2022 Division Preview: AL Central

Looking at the 2022 AL Central rosters and storylines.

The AL Central has a lot to prove that it’s not just the flyover division in 2022. Hindsight: In 2020, the AL Central produced the AL Cy Young in Shane Bieber and the AL MVP in Jose Abreu. In 2021, well, Yermin Mercedes hit a home run off of Twins’ backup catcher-slash-relief pitcher Willians Astudillo and the division fell into disarray. Shane Bieber pitched less than half the year. Tony LaRussa’s White Sox spent the better part of the year yelling at each other. The Twins traded off Nelson Cruz, symbolizing the end of the beloved Bomba Squad. Royals fans loved watching Salvador Perez knock 48 dingers out of the park but hated watching their team finish 20 games out of the running due to a massively injured pitching staff. And would you believe it—the Detroit Tigers actually finished third in the division, propelled in part by the feel-good story of the year Akil Badoo’s successful jump from A-ball to the majors.

Let’s check in with the changes for each team, and let me know down in the comments who you’re rooting for this year!

 

Minnesota Twins

2021 Record: 73-89

Notable Roster Changes:

 

Additions: Carlos Correa, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, Sonny Gray, Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer

Subtractions: Nelson Cruz, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, Josh Donaldson, Mitch Garver

 

Order Player Position Bats
1 Byron Buxton CF R
2 Jorge Polanco 2B S
3 Carlos Correa SS R
4 Luis Arraez DH L
5 Miguel Sanó 1B R
6 Max Kepler RF L
7 Gary Sánchez C R
8 Alex Kirilloff LF L
9 Gio Urshela 3B R

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Ryan Jeffers C R
José Godoy C L
Nick Gordon UTIL L
Brent Rooker OF/1B R

 

The Bomba Squad made some of the biggest waves during the 2022 hot stove, mostly due to most analysts expecting the Twins to do so much less than what they did. While superstars like Max Scherzer were signing mega contracts before the lockout, the Twins went out and acquired Dylan Bundy… and Tim Beckham, a former first overall pick who they sent to the minor leagues. Then when the lockout finished, the Twins sent Josh Donaldson (who still had nearly $40 million remaining on his contract) and beloved catcher Mitch Garver packing in a series of trades that netted the puzzling return of Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez. The Twins—a notoriously splashy free-agent averse team—then went out and acquired Carlos Correa for an average of $35 million per year. What’s weirder, is that Correa’s three-year contract contains only one guaranteed year; the other two years are opt-outs, indicating that Correa could leave as soon as 2023 if he likes. Certainly, it seems like a contract designed for Correa to play at least a few months with the Twins before he enters a potential trade market; if he doesn’t like where he ends up, he’s free to opt out of the contract and then negotiate a new one. Tricky, tricky.

The above lineup projection seen at Roster Resource has a solid 5% chance of being legit, with cleanup hitter Luis Arraez making as much sense as James Loney’s 3,000 career at-bats of .400 SLG in the fourth and fifth batting spots. Bet you forgot about Loney, didn’t you! Well, you probably won’t need to think about Arraez for long, because it seems likely that Jose Miranda will make a spring debut and take over DH or supplant Miguel Sanó at first base. Earlier this year I discussed that it would take a number of contingencies for Miranda to appear on the Twins, namely the disappearance of Josh Donaldson. A flurry of trades later, and we’re in the land of contingency! If the Twins can keep Byron Buxton healthy for the first time in his career, a front-four of Buxton/Polanco/Correa/Miranda could be meaningful—maybe meaningful enough to keep Correa in the Bold North longer than we expect.

Projected Starting Pitchers

 

Order Player Throws
1 Joe Ryan R
2 Sonny Gray R
3 Dylan Bundy R
4 Bailey Ober R
5 Chris Archer R

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Taylor Rogers L
SU Tyler Duffey R
RP Jorge Alcala R
RP Caleb Thielbar L
RP Joe Smith R
RP Cody Stashak R
RP Jhoan Duran R
RP Jovani Moran L

 

Sigh. OK, Joe Ryan is exciting to watch, sure, but he’s a 7th round pick who has 25 innings of Major League experience to his name, and he’s the opening day starter. Welcome to the next twenty weeks of headlines: Twins starters are explosive (insert “good” or “bad” as needed). Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer look to make comeback bids in one-year deals, while Sonny Gray—who is a fairly consistent pitcher when he’s healthy but also fairly consistently injured—anchors the rotation with veteran presence. The bullpen is basically a faceless group of replacement-level players, with Taylor Rogers being the only pitcher of the group projected to have a sub-4.00 ERA.

