Part 2 in our AL Central roundtable dicussion. Part 1 can be read here.
4. Name the player most likely to have a breakout season.
John - Last year saw some great breakouts in the AL Central from Cliff Lee to Carlos Quentin. I still have faith in the future outcome of heralded prospects Alex Gordon in Kansas City and Delmon Young in Minnesota. I also expect big things from Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo who really turned it on at the end of the year when he got to play the outfield full time. The AL Central breakout player however will be the Twins' Scott Baker. Baker has quietly turned into a very solid pitcher for Minnesota, and as the designated "ace" of the staff in 2009 I think Scott will put his name on the map.
Andrew - Jerry Owens, Chicago White Sox. Owens will have an OBP around .335 and steal somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 bases which, by recent White Sox standards, will be nothing short of unbelievable for a leadoff hitter.
Andy - Alex Gordon. Third baseman. Kansas City Royals. This is the year. For reals. I always thought people were a little too high on him as a rookie but couldn’t help from buying into the hype. Same goes for last year. But with the way he’s been mashing in “meaningless” spring training games, I think he’s finally come into his own, and I refuse to believe that he does anything less than 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. Plus double-digit steals for good measure. One side note, though. Can we please dispense with all the George Brett comparisons? It’s unnecessary. And unfair.
5. What division newcomer will disappoint his new team?
John - I love to see Kansas City's GM Dayton Moore shake up his roster this offseason and prove that he's committed to winning. I truly believe the Royals will be in the middle of the AL Central cluster until about August, but my newcomer disappoint award goes to the Royals new first baseman Mike Jacobs. To a smart baseball mind this will come as no surprise, but to a casual fan expecting a monster year of 35 homeruns and 100 RBIs be prepared for disappointment. A .299 OBP and a .247 average in the middle of the lineup will start to hurt after awhile. I'm curious to see how Mark DeRosa does for Cleveland in 2009. Was his 2008 year a fluke or did the Indians acquire a steal from the Chicago Cubs?
Ray - So since he was already in the division Farnsworth doesn't count ? I'll say Edwin Jackson just because there's not really a whole lot of newcomers.
Andrew - "Disappoint" is a tough term, since the Jeff Marquezes and Coco Crisps of the world don't exactly come with too much in the way of expectations. That said, there's something about the Indians putting all their stock in Kerry Wood as closer that makes me smile. Look for Woody to get hurt at least once down the stretch and carry at least 40% of the responsibility for the Indians missing the playoffs.
Andy - Closers Brandon Lyon and Kerry Wood, to a lesser degree, have tall tasks ahead of them. Both were splashy free-agent signings and will have to make the adjustment to American League hitting after lengthy stints in the NL. Both relinquished their jobs last season for one reason or another – Lyon for getting shelled while Wood found new and exciting ways to land on the DL. The only difference between the two? Wood can still bring it. Godspeed, Mr. Lyon. Other than his 26 saves in Arizona last year, his numbers were awful. Look 'em up. Expect the closer turmoil to heat up in Detroit by the time Lyon blows more than half a dozen saves by the All-Star Break.
6. Who will win the AL Central?
John - There is a very good chance that like the past two years the central crown may not be awarded until the final day of the season (or perhaps it'll take game 163). I believe that Detroit and Chicago have aging lineups with too many question marks in their rotations. Kansas City continues to improve slowly and surely, but still too slowly. I think Cleveland and Minnesota will be in a gridlock battle through most of the 2009 campaign. If Minnesota's young players step forward and Mauer and Morneau stay healthy I like the Twins in 2009! However, if that young rotation falters the Indians will be there to snatch the 2009 AL Central crown.
Ray - I'm going to say Twins win it and then we all wonder how they did it.
Sox second,Royals third, Tigers forth, and Indians last after a few midseason trades.
Ok I'm not sure at all and the division is really up for grabs this year so.
Remember last year and don't bet on my picks.
Andrew - I have a feeling this will be the lamest division race in all of baseball, with an 87-win team taking the division by two games but the fourth place team only finishing five games out. That said, as much as I hate them, right now it looks like the team most capable of taking the consolation prize that is the 2009 American League Central is none other than the Minnesota Twins. No, that's not right: no other team looks like a winning team, but the Twins look like a totally average team and took fewer steps back than everyone else in the division.
Andy - If I were a betting man (which I’m not, especially in this economic climate), my hypothetical money’s on the Twins. Look around the league, and you’re going to find serious question marks in regards to pitching on almost every single team. Minnesota’s the only club that’s got both its staff and bullpen shored up. Plus they’ve got a knuckleballer now. That's fun. The division race should be heated, for sure, but the Twins have got just enough hitting to complement their stockpile of arms and should come away with their first AL Central title since 2006.