Gird your loins – we’re going to be navigating positions battles in each division. Last week, I covered the NL East. Today I’m talking about the AL Central, which actually looks fairly interesting this year. At first glance, the Tigers should run away with the division. At a slightly closer glance, the Indians, Royals, and White Sox all appear to be trying to contend. Who knows? Maybe Verlander’s arm will fall off after pitching over 1,000 innings across the past four seasons, while Miggy and Fielder enter a 24/7 all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas and never return. Anyway, here’s some of the position battles to keep an eye on in the AL Central:
- Third Base: Jeff Keppinger vs. Brent Morel vs. Conor Gillaspie. It looks like Keppinger’s job to lose, although he’s had a sore shoulder this week, so this situation could change. If Keppinger is out for a long period of time, I expect Morel to get playing time since he’s started there for the Sox in the past. Gillaspie looks more like a bench player at this point. He was traded to the Sox after spending his time blocked by Pablo. On a related note, nearly every picture of Pablo features the entire Giants team behind him, although his formidable presence blocks them from our view. Anyway, Keppinger is worthwhile in AL-only leagues. Otherwise, he’s a solid player to spot start or to replace an injured player in deeper mixed leagues.
- Rotation: What a difference a year makes – I hardly recognize this team anymore. The Indians reworked their lineup after their trade and free agent signing binge in the offseason, but their rotation is less clear. Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Brett Myers (really?) are all locks for the rotation. The remaining spots will come down to Zach McAllister, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Scott Kazmir, among others. I’d rank them in that order in terms of their likelihood of beginning the year in the rotation. I’m guessing Francona feels more comfortable with McAllister and Matsuzaka because they have experience. McAllister and Matsuzaka are more AL-only starters in my mind, while Bauer has the potential to be worth owning in mixed leagues this season. I’m confident that Bauer will get the first call if there is an injury or persistent bad performance from any of their starters. Carrasco and Kazmir seem more like rotation depth at this point. In fantasy, I’d spot start them against the Marlins on Giancarlo’s day off.
- Closer: It must be nice when your closer is the biggest question about your team. All indications are that Bruce Rondon will be given the job to start the season, but I don’t have much faith in him keeping the job over the full season. Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke are likely to get the nod if Rondon falters (I think in that order, but it seems like it could go either way). I wouldn’t look at any of these guys as more than a last tier closer. Maybe there’s even the potential for the storied dark horse candidate to emerge…
- Rotation: The first four spots should go to James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and Wade Davis. The fifth spot appears to be a battle between Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, and Luis Mendoza. I’m guessing Sweet Chen Music gets the nod and he’s more of an AL-only starter.
- Second Baseman: Chris Getz vs. Johnny Giavotella. I’m guessing Chris getz (see what I did there?) the majority of at bats initially because he bats from the left side, which would be the right side of the platoon in this case. Long-term, I’d rather own Giavotella because his potential is much higher.
- Center Field: Darin Mastroianni vs. Aaron Hicks vs. Joe Benson. It appears to be Mastroianni’s job to lose and he should be a cheap source of runs and steals. Hicks has long-term upside, but I don’t think he’ll make the jump from AA to begin the season.
- Rotation: From my understanding, the Twins rotation should begin the year with Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Liam Hendriks, and Brian Duensing. It’s possible that Pelfrey may not be ready since he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. Additionally, Anthony Swarzak and Scott Diamond are both coming back from their own injuries. This rotation may change a lot in the first couple months of the season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them give Kyle Gibson a shot if a spot opens up.