AL Central 2024 Preview: Predict how Tigers’ young players will perform in open division

The Washington Post’s Joel Sherman previews the AL Central.

1. Detroit Tigers

O/U wins: 81.5

Key players: Tarik Skubal. He returned from flexor tendon surgery on July 4, and from that point until the end of last season, Skubal’s 2.80 ERA ranked 14th among 133 pitchers with at least 50 innings, and his batting average ( 0.199) ranked 12th and strikeout rate (32.9) ranked fourth. Is this the blooming of an ace?

Players who need strengthening: Javier Baez. The Tigers have tried to downplay Baez’s importance by promoting younger players and bringing in highly regarded veteran teammates like Mark Canha and Gio Urshela. But it cannot be ignored that Baez only performed well in his third season in the sixth season. A one-year contract worth $140 million. His 77 OPS+ is the second-worst among players in the majors with at least 1,000 games played over the past two seasons. The Tigers just need more.

Tigers ace Tarik Skubal MLB photo via Getty Images

Names you’ll know: Colt Keith. The Tigers signed Keith to a six-year, $28.64 million contract before he pitched his first MLB at-bat. They have a lot of faith in his makeup and left-handed bat and hope the move from third to second will allow him to provide a strong defensive presence for the team. Gain an offensive advantage.

The biggest question mark: With so much young talent, is winning the division too volatile? The Tigers added veterans including Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda to the rotation. But there’s still a lot of inexperience, especially when it comes to playing big games.

How it will go down: Picking the Tigers to win the division is a vote of confidence in their young talent, but it’s also a vote on the overall quality of the AL Central team.

2. Minnesota Twins

O/U wins: 86.5

Key players: Chris Paddack. American League runner-up Sonny Gray signed with the Cardinals, and Kenta Maeda signed with the Tigers. The only addition was Anthony DeSclafani, who struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons while posting a 5.16 ERA. The top internal option is Paddack, who returns from Tommy John surgery late last season off the pen. You may remember Paddack clashed with Pete Alonso during his rookie season as a Padre in 2019. Paddack has never been better or healthier since. Can he find that shape again?

Players who need strengthening: Carlos Correa. Perhaps no player drew more attention last offseason than Correa, who blew up a contract worth more than $300 million after poor physical play with the Giants and Mets before agreeing to a $200 million deal Remained with the Twins for six years. His worrisome right leg remains healthy, but he still hit just .230 while hitting 30 doubles — the most in the majors since Casey McGehee hit 31 in 2014 once.

Names you’ll know: Brooks Lee. The eighth overall pick in 2022 is almost ready. He’s a shortstop. So does Correa.

The Twins need Chris Paddack to have a big year. Getty Images

The biggest question mark: Can Correa, Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis stay healthy? This is a talented trio. But Buxton and Lewis have struggled with their game — Buxton, for example, didn’t play an inning in center last season but is scheduled to return in 2024. Can they be the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 hitter in the lineup, or are they the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 hitter in the club’s biggest problem.

How it ended: They snapped an 18-game playoff losing streak last season and won one round, then made significant payroll cuts out of concerns about local TV revenue, leaving the Twins’ rotation even more fragile.

3. Kansas City Royals

O/U wins: 73.5

Key players: Cole Ragans. Notably, the Yankees traded Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, with the Cubs coveting the left-handed reliever as their 2016 champion Final blow. The Royals acquired Ragans from the Rangers last year, who were on their way to adding Chapman to their first game. Ragans entered the Kansas City rotation on July 15 and ranked 12th in ERA (2.64) and 12th in batting average (.195) among 121 pitchers with at least 50 innings. Eight, seventh in strikeout rate (31.1). He’s already had two Tommy John surgeries, can he endure it?

Players who need strengthening: Nick Pratto. He arrives as part of a crop of homegrown young men Kansas City has developed over the past few years — think Maikel Garcia, Kyle Isbel, Michael Massey ), MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino — will move up the rankings if they need more help.

The Royals will need more help from Nick Pratto in 2024. Rick Scutli-USA TODAY Sports

Names you’ll know: Nick Loftin. Kansas City signed two veteran utility players in Adam Frazier and Garrett Hampson. That could hold Loftin back initially this season. But overall, the Royals drafted poorly, and Loftin is the closest minor leaguer who could potentially help in 2024.

