03/15/2023 5:00 AM
Article By: Michael Lane
MLB Opening Day is 15 days away, and today we’re looking at the American League Central!
The Guardians reached the postseason for the fifth time in seven years in 2022. They enjoyed success in an unconventional way for this era of baseball. They ranked 14th in home runs and 11th in slugging in the American League, while striking out the least.
Steven Kwan’s (Wareham ‘17) strong rookie campaign was key to that offensive success for the Guardians. Kwan slashed .298/.373/.400 over the season, with gold glove caliber defense in the outfield, and finished third in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year. Most impressive though, across 638 plate appearances, Kwan only struck out 60 times. Mike Zunino (Y-D ‘11) has the potential to add some power to the Guardians lineup in 2023 as their new catcher.
The Guardians rotation should remain a strength, as it has for the past half decade. Shane Bieber (Y-D ‘15), Zach Plesac (Wareham ‘15), and Aaron Civale (Hyannis ‘15) will all pitch major innings for the Guardians this season. The AL Central will likely be one of the worst divisions in baseball, so the Guardians have a fair chance to return to the postseason in 2023.
2. Chicago White Sox: 81-81 in 2022
Just a few years ago, it appeared the AL Central would run through the south side of Chicago for the foreseeable future. After massive regression in 2022, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Injuries haven’t been kind to the White Sox, but to date, a handful of their young stars simply haven’t lived up to their potential.
One of the few offensive players that improved in 2022 was Andrew Vaughn (Wareham ‘18). Vaughn brought his batting average up from .235 his rookie season to .271 last year. He also improved his OPS from .705 to .750. Still just 25 years old, Vaughn taking another step forward would go a long way for the White Sox lineup this season. Yasmani Grandal (Brewster ‘08) is entering the final year of his four-year contract with the White Sox. After hitting 23 home runs with a .939 OPS in 2021, Grandal hit just five home runs with a .570 OPS in 2022. Which version of Grandal will the White Sox get in 2023?
The White Sox rotation is led by Cy Young candidate Dylan Cease, but behind that is a handful of guys with high ceilings and low floors. Mike Clevinger (Cotuit ‘11) could be a huge addition for the middle of their rotation. The White Sox have the potential to bounce back and reclaim the division in 2023, but they also could realistically finish below .500.
3. Minnesota Twins: 78-84 in 2022
The Twins had the most active offseason of any team in the AL Central, and it has put them in position to contend for the division title in 2023.
No move for the Twins this offseason was bigger than the return of Carlos Correa. Early in the offseason it appeared Correa wouldn’t return, so the Twins added Joey Gallo, Christian Vazquez, and Michael Taylor to round out their lineup. Then Correa’s deals with both the Giants and Mets fell through. The stars aligned for Minnesota and they were able to bring back the all-star shortstop.
The Twins finished the offseason by trading for their new ace Pablo Lopez from the Marlins. Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle were both acquired in trades during the 2022 season and should provide stability to the middle of their rotation. Joe Ryan (Orleans ‘15/’16) and Kenta Maeda will complete the back of the rotation.
The Twins are probably the best team on paper in the AL Central. If they avoid major injuries, specifically to Byron Buxton and Correa, they should win this division.
4. Detroit Tigers: 66-96 in 2022
The Tigers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014, and while that’s unlikely to change this year, it will be an important season for the development of many young players.
Spencer Torkelson (Chatham ‘18/’19) is the most important piece to the Tigers rebuild. Selected first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, Torkelson had a bit of an underwhelming rookie season last year hitting just .225 with a .656 OPS. With Miguel Cabrera nearing retirement, the Tigers view Torkelson as the next face of their franchise. Matt Vierling (Harwich ‘17) was acquired this offseason from the Phillies and should get more opportunities than he did in Philly’s crowded outfield.
Spencer Turnbull (Wareham ‘13) has seen improvement over the past few years, finishing last year with a 2.88 ERA in nine starts. Turnbull could give the Tigers some future stability towards the back of the rotation. Casey Mize (Wareham ‘16) will miss the majority, if not all, of the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Mize still is a big piece of the future in Detroit, hopefully becoming an arm they can rely on.
5. Kansas City Royals: 65-97 in 2022
This is going to be a rough year for Royals fans, but the memory of their 2015 World Series championship run is still relatively fresh. Only six teams have won a World Series more recently, so a number of fan bases would still happily trade places with the Royals.
Vinnie Pasquantino (Hyannis ‘18) was a pleasant surprise for the Royals last season, hitting .295 with 10 home runs and a .832 OPS. Pasquantino should get plenty of at-bats this season, projected to be their everyday cleanup hitter. Kyle Isbel (Y-D ‘17) and Michael Massey (Brewster ‘18) should both get an opportunity to try and prove they can contribute to the big league club over the course of a full season.
Brady Singer (Falmouth ‘16) is coming off an impressive 2022 season where he went 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA over 153 innings of work. The Royals would love to see Singer continue to develop into their ace of the future.