American League Central: The White Sox look like the team to beat here
1: White Sox (95-67)
This should be a slam-dunk. The White Sox still are far and away the best team in the AL Central, and one of the best in the American League. Last year the Sox won the division by 13 games in a season in which young stars Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez missed a lot of time due to injury. The rotation of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech will be one of the toughest for an offense to handle. Not to mention their fireball bullpen of Liam Hendriks, Garrett Crochet, Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly. It will be interesting to see what happens with Craig Kimbrel, who for the time being is still on the roster.
The lineup featuring Robert, Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal will put up plenty of runs on the board. Do not forget about sophomore Andrew Vaughn, who could take a massive step forward in 2022 if he recovers well from the hip injury he suffered in spring. Will this team have enough depth? I guess we’ll see as the season progresses.
2: Minnesota Twins (82-80)
Who could have predicted star shortstop Carlos Correa heading to Minnesota? On top of that, they added starter Sonny Gray, shortstop Gio Urshela and catcher Gary Sanchez via trades with the Reds and Yankees. They had acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa for Mitch Garver, before immediately sending him with aging slugger Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt to the Yankees to get Urshela and Sanchez. A very odd but intriguing offseason for the Twinkies.
On paper, they have a very productive lineup, especially if Byron Buxton is healthy (which is a BIG if). They got guys capable of 20+ home run power in Correa, Sanchez, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano with Max Kepler. The biggest concern is pitching. Even with Gray added to the mix they do not have a deep pitching staff. They are coming off having the second-highest staff ERA in the American League in 2021. Not sure Chris Archer, who they signed as a free agent, has much left in the tank. An intriguing team that could do better than anticipated, but with some noticeable chinks in the armor.
3: Detroit Tigers (79-83)
A team on the rise, the Tigers enter year two of the A.J. Hinch era. Last year they saw Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman surprise at the plate, while veteran Jonathan Schoop slugged 22 home runs. All three will be back. Their big move was signing former Cubs fan-favorite Javier Baez to a six-year deal, who will add some pop, speed, defense and swagger to Detroit.
They also added former Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and veteran Micheal Pineda to the rotation. Their veteran presence can benefit the young arms in Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. Tigers fans will also be keeping a close eye on the development of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. Fans around baseball will be waiting for Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit, that’s for sure.
4: Cleveland Guardians (77-85)
New name, not so different team. The Guardians feature a nice pitching staff headed up by 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. They also have an intriguing bullpen piece in Emmanuel Clase, who recorded 24 saves and pitched to a 1.29 ERA last year. Like recent years, the lineup lacks firepower. Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes can provide plenty of run production and power, but that’s about it. Amed Rosario is a solid hitting shortstop but will not provide much pop. There will be plenty of games in which they keep close but cannot score enough runs.
Michael Conforto would seem like a solid addition for them if they wanted another hitter with power….just saying. This team would be a contender again if they decided to invest in more offense, but they do not seem overly interested in doing that. Do not be surprised to see Ramirez discussed in more potential trades this season.
5: Kansas City Royals (76-86)
Even if not yet a contending team, the Royals will continue to be pesky. Salvador Perez, who is coming off a 48 home run campaign, is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Veteran slugger Carlos Santana will also provide some solid pop in the lineup. Whit Merrifield will solidify the leadoff spot with Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Benintendi helping fill out the batting order.
They reunited with pitcher Zack Greinke, who will likely be their ace as he winds down his career. There is a ton of excitement around their number one prospect Bobby Witt Jr. along with several other top prospects. This team has a potentially bright future, and this year could see what that future could potentially look like start to take shape.