While we have spent a painful and injury-filled Spring Training fine tuning our expectations for the Detroit Tigers and deciding if Stephen Drew can cure what ails our favorite team, we haven’t spent a lot of time sizing up our American League Central rivals.
Most predictions have the Tigers winning the division for a fourth straight year, but the Kansas City Royals always seem to be on the cusp, the Cleveland Indians finished just one game behind Detroit in 2013 and went to the playoffs, and Minnesota and Chicago are retooling and could be forces to deal with in the coming seasons.
To get a good snapshot of each team within the division, I reached out to our sister sites to find out how each club has done in Spring Training (since the Tigers have and will not play any of these teams in Florida) and their expectations for their respective club in 2014.
For our first edition, we’ll look at the team that finished second in 2013–the Indians (92-70). FanGraphs has the Tribe projected to finish second to the Tigers again, but to drop 10 games in the standings and finish with an 82-80 record
MCB: How have the Indians been doing in the spring?
WOF: Things are going great for the Indians. For the most part, we’ve avoided any calamities on the injury front so far. Gotta love that. In addition, the team is playing great. The Indians started 14-2 in Cactus League play and are getting solid contributions from just about everyone. A lot of the non-roster invites are performing well, which will make the final decisions of Terry Francona and his staff very difficult. As far as the everyday regulars, most look to be up to speed. Bourn, Santana, Gomes, and Swisher have struggled to hit, but there’s no reason to think they won’t come around eventually. The only real question mark is the fifth spot in the rotation. Francona has yet to make a decision and no one has really separated himself in the conversation. Right now the leader is probably Josh Tomlin, Aaron Harang or Carlos Carrasco. My money is on Harang for his veteran presence, but Carrasco’s lack of minor league options may force the team’s hand to start the season. It’ll be interesting to see who is picked.
MCB: Who is standing out and/or surprising for Cleveland? Who is disappointing?
WOF: At the plate the surprise is definitely Elliot Johnson. He’s known more for his versatility in the field but so far this spring he has shown a tremendous ability to get on base and hit for some power. Both of those are a bit out of the norm from what he’s done historically but should be enough to keep him in consideration for a roster spot, especially taking into account his aforementioned versatility.
The surprise pitcher, at least for me, has been Carlos Carrasco. As I mentioned previously, he’s in competition for the final rotation spot and figured to be the leader heading into spring because he is out of options. Well, his performance has superseded the options issue. In 7 innings he’s posted a 1.29 era. Not bad for someone with a history of being erratic. If he can bring this performance back to Cleveland, it could he huge.
As far as disappointments go, offensively, so far, is Yan Gomes. However, his offense is a bonus and figures to come around. His real value is in his defense, which has been great all spring long.
Pitching-wise… it’s Trevor Bauer. He came into camp with a retooled delivery and reports that he looked great in his early workouts. So far the results just haven’t been there. In his last outing he got beat up pretty bad. Look for him to start the year in Triple-A to figure things out.
MCB: Do you think there will be a surprise veteran cut from the Tribe before Opening Day? If so, who?
WF: I don’t really see any surprise cuts coming from the Indians. The roster is pretty much set and should look very similar to last year’s. The only open spots right now are the previously mentioned fifth starting spot and the last spot on the bench. The only possible surprise cut could be Jason Giambi. Not because anyone expects him to be a key contributor, but because his presence in the clubhouse is so highly valued. It’s assumed he’s on the roster unless he opts to retire, but all indications are he wants to play. From that stand point, cutting him would be a surprise, but not a devastating blow.
MCB: Is there a Cleveland prospect that won’t be on the Opening Day roster, but will join the big league club at some point this season?
WOF: Probably not. The best candidate to see time in Cleveland this season that would be expected to make a considerable impact would be Francisco Lindor. The Indians, though, are keeping him in the minors in order to delay the start of his service time. In order for him to see time in Cleveland, something would have to go very wrong. Other names to possibly keep an eye on, though – Jesus Aguilera, Carlos Moncrief, Jose Ramirez, and Trevor Bauer.
MCB: Where do you see the team finishing in the division this year? Can they overtake the Tigers or will they again compete for a wild-card spot?
WOF: It’s really hard to see the Indians being substantially better in 2014 than they were in 2013. They didn’t do much of anything to improve and if anything, they lost several key contributors from the rotation and bullpen. The two biggest factors in how they finish will be whether or not this is the year the Tigers begin to regress and if the Royals finally make the leap to legit contender. In the end, I think the Indians will hang around and contend for a wild card spot, but I still think the division is Detroit’s to lose.
Come back tomorrow for a Royals preview, Wednesday for the Twins, and Thursday for the White Sox.