Storylines to Watch: The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. There are readers out there who were born in 2004, graduated high school, and are now in college, smoking legally, voting legally, and [checks notes] investing in crypto who have never seen the Twins win a playoff game. The storyline for the Twins is whether they finally break that drought, full stop.

Impact Prospects: For a team that was formerly known as a haven for prospects, the Twins are a remarkably barren organization in terms of 2022 prospects. Jose Miranda looks to break into the MLB in 2022, although his 2021 mashing of AAA-ball was also unprecedented in his career. Joe Ryan—opening day starter—is technically a prospect due to his 25 MLB innings pitched, although he’s being thrust into a much more significant role than a typical Twins prospect. Former first overall pick Royce Lewis may also make his MLB debut sometime in 2022, although he last played organized ball in 2019.

 

Cleveland Guardians

2021 Record: 80-82

Notable Roster Changes:

 

Additions: None

Subtractions: Cesar Hernandez, Roberto Pérez, Nick Wittgren

 

Order Player Position Bats
1 Myles Straw CF R
2 Amed Rosario SS R
3 José Ramirez 3B S
4 Franmil Reyes DH R
5 Josh Naylor RF L
6 Bobby Bradley 1B L
7 Andrés Giménez 2B L
8 Austin Hedges C R
9 Steven Kwan LF L

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Bryan Lavastida C R
Yu Chang INF R
Owen Miller INF/OF R
Oscar Mercado OF R

 

Hard to believe the Guardians were basically a tanking team last year despite finishing with nearly a .500 record. That’s how hard it is to tank in the AL Central! For the new-look Guardians, José Ramirez and Franmil Reyes form the engine of run production for a group of greenhorn players looking to rebuild their careers. Amed Rosario and Andrés Gimenez were interesting young players acquired from the Mets in return for Francisco Lindor, but the logic of the trade still stands: Neither Rosario or Gimenez was trusted enough to start in the Big Apple. Meanwhile, Myles Straw gets a shot to start in center field after a mid-season 2021 trade from Houston—another player that didn’t quite fit in the metropolis. Oscar Mercado—now showing his age at 27—still hasn’t managed to reclaim a starting spot on the roster after a 2019 showing where he knocked out 15 homers and stole 15 bases in 115 games.

Projected Starting Pitchers

 

Order Player Throws
1 Shane Bieber R
2 Cal Quantrill R
3 Zach Plesac R
4 Aaron Civale R
5 Triston McKenzie R

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Emmanuel Clase R
RP Bryan Shaw R
RP Anthony Gose L
RP Nick Sandlin R
RP Sam Hentges L
RP Trevor Stephan R
RP Logan Allen L
RP Eli Morgan R

 

Hard to believe we’re a year removed from Zach Plesac injuring himself while taking off his shirt, right? Maybe he’ll make another Instagram video from his car for us.  The Guardians rotation returns entirely intact, and maybe a touch healthier. Last year, former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber made it through about half the year before the Guardians unceremoniously shut him down. Bieber reported he was ready to return to the rotation and get some major innings at the end of the year, but with Bieber—believe it or not!—only 3 years into his service time clock (a full year less than fellow 26-year-old teammate Amed Rosario), the Guardians seemingly wanted to limit his advance towards free agency and a better arbitration number. The bullpen is now anchored by Emmanuel Clase, who cobbled together 24 saves last year on a team where no starter topped 150 innings (OK, Cal Quantrill reached 149.2, sue me). With a healthier rotation and more determined roles in the bullpen, the Guardians look to make good on their promise to have one of the best “homegrown” rotations in Major League Baseball.