The biggest question mark: Are they spending their money wisely? The Royals spent $109.5 million on free agents, the fifth-most of any club, and they signed Bobby Witt Jr. to an 11-year, $288.8 million contract. He became the face of the team. Witt is 23 years old and looks like he’s going to be a long-term star. But the free agents are mostly second- and third-level players, especially Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha who could stay healthy and solid in the rotation with a 4.95 ERA. over the past three seasons combined.

How it will go down: The Royals have lost 20 more games in the past six years than any other club combined, including 106 last year. They have some money invested in this problem. Can they reach mediocrity in 2024?

4.Cleveland Guardians

O/U wins: 79.5

Key players: Sean Bieber. Even before missing more than two months late last season with elbow inflammation, he wasn’t pitching as hard or well. Cleveland needs Bieber to perform well for a number of reasons, including being a candidate for a July trade since it’s his walking year.

Players who need strengthening: Stephen Vogt. He is not a player, but the new head coach of the Guardians. He will replace one of the best coaches ever in Terry Francona and will do so with one year of MLB coaching experience as the Mariners bullpen coach in 2023 after retiring as the Mariners bullpen coach. Players after the 2022 season. He is filling a huge void.

Names you’ll know: Kyle Manzardo. The Guardians hit 27 fewer home runs than any team and ranked fourth in runs scored per game. With only Jose Ramirez in the lineup, there is no one else to inspire fear. Manzardo was acquired from Tampa Bay last season for Aaron Civale. Can he join the outfielders? Will future Chase Draut emerge at some point this year and start deepening this offense?

Kyle Manzado has a chance to provide some backup for Jose Ramirez. Joe Camporeal-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question mark: Can they score enough runs to support a weaker team? They’ve only hit 251 home runs the past two years, which wasn’t even the most in the majors last year.

How it will go down: The Guardians had the fourth-best winning percentage in the majors from 2016-22, behind only the Dodgers, Astros and Yankees, and made the playoffs five times in those seven seasons. But essentially all of the offensive concerns that plagued the club during Francona’s 11th and final season in Cleveland, which went 76-86, still remain.

5. Chicago White Sox

O/U wins: 60.5

key player: Erick Fedde. Feder, the 18th overall pick in the 2014 draft, played parts of six seasons with Washington and his 5.41 ERA is the first in Expos/Nationals history to pitch at least 450 innings so far. The worst of the players. He won 20 games last year pitching for the NC Dinos, the Korean Baseball Organization’s MVP and Cy Young Edition. The White Sox signed him to a two-year, $15 million deal with the hope that he could be an improved version of himself, helping five pitchers in the rotation work more than 85 innings last season, the only one still on the roster. Michael Kopech was transferred to the pen.

Eric Feder needs to provide a huge boost to the Royals rotation. Associated Press

Players who need strengthening: Andrew Benintendi. Like the Guardians with Jose Ramirez, the White Sox also have star center fielder Luis Robert and…? They need to rejuvenate a number of corners, including Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Benintendi, who signed a five-year deal , a contract worth $75 million, followed by a season with five home runs and an 87 OPS or more.

Names you’ll know: Garrett Crochet. You may already know him as the 11th overall pick in 2020 who never spent a day in the minor leagues, going straight to the postseason with the White Sox. He had a solid 2021, but then required Tommy John surgery, missed all of 2022, and walked 13 in 12²/₃ relief innings last year. Crochet is trying out his high-end production as a starter in the spring. There was a time when, as a lefty with speed and a devastating slider in the low-arm slot, he was in competition with Chris Sale. Where do the White Sox sign up for a repeat like this?

The biggest question mark: Can they avoid setting a franchise record for losses (106 in 1970)? The White Sox lost 101 games last year, which was arguably worse. Remember when the Yankees touted Deivi Garcia as a poor prospect? He may pitch in the final few innings for the White Sox.

How it will go down: New general manager Chris Gates isn’t hiding plans for a complete rebuild — the latest example being the trade of his ace Dylan Seth just two weeks before the season. The team will monitor whether he wants to build around Robert or decide to sell his center fielder at some point.

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