Detroit traded 1B Prince Fielder to Texas for All-Star 2B Ian Kinsler. It's a downgrade offensively but a big upgrade defensively. Reigning two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, a poor defensive third baseman, moves to first base. Rookie 3B Nick Castellanos joins elite defensive SS Jose Iglesias to make infield defense a true strength. Max Scherzer (21–3, 2.90 ERA) ran away with the Cy Young Award last season, and former winner Justin Verlander is poised for a bounce-back year. Anibal Sanchez is an All-Star-caliber starter. Detroit also added ex-Ranger Joe Nathan (43 saves) to solidify the bullpen.
The Royals are poised to end a 28-year playoff drought. That's because 1B Eric Hosmer (.302 average) looked like an MVP after a slow start to 2013, carrying the offense despite down years from stars Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. K.C. acquired line drive machine Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee, giving them a table setter. James Shields (13–9, 3.15 ERA) leads a steady rotation.
K.C.'s secret weapon is the AL's best bullpen (2.55 ERA last year). Greg Holland (47 saves) is an elite closer, and former Number 1 overall draft pick and ex–starting pitcher Luke Hochevar (1.92 ERA) emerged as a top reliever last season.
Led by 2B Jason Kipnis (84 RBIs) and C/IF Carlos Santana (20 HRs), this lineup could be sneaky good. For instance, in rightfield, longtime Ranger David Murphy (career .816 OPS against righthanders) and Ryan Raburn (1.020 OPS against lefties last year) are expected to platoon. They could give Cleveland All-Star production in that spot.
If SS Asdrubal Cabrera and CF Michael Bourn rebound from down seasons, Cleveland will pile up runs. Justin Masterson leads the rotation, but their best arms could be underrated Corey Kluber and electrifying Danny Salazar. The bullpen is a major question mark.
The White Sox finished last in the AL in runs last year (3.69 per game), but there is hope for a turnaround. Chicago spent big money on Cuban star Jose Abreu, a power hitter who must prove he can handle MLB pitching. They also acquired scrappy OF Adam Eaton from Arizona to hit leadoff. They'll get plenty of power from DH Adam Dunn (34 HRs).
Lefty Chris Sale (226 strikeouts) is one of baseball's elite starters. Prospect Erik Johnson (3.25 ERA) was solid last year, and keep an eye on righty Felipe Paulino. He was off to a huge start for the Royals in 2012 before a season-ending elbow injury.
The Twins' starters had the worst ERA in baseball last season (5.26), which is why they rebuilt the rotation. Righthander Ricky Nolasco gives them a steady arm, and they took a chance on talented ex-Yankee Phil Hughes. Minnesota's Target Field is one of the toughest places for lefthanded hitters to go deep, and lefties crushed Hughes in New York.
Is there enough offense for this team to compete? Longtime catcher Joe Mauer (.324 average) will move to first base in an effort to stay healthy, and he should contend for the batting title. But Mauer can't do it all. Minnesota needs a bounce back year from OF Josh Willingham (14 HRs, .208 average).
Photos: JIM ROGASH/GETTY IMAGES (CABRERA), OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES (HOSMER), MIKE ZARRILLI/GETTY IMAGES (SANTANA), MARK DUNCAN/AP (SALE), JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (MAUER)
MLB Preview 2014: AL Central Scouting Report
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