Storylines to Watch: The Guardians start anew. Long live the Guardians! The team is still struggling to find an identity after the departure of Francisco Lindor. The team made basically no significant moves in free agency in 2022, but some would contend the big moves of the previous years set the tone for a calm 2022 under the new collective bargaining agreement. If healthy, Shane Bieber and José Ramirez could propel the team to an AL Central title, but it’s worth noting that Ramirez is playing in the last guaranteed year of his contract. There’s a scenario where the Guardians make zero traction through the first part of the year, and start afresh mid-season with yet another trade of a notable star.

Impact Prospects: A couple of rookies and greenhorns look to claim starting spots this year, starting with Steven Kwan. Kwan batted nearly .320 across the minors last year while hitting 12 homers and slugging above .500. He looks to open the year as the Guardians’ left fielder. Bobby Bradley got a cup of coffee last year—or maybe a venti?—and will take over the starting duties at first base. Bradley’s .208 batting average in 2021 across 279 at-bats was less than inspiring for a 25-year-old, but he should have plenty of time in 2022 to improve his contact rates.

 

Chicago White Sox

2021 Record: 93-69

Notable Roster Changes:

 

Additions: AJ Pollock, Josh Harrison, Kendall Graveman, Vince Velasquez

Subtractions: Craig Kimbrel, Adam Eaton, Nick Madrigal, Carlos Rodon

 

Order Player Position Bats
1 Tim Anderson SS R
2 Luis Robert CF R
3 José Abreu 1B R
4 Yoán Moncada 3B S
5 Eloy Jiménez LF R
6 Yasmani Grandal C S
7 AJ Pollock RF R
8 Gavin Sheets DH L
9 Josh Harrison 2B R

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Seby Zavala C R
Andrew Vaughn 1B/OF R
Leury García INF/OF S
Adam Engel OF R

 

Ladies and gentlefolx, the White Sox! Despite intense inter-team turmoil in 2021, the Sox claimed the AL Central. Much of the ballyhoo in 2021 centered on Tony LaRussa, who came out of retirement of an already Hall of Fame managing career to take over a team that was already successful. LaRussa began 2021 unceremoniously, admitting publicly that he didn’t know the rules of extra innings, and getting into a famous semi-confrontation after benching young prospect Yermin Mercedes when Mercedes deigned to swing against Twins’ catcher-slash-relief pitcher Willians Astudillo in a blowout. When the Twins retaliated by throwing at White Sox players the next game, LaRussa indicated that he sided with the Twins. Morale was so bad that at points social media half-joked that Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was the functional coach of the team. Yet, the drama leveled out. Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert returned from early-season injuries to help the playoff push. By the end of the season, it seemed the rocky start to 2021 had faded from memories entirely. The 2022 Sox look to build on the same core of players as 2021 and reclaim another AL Central title.

Projected Starting Pitchers

 

Order Player Throws
1 Lance Lynn R
2 Lucas Giolito R
3 Dylan Cease R
4 Dallas Keuchel L
5 Michael Kopech R

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Liam Hendriks R
RP Aaron Bummer L
RP Kendall Graveman R
RP José Ruiz R
RP Ryan Burr R
RP Bennett Sousa L
RP Vince Velasquez R

 

Carlos Rodon’s departure opens the way for Michael Kopech to take a starting spot. Kopech has less than 30 innings combined in his career as a starter, but he could make major waves after finishing the 2021 season as a reliever with a K/9 ratio over 13. Just before the start of the season, the Sox traded Craig Kimbrel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for AJ Pollock. This trade seems to be typically LaRussian—wait, that looks bad—how about LaRussa-esque? Kimbrel certainly was a useful piece for the Sox bullpen, but was somewhat redundant given the presence of Hendriks. More surprising than the fact that the Sox moved Kimbrel, was the fact that Kimbrel went for a veteran outfielder in AJ Pollock. Pollock now blocks prospect Andrew Vaughn—which is what LaRussa often did last year—while the Sox lost one of the best setup men / backup closers in MLB.

