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AL Central Preseason Outlook

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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Minnesota Twins

2010 record: 94-68
Finish: First place, lost to New York Yankees in ALDS
Manager: Ron Gardenhire, 10th year

Spring training site: Fort Myers, Fla.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 17
First full workout: Feb. 23

Key additions: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Key losses: Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch

Offseason grade: C+

Switch hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit.300 or higher three of the past four seasons in Japan's Pacific League. (Getty Images)  
Switch hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit.300 or higher three of the past four seasons in Japan's Pacific League. (Getty Images)  
The team kept its most important free agents -- Carl Pavano and Jim Thome -- but seems to be taking a huge gamble with its middle infield.

2011 outlook

Offense: Even in a ballpark that doesn't seem conducive to slugging, the Twins were able put up plenty of runs. With a lineup full of good hitters, that shouldn't change much in 2011. Nishioka will add speed, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays in the spacious Target Field.

Defense: This may be the great mystery, but it'll be tough to improve from Hudson and Hardy up the middle. The two were one of the better defensive middle-infield combos in baseball and the Twins will go with Nishioka and Alexi Casilla in some combination at second and shortstop.

Pitching: While the rotation is pretty much the same, the bullpen has undergone nearly a complete overhaul. Joe Nathan returns from Tommy John surgery and should compete with Matt Capps to close out games.

Intangibles: Injuries could play a huge role -- not only are there questions about Justin Morneau, who missed half of 2010 after suffering a concussion, but also Joe Mauer has had to deal with a laundry list of injuries for the last few years.

Key player: The Twins spent $14.3 million on the posting fee and three-year deal for Nishioka. He hit .346 in Japan's Pacific League last season, but it was by far his best campaign. His career average in Japan was under .300 (.293).

Top prospect: Right-hander Kyle Gibson, the team's first-round pick out of Missouri in 2009, pitched in three levels in his first season in pro baseball, going 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 starts. He could arrive in Minnesota the first time there's an opening in the rotation.

For the season to be successful: The Twins need to stay healthy. In an offseason that saw division rivals Chicago and Detroit add some pop, the margin of error is smaller for the Twins than it was a season ago.

Chicago White Sox

2010 record: 88-74
Finish: Second place
Manager: Ozzie Guillen, eighth year

Spring training site: Phoenix
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 17
First full workout: Feb. 22

Key additions: Adam Dunn, Jesse Crain
Key losses: Bobby Jenks

Adam Dunn and his bat should do well at the Cell. (US Presswire)  
Adam Dunn and his bat should do well at the Cell. (US Presswire)  
Offseason grade: B-

Dunn was the big-ticket item, but the team also retained catcher A.J. Pierzynski and first baseman Paul Konerko, while losing only a time bomb in Jenks -- it's addition by addition, retention and subtraction.

2011 outlook

Offense: Not many pitchers are going to feel good about facing Konerko and Dunn. There are enough question marks in the rest of the lineup to give opponents a breather, but there's the possibility of a lot of damage.

Defense: They weren't a great defensive team last year and when you're biggest addition is a DH, you're not getting much better there.

Pitching: The rotation disappointed last season, but there's still plenty of potential for a dominating staff with Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Edwin Jackson. If Jake Peavy returns to form, the team could be scary -- especially in a short series.

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Intangibles: GM Kenny Williams and crew sometimes pull some head-scratchers, but it's never for a lack of wanting immediate results and an attempt to win. There's always a sense that this team is going for it now, and that message was sent this offseason.

Key player: While U.S. Cellular Field doesn't have the reputation to common fans as a homer haven, the numbers show otherwise. According to Bill James, it's been the best stadium for home runs the last three seasons. You put the most consistent slugger in the game in the most consistent home run park, and well, Dunn should have a monster season.

Top prospect: Chris Sale, Brent Morel and Dayan Viciedo have all spent time in the big leagues, so a name you may not have heard of is outfielder Jared Mitchell, the clubs 2009 first-round pick. Mitchell missed all of 2010 after he tore a tendon in his left ankle in a collision with a wall during spring training. Mitchell, who won national titles in football and baseball at LSU, played in the Arizona Fall League, but still isn't back to 100 percent. He has the speed of an SEC defensive back (which he was) and a good approach at the plate, but is still raw.

For the season to be successful: The Sox have an impressive enough rotation that if everyone just has an average-type season, they can be very, very good. With Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jackson, Chicago could have a formidable rotation. The group underperformed last season, but there's certainly enough talent to not only make the postseason, but also make a deep run.

Detroit Tigers

2010 record: 81-81
Finish: Third place Manager: Jim Leyland, sixth year

Spring training site: Lakeland, Fla.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit, Brad Penny
Key losses: Jeremy Bonderman, Johnny Damon, Armando Galarraga

Offseason grade: B

Victor Martinez won't catch as much, but his bat should boost the Tigers offense. (US Presswire)  
Victor Martinez won't catch as much, but his bat should boost the Tigers offense. (US Presswire)  
The team is certainly better than it was a year ago, if only because there is more talent and not a lot taken away from a team that finished .500. Martinez and Benoit were the big additions to a pretty good team, and they should make the club even better. Last season the Tigers had some trouble getting to closer Jose Valverde, and they went out and addressed that need with Benoit.

2011 outlook

Offense: The Tigers were an above-average team last season offensively and add Martinez, plus hopefully have a healthy Magglio Ordonez. Brandon Inge is back from a broken hand and Jhonny Peralta will be there all season.

Defense: Peralta isn't the best defensive shortstop out there, but he's not the worst, either. Austin Jackson in center was one of the game's best defensive players last season -- and he was only a rookie.

