Baseball is back! A frosty, tense, and acrimonious lockout thankfully ended last week, and Spring Training is well underway. Pre-season games start on March 17th, with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Subsequently, it is the perfect time to look forward, not back, and preview the new campaign — focusing on the AL Central.
The AL Central could get hectic this season. The Central has featured some miserable baseball over the last few years. However, Spring Training has provided fans with glimpses that the green shoots of recovery are springing. Last year, the Chicago White Sox ran away with the title, but they should see some fierce competition as their rivals look stronger.
2022 AL Central Preview
Chicago White Sox
2021 record: 93-69, AL Central winners
Our AL Central preview begins in Chicago. The Chicago White Sox enjoyed a superb 2021 season as they romped to the AL Central title. The veteran management of Tony La Russa, coupled with a top-ten pitching rotation and powerful hitting, propelled the ChiSox to the playoffs. Ultimately, the Sox’s season ended at the hands of the Houston Astros. Nonetheless, the South Siders start 2022 as the runaway favorites to repeat as AL Central winners.
Biggest off-season move: Leury Garcia
Keeping a franchise cornerstone on the roster is a good sign for the White Sox. White Sox stalwart Leury Garcia re-signed with the franchise in the off-season, as he inked a three-year deal worth $16.5 million. Garcia’s utility ability and pop off the bat are essential parts of the Sox’s everyday roster.
Player to watch: Gavin Sheets
One of the touted prospects from the White Sox pipeline, Gavin Sheets, broke through in 2021. The powerful, versatile player hopes to build off of an impressive rookie campaign. Sheets can play in the infield, outfield, and possibly as DH in inter-league games. Sheets is getting plenty of looks in Spring Training games, and he could start on the White Sox’s Opening Day roster.
Season projection: AL Central winners
The White Sox are too talented, too deep, and too experienced not to win the AL Central. Their pitching rotation and bullpen are the best in the division, and they can hit for power and placement. With La Russa’s veteran experience, this is a team ready for the 162-game marathon.
2021 record: 80-82
The Cleveland Guardians finished second in the AL Central last year. Overall, it was a solid, if unspectacular, season from a club long removed from the halcyon days of playing in the World Series. The Guardians are a milquetoast organization, and 2021 was the ultimate example.
Biggest off-season move: Not trading Shane Bieber
Shane Bieber is one of the top pitchers in the game. The former Cy Young Award recipient is still on the Guardians’ roster. Whether he ends the season as a Guardian is another matter. Bieber could be one of the big names on the trade block near the deadline. The experienced arm will continue to deal and give the Guardians a chance until then.
Player to watch: Gabriel Arias
Ranked as the third-best prospect in the Guardians’ pipeline, Gabriel Arias will make headlines in 2022. The infielder hit .571 during his Spring Training at-bats. The Guardians sent him to minor league camp on Monday. Nevertheless, Arias will get called up at some point. The talented hitter with solid fielding skills is another young prospect in the AL Central.
Season projection: Bringing up the rear
The Guardians are in complete tear-down mode. Add that with their AL Central rivals getting stronger, and it will be a long 162 games for the club.
2021 record: 77-85
The Detroit Tigers emerged from their hibernation in 2021, as AJ Hinch’s first season as manager went well. The Tigers finished third in the AL Central, as the first positive signs of their rebuild bore fruit. 2022 is an even bigger year for the Motor City Kitties. Exciting prospects, significant free-agent acquisitions, and an experienced manager could kick-start a new era of Tigers baseball.
Biggest off-season move: Signing Javy Baez
The Tigers needed a shortstop; GM Al Avila bagged a shortstop. The enigmatic Javy Baez inked a six-year deal worth $160 million. The former two-time All-Star has one Gold Glove and a World Series ring on his trophy mantle. Baez’s signing ushered a new stage in the Tigers’ long-term plan. Signing Baez suggests that the Tigers are now willing to splash the cash to improve the team and compete. All eyes in Detroit are on Baez this season.
Player to watch: Spencer Torkelson
Former first-overall pick Spencer Torkelson is the most exciting prospect in the AL Central. Torkelson enjoyed a glittering, record-breaking college career before the Tigers drafted him. Due to the Covid-hit Minor League program, Torkelson got on the fast track to the big leagues.
The powerful infielder is slotted to play first base, and his batting ability could quickly elevate him into a rookie phenom status. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera gave Torkelson the seal of approval during Spring Training. That sums up how the Tigers view Torkelson.
Season projection: Above .500
The Tigers now need to tack on a winning season to prove that Al Avila’s plan works. The Tigers have a glut of talented youngsters, a core of solid veterans, and some exciting new faces. It’s been a long time coming, but it finally looks like the Tigers are back on the prowl.
Kansas City Royals
2021 record: 74-88
Like the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals enjoyed a decent 2021 season. The Royals displayed a similar trajectory to their rebuilding bedfellows, as they hit the 70-win mark for the first time in several years. With a group of talented prospects in the pipeline and some experienced everyday players, the Royals could shake things up in the AL Central.
Biggest off-season move: Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke is home. The veteran former Cy Young Award winner is back where it all started. While Greinke isn’t the pitcher of ten years ago, his veteran moxie and know-how bagged him 11 wins last season. The Royals handed Greinke a one-year deal worth $13 million. He will take the mound on Opening Day, and the Royals will desperately want Greinke to maintain his skillful approach. Greinke had solid whiff percentages on off-speed pitches, which will be crucial to success in Kansas City.
Player to watch: Bobby Witt Jr
Bobby Witt Jr is the number one ranked prospect in baseball. The shortstop is the classic five-tool player, and he will surely break out in 2022. Witt’s outstanding athleticism and blazing bat speed are the headline-stealing traits. The AL Central may not have seen an exceptional talent emerge like this in several years.
Season projection: Above .500
The Royals’ ETA is eerily similar to the Tigers’. Therefore, the Royals must have a winning season. They possess a blend of exciting youngsters and veterans, and the Royals could enjoy a sneakily good season.
2021 record: 73-89
Our AL Central preview ends in Minnesota. The Minnesota Twins propped up the AL Central last year, and they’ve made aggressive moves to change course in 2022. The Twins’ new-look batting lineup should bring about some Purple Rain this season, and the fans are expecting a significant bounce-back.
Biggest off-season move: Signing Carlos Correa
The big blockbuster deal of the off-season was Carlos Correa signing with the Twins. The superstar shortstop signed a three-year deal worth $105.3 million. It was an eye-watering contract, but Correa’s CV deserved a big payday. Correa is a serial winner; a threat at the plate and in the field. He is arguably the best player in the AL Central.
Player to watch: Gary Sanchez
Gary Sanchez was part of the package sent to Minnesota when the New York Yankees traded for Josh Donaldson. Sanchez was a part of the Baby Bombers when the Yankees reached the ALCS in 2017. Sanchez smashed 33 home runs that season.
Sadly, it was the highlight year as sub-par batting performances, doubts about his defense, and criticism surrounding his physique overwhelmed Sanchez. A clean start in a friendlier market could help Sanchez kick-start his career. It’s a make-or-break year.
Season Projection: Playoff contenders
The Twins got better this off-season. A lot better. Their batting lineup now boasts plenty of power, they’ve got solid fielders, and their pitching rotation features some star names. “If” is a big word in sport, but they will be right in the mix if the Twins clubhouse gels.