Storylines to Watch: Can Tony LaRussa avoid the drama of 2021? When 2021 started, it seemed like every week LaRussa was embarrassing not only himself, but his team and nearly the game of baseball. When was the last time you heard a manager approve of the other team headhunting? Or admitting in a post-game interview that their closer started extra innings standing on second base because they didn’t know the rules? 2022 will prove to be a year of LaRussa demonstrating longitudinal competence with the new form of the MLB game.

Impact Prospects: Andrew Vaughn is again the premier prospect, but the Sox just traded for AJ Pollock, which puts Vaughn back into bench duty or platooning at DH with Gavin Sheets. Sheets is himself a rookie and ingratiated himself to the team last year after slugging .506 with 11 homers in 179 at-bats. Familiar faces like Michael Kopech and Luis Robert are still just barely over two years of service time and can be considered prospects due to losing playing time as a result of various factors.

 

Kansas City Royals

2021 Record: 74-88

Notable Roster Changes:

 

Additions: Zack Greinke, Amir Garrett, Taylor Clarke

Subtractions: Jorge Soler, Mike Minor, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis

 

Order Player Position Bats
1 Whit Merrifield RF R
2 Bobby Witt Jr. 3B R
3 Salvador Perez C R
4 Andrew Benintendi LF R
5 Carlos Santana 1B S
6 Hunter Dozier DH R
7 Adalberto Mondesi SS S
8 Michael A. Taylor CF R
9 Nicky Lopez 2B L

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Cam Gallagher C R
Ryan O’Hearn 1B/OF L
Edward Olivares OF R

 

The gang’s all back! The Royals made a ton of moves in 2021, and like the Guardians, had a pretty quiet 2022 free-agency season. The Royals were offensively fine last year, with Salvador Perez tying for the league lead in home runs and Whit Merrifield stealing 40 bags with a staggering 720 plate appearances. The arrival of Bobby Witt—one of baseball’s top prospects—bodes well for a Royals offensive resurgence. Very likely we’ll see MJ Melendez sometime in 2022 as well. Melendez, a rookie catcher prospect, slugged 40 homers across the minors last year, and would need some DH time to open up at the Major League level in order to make a difference on the Royals team. With the likes of Cam Gallagher and Ryan O’Hearn to beat out, we could see Melendez get his cup of coffee very early if the Royals start out strong.

Projected Starting Pitchers

 

Order Player Throws
1 Zack Greinke R
2 Brad Keller R
3 Brady Singer R
4 Kris Bubic L
5 Carlos Hernández R

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Scott Barlow R
RP Josh Staumont R
RP Amir Garrett L
RP Domingo Tapia R
RP Jake Brentz L
RP Dylan Coleman R
RP Gabe Speier L
RP Colin Snider R
RP Taylor Clarke R

 

Greinke’s back! It’s a homecoming for the likely future hall of famer Zack Greinke, as he returns to the team that launched his career. Greinke’s definitely lost a step as he’s gotten older but has returned multiple years of status quo ball recently, and he’ll lead a rotation that’s sorely in need of stability. Last year’s Royals starting pitcher lineup looked good on paper, but the group was basically entirely injured, leading the way for the likes of Carlos Hernández and Kris Bubic to get a foothold in the rotation, which they hope to hold for 2022. The bullpen is fairly pedestrian and could cost the Royals multiple wins. If the Royals’ offense takes off as predicted, we could see a flurry of trade activity in the mid-season to shore up the late-game strategies.

Storylines to Watch: Salvador Perez—a catcher—played in basically every game last year on his way to 48 home runs. That is probably not happening again. So if Salvy isn’t the answer, who is? Will Bobby Witt Jr. take off, or will Adalberto Mondesi stay healthy? Will we see rookies like Witt, MJ Melendez, and Asa Lacy push the Royals into a playoff spot, or will we see a ton of trades at mid-season and let that trio become the stars of the 2025 Royals playoff push?

Impact Prospects: Bobby Witt and Asa Lacy are the famous faces, and Witt will likely start out the year with the big league club. MJ Melendez will likely join the group at some point in the year, but the Royals will have to be astute to ensure that they don’t start the service clock on too many of their prized prospects too early.

