masterson. The back-end of the rotation is where the questions arise. Everyone is hyping up Danny Salazar to be basically this year's Kluber, but I am not a fan. He and Carlos Carrasco will be the weak spots for the pitching staff. The only pitching "prospect" Cleveland has in the minors who could feasibly fill in is Trevor Bauer, but at this point in his very short career, his mechanics and ability to harness his talent are out of whack. Aaron Harang and Shaun Marcum are the only other two candidates who could try and help out for Cleveland should their rotation falter.

The pitching issues do not end there as the bullpen has nary a bonafide stopper in it. John Axford replaces the much-maligned Chris Perez at closer, but I do not see him fairing much better while former premier set-up man Vinnie Pestano looks to recapture what made him so great a few seasons ago.

A lineup starring Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and an underrated Michael Brantley will certainly put up its share of runs. It just remains to be seen if the pitching can churn that into enough wins. I will say Asdrubal Cabrera is as likely a trade piece as any established player in baseball with top prospect Francisco Lindor itching to get called up. His spark sometime during the summer could be huge for Cleveland.

 

4 - Chicago White Sox (78-84)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Adam Eaton

LF - Alejandro De Aza

1B - Jose Abreu

DH - Adam Dunn

RF - Avisail Garcia

SS - Alexei Ramirez

3B - Conor Gillaspie

2B - Gordon Beckham

C - Tyler Flowers

Projected Bench:

C - Adrian Nieto

1B - Paul Konerko

IF - Jeff Keppinger

OF - Dayan Viciedo

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Chris Sale

2 - Jose Quintana

3 - John Danks

4 - Erik Johnson

5 - Felipe Paulino

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Nathan Jones

SU - Matt Lindstrom

SU - Ronald Belisario

MID - Scott Downs

MID - Mitchell Boggs

MID - Donnie Veal

LR - Charles Leesman

After a disastrous 2013 season, the Chicago White Sox finally addressed their anemic farm system and future with a very proactive and soon-to-be successful offseason. While the moves may not show their worth in 2014, there will be flashes of hope throughout the year.

This will be captain Paul Konerko's final season in baseball and the slugger's potential Hall of Fame career has been a great one. My favorite part of this season will be watching Konerko set aside his ego as he plays backup for new Cuban star Jose Abreu. Konerko's mentoring of Abreu should prove to be invaluable and is the perfect testament to the type of player and person Paul Konerko is. Another newcomer to Chicago's South Side team is sparkplug Adam Eaton. Eaton was brought over from Arizona and is sure to become that typical blue-collar grinder White Sox fans love so much. Do not forget Avisail Garcia, who the White Sox picked up last summer, he wrecked the ball with the White Sox and played great outfield. I would not be surprised if he was an All Star nominee this summer.

Whether Chicago finishes in the top or bottom half of the Division, Chris Sale will garner a lot of Cy Young consideration. It is astounding that this ace lost 14 games a year ago, but it just further proves how meaningless wins and losses can be for an individual pitcher. Make no mistake, Chris Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball. It just remains to be seen if his fellow rotational men can keep up. Not to mention a suspect bullpen with no true closer. Poor Chris Sale may be looking at another sub-.500 season. That's a shame.

The White Sox fans will finally get introduced to true growing pains this year. Unlike last year, which was just a sucky campaign, 2014 will feature young talent getting a taste of the Big Leagues. Eaton, Garcia, Abreu, Erik Johnson, Matt Davidson and several prospects (Marcus Semien and maybe Micah Johnson) will be on display this summer as the future of the White Sox.

 

5 - Minnesota Twins (70-92)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Alex Presley

2B - Brian Dozier

1B - Joe Mauer

LF - Josh Willingham

RF - Oswaldo Arcia

3B - Trevor Plouffe

DH - Jason Kubel

C - Kurt Suzuki

SS - Pedro Florimon

Projected Bench:

C/OF - Chris Herrmann

1B/OF - Chris Colabello

IF - Eduardo Escobar

OF - Darin Mastroianni

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Ricky Nolasco

2 - Kevin Correia

3 - Phil Hughes

4 - Mike Pelfrey

5 - Vance Worley

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Glen Perkins

SU - Jared Burton

SU - Michael Tonkin

MID - Brian Duensing

MID - Casey Fien

MID - Caleb Thielbar

LR - Anthony Swarzak

Once heralded as the prototypical scrappy team always in playoff contention, the Minnesota Twins have drastically crashed and burned recently as a complete franchise reset was needed.

Joe Mauer, bless his heart, continues to destroy baseballs with incredible on-base numbers. The expected move full time to first base is a smart one as it extends his career so that he can still be a top-of-the-line player once the Twins finally flirt with relevancy again. Outside of Oswaldo Arcia and maybe Brian Dozier, there are not many lineup mates Mauer has who will be on the Twins whenever they do start winning more games.

The position players you need to know when it comes to the Twins are named Byron Buxton (MLB's top prospect) and Miguel Sano (MLB's number-three prospect). Unfortunately for Sano, his value took a major hit as the infielder will require Tommy John surgery and miss the season, greatly hindering his development. All eyes will be on Buxton to see if he makes his Major League debut this summer, but I suspect Minnesota is in no rush to hurry their golden prospect. Replacing Mauer at catcher is Kurt Suzuki, but he is likely a stopgap until prospect Josmil Pinto is ready to take the job.

The rotation of castaways from other teams will do nothing to help their great closer Glen Perkins nail down some saves. The only saving grace for Minnesota fans is that this collection of mediocre arms means less bodies in the way for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer to get his shot in 2014.

With no real change from last year and top prospects still a year or two away from being real contributors, Minnesota can look forward to another high draft pick to stock their farm system with.

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