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Strengths and Weaknesses: What to expect from each American League Central team this season

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Photo credit:© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
16 days ago
For several years, the American League (AL) Central has presented the most interesting opportunity for teams as the division has experienced more malaise than others. This unique trait of the division opens up chances for teams to be creative and make a run for division leaders because many of the teams have remained volatile even toward the end of the regular season. Despite the ongoing narrative about the AL Central’s mediocrity, the 2024 season can be the turning point with more teams trying to be competitive after seeing the flash of potential from their younger players. 
So, here are some major strengths and weaknesses of each AL Central team. Again, please note that all teams are in alphabetical order: 

Chicago White Sox (PECOTA Projection: 66.7 – 95.3)

Strength: Investment in the farm system
The Chicago White Sox have finally committed to invest in their farm system after recording uninspiring seasons in 2022 and 2023. While the team has only gotten started on trading their viable players to receive stronger prospects, it has already made a significant stride by trading starting pitcher Dylan Cease to the San Diego Padres for pitchers Drew Thorpe, Jairo Iriarte, Steven Wilson and outfielder Samuel Zavala. The White Sox also traded relief pitcher Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Mike Soroka, Jared Shuster and Riley Gowens, along with infielders Nicky Lopez and Braden Shewmaker. If Chicago can get more prospects and are able to successfully develop them in the next few years, the team could return to being competitive sooner than expected. 
Weakness: Reluctant ownership
The biggest obstacle Chicago faces is its ownership. Jerry Reinsdorf had refused to make the necessary changes in the front office until it was too late. And when he attempted to implement any changes, the solution always came internally rather than starting anew with new hires. On top of this internal turmoil, there were also rumours about the White Sox moving to a new city entirely, which didn’t help to boost morale. In short, Chicago’s worst enemy is the ownership itself and its commitment to the team.

Cleveland Guardians (PECOTA Projection: 82.6 – 79.4)

Strength: Younger core 
The Cleveland Guardians have proven in the past that the team’s younger core is capable of achieving more. In 2022, the team made it to the American League Division Series after clinching the division lead with a 92-70 record and the team was considered to have one of the youngest rosters that season. While this younger team has not been as successful in the 2023 season, there are plenty of talented players who can make strides for Cleveland. Josh Naylor, Bo Naylor, Oscar Gonzalez, Andre Gimenez, Steven Kwan and Gabriel Arias all left an impression on the position player side. The Guardians also boast robust pitching development and they have produced talents like Tanner Bibee, Triston McKenzie, Shane Bieber, Gavin Williams, Logan Allen and Emmanuel Clase. If Cleveland’s young players can all produce to their potential, they could be a dangerous team in AL Central once again. 
Weakness: Overall lack of power
As much as Cleveland’s player development has been strong, the team has never been able to develop consistent power bats that could fill the middle of the order. While players like Josh Naylor and José Ramírez can fill this role in the roster, these two players can’t carry on the heavy responsibility for the overall offence on their own. The Guardians have been a pesky offence that doesn’t strike out much but they don’t hit many home runs either, which can prevent the team from scoring more runs. For now, it’s a wait-and-see situation for Cleveland in terms of getting or developing their power bats. But it will be harder for the Guardians to make a meaningful and deep playoff run if they are unable to find consistent power bats in their lineup. 


Detroit Tigers (PECOTA Projection: 75.3 – 86.7)

Strength: Rising young stars mixed with a veteran presence
The Detroit Tigers were in the basement of the AL Central for a while until they started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with younger pitchers and position players making strides. Outfielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson produced like the stars everyone projected them to be and young pitchers Tarik Skubal and Reese Olson impressed baseball insiders as they made consistently solid outings. Given the general malaise around the division, Detroit invested in strengthening their rosters by bringing in veterans like outfielder Mark Canha and starting pitchers Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty. This roster construction should help the Tigers to propel themselves in standings in the 2024 season, barring any major injuries or bad luck.
Weakness: Relief pitching depth
While Detroit has a more robust roster heading into the 2024 season, the relief pitching depth is a bit weaker compared to other parts of the roster or compared to other teams’ relief pitching systems. While pitchers like Alex Lange and Andrew Chafin have developed into more reliable relievers, there are no lights-out relievers the Tigers can consistently rely on in high-leverage situations. Whether the relief pitching will cost the Tigers the games or not remains to be seen but it will definitely need an overhaul by the trade deadline if Detroit wants to make a serious push in making it as a potential playoff contender.

Kansas City Royals (PECOTA Projection: 70.7 – 91.3)

Strength: A more well-rounded roster
Muck like Detroit, the Kansas City Royals also decided to invest in building their roster this offseason as it became clear that not many central teams are spending luxuriously to acquire new players. Consequently, Kansas City brought in pitchers Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, John Schrieber, Chris Stratton and Will Smith to fill the gap in starting and relief pitching while signing veteran position players like Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier to the team. On top of signing and trading for players, the Royals also gave star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an 11-year extension to announce their plans to build a contending team around Witt Jr. as the cornerstone. Kansas City may have lost over 100 games in 2023, but their future is brighter with younger players making a push and veterans bringing their experience. 
Weakness: Lack of elite starting pitching
The Royals have attempted to address their starting pitching woes by bringing in free agents to boost the production, but its starting pitching depth still has many question marks. For years, the team lost multiple games due to mediocre starting pitching and has struggled to get ahead of the times with analytics. While Cole Ragans is the cream of the crop for starting pitching if he is able to replicate his production for the team from last season, many of the starting pitchers haven’t built enough track records to prove that they are elite starting pitchers. Time will tell if the pitching additions are enough for Kansas City to be competitive in the central division, but it will most likely cost the team if existing starting pitchers aren’t able to live up to their full potential. 

Minnesota Twins (PECOTA Projection: 89.1 – 72.9)

Strength: Underrated offensive core
There are many reasons why the Minnesota Twins could end their playoff drought last season and one of them is a solid offensive contribution from all parts of the roster. Younger players like second baseman Edouard Julien and infielder Royce Lewis showed off their power throughout the season while experienced players like shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Max Kepler contributed with their bats when it mattered the most. This is how the team went through the AL Wild Card Series and demonstrated their strengths in the AL Division Series even if the team was eventually eliminated. The team’s offensive core largely remains the same and is expected to perform to its potential and younger players are projected to break out to help the team make the case for a division lead again. 
Weakness: Mounting pitching injuries
The Twins have reached the peak in the 2023 season because both their pitching and offence were able to bring out the best in the team. Starting and relief pitching have helped Minnesota to establish itself as an elite team in the central division and pitching was the backbone of the playoff push as much as the red-hot offence. However, the Twins have reported pitching injuries before the 2024 season with relief pitchers Caleb Thielbar and Jhoan Duran and starting pitcher Anthony DeScalafani all beginning the season on the injured list. It will be a test for the Twins to see if their pitching depth is ready to take on the load and lead the team to a healthy start to the season. If the pitching injuries continue to pile up, it will be difficult for Minnesota to stay competitive even if the division itself isn’t the toughest in the league.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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