AL Central teams at the start of spring training
A team-by-team look at the American League Central entering spring training, including key players each club acquired and lost, and dates of the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and the full squad:
Manager: Jim Leyland (eighth season).
2012: 88-74, first place, lost World Series.
Training Town: Lakeland, Fla.
Park: Joker Marchant Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 12/15.
He's Here: OF Torii Hunter, 2B Jeff Kobernus, LHP Kyle Lobstein, C Brayan Pena.
He's Outta Here: C Gerald Laird, OF Ryan Raburn, LHP Daniel Schlereth, RHP Jose Valverde, DH Delmon Young.
Going campin': The defending AL champions kept all their top players. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, ace Justin Verlander and slugger Prince Fielder are back to help Detroit try for a third straight AL Central title. The Tigers even spent big money to keep RHP Anibal Sanchez in the rotation instead of losing him to free agency. The Tigers also added Hunter to play right field, and they hope designated hitter Victor Martinez can be productive after missing the whole 2012 season with a knee injury. Although much of the lineup is already set, there will be some competition in camp. Detroit has six starting pitchers, so if there's no trade, RHP Rick Porcello and LHP Drew Smyly will vie for the last rotation spot. It will also be interesting to see if RHP Bruce Rondon is ready to take over the closer role after impressing in the minors. If not, Leyland may need to mix and match late in games. Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry are candidates to play left field. Berry stole 21 bases without being caught last year - he and center fielder Austin Jackson were the team's only real speed threats. Nobody doubts the quality of Detroit's front-line talent, but the Tigers could use a bounce-back season from shortstop Jhonny Peralta and a better defensive performance all around if they're going to win the division comfortably. Last season, Detroit didn't overtake the Chicago White Sox until late. After acquiring Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante from Miami at midseason, Detroit will enjoy having both those players from the start this year. Sanchez in particular adds depth to an already impressive rotation that includes Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister.
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Robin Ventura (second season).
2012: 85-77, second place.
Training Town: Glendale, Ariz.
Park: Camelback Ranch.
First Workout: Feb. 12/17.
He's Here: 3B Jeff Keppinger, RHP Matt Lindstrom, 1B Lars Anderson, RHP Zach Stewart.
He's Outta Here: C A.J. Pierzynski, 3B Kevin Youkilis, RHP Brett Myers, SS Jose Lopez.
Going campin': The White Sox spent 117 days in first place last season, only to finish three games behind Detroit in the AL Central after a late fade. Now, they believe they are poised to challenge for the division crown. Never mind that there were no splashy acquisitions, that the biggest moves were keeping Jake Peavy and shuffling the front office. They promoted Rick Hahn to general manager and Ken Williams to executive vice president. The roster? Well, it's largely intact, with one notable exception. Pierzynski, one of the final links to the 2005 championship team, is gone. One reason the White Sox let the veteran catcher sign a one-year contract with Texas was because they believe Tyler Flowers is ready to take over behind the plate. He's shown he can field. The question is, can he hit? Another reason the White Sox split with Pierzynski is they wanted to re-sign Peavy after he bounced back from three injury-riddled seasons. With Peavy and Chris Sale leading a deep rotation and what looks like a solid bullpen behind them, the White Sox believe they have one of the American League's best staffs. After finishing fourth in the AL in runs and third in homers last season, the White Sox could also have an imposing lineup led by Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios if Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham mature at the plate. They are short on left-handed bats at the moment, though.
Kansas City Royals
Manager: Ned Yost (third season).
2012: 72-90, third place.
Training Town: Surprise, Ariz.
Park: Surprise Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 12/15.
He's Here: RHP Ervin Santana, RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, OF Xavier Nady, LHP George Sherrill, OF Endy Chavez.
He's Outta Here: INF Yuniesky Betancourt, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, RHP Jonathan Broxton.
Going campin': The Royals could have an entirely new starting rotation from the start of last season. They re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, who went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA after a midseason trade with Colorado, to a three-year, $25 million deal. They then made a trade with the Los Angeles Angels for Ervin Santana, who is owed $13 million this season. But the biggest move of the offseason was when the Royals dealt top prospect Wil Myers and promising pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to the Tampa Bay Rays for Shields, a former All-Star, and Davis. Shields was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA last season, while Davis will be transitioning back to the rotation after spending last season in the bullpen, where he was 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA. The fifth spot in the rotation may be the most intriguing battle of spring training. Veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, former No. 1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar and several others will be competing for the job. The rest of the lineup returns almost entirely intact, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of questions. 1B Eric Hosmer batted just .232 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs last season, and 3B Mike Moustakas hit .242 with 20 homers and 73 RBIs. The Royals will need more out of their corner infielders if they're going to compete with Detroit and Cleveland in the AL Central. C Salvador Perez and DH Billy Butler had big years, and the outfield of Gold Glove-winner Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center and Jeff Francoeur in right returns intact. The lone position battle should be 2B, where Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella will get the longest looks. If everyone plays up to expectations, the Royals could be a .500 club for the first time since 2003, and perhaps keep a weary fan base interested past May.