 

Detroit Tigers

2021 Record: 77-85

Notable Roster Changes:

 

Additions: Javier Báez, Eduardo Rodríguez, Andrew Chafin

Subtractions: Matthew Boyd

Order Player Position Bats
1 Akil Baddoo LF L
2 Robbie Grossman RF S
3 Javier Báez SS R
4 Jeimer Candelario 3B S
5 Miguel Cabrera DH R
6 Jonathan Schoop 2B R
7 Riley Greene CF L
8 Spencer Torkelson 1B R
9 Tucker Barnhart C S

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Dustin Garneau C R
Eric Haase C/OF R
Harold Castro INF/OF L
Victor Reyes OF S

 

Tork is here! OK, he may not be there on Day 1, but one of MLB’s top prospects will definitely be on the field for a significant time in 2022. AJ Hinch—who banged his way to a World Series with one reclamation project in the Astros—looks to repeat his victory in a quieter way with the Tigers. Hinch knows that the path to the playoffs isn’t easy even in the AL Central, but he’s been taking steps to reclaim a lot of the Tigers’ mid-2000s glory. Remember when Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello (Cy Young award winner, btw) and Miguel Cabrera were all on the same team? Well, Miggy’s still there, surrounded by what appears to be the transition to the next dominant Tigers force. Javier Báez comes on board for 2022, and maybe Hinch can do something about the slugger swinging at pitches that land 10 feet in front of the plate. Let’s be honest: This isn’t the lineup that’s going to the playoffs. But, there’s gonna be a lot of faces here that you will see on posters for the next generation of Tigers fans. Do people still have posters?

Projected Starting Pitchers

 

Order Player Throws
1 Eduardo Rodríguez L
2 Casey Mize R
3 Tarik Skubal L
4 Matt Manning R
5 Tyler Alexander L

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Gregory Soto L
RP Michael Fulmer R
RP Andrew Chafin L
RP José Cisnero R
RP Alex Lange R
RP Joe Jiménez R
RP Jason Foley R
RP Rony García R

 

In a typical Hinch-esque—or is it Hinch-ian? Hench-man? In a smart move, the Tigers brought in Eduardo Rodríguez, who had some success in Boston but was hit hard by Covid and missed nearly a year of play. Just 29 years old, Rodriguez takes a shot in a less-pressure situation that could bring out the best in him. Casey Mize and Matt Manning are still great prospects and will be able to expand upon their rookie debuts in 2021. Tarik Skubal was not a heralded prospect but burst on the scene in 2021 before his season was truncated due to injury. If the Tigers’ rotation can stay healthy, they have a legit chance at making a run for the AL Central or a wild card spot.

Storylines to Watch: A.J. Hinch remains the major story. After serving “punishment” for the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, Hinch starts his second year with a tough reclamation project. The current Tigers were arguably in a worse position than the Astros when Hinch took over, but we can already see signs of hope for a team that sat at the bottom of the AL Central for nearly a decade.

Impact Prospects: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning remain the core of intriguing pitching prospects. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene—consensus top 10 prospects—will make their debuts this year and it looks like they’ll have full reign of the lineup all year.

 

Projected Standings

 

Team Record
Chicago White Sox 86-76
Minnesota Twins 82-80
Cleveland Guardians 80-82
Detroit Tigers 76-86
Kansas City Royals 75-87

 

The White Sox are the odds-on favorite to win the division this year, and even the most casual observer can see that from a mile away. While the Twins’ splashy free-agent season looks good to casual fans, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team jettison a lot of those players, akin to the 2018 exodus that saw Lance Lynn, Ryan Pressly, Eduardo Escobar, and Brian Dozier go to other teams. The Guardians and Tigers are clearly in “win next year” mode, although they’re building plenty of playing experience among key players along the way. Surprisingly, the experts think the Royals are going to finish at the bottom of a weak AL Central, despite featuring one of the better upside-offenses.

 

Photos by IconSportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@justparadesigns on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

One response to “2022 Division Preview: AL Central”

  1. D B says:

    What’s new royals and experts fly over mid west.Jo Buck at least

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