Pitching: It will be interesting to see how Phil Coke moves from the bullpen to the rotation. Last season he pitched well in relief, going 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA in 74 appearances. He did make one start, getting roughed up by the Orioles on the last day of the season, yielding two runs and five hits in 1 2/3 innings.

Intangibles: There's talk that this could be the end of the line for Leyland if the Tigers don't end up in the playoffs. And at 66, it could be his last season regardless. Rarely in baseball do teams win one for the Gipper, but it'll be interesting to see.

Key player: Jackson finished second in Rookie of the Year voting after putting up a .293/.345/.400 line with 27 stolen bases. He was also marvelous in the field. A sophomore slump could give pause to a good Tigers offense.

Top prospect: The Tigers don't have many impact prospects arriving to Comerica this season, but 19-year old Jacob Turner is moving quickly toward the big leagues. He finished 2010 at Class A Lakeland and is expected to start there again, but could be in Double-A very quickly. The No. 9 overall pick in 2009, he impressed in his first season, going 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 13 starts at Lakeland.

For the season to be successful: The team has to stay healthy. The Tigers and White Sox spent the offseason gunning for the Twins, who mostly stood pat and anything less than a playoff berth will be seen as a failure, especially with two of their biggest contracts, Carlos Guillen and Ordonez, coming off the books following the season.

Cleveland Indians

2010 record: 69-93
Finish: Fourth place
Manager: Manny Acta, second year

Spring training site: Goodyear, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 17
First full workout: Feb. 20

Key additions: Austin Kearns
Key losses: Andy Marte

Offseason grade: D

The fact the Indians did little more than bring back Kearns -- whom they traded to the Yankees last season -- says more about the direction the team is taking than anything. Cleveland was one of baseball's youngest teams a year ago and will be again this season. Most of the improvement in 2011 will be through seasoning -- and the possibility of a healthy Grady Sizemore.

2011 outlook

The Indians need a healthy Grady Sizemore, who appeared in just 33 games last year. (Getty Images)  
The Indians need a healthy Grady Sizemore, who appeared in just 33 games last year. (Getty Images)  
Offense: Not many pitchers would be keen on facing Shin-Soo Choo, a healthy Sizemore and Carlos Santana. But after that, well, the pickings are slim. Only two teams scored fewer runs than the Indians last season and there's little reason to see that improving.

Defense: Sizemore should help a bad defense from a year ago, but again, that's a lot of eggs in the Grady basket.

Pitching: A lot of teams were hoping the Indians would trade Fausto Carmona this winter, but Cleveland has club options on his contract the next three seasons. That's the good news. The bad news is the rest of the rotation will be a battle between Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez. Exactly.

Intangibles: The team has a cardboard cutout of team owner and former Las Vegas showgirl Rachel Phelps in its clubhouse, and for every win, manager Lou Brown takes off a patch of clothing. Oh, wait, that's a movie. The team should be better than it was a year ago and it'll certainly be better than the Royals, so there's that.

Key player: Sizemore was once the best young player in the game, but injuries have severely limited him. Now, the team must make a decision going forward on the center fielder, who will be 29 at the end of next season. The team holds an $8.5 million option on him for 2012. How he does this year will be critical for his future in Cleveland.

Top prospect: Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was the team's first-round in 2008 and hit .278/.351/.450 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI for Double-A Akron last season. The left-handed hitter should make his big-league debut this season, especially since Jayson Nix appears to be the starter at third to start the year.

For the season to be successful: The Indians have rebuilt their farm system into a respectable state, something that couldn't be said that long ago. However, Cleveland fans will want to see a glimpse of the future sometime during the season to show some results of the promises that have been made by the front office.

Kansas City Royals

2010 record: 67-95
Finish: Fifth place Manager: Ned Yost, second year

Spring training site: Surprise, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 15
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeff Franoeur, Melky Cabrera, Vin Mazzaro
Key losses: Zack Greinke, David DeJesus

Offseason grade: C

Luke Hochevar, 6-6 last year, is likely to be K.C.'s ace with Zack Greinke gone. (US Presswire)  
Luke Hochevar, 6-6 last year, is likely to be K.C.'s ace with Zack Greinke gone. (US Presswire)  
It's tough to grade in a vacuum. So often an offseason grade is based on impact for that next season, and that's clearly not the road the Royals took, looking more long term. While it's debatable if the team received as much in return for Greinke as most expected, but the team did get useful parts for a disgruntled player.

2011 outlook

Offense: If anyone can get on base, Billy Butler can drive them in. However, that first part is the big question. Butler is really the only proven offensive player on the team.

Defense: Escobar at shortstop instead of Yuniesky Betancourt makes the team much better defensively, regardless of who else is on the field. If Cain can crack the lineup in center, the team will be pretty good up the middle.

Pitching: Closer Joakim Soria is one of the best in baseball at his position -- it's just getting to him that's a question. Luke Hochevar appears to be the opening day starter at this point and he's a career 19-32 with a 5.60 ERA, coming off a career-best 6-6 record. The team hopes Mazzaro, acquired from Oakland for DeJesus, can eat up some innings and maybe be the key.

Intangibles: Nobody expects this team to win. It's a placeholder team as the Royals' rebuilding processes continues in the minor leagues. It will be interesting to see if any of the veterans -- Francoeur, Cabrera, Bruce Chen -- can produce enough to bring back more talent at the trade deadline.

Key player: Escobar was supposed to be the next great shortstop in the majors, but disappointed last season as a rookie in Milwaukee.

Top prospect: There are several names that could go here, but we'll go with third baseman Mike Moustakas, who is the most likely to hit Kansas City this season. Moustakas hit 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

For the season to be successful: Kauffman Stadium needs to stay intact. The team isn't constructed to be successful, it's constructed to make sure there's still a team in 2012 when the game's best farm system should start bearing fruit.

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