2022 MLB Division Preview: American League Central
The American League Central Division should be really interesting this year. The Chicago White Sox certainly have the most talented roster among the five teams, but I wouldn’t gift wrap them the division title yet. There’s still a lot to look forward to for each team, from free agent signings to prospects making their debuts. A lot of teams that can surprise a lot of people as well. Below I ranked the five teams in the order I believe they’ll finish in during the 2022 season.
1st Place: Chicago White Sox (last year: Divison Winner)
The time is now or never for the 2021 Division Champs. After they won the division comfortably last season, they got utterly embarrassed by Houston in the playoffs. They currently have their best bullpen in recent memory after making two key additions.
The Team: Chicago added both RHP Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly during free agency, which will certainly bolster an already formidable bullpen that featured Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel. Last year, Chicago won 93 games without two key players for most of the season: Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez. The addition of those two will help an already strong offense that features José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, and others. Chicago didn’t lose too many impact players during the offseason either, but the loss of SP Carlos Rodon to the San Francisco Giants could affect their rotation. They also lost reliever Ryan Tepera, but the additions of Kelly and Graveman have the White Sox satisfied I’m sure.
Fangraphs has Chicago going 87-75 this season. I think this is a little low for them. Chicago has the luxury of playing two borderline rebuilding teams throughout the year and should be able to stockpile wins from them. While the Central is the easiest division in my opinion of the three (American League Wise), I still think the White Sox win at least 90. I’m going to put them just under last year’s win total of 93, and predict they go 91-71.
Second Place: Minnesota Twins
The Twins? The same Twins who finished in 5th place last year? You bet. The Twins have shocked everyone this offseason. First, they traded longtime catcher Mitch Garver for Rangers Isiah Kiner-Falefa. They turned heads, even more, when they flipped Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson in exchange for Yankees’ Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez. You can make what you want of that trade, but I think both Urshela and Sanchez will produce for them. More Gary Sanchez, who could benefit extremely from a change of scenery.
The Team: The aforementioned trades should benefit the Twins during the year. They surprised the baseball world one last time when they signed coveted Free Agent Shortstop Carlos Correa to a 3 year, $105 million dollar contract. Along with them, I think Minnesota has a very talented lineup. We’re just two years since Minnesota led the league in home runs, and the lineup features many returners. Assuming they stay healthy during the year, the lineup will probably go something around Buxton leading off, followed by Luis Arraez, Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, and probably Alex Kiriloff. I think that’s a whole lot better of a lineup than we’re giving Minnesota credit for. The big question will be if their bullpen can keep up. Its top pitchers include Taylor Rodgers, Tyler Duffy, and Jorge Alcala. Decent, but certainly not a threat. If Minnesota is in contention around the All-Star Break, look for them to bolster their bullpen.
Fangraphs has them at 81-81 this year. I think they’ll perform better than expected, and I predict they’ll go 85-77.
Third Place: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers took a large step forward last year as a team. After starting the year 9-24, they rallied to go 68-61 the rest of the way, finishing with a 77-85 record. They have a good manager in A.J. Hinch and quietly made some really good additions this offseason. I think they are going to turn a lot of heads this year.
The Team: Detroit signed Shortstop Javy Báez to a six-year, $140 million dollar deal on November 30th just before the lockout. Detroit also signed reliever Andrew Chafin on a two-year deal worth $13 million. They also brought in two quality starters in Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Pineda, while trading for catcher Tucker Barnhart. Detroit will also begin to see play from many of their touted prospects, including first basemen Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene. Detroit already started getting their pitching prospects action the last two years, with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning all seeing the field already. The lineup will also feature Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman in the outfield corners, with Jeimer Candelario returning at third base and Johnathan Schoop at second. Overall, Detroit certainly took some steps forward in the past two seasons. Their win total should increase this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn heads this year.
Fangraphs Projection: 75-87; I think Detroit goes over .500 this season and competes for a wild card spot late into the season, 86-76.
Fourth Place: Cleveland Guardians
Their first year into the name change, the Guardians should yet again be competitive within the division. The Guardians spent just under a million dollars this offseason, which was the second-lowest amount in baseball. They aren’t going to spend, but they still have a few players in their lineup that can win them some games. In addition, their rotation will once again be competitive; it will be their offense that holds them back yet again.
The Team: Their rotation will be headlined by Shane Bieber, who will be looking to bounce back after missing half the year last year due to a shoulder strain. Following Bieber will probably be Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie. Their lineup will feature Jose Ramirez, who has been carrying the offense for years. Along with Ramirez, the lineup will feature Myles Straw, Amed Rosario, Franmil Reyes, and Josh Naylor when he returns from injury. I don’t expect Cleveland to be anywhere near winning the division, but they’ll still be competitive. I don’t think they know where they stand as a team, because their rotation is certainly good. Their lineup doesn’t score runs, and the front office has been teasing trading Jose Ramirez for two offseasons now. Their outfield has been a question mark as well, but it looks like it will be Straw in centerfield, Oscar Mercado in left, and Bradley Zimmer in right until Naylor returns. Cleveland’s bullpen will feature the ever-dangerous Emannuel Clase, James Karinchak, and the outfield-turned reliever Anthony Gose.
Fangraphs has the Guardians going 77-85 this year, I think this is a fair representation, but I’ll have them losing two more games, going 75-87.
Fifth Place: Kansas City Royals
Kansas City will see the debut of many of their top prospects, but I still think they’re a year or two away from seriously competing in the division. They’ve been trying to build pitching, but it’s been taking longer than expected. They’re still waiting for Asa Lacy, who’s a rotation candidate for the 2023 season, and Johnathan Bowlan, who is recovering from Tommy John’s surgery. Still, Kansas City has a lot of up-and-coming talent that could break into the league this year.
The Team: Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. got attention last week for absolutely crushing a home run, and while his call-up time is unknown, he’s baseball’s top prospect. He may not start the season on the MLB roster, but I’d expect him at some point this season. Along with Witt, the Royals have Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez in their system as well, who could also see time during the year. While Kansas City currently has Hunter Dozier and Carlos Santana at first base, Pratto slashed .265/.385/.602 with 36 home runs in AAA last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas City has plans to have him playing first at some point this year as well. Along with these prospects, Kansas City has Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, Salvador Pérez, Kyle Isbel, and Michael A Taylor. It was tough to place Kansas City so low, but their rotation and pitching overall may hold them back. Zack Greinke returns to where his career started, followed by Brad Keller and Brady Singer.
Fangraphs has the Royals going 75-87, but I think they’ll finish 73-89.