Manager: Terry Francona (first season).
2012: 68-94, fourth place.
Training Town: Goodyear, Ariz.
Park: Goodyear Ballpark.
First Workout: Feb. 12/15.
He's Here: OF Nick Swisher, RHP Brett Myers, 1B-DH Mark Reynolds, OF Drew Stubbs, INF Mike Aviles, RHP Trevor Bauer, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Matt Capps, OF Ben Francisco,
He's Outta Here: Manager Manny Acta, OF Shin-Soo Choo, DH Travis Hafner, INF Jason Donald, RHP Roberto Hernandez, 3B Jack Hannahan, LHP Tony Sipp, OF Shelley Duncan, 1B Casey Kotchman, OF Grady Sizemore, LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Jeanmar Gomez.
Going campin': Francona returns rejuvenated after a one-year stint as a broadcaster following eight seasons in Boston, where he helped the Red Sox end The Curse and win two World Series. The 53-year-old said Cleveland was the only job he would have taken, and his hiring has provided a huge boost for the Indians and their fans, still reeling from the team's stunning collapse - the Indians went 5-24 in August - last season. Without Francona, Cleveland would have never landed a quality free agent like Swisher, a 20-homer, 90-RBI guy who signed a four-year, $56 million contract after the Indians tugged on his Ohio State ties to bring him "home.'' Swisher will take over in right field for Choo, sent to Cincinnati for Stubbs, a .241 career hitter who has to cut down his strikeouts. Stubbs will likely play center field, moving Michael Brantley to left. One of Francona's priorities will be to keep closer Chris Perez concentrated solely on the strike zone. Perez had 39 saves last season, but he was too often a distraction, either criticizing Cleveland's fans for lack of support or questioning moves by the front office. All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera faded in the second half - .233 average in July/August- and must be consistent for the Indians to close the gap in the AL Central. Switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana has 30-homer potential, but needs to improve his skills behind the plate. Second baseman Jason Kipnis could be on the verge of breakout season. He hit .257 and led the Indians with 76 RBIs and 31 steals in his first full year in the majors. Lonnie Chisenhall, whose 2012 season was sabotaged by a broken arm, will open as the starter at third. Cleveland's hopes, though, will hinge on a suspect starting rotation led by Justin Masterson (11-15) and Ubaldo Jimenez (9-17), who must both bounce back from disappointing seasons. Myers will take the third spot with Bauer, the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, and as many as six others battling this spring for the other two.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (12th season).
2012: 66-96, fifth place.
Training Town: Ft. Myers, Fla.
Park: Hammond, Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 13/16.
He's Here: RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Vance Worley, RHP Kevin Correia.
He's Outta Here: OF Denard Span, OF Ben Revere, RHP Scott Baker, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Carl Pavano, INF Alexi Casilla, RHP Matt Capps.
Going campin': The Twins are used to defying the big-market teams and contending in the AL, but they have finished in last place in the Central division in each of the last two years. Injuries plagued them in 2011 and dreadful starting pitching was the culprit in 2012. With that in mind, the Twins have overhauled their rotation. LHP Scott Diamond is the only holdover from last season who is assured a spot in the rotation. But the Twins have taken a similar approach to addressing the problems as they did a year ago, by bringing over several pitchers from the NL to see if they can keep up with the deeper lineups in the AL. Pelfrey is coming off elbow-reconstruction surgery after being a solid but sometimes frustrating pitcher for the Mets, Worley was underwhelming with the Phillies last year and Correia was demoted to the bullpen in Pittsburgh, leaving many to wonder if those moves will turn out to be upgrades. Offense shouldn't be a problem, with Joe Mauer bouncing back to regain his All-Star form, Justin Morneau healthier than he has been in years and Josh Willingham coming off a career season. The primary spot to look at this spring will be center field. In an effort to upgrade their farm system, the Twins traded established center fielders Span and Revere for promising pitching prospects. That leaves a hole in center and at the top of the order. They're hoping Aaron Hicks, a prized prospect in the organization, will be able to handle the duties despite never playing in Triple-A. If he's not ready, light-hitting Darin Mastroianni is the front-runner for the job. Either way, the Twins seem to be a year away from contending again, which is not what Mauer and Morneau want to hear.
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