Chicago White Sox's Andrew Vaughn (25) celebrates his home run against the Chicago Cubs with White Sox's Gavin Sheets (32) during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

AL Central Preview

The 2023 MLB season opens on Thursday, and despite not being the most loaded division, the AL Central boasts two teams looking to contend for a World Series title and three more looking for redemption after poor results last season.

Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox enter 2023 looking for revenge after losing the AL Central title to Cleveland last season. However, they will have to do it without one of their top bats from last season.

First baseman Jose Abreu signed with the Houston Astros after spending the last nine years with the White Sox. Although he struggled with power as he only hit 15 home runs, Abreu led Chicago with a .304 batting average and was second on the team with 74 RBIs.

Stepping into Abreu’s spot will be Andrew Vaughn, who led the White Sox with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs while playing in the outfield. A natural first baseman, Vaughn’s move opened up a spot in the outfield. To fill the hole, the White Sox signed free agent Andrew Benintendi to a five-year deal worth $75 million. Benintendi hit .303 with five home runs last season with the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

Chicago opens the season with a four-game road series against the Houston Astros starting on Thursday. Game one begins at 7 p.m.

Cleveland Guardians

The winners of the AL Central in 2022, the Guardians reload and look to repeat. Cleveland returns a hot bat and added two more key players through free agency.

After having thumb surgery in the offseason, third baseman José Ramírez returns to the lineup and is expected to lead the way for the Guardians. Ramírez led the Guardians with 29 home runs last season and was third in the league with 126 RBIs.

The Guardians also reloaded their lineup with the addition of the National League’s 2022 Silver Slugger DH winner Josh Bell, who they signed to a two-year, $33 million contract. Cleveland also made a move at catcher by signing former Florida Gator Mike Zunino to a one-year, $6 million deal.

The Guardians kick off their 2023 campaign on the road for a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners. First pitch of game one is on Thursday at 10:10 p.m.

Detroit Tigers

After a disappointing 2022 campaign, the Detroit Tigers enter 2023 with hopes to end their eight-year postseason drought, which is tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the longest active drought.

The Tigers made no splashy signings in free agency but made a few trades and have made focusing on their current players a priority with a slew of coaching hires. Detroit brought in Keith Beauregard and Michael Brdar as hitting coaches, Tim Federowicz as the catching coach, Robin Lund as the assistant pitching coach and James Rowson as an assistant hitting coach.

Additionally, they return Javier Baez and Jonathan Schoop to play the left side of the infield. Baez led the Tigers in 2022 with 17 home runs and added a .238 batting average. Both will need big years for the Tigers to end their postseason drought.

On the mound, Eduardo Rodriguez returns after missing three months for personal reasons. In 17 starts last season, he recorded a 5-5 record with a 4.05 ERA and 72 strikeouts. Rodriguez will start on Thursday to open the season.

Detroit begins the season in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Thursday’s season opener begins at 3:10 p.m. with radio coverage beginning on WRUF at 2:30 p.m.

Kansas City Royals

There’s a new skipper in town, and he’s looking to bring immediate success. First-year manager Matt Quartraro joined Kansas City after spending five seasons as Tampa Bay’s bench coach. Not only will he be tasked with developing a young core of talented hitters, but he’ll also look to revamp a pitching core that struggled in 2022 as the Royals finished last in the AL Central in 2022.

Leading the way is shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., who returns for his second season in the major leagues and looks to build off of a tremendous introduction in 2022. Witt Jr. hit 20 home runs while bringing in 80 runs in his rookie campaign. His RBI total led the team while his home run total was second.

However, Kansas City needs to improve from a struggling 2022 season on the mound. The team’s 3.74 walk-per-nine innings ratio was second-worst in the MLB, while their 7.57 strikeout-per-nine innings were third-worst, per MLB.com’s Anne Rogers.

They’ll rely on former UF pitcher Brady Singer to lead the way. The fourth-year starter had a career-year last season with a 3.23 ERA, which was an improvement from a 4.91 total in 2021. He added a career-high 150 strikeouts and 4.3 K/BB ratio. They’ll also rely on veteran Zack Greinke, who signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal to stay with the team. He’ll get the start on Thursday.

Minnesota Twins

It was an offseason of heart attacks for the Twins after nearly losing Carlos Correa to free agency twice due. After initially agreeing to a 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, issues with his physical canceled the deal, and the New York Mets became the front-runner. Correa reportedly agreed to a 12-year, $315 million with the Mets, but once again, issues with a physical ended those chances. And so, he’s back in Minnesota on a six-year, $200 million deal.

Combined with Correa’s big bat is centerfielder Byron Buxton, who hit a team-high 28 home runs despite only playing in 92 games. Buxton will focus on being the designated hitter in the lineup as the team focuses on keeping him healthy, per MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park.

About Cam Parker

Cam is a fourth-year broadcast journalism sports and media major at the University of Florida. In addition to writing and recording radio trendings for WRUF, Cam covers North Florida HS football for The Prep Zone and Mainstreet Daily News and UF football and basketball for Inside the Gators.

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