Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Vince Velasquez pauses behind the mound during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Monday, April 4, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

AL Central – 2022 Season Preview

Another season of Major League Baseball is upon us. After a 99-day lockout, numerous trades and signings, and two-and-a-half weeks of spring training, we are finally on the eve of Opening Day. The American League Central is one of the divisions that has seen less attention than others. The division features several teams that have been on the long haul of rebuilding. These teams should be on the way back competitiveness though, as several notable players have moved into the division. With these new faces, the AL Central should be more competitive than the past few years.

Chicago White Sox

The AL Central is the Sox’s to lose. Last season, Chicago won the division with a 93-69 record, the only Central team to finish over .500. Yet the ALDS showing against the Astros proved this team still has room to grow if it wants to be a serious title contender.

Chicago still features a highly capable lineup heading into 2022. Its lineup holds the likes of Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada and now A.J. Pollock and Josh Harrison. The White Sox scored 796 runs in 2021, the most in the AL Central. With the already strong lineup getting some more strong bats, it would be no surprise if they top that total in 2022.

This team’s pitching staff saw some big changes over the off-season. Allstar lefty Carlos Rodón signed with San Francisco, and Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Dodgers for Pollock less than a week ago. Veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto signed with the Sox on a minor league deal Tuesday. Reliever Joe Kelly also signed a two-year deal. Despite the changes, the Sox still have their ace in Lucas Giolito, alongside Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn. Liam Hendriks should remain as the team’s closer after putting up 38 saves in his first season on the south side.

Cleveland Guardians

After 107 years as the Cleveland Indians, it is now time for year one of the Cleveland Guardians. This team still features a young stable of promising talent, but the questions remains as to is it enough to be a contender? It was not that long ago when Cleveland was one game away from its first World Series since 1948, and was one of the teams to beat in the American League. Many of those key players are now gone, however, young players have come up to replace them.

As has been the case for the last several seasons, Cleveland’s strength lies in its pitching staff. Shane Bieber posted a 3.17 ERA in 16 starts in 2021 and should lead the young rotation, which also features Zach Plesac and Cal Quantrill.

Not a whole lot was brought into Cleveland this year, but it did resign many notable players. Austin Hedges, Franmil Reyes and Amed Rosario avoided arbitration with one-year deals. Its biggest prize of the offseason came Wednesday morning with José Ramírez signing a five-year extension worth $124 million. Ramírez has been the face of the franchise after many of its stars have gone. The signing ensures Cleveland does not lose another star.

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Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have gone through a hefty rebuild during the last several seasons. This team has acquired some big pieces heading into 2022 and its young talent is starting to blossom. This team has it in the cards to compete and should be considered as a possible sleeper in the AL Central heading into the season.

The Tigers feature hitters of the young, old and prime. As Miguel Cabrera enters his age 38 season and 15th in Detroit, he is still capable of being a force in the lineup. While he is no longer the .300 average and 40 home run hitter he used to be, he can still put up productive numbers, especially for a player of his age.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the Tigers have the young bat of Akil Baddoo. The young outfielder hit .259 with 13 home runs in his rookie season last year. With a year under his belt, he can grow in 2022, especially with the collection of good hitters that now surround him. Over the offseason, the Tigers acquired Javier Baéz and Austin Meadows. Though with the Tigers scoring 100 less runs than the White Sox last year, the question remains as to will it be enough.

As for pitching, there is work needed. Casey Mize had a good run in his first full season, putting up a respectable 3.71 ERA. Spencer Turnbull was solid to start the year, but then had Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss the entire 2022 season. The Tigers did acquire Andrew Chafin this offseason, which should provide some help. But other guys need to pick up the slack. Michael Fulmer is far from where he was during his rookie season, and some of their other pitching prospects have not been as solid as one would hope. That is not to say they do not have the ability, but more experience is needed.

Kansas City Royals

Another team that it does not seem like too long ago when it was at the top of the American League. Since then, many of the team’s faces have gone and in its place is young, developing talent. Alongside the crop of young players, veteran talent is there to guide them.

One of the most anticipated players to watch this year is Bobby Witt Jr. As the number one prospect in baseball and son of former major leaguer Bobby Witt Sr., he has already drawn lots of attention around himself. This is the year he finally gets to show it all off to the baseball world.

The Royals also have young stars such as Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi and former Florida Gator Brady Singer. All of these players have already made names for themselves in the league. They are not doing it alone either. This Royals squad also has the veterans Salvador Perez and Carlos Santana. Perez even set a career-high in home runs last season with 48, and Santana drove in 69 RBIs in his first season with the Royals. Joining the team is the newly signed Zack Greinke. While, Greinke is not as dominant as he was on his days with the Dodgers, he is still a reliable pitcher and provide great experience to the young arms of the Royals’ staff.

Minnesota Twins

Finally, we have the Twins. Minnesota has a team moving up and down with every season. It won the AL Central in 2019 and 2020, only to finish last in the division in 2021. This team still has young talent. The problem last year was pitching was an utter disaster. The Twins allowed 834 runs, the worst in the Central and second only to the Orioles in the American League. Kenta Maeda underwent Tommy John surgery last season and will miss most if not all of 2022. To help the cause, the Twins acquired Sonny Gray via trade from the Reds and signed Chris Archer as a free agent. But pitching staffs cannot go forever on just two pitchers. The other young arms need to pick up slack if the Twins want to compete.

Minnesota has the lineup to be competitive. The Twins had loads of power up and down their lineup, and they got even more of it this offseason. Carlos Correa signed a three-year deal with the Twins this offseason, and the Twins also acquired Gio Urshella and Gary Sánchez in a trade with the Yankees that sent Josh Donaldson to New York. They will be joining an already great lineup featuring Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Miguel Sanó.

 

The Twins success this season rides on their pitching. If their pitchers perform, they should be a competitive bunch. If they do not perform, it will be another long year in Minnesota.

About Jack Shivertaker

Jack Shivertaker is a senior at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in Journalism with a focus on sports media.

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