With the 2018 MLB season less than a month away, it’s time to take a look and preview the season ahead. We’re going division by division to try and project every teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and questions heading into the season. Continuing on with the AL Central.
2017 Record: 102-60, Lost to Yankees in ALDS
Ranked by WAR/162 (31.7), the Indians had the best pitching staff of all time in 2017. Corey Kluber won his second Cy Young award by going over 200 innings, and Carlos Carrasco went the same distance as well. Trevor Bauer continues to improve, and Josh Tomlin has an impressive career walk rate, including being at just 0.9 last season. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will continue to be studs in the bullpen, and both are also in contract years. Zach McAllister should move in to the setup role, and he as averaged over an inning per appearance since moving to the bullpen.
Weakness: Off-season moves
More specifically, the losses suffered by the team. Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce are both gone, and create some holes in the lineup for one of the top offenses in 2017. Losing Bryan Shaw and Boone Logan hurts the depth of the bullpen, but the overall unit should still be fine. The only new additions to the 40-man roster are Rob Refsnyder and Yonder Alonso, which help, but do not completely offset the losses suffered by Cleveland. They will likely need to call up some prospects in case of injury.
Question: With all the deserved hype surrounding the Astros and Yankees, it almost feels like people are sleeping on Cleveland. Will they be able to retain the top position in the AL?
2018 Projected Record: 93-69
2017 Record: 85-77, Lost to Yankees in AL Wild Card
At the 2017 Trade Deadline, the Twins traded away All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler, and also traded for Jaime Garcia, then traded him away one week later. They only went on to sneak into the second Wild Card spot, and took a 3-0 lead against the Yankees. They didn’t win the game, but just making the playoffs was a huge step for this team, which had lost 100 games in 2016. Byron Buxton will look to improve his hitting (just a .237 average in two seasons), but he is fast, and is impressive with his glove. He could be one of the top players in baseball this season.
Weakness: Rotation depth
Yes, they signed Lance Lynn and swung a trade for Jake Odorizzi, but Ervin Santana is injured, and Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda are both rehabbing injuries. Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia both had an ERA of over 4.50 in 2017, and Anibal Sanchez hasn’t looked too great recently either. If the Twins suffer another injury, or have any more struggles in their rotation, it could spell trouble for the team.
Question: The Twins won’t sneak up on anyone this season. Will the pitching hold up well enough for a return trip to the playoffs?
2018 Projected Record: 82-80
Kansas City Royals
2017 Record: 80-82, Did not make playoffs
Danny Duffy and Jason Hammel are back for now, but both could also be gone by mid-season. They will need Ian Kennedy to bounce back from his 5-13 record in 2017, which shouldn’t be too much to ask. Jakob Junis had a solid record in his rookie season, but his ERA could be better (9-3, 4.30 ERA), and we’ll see how hitters adjust to him in his second season. Nate Karns should be back from his season-ending surgery as well. Kaufmann Stadium might not see too many runs scored in it in 2018.
Weakness: Long-term prospects
Not only did the Royals lose most of their championship core, but their farm system is ranked 29th. None of the prospects currently in their system are in the top 100 either. That could change if the Royals decide to make some deals during the 2018 season, but for now, it’s a problem for a team that suffered some major losses. The current lineup probably won’t be good enough to contend right now, so Kansas City might struggle for a few seasons.
Question: Just how long will it take for the Royals to make it back to the playoffs?
2018 Projected Record: 71-91
2017 Record: 64-98, Did not make playoffs
Strength: Trade chips
The Tigers were another team that had a fire sale last season, and they still have a few pieces to work with in 2018. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are likely unmovable, but with the right offer, it could happen. However, Jordan Zimmermann is a different story. The 2016 Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer should be available once he recovers from surgery. The Tigers also have four pitchers in the top 100 list on mlb.com, and their overall farm system isn’t too shabby either. Expect the Tigers to make a few moves in 2018.
The signings of Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers do little to solve Detroit’s pitching issues. Fulmer was awful after the All-Star break, posting a 5.33 ERA in the second half. Fiers is coming off an 8-10 season where his ERA was 5.22, and he didn’t even make the Astros postseason roster. Jordan Zimmermann is owed $75 million over the next three seasons, but his time in Detroit has been underwhelming, with an ERA of 5.60 and a record of 17-20. They have some solid young pitchers in their system, so this problem could be fixed during the season.
Question: Who will the Tigers take with the top overall pick in the draft? And will it affect any possible prospects they could add through trades?
2018 Projected Record: 70-92
Chicago White Sox
2017 Record: 67-96, Did not make playoffs
Chicago traded away several veterans in 2017, with Chris Sale and Todd Frazier among them. Their rewards in return are the fourth-ranked farm system, as well as Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, neither of whom are considered prospects anymore. A couple other prospects got some major league experience in 2017 and will look to contribute in 2018. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are still around for now, but if the White Sox get some decent enough offers, both could be gone before the deadline.
James Shields is no longer the force he was in San Diego, evidenced by his 5.32 ERA in just 117 innings in 2017. Carlos Rodon had surgery during the offseason, and will likely be out until June, but his numbers haven’t been amazing recently either. That leaves Giolito, and prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer likely rounding out the rotation. Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech (acquired along with Moncada in the Chris Sale trade) has hit 105 in AAA, and could also end up getting a call up. The biggest knock in this group is their inexperience, and players could end up exceeding expectations. Joakim Soria is the closer and probably the biggest piece in the bullpen, as none of the other names are particularly impressive.
Question: The Sox are still in rebuilding mode, but could the pitching do well enough to steal a few wins?
2018 Projected Record: 66-96
All Projected records according to Fangraphs.